The Bling Ring director Sofia Coppola at Film Society. Photo: Philip May
By virtue of her birth, Sofia Coppola is no stranger to the trappings of celebrity and she has taken the subject on more than once as a filmmaker. Her last directorial effort, Somewhere, starred Stephen Dorff as an aimless Hollywood actor holed up in the famed Chateau Marmont who is given a sudden reality check when his 11 year old daughter shows up. In Coppola's latest film, The Bling Ring, the Oscar winner returns to celebrity territory, but this time, the cult of fame is the spotlight and the plot unfolds like a TMZ-inspired fairytale.
"I was going on vacation with some friends and read this article by Nancy Jo Sales in Vanity Fair," Coppola told FilmLinc Daily on Monday night ahead of her conversation with Kent Jones as part of Film Society's free Summer Talks series. "I was familiar with the situation, but after reading the quotes from the kids, I thought it had some of the elements that would make for a good movie. I figured someone else was already doing it. It's an interesting look at contemporary culture."
Starring Emma Watson, Leslie Mann and Taissa Farmiga along with a host of newcomers, The Bling Ring would edge toward the absurd if, in fact, it were not true. The VF article that spawned the feature, bearing the memorable title The Suspects Wore Louboutins, centers on a group of San Fernando Valley high school kids who sought an instant path to glitz and infamy by burglarizing celebrity homes. The amateur thieves did a spectacular job, at that, lifting about $3 million worth of goods from the likes of Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, Orlando Bloom, and others.
"They were into these pop figures and wanted to be like them by wearing their clothes and have their things. They were teenagers trying to find their way," said Coppola. "They would see celebrities at clubs they went to and were enamored of this life that they saw. And because of the internet and social media there wasn't as much in terms of mystique and boundaries as there had been in the past."
The group of kids, who mostly grew up in the affluent Los Angeles suburb of Agoura Hills, tracked their victims through social media and easily found their homes via Google Maps and sites such as celebrityaddressaerial.com. It was easy to track which celebrity was away filming or partying in Las Vegas and the kids would help themselves to a bounty of riches, often easily breaking into homes through open doors or finding keys under doormats. "I guess there was a false sense of community," said Coppola. "They live in a gated community, so there was a relaxed attitude."
Coppola and her casting directors spent a year assembling the movie-version of the gang. While Watson and Mann are two familiar names, the bulk of the Blingers are relatively new to acting, which the filmmaker wanted in telling this story.
Emma Watson in The Bling Ring
"I wanted some kids who hadn't acted [professionally] before," said Coppola. "I wanted kids that were the real age. Most of the actors were 16 when we shot it. I think there's a real difference between that age and people who are in their 20s. Emma Watson is a few years older, but she was able to blend in. She has a real baby face… But the new actors are not fully formed or polished and it's exciting to see new actors."
Coppola admitted that she hadn't considered using Watson initially. The British-reared star shot to fame as Hermione in the Harry Potter mega-franchise and has continued to garner acting kudos with My Week with Marilyn in 2011 and the indie hit The Perks of Being a Wallflower last year.
"I never would have thought of Emma Watson as this Valley Girl, but she had an interesting take on it," said Coppola. "Yeah, so she studied her Calabasas accent," she added, referring to the wealthy Los Angeles enclave that's home to a number of celebrities.
Coppola and Kent Jones in conversation at Film Society. Photo: Godlis
While the internet proved essential in helping the real-life Bling Ringers, it also aided in their doom. The group frequently posed with their cache, uploading photos of their treasure-trove of goodies to Facebook and elsewhere, eventually leading to their arrest. But that didn't spell an end the story for at least one of their victims, Paris Hilton. The socialite/actress/marketer extraordinaire offered up her house for Coppola's production and even has a cameo in the film.
"Paris is the only [victim] who has seen the movie so far," said Coppola. "She was really into it. She said she got emotional when she saw her house."
Less emotional, perhaps, is Coppola herself, who said that while the story combined great elements for film, it touched her the least of all of her films. "This is probably the least personal of my movies, but I still put myself into it. I think it was the biggest challenge for me to relate to these kids' point of view, whereas in Lost in Translation, the girl was going through some of the things I had on my mind at the time. And in Somewhere, Stephen Dorff and Elle Fanning's characters have parts of myself I can find more easily identify with."
The Bling Ring opens Friday, June 14 in select cities. Check out the rest of our lineup of free Summer Talks at Film Society. And check back soon for video of the conversation between Sofia Coppola and Kent Jones.