Gia Coppola is on a mission to make a name for herself. The indie filmmaker grew up immersed in the world of cinema – you might be familiar with her aunt Sofia or granddad Francis Ford – but cut her teeth as a photographer, before making her directorial feature debut with the wistful 2013 coming-of-age drama Palo Alto in 2013.
She went on to direct a string of music videos – working with Blood Orange, Carly Rae Jepsen and more – before returning to the big screen with bold, trippy social media send-up Mainstream. Featuring an unhinged performance from Andrew Garfield and a string of viral sketches including influencers Casey Frey and Jake Paul as well as stars Maya Hawke, Nat Wolff and Euphoria‘s Alexa Demie, it’ll make you question everything you knew and everything you wish you didn’t about YouTube, the internet and the way we live our lives online.
Here, Coppola tells NME about the appeal of Los Angeles, her love of pop music and why Garfield is criminally underrated.
What is it about LA that makes it such a fascinating place for filmmakers?
“It’s very hard to pinpoint. There’s all this history about moviemaking – movies involve so much illusion and magic. Then, when you’re here and you see it, there’s a very dark side to that too. I grew up right above Hollywood Boulevard, and it always felt to me like this metaphor for Los Angeles, and in a way social media too: there’s all these glitzy glamorous storefronts, but at the same time there’s probably a Freddy Krueger crossing the street trying to make some money.”
As a director, are you more inspired by what came before or things that are coming next – like TikTok stars who are changing what cinema can look like?
“It’s a combination of all of that. I’m such a lover of movies, so part of my fascination was the challenge of taking this world that’s so analogue and intangible, and making emotion around it. I wanted to play with the blurred lines of when truth and reality get mixed up in the social media space. I’m always trying to take old and new and find a way for them to come together.”
Your idea for Mainstream came from talking to a friend who represents YouTube influencers. Now you’ve finished it, do you think differently about those content creators?
“I don’t know if I’ve found all the answers, but beforehand, I had an already-set opinion. Getting to know those people gave me a new perspective. Someone like Juanpa [Zurita, YouTube influencer] or Patrick Starr, they have so much heart and they really feel a connection with their fanbase – and they take a lot of responsibility for that. They are really inventive with trying to tell stories in a new way. So, I think there are pros and cons to what I discovered – and I just wanted to start a conversation.”
This is one of Andrew Garfield’s wildest performances…
“It’s really all just Andrew. I just created a space for him to run free. He’s obviously one of the great actors of our generation. He’s so intelligent about our culture and where it’s headed, so I knew he would help me figure out how to implement all that stuff in a very subliminal way. But I also knew that he’s a great dancer. He has comedic timing, and there’s all these things he hasn’t gotten to showcase because he gets typically cast as the hero. I thought it would be so interesting to see him as a maniacal character. Because in order for an audience to really stay with someone like that, you need to have a likability and goodness too.”
…and Mainstream has some some great needle drops too. How did you pick King Princess and Grimes?
“I used to be so good about digging for underground, old school stuff and being such a snob about it. And then as I’ve gotten older, I’m just like: ‘I love Top 40 stuff!’ It’s fascinating to me, some of the sound effects are really funny and entertaining. But with this sort of pop music, I just wanted it to be good and fun. I felt like it was really important for this movie to be fun and to not be a lecture, and for it to just be a wild ride.”
Do you think social media is aiding or damaging cinema?
“I find it useful when storing images for visual references so I love it in that way, but in terms of thinking you only exist If you have a certain number of followers? I don’t believe that. I think the work can speak for itself, and if it connects, it’ll create its own journey.”
‘Mainstream’ is out now on Digital Download