Roman Coppola is out of his element.
The man who’s written and produced such critically acclaimed films as Moonrise Kingdom, The Bling Ring, and The Darjeeling Limited, has shifted into the burgeoning industry of online, on-demand television with Amazon Studios’ Mozart in the Jungle, as an executive producer, writer, and director. All 10 episodes of the new show will be available for streaming on Amazon, beginning December 23.
Based on the 2005 memoir of the same name by oboist Blair Tindall, Mozart in the Jungle is what you don’t see when the curtain closes on the men and women in tuxedos and gowns playing refined, classical repertoires. Renowned New York Philharmonic composer Thomas (Malcolm McDowell) has just been ousted by the unorthodox, libertine, wunderkind Rodrigo (Gael Garcia Bernal), as the young aspiring oboist Hailey (Lola Kirke) does whatever it takes to be a part of the symphony. What follows is an intimate look at the lives of orchestra members, weaving in drugs, sex, and humor along the way.
For Coppola, partnering with Amazon has given him a new sense of creative freedom that’s pushing him to new frontiers of storytelling. And it’s allowed him, in a manner, to do what his father, Francis, did some 35 years earlier: run wild in the jungle. True, in dad’s case the story and circumstances were rather different.
How did this project come together?
It all started with Jason [Schwartzman] who read the review of this book, Mozart in the Jungle. He was like, “This is such an interesting world, pulling the curtains and showing the inner workings of an orchestra.” He showed me, and it was one of those moments when you recognize something right off the bat. We wrote a pilot with Alex Timbers, who’s a super talented director and writer known for his work on Broadway and in theater. Initially, HBO was interested.
They were into the fact it had a female character and it was set in New York–they wanted something like that. Unlucky for us, but in a way lucky, they ended up with Girls, which was quite successful, of course. It didn’t make sense for them to proceed [with Mozart], and we found Amazon, who has been a really tremendous partner in that they don’t have a big history of making shows so they’re very generous. We had a lot of rein to work and figure it out.
You’ve cut your teeth in film with an occasional short here and there–how does Mozart in the Jungle differ?
Feature work, if you’re lucky, it’ll be filmed in a year but most most likely it’s two or three years, maybe seven, or maybe never. That’s just the way it goes in that world. But [with this] we were: “Oh, my god. We’re shooting this Wednesday–it’s Monday afternoon. We have to figure this out.” Or the location fell out so we’re not shooting an exterior now–how can we set it in an elevator. So there’s an immediacy in this process of this new format of television that’s serialized for a binge-watching experience rather than an episodic kind of thing. That really created a charge for us.
So you found a sense of creative freedom in this wilder environment?
My biggest pleasure is that we were finding it as we were making it. So the show has a weird, unexpected quality. The tone is kind of curious: It’s funny at one part, a little more dramatic in another part, it’s a little more sensational in another part. And I personally love works that aren’t that obvious thing when you know what’s coming. To me there’s a pleasure in the act of finding it and giving it a personality. And for the world of television watching it’s kind of nice to see something where you can’t totally know where it’s going next.
Can you give us an example of that?
On the page of the pilot, Rodrigo is this cocky, hotshot, womanizer kind of a star. But when we really started working with Gael he was like, “I see this guy as kind of a mystic and maybe he has this tortured relationship with a woman from his past.” So he suggested a lot of those ideas. I had no idea he’s really funny. So we also got the benefit of this eccentricity through the humor. We were luckily in a position where since we were writing it as we went and finding it that we could say, “yeah, he was this passionate love” and we wove her in and created that character. It was never an intended plan–it was after we got to know him and what he brought, which is really rare.
There are a lot of contrasting themes in the show: the traditional vs. the modern; art vs. business–what about this tension works for you?
When you say classical music, you’re thinking tuxedos, wealthy people, uptight, old-fashioned. The truth is there are a lot of young people aspiring to be in this world. There are lot of very dynamic characters who are wild and irreverent–they are passionate artists at work and at play trying to push boundaries. In fact, my great uncle Anton Coppola is a conductor and I was delighted because he said, ‘You couldn’t have been more right on!’ These guys in the orchestra, they look like they’re rich guys but they go home they’ve got to make payments, they’ve got to do another gig at a wedding.
I’m a big believer in intuition and what seems right and feels right. We didn’t talk too much about ideas–we talked more about those sensual details guided by our intuition with the target of knowing that wanted to show this world with a truthful spirit but with a certain irreverence and sense of play.
You did a little directing this season–which is your first time directing for smaller screens. What can we expect?
I directed the seventh episode. It’s not meant to be too underlined but the whole episode is composed in 10 sequences that are single shot so that was something I felt a sense a pride about that I was able to make something unique and do something with my own kind of stamp on it.
With Season 1 finished, and as a sort of rookie yourself, where do you think television is headed?
I’m very jazzed about this new aspect. I love new things and the fact that this is the golden moment of television happening. Now you can tell a story in five hours or eight hours–that wasn’t really possible before. So my wheels are spinning: how to do this again in some other way.