Bulldogs For Life

Alumni & Friends

Christopher Coppola

Interview with Christopher Coppola

You grew up in a family with a long history in cinema. How did you realize that creating films was for you?

Growing up, my father, Dr. August Coppola, was my first mentor. He was a literature professor and author and he ingrained in all his children an artistic sensibility. He was also a student at UR for a semester back in the day.  He had me watching Griffith, Kurosawa and Fellini and listening to Stravinsky, Bartok and Puccini by the time I was five. I never really questioned whether or not I would choose an artistic path. I was directing super 8 films at an early age with my brothers and composing music for them.

One of my first experiences in the film industry was directing “Dracula’s Widow” with Dino De Laurentiis. It was a hellish experience. I was young and pretentious, a bit of a hothead. I learned some hard lessons about the industry as well as myself. I am process oriented which doesn’t always fit the Hollywood mold.

Since then I’ve produced, directed and written dozens of films and television shows. Paying attention to detail and constructing a visual dialog with the audience is my focus. For example, I directed a short for America’s Most Wanted about mobsters in New York. I had a shot of a man making a pizza. In the next scene he was serving the pizza to the mobsters but instead of the usual toppings there were bullets and broken gun parts. Visually I was trying to convey that to these hardened criminals murder was just as easy as eating a slice of pizza. Sometimes it’s hard to let an original idea come to fruition in Hollywood. Visual literacy isn’t always practical or appreciated.  I’ve been teaching what I know to this new digital generation which is more visual and less interested in the written word.

HD AMERICAN PORTRAITS from Christopher Coppola on Vimeo.

How did you decide to attend the UR?

While I was a student at Beverly Hills High School I saw a brochure for a music summer camp at the University of Redlands. I had already been making my own super 8 films and enjoyed writing music for them. I played piano, violin and percussion and wanted to learn music composition. My high school had a terrible music program so I signed up for the UR summer music camp for kids. That’s where I met composition professor Dr. Barney Childs, my second mentor. I loved the music camp so much that I decided to leave high school early to enroll at the UR. With Barney’s help I was able to attend the UR at the age of 16 ½. I will always have a special place in my heart for Redlands. It’s beautiful in the autumn when the leaves change color and there is a sense of poetic melancholy in the air.

You entered the University of Redlands music program to pursue composition; which professors inspired you to succeed?

When I entered the music program at the UR I didn’t really fit in. I sulked around in a red sweater and red sneakers and listened to only classical music.  I remember the bulldog “jocks” made fun of me.  Being a biker they wouldn’t do that now.  

In those days I would take composition paper and hang it all around my dorm room. One day I started drawing on it. I got the idea for a composition called the “Jungle Quartet.” I had a vision of my father in the middle of the jungle with a typewriter. He was tapping out a story surrounded by nervous animals. As the story progressed the animals happily joined in. The pictures I drew turned into notes and before long I had a complete composition. Barney loved the piece and my creative process.  Under Barney’s tutelage as well as Dr. Phillip Rehfeldt, Dr. Louanne Long (still teaches at UR), Jim Fox and Kirk Sharp I really blossomed as an artist and philosopher.  I was very prolific.  I composed a quintet for woodwinds and percussion in honor of Dylan Thomas’s Christmas in Wales, an experimental opera based on Plato’s Cave as well as several philosophical and dream oriented tone poems.  I also made use of electronic music, experimental film and modern dance as part of my performances.  I remember I had a little town of Redlands fan base that would come to all my concerts.  Colleen Schwandt, a well-respected local soprano, gave me my first commission to compose a piece for her daughter’s wedding.  I was truly honored.  A couple years later while going to film school in San Francisco, it was my music that got me a California Arts Council cash award. I owe all this to the University of Redlands.

What is Project Accessible Hollywood aka PAH Fest? What is the philosophy behind it?

