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EXCLUSIVE: From 'Mozart' to 'Dreamland,' How Music Influences the Coppola Family

by Stacy Lambe 10:30 AM PST, December 09, 2016
Matthew Shire, Jason Schwartzman, Roman Coppola, Francis Ford Coppola and Robert Schwartzman at Amazon's Golden Globes Awards celebration. Photo: Getty Images

When it comes to the Coppola family, there’s no shortage of talent. From composer and patriarch Carmine Coppola to his son, director Francis Ford Coppola, and various grandchildren, filmmakers Sofia and Roman Coppola, Jason and Robert Schwartzman and actor Nicolas Cage (né Coppola), and even the youngest generation, including musician Weston Coppola Cage and filmmaker Gia Coppola. The family has earned over 20 Academy Award nominations and nine wins, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Original Screenplay and Best Original Score.  

While talent certainly bonds them, it’s the music in their genes that unites them. “We come from a musical family,” Roman Coppola tells ET, referring to his late grandfather, Carmine Coppola, an Oscar-winning composer and flautist, and his great uncle, composer and conductor Anton Coppola, who at 99 years old is actively preparing a new concert for March of 2017. “We have a rich history of music being a tradition in our family,” which extends back to Italian musician Francesco Pennino, father to Carmine’s wife, Italia, whose musical play “Senza Mamma” can be heard in a scene of Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather Part II.

“That’s why I think music, for them,” Robert Schwartzman says, referring to his mother, Talia Shire, and uncles August and Francis Ford Coppola, “is a part of their lives and has played such a big role in their movies. Growing up, we were exposed to a lot of different types of music. So then the next generation picks up on that.” 

Robert Schwartzman with Johnny Simmons on the set of 'Dreamland.' Photo: Orion Pictures

Schwartzman, who is the front man of Rooney, recently joined the family business, making his directorial debut with Dreamland, about a pianist who turns to private tutoring in order to fund his dream of opening a piano bar and falls into a torrid affair with an older, wealthy femme fatale. When it came to making the film, he looked for those parallels between his life as a musician and making a film. “There are a lot of connections,” Schwartzman says. “I admire the craft of creating, shaping music to compliment a story that’s on screen. It’s very different than songwriting.”

“I’m conscious of the way music plays its part in a film,” Schwartzman adds -- a sentiment that’s not lost on his brother Jason, who in addition to writing, acting and directing, was a drummer for Phantom Planet before creating the indie solo act Coconut Records, or on his cousins Sofia and Roman. 

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“In my opinion, music is one of the key components of a movie,” Sofia Coppola said during the Cannes Film Festival in 2014, while promoting The Bling Ring. In addition to the accolades, her films have become notable for their music, including the score for The Virgin Suicides composed by the French electronic duo Air and the new wave-heavy soundtrack for Marie Antoinette. “It contributes to the atmosphere that we want to translate on screen. I also listen to lots of music when I'm writing a script, and the music in my films often comes to me at that time. So on the whole, it comes to me very early in my creative process. It inspires me and influences my films. It breathes soul into them.”

“It means something to us in terms of storytelling,” Roman Coppola adds. For the filmmaker, who established himself as an influential music video director in the ‘90s, that’s most apparent with the Golden Globe-winning Amazon series Mozart in the Jungle, which he developed and executive produces alongside his cousin, Jason Schwartzman. Inspired by the memoir Mozart in the Jungle: Sex, Drugs, and Classical Music, the show draws back the curtain on the world of classical music. “The show is a little window, a little way to get to know it and learn about it and be exposed to it,” he says, acknowledging his own interest in (and limited knowledge about) classical music, which “is such a broad term. But it’s something that I’m intrigued by.”

Dermot Mulroney as Andrew Walsh, a cello soloist, on 'Mozart in the Jungle.' Photo: Amazon

And the younger generation’s musical influence is not limited to appreciation. In addition to the original music Schwartzman composed for Dreamland, he also featured music selections by Francesco Pennino, Carmine Coppola and Coconut Records. Recently, a song by Weston Coppola Cage, who his father, Nicolas, says “is a very talented man,” was featured in his father’s film Dog Eat Dog. Anton Coppola appeared as Anton Gallo on season two of Mozart in the Jungle

Collaboration is very much part of the Coppola family’s creative process, whether it’s drawing from musical inspiration or working together to write, direct and produce films and TV shows. On Mozart, Coppola says Jason Schwartzman serves as a wild card, who can “have a blank piece of paper and then 10 minutes later, it’s 10 pages full of dialogue.” And there’s a balance to that collaboration process. “He has this really wild imagination and I have a more discerning eye,” Coppola adds. 

MORE: Why Casting Monica Bellucci on 'Mozart' Is a Full Circle Moment for Roman Coppola

Working together goes all the way back to their childhood, when Roman would make costumes for Sofia. “It’s just a natural extension of what was always done,” Coppola says. “It’s fun to work with people you have a shorthand with.” 

And in Robert Schwartzman’s case, with Dreamland in particular, it was a very sentimental moment having his mother and brother both appear in the film. “They’ve been doing this for so long,” he says. “And the idea of having that collide with their lives creatively was something I really wanted to find a way to do.” While Shire was not a musician herself, she did encourage both of her sons to listen to classical music and embrace the family heritage. “She was devoted to us,” Schwartzman says. 

“I just enjoy the family stuff and you’re going to get people who point the finger at it,” Schwartzman continues. “But at the end of the day, I’d rather lead with who I am or that kind of connection.” 

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