Coppola ended up making “Palo Alto” as much by accident as design. She had met Franco in Los Angeles, and the two started trading ideas. When she read his collection, it touched a nerve.
“I didn’t have a very good time in high school,” Coppola said, and thought Franco’s stories captured the inarticulate heartache of adolescence.”
Even though she had grown up surrounded by filmmakers, she was intimidated by the idea of directing her first feature. “But James said, ‘Just take the stories you like the most and write a little screenplay,’” Coppola said. So she put together a mini-script, assembled a group of friends and over a few days shot a test short adapted from the three-part story “April.”
“I hated the test. I was so disappointed in it,” Coppola said. She realized she needed to take a more professional approach, and that meant landing financing. Even with her family pedigree, she struggled to raise money. “I didn’t think anybody wanted to finance a movie by someone who had never directed before,” said Coppola.
She knew that money would be a double-edge sword, so she kept her ambitions modest, shooting over 30 days, so as to have more control over the finished film, with Franco’s company, RabbitBandini Productions, financing the film. To cut costs, for April’s bedroom she filmed inside her own childhood bedroom, which her mother had preserved as a time capsule once Coppola went off to college.
“We didn’t have to pay for the location, and it was already dressed - it kept the vibe of the shooting very mellow,” she said. It’s also where you can spot a poster of “The Virgin Suicides.” “That was the perfect movie for me,” she said of Sofia’s 1999 feature debut. She can’t remember whether she had the poster up when she was April’s age, but it made sense that the character also would have liked the film.