Back in 2013, Gia Coppola made her feature film debut with Palo Alto. After gaining attention with such a bold debut, she now makes an even louder statement with her second feature, Mainstream. Starring Andrew Garfield, Maya Hawke, and Nat Wolff, the film tells the story of Frankie (Hawke), a worn-out young woman who works at a bar in the heart of Hollywood. Her life takes an exciting turn when she begins making online videos with the mysterious Link (Garfield). Skyrockting to major influencer status soon takes a toll, causing everything to spiral out of control.
Mainstream is a cautionary tale of the effects that social media and content creation can have today. With a film that provides such crucial commentary, we had plenty of questions to ask writer and director Gia Coppola. Find out more about Coppola’s thought process and how she tackled the material with lead star Andrew Garfield in our exclusive interview!
Besides directing, you also co-wrote Mainstream. What inspired you to create this film?
Gia Coppola: It was a lot of things. I had seen this movie, A Face in the Crowd, which I felt very inspired by and even though it was made in the 1950s, it’s still very relevant. But also, it was just my fascination with this culture that I didn’t feel like I fully understood, and I wanted to understand it better. In order to do so, you really have to dive in.
Goes to say that the film has an incredible ensemble, how involved were you in the casting process?
Gia Coppola: Casting is really fun for me and it’s very important to a film. Once you have the right people conveying your characters, you just let go and have them bring their talent. But with that, I’m very grateful for someone like Andrew Garfield, because he’s extremely talented. I had gotten to know him throughout the years and when I had some sort of idea, I approached him and asked him to collaborate with me.
We did a lot of workshops, improvs, and discussions to figure out what the moral of it all was. Then with Nat Wolff, of course, I’ve known him since Palo Alto and I think he’s such a sweet, genuine human being. He played such a deranged character in Palo Alto, that I now wanted him to play something that was a little more expressive of his beautiful self. I got to meet Maya [Hawke] through a job and I just felt instantly, like I saw the character in her. I felt like no one else could play it but her, and we really just had a connection that was instantaneous.
Your cast and crew were comprised of quite a small team, what was it like working on set with them every day?
Gia Coppola: I really like having a small environment. I want to set a familial tone so that we could all be vulnerable to each other. I feel like those are the kinds of sets that work best. With the crew, I had worked with them before and that felt like family already. It just creates a better dynamic for collaborating and bouncing ideas off one another.
You assumed so many different roles throughout the production, as you were also a producer. How do you go about switching between those mindsets to accommodate specific bits of work that need to get done?
Gia Coppola: I feel like when I make anything, I take on all of those roles naturally. I just want to be involved. I want to know that I’m controlling as much as you can while making a movie, because you want to make sure that all those little details are going to create the thing that you have in your head. To me, it seems that the only way to do so is to be involved in all those different elements. It doesn’t really feel like a juggle.
How long did the shoot actually last?
Gia Coppola: Filming only took 19 days, which was a real crazy mad dash. We were low-budget and Los Angeles has its expenses. I wanted the film to take place in the Hollywood Boulevard environment. I think that being such a small team and having had all this time together made the 19 days a lot easier.
There are quite a few real-life influences in Mainstream, such as Casey Frey and Jake Paul. How did you approach them with the project?
Gia Coppola: We did a casting day and they came in, but I was always a fan of Casey [Frey]. I think I just sent him a DM to come in because some of them don’t have the normal representation that you would within film politics, which was refreshing. Getting to know them, enjoying their content, and listening to how they interact with their audience was important to make sure that I wasn’t ridiculing them while trying to represent both sides.
Without going too much into detail, the scene with the influencer’s roundtable is quite insane. Were they already used to being directed or did you just let them react as the scene unfolded?
Gia Coppola: The good thing is that they’re very comfortable in front of the camera. They’re used to that. I’m not sure specifically which ones had been on a film set before, but with that scene, in particular, we made sure to not include the tail end of it so that it was a genuine surprise. So they didn’t know that was coming, which was exciting.
On a wider note, do you have any advice for aspiring filmmakers who are trying to break into the industry?
Gia Coppola: I always feel like if you can tell a story that is very personal to you, that is always what’s unique and stands out. What is so great about this time is that technology is less expensive and there are spaces where you can share your work and be seen, which I think is really cool. For me, I always feel like it’s not about kind of working with – especially with a crew – it’s not about having the person with the best resume, it’s about having people that you feel in sync with. Then it’s just fun, it’s like you’re making movies with friends and an amazing, inspiring space is formed.
To finish up, what do you hope audiences will take away from Mainstream?
Gia Coppola: I always hoped that it would just be a conversation and self-reflection, to question yourself as to where you feel in this sort of space or how are you or are you not a participant? To recognize what the values are. I’ve been saying “all that glitters is not gold”, and I feel that represents a lot to me.