- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 1, 2002

Roman Coppola, son of movie director Francis Ford Coppola, says he was "sort of cautious" about getting into directing. Mr. Coppola, 37, just released his debut feature, "CQ," a whimsical comedy concerning a shy, aspiring American filmmaker in late-1960s Paris.

"It's hard to deal with expectations that stress being the son of a famous filmmaker," Mr. Coppola says. "I just am who I am. I do think people will cast a more discriminating idea at what I may do, the first time especially.

"There's only one chance to make that first movie," he adds. "I feel very secure in this choice. I know it's not perfect, but it's about the joy of making that first film, a celebration of cinema. It's a little all over the place, but it sort of celebrates that, too."

A younger sister, Sofia Coppola, now 31, made her directing debut two years ago with "The Virgin Suicides."

When the engaging and soft-spoken Mr. Coppola was in Washington recently to promote "CQ," he was asked whether he owes his first name to director Roman Polanski.

"I should find out so I could answer once and for all," he responds. "I wasn't named after him, but his name made it a more attractive choice when I was born in 1965. My dad admired him a lot. Polanski was one of the first filmmakers to come out of film school. That was in the late 1950s. My dad took the same route to a professional career a bit later. He did look up to him."

In "CQ," actor Jeremy Davies portrays Paul, who works as a film editor for Italian producer Enzo (Giancarlo Giannini), who feels compelled to sack Andrezej (Gerard Depardieu), the volatile director of a superspy adventure fantasy titled "Dragonfly." Paul, romantically entangled with a flight attendant named Marlene (Elodie Bouchez), has been shooting a self-absorbed documentary journal while cutting "Dragonfly." Enzo offers him the opportunity to complete the commercial production, threatened in a trifling way by a vengeful Andrezej, who runs off with the negative at one point.

The ostensible setting is Paris, circa 1969, but Mr. Coppola estimates that 85 percent of the shooting was done in Luxembourg.

"That has to do with the financing, of course," he explains. "But I have to say it worked out pretty well. I wrote the movie thinking it could be shot entirely in Paris, specifically at the Eclair studio, which is a great facility. I was actually born near there. But Luxembourg offered us substantial savings while being close enough to Paris to make it easy for our cast and easy to get props and stuff. We used the labs in Paris, and most of the crew came from there. Luxembourg is revving up as a production center. We were just the second film to shoot at the studio we used. My cousin, Nicolas, had an associate who turned me on to the Luxembourg alternative."

That would be actor Nicolas Cage, born a year before Roman. Both began movie apprenticeships in Francis Ford Coppola films of the early 1980s: "The Outsiders," "Rumblefish," "The Cotton Club" and "Peggy Sue Got Married." Roman and his elder brother, Giancarlo, were behind the cameras, working as assistants of one magnitude or another.

Giancarlo was killed in a boating accident on Chesapeake Bay during the Memorial Day weekend of 1986, while his father was on location with "Gardens of Stone," released a year later. "I hadn't really thought about the date when I arrived here," Roman says, "but driving around you pick up a distinctive place, the way it looks and smells."

Roman Coppola knew he wanted "to work as closely as possible in the spirit of something that would have been done in the 1960s." In a technical sense, he could not resort to the Steadicam, or other enhanced tools of the trade, in an obvious way.

"It bounced around my head for four or five years," Mr. Coppola says of the film's pretext. "Professionally, I had done some music videos and commercials and second unit shooting, especially for my father. I had been intrigued by several books and scripts along the way. It's very hard to get a movie off the ground, you know.

"Meantime, I had this little private thing percolating that became 'CQ,'" he says. "I would pick it up, put it down, think about it. It got set aside while I was busy with something else, or discouraged about getting it beyond an amorphous stage. I realized that if I wanted it to happen, I had to accelerate the process. So I cranked out a script in a relatively short but intense period of three weeks in the fall of 1999."

Mr. Coppola isn't old enough to have been part of the international audience envisioned for movies such as "Dragonfly," which recalls the period pieces "Barbarella," "Modesty Blaise" and "Danger: Diabolik." In recent years, the same movies have served as stimulation for the "Austin Powers" farces.

"I had to catch up with all those movies," Mr. Coppola says. "I started with Elio Petri's 'The Tenth Victim,' with Marcello Mastroianni and Ursula Andress. It was my first exposure to a certain kind of European stylization in science-fiction comedy and adventure. Some of it you wanted to fast-forward through, but on the whole it was very entertaining.

"I started to look for similar movies and really fell in love with Mario Bava's 'Danger: Diabolik.' It was so imaginative and colorful. I looked at everything I could find. There are all sorts of nutty science-fiction movies from that period most pretty substandard, but for me the French and Italian ones had an irresistible flair. I borrow a lot from them, but I'm proud to admit to all the things I've copped. I was aiming for an affectionate homage."

The name of Francis Ford Coppola's original production company, American Zoetrope, is revived yet again with "CQ." Roman Coppola explains: "Zoetrope has been this odd combination of phoenix and albatross for my dad. It launched a lot of careers, notably George Lucas' career, and it's associated with some famous movies, but it's never been a sustainable company. He always had to subsidize it and reinvent it. It's been a perpetual struggle over the decades.

"This reincarnation was a lucky break for me. Just as I was ready to do my personal, independent movie, the company was there again. The financing was about 75 percent European. But my dad had built up a production fund over the last few years and secured a distribution deal with MGM-United Artists. The idea was to finance four of five movies that he could green light all under $10 million and more filmmaker-driven than big studio projects."

In addition to a modest budget, "CQ" was expected to recruit at least two cast members with indisputable name value in Europe. Mr. Giannini and Mr. Depardieu satisfied that requirement. "I was glad to have them," Mr. Coppola says. "I wish it had been for more than four days each, but it was tricky to arrange anything compatible around their schedules. Their time is at a premium, and they were very generous.

"Gerard had had heart problems not long before and during most of the time we were shooting, he was off in Morocco doing a really large-scale adventure film. I believe this is the first time they've actually appeared together in a scene, so that gives us a certain distinction. People ask what surprised me the most about directing. That's easy to answer: the gut-wrenching potential in every casting choice you make."

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