Spring 2017

Sofia Coppola and Anne Ross

For The Beguiled, Coppola and Ross Travel Back in Time


Director Sofia Coppola and production designer Anne Ross (Photo: Courtesy of Sofia Coppola)

Friends and collaborators for nearly 30 years, writer-director Sofia Coppola and production designer Anne Ross have worked together on a variety of feature films (Lost in Translation, Somewhere), commercials (Christian Dior and H&M) and music videos (The White Stripes). Theirs is a sleek visual world of elegant mansions, minimalist and modern interiors, and, above all, a vivid depiction of isolation and alienation. However, with their upcoming fourth feature collaboration, The Beguiled, a remake of Don Siegel's 1971 Civil War-era drama about a Union soldier who takes refuge in a Confederate girls school, Coppola and Ross appear to be forging into new territory with their first period film together. They spoke to DGA Quarterly about their methods, from mood boards to white spaces to the advantages of real locations.

DGA: You two go back a long time. Anne, I saw that you assisted on Francis Ford Coppola's Bram Stoker's Dracula in 1992. Did you meet before that?

ROSS: Yes, we've been friends for decades through work. It's wonderful to be friends with someone who you've collaborated with for so long. We did this little movie, The Spirit of '76, in the late '80s; she was doing costumes and I was in the art department.

DGA: What is your prep process like?

COPPOLA: We start early on talking about it when I'm writing. It's a big help to me. I put together reference photos and images to help with writing. Anne knows me so well that we have a shorthand, and she's able to find those images that are helpful for the mood and tone of the world we're trying to create. When we start the actual prep, Anne has big mood boards of images on set that help the DP and costume designer get on the same page.

DGA: Do you ever disagree?

COPPOLA: Usually, we're on the same page. Sometimes, I have to figure out why I don't agree with her, whether it'll be about a color or something else. My tendency is always to be more restrained.
ROSS: There's not a lot of pushing, because ultimately, it's Sofia's movie. But I present my ideas passionately, and sometimes, it might be too over the top or strong, and she'll keep things in line. Oftentimes, if I come with an idea, by discussing it with her, it becomes a better idea.

VIRGINAL WHITE: Some of the visual cues that Sofia Coppola and production designer Anne Ross referenced for The Beguiled, top, included the Roman Polanski film Tess, Peter Weir's Picnic at Hanging Rock, and the portraiture of painter John Singer Sargent. (Photos: (Top) Ben Rothstein/Focus Features; (Middle) Everett (2); (Bottom) Alamy)

DGA: What were some of the reference images that you looked at for The Beguiled?

ROSS: When Sofia was talking about the things that she's drawn to, we looked at Picnic at Hanging Rock, Tess and there was a shot from To Catch a Thief of someone who is in silhouette that Sofia found for a specific shot. And not just movies, but also photographers and painters, like we looked at a lot of John Singer Sargent and his paintings of women and girls in white dresses against dark backgrounds.

DGA: In looking at a lot of your work together, I see lots of white: white walls, white costumes, white rooms. Is that intentional?

ROSS: I remember on The Bling Ring (2013), when we were shooting in the Valley, we thought about how those people lived in these bland, beige boxes.
COPPOLA: Definitely, and the beige, bland colors are in contrast to the bright world they enter. You want to follow the emotional state of the characters in a visual way. In Somewhere (2010), we wanted the Chateau [Marmont] to be blank, simple and neutral. For that film, I think the starting point was: Let's make it as normal as possible. I had just finished Marie Antoinette (2006), and I wanted to make a movie that was simple, as it's really about the father and the daughter. The locations, like the desert and the iceskating rink, are about his solitude and trying to find a connection to her, and not really being connected to the world around him. ROSS: Within those wider shots it was also about the personal things they carried and that were around them.

DGA: Do you remember any specifics?

COPPOLA: Anne had this idea that [Stephen Dorff's character] had some art that he never unpacked that was just lying around. Anne had also put some flowers and other things around the house, but as the film goes on, those elements
ROSS: I remember on Lost in Translation (2003), we had long conversations about luggage, and we gave Bill [Murray] this Tumi luggage, because that's something her dad had and it was very male, not interested in flashy design.

EMBELLISHMENTS : (Top) A Very Murray Christmas, with its soundstage set design, represented a departure for Coppola and Ross' usual emphasis on real locations; (Middle) Lost in Translation used the Park Hyatt in Tokyo as a backdrop; (Bottom) The Bling Ring was shot in Los Angeles, with Paris Hilton's home adding authenticity to a story based on actual burglaries of celebrities in the Hollywood Hills. (Photos: (Top to Bottom) Ali Goldstein/Netflix; Photofest; Everett)

DGA: Speaking of Lost in Translation, I always wondered about that iconic triangular zebra-print wallpaper in the hallway of the karaoke bar. How did you find it? And what attracted you to it?

COPPOLA: It was the real place; in my 20s, the guy who plays Charlie Brown (Fumihiro Hayashi) would take me to these little places that you'd never find on your own as a tourist. In Tokyo, there's this mixture of Western styles, and it's always interesting in the way that they interpret that.

DGA: From the Park Hyatt in Lost in Translation to Paris Hilton's house in The Bling Ring, a lot of your collaborations have taken place in found locations. Why do you prefer that?

COPPOLA: I've always preferred shooting in a real location. Even when I was working as a photographer, I never worked in a studio. People feel differently in a real location, because it has a history. If you look out the window, you can see a real place outside. When we did the Very Murray Christmas special [in 2015], we created this fantasy TV station, which was different. But that worked because it was all fake. When it has to feel real, we love to work in a real location. On The Beguiled, we made the film in two real locations: a plantation house for the exteriors, and found another house for the interiors.
ROSS: We're always trying to find the best existing locations, so you're not creating more work if you find something that's beautiful. You step away and leave it alone. Especially when you're moving fast as Sofia tends to do a lot. On The Beguiled, we did some building on the outside of the houses to remove anything that looked modern, but Sofia and her cinematographer like to be able to shoot in order and move from room to room so it can feel authentic and real for the characters.

DGA: It seems like The Beguiled, at least in subject matter, seems a lot darker than your previous films. How different is it?

COPPOLA: The film starts off in this lacey, pastel, soft world, but then the softness goes away and it gets darker, with pale images on dark backgrounds. The whole gothic feeling is more genre-y, and we hadn't done that before. Anne made the house with vines growing up it, and that feeling of neglect really helped set the stage that they're cut off from the world. She also designed this gate with spikes on it; we had these candelabras and a woodpaneled dining room. It was fun to have those gothic details.
ROSS: The period is also very different, but there is a nice connection between The Virgin Suicides (1999), because it's about women being together, and we were interested in the domestic life of these women and the isolation that they were living in.


Our new series involves a three-way conversation between the interviewer and a director and his or her frequent collaborator—whether it be a cinematographer, composer, editor, costume designer or production designer—about their creative alchemy and the process by which they bring out the best in each other’s artistry.

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