Growing up in a family rooted in cinema was a great privilege because of the artistic exposure I was afforded; however on the flipside, I learned to dislike the exclusivity of Hollywood. A lot of movies are made according to the film school “mold.” True creativity and stories from the heart can become overshadowed by an emphasis on special effects. I believe there is a storyteller inside us all, which is why I created PAH Fest. It’s a way to bring film making to the common man. You don’t need any prior experience or fancy equipment to participate. Entrants are coached through the art of filmmaking using cell phone cameras or pocket HD camcorders provided by the festival.  

Participants are taught how to tell a story visually and engage their audience by learning wide angles, close-ups and pans, subtle camera tricks that can turn a story into a piece of art.
The festival is open to people of all ages. In the six years that I have been hosting PAH fest we have held 44 events in various schools, colleges and communities across the United States and have had hundreds of entrants. PAH fest also tours schools for the blind. Our motto is: “You don’t need vision to have VISION.” It builds the student’s confidence to learn that they too can communicate using visual media.

Pacific Park, a memory from Christopher Coppola on Vimeo.

Any words of wisdom for students who are artistically inclined?

No matter what you do, do it well. Whether you make a $1 or $100 million movie give it your best and respect the process. Make every project your own. Part of going to a university is to blossom and find your own voice. Take advantage of the resources you have in the time you are there.

What is the most satisfying part about being a director/producer/writer?

For me, it is more fun to work on a project than to see the end product.  I tend to get depressed when I finish a project. I like working with people. I like to live in the chaos of the moment. That is where the creative process thrives. It involves lots of work and no sleep but in the end it is worth it.

You have a wide variety of artistic endeavors. Care to elaborate a bit more?

I’ve been producing a pilot called “Biker Chef.” Otto aka “Biker Cat” my leather wearing Burmese and I host the show which is kind of like Anthony Bordain meets Easy Rider meets Marco Polo.  Hopefully, I will land a deal from it.  

Biker Chef Trailer from Christopher Coppola on Vimeo.

The show has me focus on getting to know locals who put passion into their ingredients. For example, while in Albuquerque I met with Nancy who raises her own goats and makes organic goat cheese and Don who grows the best peppers in the world. I also learned pueblo bread-making in an outdoor oven. The end result was a blue corn calzone with goat cheese, Big Jim peppers, prosciutto, gorgonzola and provolone. I also made blue corn posole and wild sangria with peaches, apricots and plums. Cooking is the greatest act of love that you could do for your fellow human beings. It’s hard work and people take that for granted.
Another one of my recent projects was bringing art to Wal-Mart officially known as HD American Portraits. The project involved drafting fine artists from various cities to do a 30 second digital portrait of a Wal-Mart employee or a member of the community. The artist spends time getting to know the person, their family, talents and hobbies. The portraits play on the Wal-Mart channel continuously bringing fine art to an environment where it is typically absent.  The end result is beautiful. These ‘ordinary people’ never realized they were a work of art.  As a “professional” artist and HD expert Wal-Mart wanted me to do the first one.   I also composed the music for the HD portrait.  It had been awhile since I dabbled in music.  Surprised friends and colleagues said I didn’t know you wrote music. Wow.  I let them know about my days at UR where I composed tons of music.  Those were happy times.

Currently I have a reality show series “The DigiVangelist” which features me seeking out the latest innovations in creative technology, but making sure to keep the heart and soul of the human endeavor intact.  The show just finished airing on The Reelz Channel but can still be seen on YouToo, a cutting edge social network channel and on home TV via it’s cable and satellite affiliates (http://www.youtoo.com/digi)

Digivangelist Episode 104 from Christopher Coppola on Vimeo.

The older I get my greatest passion has been teaching, creating an environment like my selfless University of Redlands teachers gave me…a place to discover your personal voice, creative potential and your worth in the world.  I like to say that I am the Coppola who combines Education & Entertainment to help the “everyday person” blossom.  Perhaps one day I will do this for the University of Redlands, my alma mater, which did the same for me.

For more, please see:

Christopher Coppola Enterprises

Project Accessible Hollywood