Writer, producer and director Roman Coppola answers five questions for the Film4 blog, as On The Road receives its UK premiere and his new script writing opportunity Four Stories launches…

Roman Coppola, producer, On The Road

Roman Coppola, producer, On The Road

It’s a big week for Roman Coppola. On The Road, a film backed by Film4 and produced by Coppola, receives its UK premiere at Film4 Summer Screen at Somerset House, and his scriptwriting initiative Four Stories (part of a new series of creative collaborations from Intel) has launched globally. Originally optioned by Francis Ford Coppola in the 1970s, it’s been a long journey to the screen for On The Road, but finally, in the hands of Roman Coppola, director Walter Salles and screenwriter Jose Rivera, the Kerouac classic lives, and will be seen for the first time by UK audiences under the stars in the beautiful courtyard of Somerset House in London, tonight, Thursday 16th August. Meanwhile, Four Stories, which launched on August 10th with Intel and WHotels, is looking for a script for a ten-minute short film from aspiring creatives, with Roman and a panel of judges choosing three screenplays that will be produced by Roman’s filmmaking company The Directors Bureau (click here for details).

Despite being incredibly busy with all of the above and more, Roman found time to answer five questions for the Film4 blog:

1. On The Road receives its UK premiere tonight at Film4 Summer Screen – it’s a story that’s taken a long time to make its way to the big screen, could you reveal a bit about your part in that journey?

Roman Coppola: On The Road is a wonderful movie directed by Walter Salles. I’m very proud of it. It took a long time to find its way to the screen. It was something where even in Jack Kerouac’s lifetime there was a lot of discussion about making it into a movie. I became tangentially involved in the late 70′s, in ’79 when my dad bought the rights, and there was a lot of discussion about how it should be made, and different stops and starts. I took a personal interest in it in the 90′s, and I made an attempt at a screenplay and had ambitions to make it into a film. It’s something I’ve always been attracted to. It’s a book I love and it feels very cinematic to me and I always loved how unusual the form was – that it was not a typical three act structure. I’m very proud of the film and I hope that the English audience goes out to see it and that it finds its audience.

2. What are some of the things you personally look for in a great script?

RC: The main thing is that it is compelling and you want to just keep turning the pages. Scripts by their nature are often dry because they’re sort of a blueprint for a movie. So often they can be difficult to read, time consuming and not as engaging as you would like. So obviously, always look for something that grabs your attention and compels you to read on. I like material that is surprising and has a sense of playfulness and inventiveness and evokes a feeling of delight or curiosity – so when I see things that have those qualities, I’m drawn to it personally. You like seeing work that feels original and really feels like the work of an artist or an author who’s really doing something to serve their own personal interests rather than trying to copy something or do something that’s been done before.

3. Tell us about how short film opportunity Four Stories came about?

RC: I was approached by VICE Media, the creative team behind this idea through their work with Intel and WHotels. So they approached me and said, “How would you like to participate in this contest and make a short film and to be a judge and a participant?” and I was interested and I agreed. To me it was an invitation that I felt if I accepted I would learn something and something positive would come of it. I’ve never made a short film before, a short narrative film, and I always enjoy meeting new people and seeing fresh ideas. So my involvement was really just one of curiosity and feeling that if I accepted this invitation that I would learn something or be exposed to something interesting.

4. What in particular do you believe is crucial to creating a successful short form narrative?

RC: Well, I’ve worked in short form, particularly doing commercials and music videos, which often have a little story – at least the ones I like to do have a certain story form often. I don’t feel authorized to make any proclamations as to how it should be precisely. I do think clarity is important and I think that if you have a clever or smart ending that it’s quite important. For a feature film you come to expect the shape of it and you sort of have a sense of this 90 minute adventure, whereas a short, you never quite know when it may end – so it does seem like the ending needs to have a particular strength and resonance so that it feels like a complete experience. Otherwise, I think there are no rules, which is sort of the beauty of cinema and art.

5. Can you share with us a little about your own writing process – the when, the where, the why?

RC: Well, my process of writing usually begins with a little tingle of a feeling, an idea, something that just starts to be just a little thread of some image or feeling that you feel has some merit, you’re curious about, daydreaming about. And so I find that I will start to make a lot of scribbles or notes and kind of free associate and obviously there’s often a setting or character that is the beginning of that idea and you start to do research and think about what are the other ingredients that would be connected to that and to me it could be a long process of making notes and finding ingredients that feel connected with that original, intuitive, gut-feeling. Often I’ll watch movies and read things and I’ll try to apply some of the things that I’m drawn to – how it may relate and sometimes it’s even helpful to know how things don’t relate and you can rule them out. So when you’re sort of infected with an idea you tend to see everything through that prism and I just find that living my life and being curious about things in general, you start to apply things to that story notion and it slowly develops from there.  In my personal experience it can often take a very long time.

You can submit your original screenplay to Intel and Roman Coppola at intel.com/fourstories until 30th August 2012.


Film4′s own short story opportunity SceneStealers from digital innovation wing Film4.0 has now closed, but you can view some of the entries here. Winners will be announced 24th August and the winning films screened at Film4 Summer Screen closing night on the 27th August.