Seven years after the release of her 2013 debut feature “Palo Alto,” which was nominated for the Horizons Award at the Venice Film Festival, Gia Coppola is back with her sophomore drama, “Mainstream.” The film, which centers on a trio of young, fledgling Angelenos—Maya Hawke, Andrew Garfield and Nat Wolff—who rise to Internet fame, world premieres Saturday as part of Venice’s Horizons section.
For Coppola, who holds Italian citizenship, the film, which also features Coppola’s cousin, Jason Schwartzman, captures “the female point of view” in a world where “women can tend to get overshadowed.” She spoke to Variety ahead of the premiere.
“Mainstream” explores our technology-saturated society, online fame and internet celebrities. What inspired you to write and direct this film?
When I was done with “Palo Alto,” I was thinking about what inspired me, and I was watching Turner Classic Movies, and it made me realize that most often women [in these older films] tend to give away their creativity or lose their instinct and morals for someone they love and want to love. And if that person is self-seeking, it’s a really hard lesson to go through. And at the same time one of my friends was representing YouTube and social influencers, and I was very curious what her job was and she kind of paraphrased it as: It’s so mainstream, mainstream doesn’t even know it yet.
She talked about how these influencers have more of a following than celebrities we are familiar with, and I became so interested in what this new world was, and how it related to the culture, and what place art has in all of it, and the dangers that are part of the internet.
We’ve all experienced bullying in some form or another, and usually it’s the bullying of kids who don’t yet have their identities. So it was about mashing these two ideas together.
You began your career as a photographer. How does still photography influence your cinematic work?
I got into filmmaking because I wanted to challenge myself further than photography, and filmmaking feels like an extension of that, but with more elements: costumes, set design, cinematography. And these are all things that I love, and I get to do it with people that I admire. But, of course, I feel very comfortable with photos and I like to articulate things that I am feeling by sharing photos.
You cast Maya Hawke as the lead in “Mainstream.” How did that come about?
I photographed Maya and we really got along and she was able to just instinctively know what I was looking for in the character without having to communicate a lot. Her character, Frankie, is a very innocent character. She doesn’t have a lot of opinions until it’s really dire to have opinions. Maya has this great quality in her performance. She can be translucent and her eyes can tell what the soul of the character is going through, and that heart and freshness was perfect.
Your cousin, Jason Schwartzman, is also in the film. Was that fun working together?
Jason can do anything. He’s very great at comedic timing, so I just let him improvise. It was nice to get to spend time with each other in that kind of world.
It’s been seven years between “Palo Alto” and “Mainstream.” Why such a long break in-between projects?
Independent features are hard and fate brings the right people together at the right time. For me, I wanted to have a creative expression that felt also fun and kind of like a fable and a satire. Working with Andrew (Garfield), he is super intelligent and funny and we talked about all the things I was feeling about our culture, and having him as a collaborator and working on the big elements of the script and project overall—the project just kept morphing and growing. It took a while to figure out what it wanted to be. I’m just trying to express this journey of what it feels like to trust your gut and not be swayed by what you want the truth to be. Hopefully, people will connect with the film and find it universal.