Meeting Filmmaker Eleanor Coppola

When the movie Paris Can Wait opened in theaters on May 12, I took a girlfriend to see the delightful romantic comedy about a Hollywood producer’s wife who takes an unexpected romp through France. The trip reawakens her sense of self and joie de vivre.

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We both agreed the movie was cast beautifully with the lead actress Anne, played by Academy Award nominee Diane Lane (Best Actress, Unfaithful, 2002), and her leading men Alec Baldwin (SNL, Blue Jasmine and It’s Complicated) and French actor and filmmaker Arnaud Viard (Clara et moi, Arnaud fait son 2e film).

Last week I received a lunch invitation at Thomas Keller’s Bouchon in Beverly Hills to meet the filmmaker of the movie, Eleanor Coppola. If her last name sounds familiar to you, it should. Eleanor is the wife of Academy Award winning filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola. She is also the mother to filmmakers Sofia Coppola, Roman Coppola and Gian-Carlo Coppola.

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Sitting next to Hollywood’s newest screenwriter and movie maker Eleanor Coppola, I asked her why she waited so long to make her first feature film. “Call me a late bloomer. My role in our family is wife and mother. That’s how they see me,” Eleanor said. ” I’ve worked on behind-the-scenes documentaries for my husband, and daughter Sofia. I never had making a feature film on my bucket list, because I am more an observer.” Eleanor told me she enjoys making documentaries, “because the action goes right by, and you don’t have to retake a scene five times.” She said she finally caught the family virus while in her 70s. “I thought if it fails, who cares!”

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When I asked her how she met her husband, she told me that they met while studying at UCLA. “I was studying applied design, and worked on a set where Francis was wildly typing a script for one of his first films. He was in his pajamas and without a shirt,” Eleanor said. “My mother wanted me to marry an accountant, not a filmmaker,” she said with a laugh. “I told my mother, I can’t spend my life being bored.” Eleanor said that being married to Francis has been anything but boring. They have been married 54 years. “We’ve been through great highs and lows.” I know one of their lows was the death of their first son Gian-Carlo. Sadly he died in a boating accident in 1986.

I quietly asked her how coped with his loss. “A friend gave me advice. She told me that my son wouldn’t want me to become an alcoholic old lady,” she said with a chuckle. “While everyone was looking at me during this experience, my friend told me to go to the deep bottom of this profound experience and then strongly climb out.” She now appreciates life more after his tragedy. “My advice to others suffering from a loss is to find your passion or path in life. There are going to be lots of twists and turns. Be the best you can be,” Eleanor said.

When I asked why she waited so long to make her first feature film, and what inspired her to write this film, she said “There is a need for a movie that appeals to women 50+.” After returning from a similar experience while in Europe with Francis, she told a friend about her experience. “My friend said she would love to see a movie like that.” Unfortunately it took over six years to get financing for the movie. “No one wanted to give a first-time, female filmmaker, in her 70s money. Especially for a movie without sex and violence,” she said. “What I learned from Francis while watching him make Apocalypse Now is to never give up! Women tend to give up more easily, because making movies has always been a man’s world.”

Since the movie is a food, wine and travel journey, I asked her if she hired a chef to stage all of her culinary scenes. Living up in Napa Valley, Eleanor has a friend who is an Executive chef. She shared how she brainstormed with chef Maria Helm Sinskey to create all of the meals in the movie. “The menu needed to go with the dialogue in the script.”  They all had a fun time eating after filming the scenes.

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Before leaving, Eleanor presented me a bottle of wine from Francis Ford Coppola Winery. On the art textile design label was her name Eleanor. “I developed a wine based on two of my favorite grapes – a Syrah and a Cabernet Sauvignon.” We both agreed that a  great wine is a blend. “The Syrah is from the Napa property and the Cab is from Sonoma.”

Looking for a fun romantic film filled with beautiful French countryside shots, delicious food experiences and a quirky leading man? Eleanor Coppola’s movie Paris Can Wait is now on DVD, Blu-ray and digital by Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.

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