By Doniphan Blair
YOU COULDN’T FIND TWO MORE different characters than Christopher Coppola and Jeffrey Gliwa: one a garrulous, big bear of man, who likes bandana head gear, the other a smiley smaller fellow favoring ball caps emblazoned with a shark.
Nevertheless, they just premiered their second collaboration as director and producer, “Torch”, a heist film involving Mayan curses, modern shamans and shot in the jungles of Belize.
As if that wasn’t enough, Coppola and Gliwa just announced plans to build a studio somewhere in the Bay Area, perhaps the Presidio, to be called Blue Shark Pictures, the name of Gliwa’s company. Expanding on the indie tradition established in San Francisco by Christopher’s uncle, Francis Ford Coppola, they will employ film students, to both save money and stimulate what could become an indie hub.
Scion of a famous filmmaking family, Christopher Coppola, 55, went his own way, studying music and becoming a beatnik-biker type, all the while making independent features. “Torch” was his tenth and he’s a workaholic in other regards as well.
Indeed, he has been running the San Francisco Art Institute’s film department for five years and sitting on the California Arts Council since 2013 (see cS article).
Gliwa, 43, for his part, has been working since he was 12, also under the tutelage of a beloved uncle. By the time he was 16, he was raising venture capital, paying his grandmother’s mortgage and starting to work on Wall Street. But when he moved west to open a restaurant in Sherman Oaks, it went bust, as if by an LA SWAT team, inspiring him to change careers, hence the birth of Blue Shark Pictures.
Director, teacher, activist, Christopher Coppola and producer Jeffrey Gliwa enjoy lunch at Francis Ford Coppola’s Café Zoetrope. photo: D. Blair
The name is intended to suggest he will eat you alive, before you’ve even tucked in your napkin, a service he’s now offering indie cineastes, starting with Coppola. Shortly after they met, Gliwa put together the financing for “Sacred Blood” (2015), in the four hundred thou zone, and starring Anna Biani, Bailey Coppola (Christopher’s son), Bai Ling and the fabulous Michael Madsen of “Reservoir Dogs” fame.
Featuring Christopher’s trademark hybrid of indie, B and operatic, the film starts in a circus in Batumi, Republic of Georgia—two sisters and their knife-throwing act—but soon segues to San Francisco, artists in love and vampires—the chief bloodsucker being none other then local indie master Rob Nilsson.
“’Sacred Blood’ showed the underbelly of San Francisco, the loneliness, ships in the night,” Coppola said, when we met recently for lunch at his uncle’s North Beach restaurant.
“I’d like to say I did two chick flicks—I wonder how that flies, perhaps I shouldn’t say ‘chick flicks’—two women’s films, where a woman has to find herself. ”
“I had no sisters,” Coppola reflected. “I was raised by men—my mother was hospitalized when I was kid.”
“Torch” was shot in Belize, where Uncle Francis happens to have two resorts, although Coppola selected locations deep in the jungle. “I do well in those areas,” he remarked, “people there like me.”
“The whole method of how we do everything is from the Roger Corman world of B- movies—genre based,” Gliwa explained, as the three of us stuffed face on the fabulous fair of Café Zoetrope, which sits on the border between San Francisco’s Little Italy and Chinatown, a symbolical location which may prove fortuitous for their new studio.
“Do it at a lower budget and sell high—kind of commercial low budget,” Gliwa added. Next up: “Biker Macbeth”, a biker movie, obviously, and “Duck Duck Goose”, a children’s film.
The shaman, deep in the jungle of Belize, doesn’t have good news in Coppola’s ‘Torch’. photo: courtesy C. Coppola
Of course setting up a studio, no matter how small, digital and student-powered, is an ambitious and complicated project. In addition to Francis’s attempt with George Lucas, et al, it has been tried many times locally, by characters as diverse as Saul Zaentz (fantastically successful) and Eric Edmeades (a complete flop, going down within months on embezzlement charges, see cS article)
“A lot of what I do is about bringing independent film back to San Francisco,” Coppola said. “I have students working on professional productions all the time—learning by doing.”
At the Mill Valley premier of ‘Torch’ in early October, “we had about forty students on the stage,” from the San Francisco Art Institute, Coppola’s alma mater, and the SF Conservatory of Music.
“It’s that idea of making low-budget movies with students to see if we can find the next ‘one.’ At Corman’s, you had my uncle, James Cameron, Ron Howard, John Carpenter—they all started there,” said Coppola, finishing his food and starting to roll.
“Not only that, Francis came here to set up his company—that is why we have this building. He wanted to get out of Hollywood and make San Francisco an independent hub. So now I am doing it.“
“He also pioneered electronic cinema,” Coppola continued. “Francis said—he hates this—‘One day we are going to be looking at films by a little girl from Idaho [Ohio, actually]. Time Magazine came out with a cover that had a mirror, as if to say: ‘Who is the next filmmaker—you!”
“There’s always been mainly crap in Hollywood but it makes money,” Coppola carried on, finding his soapbox, Gliwa nodding. “Now it’s essentially video games. I don’t judge it but video games are a far bigger market than film.”
Christopher Coppola likes to come at his subject straight on and wrestle it to the ground. photo: D. Blair
“The idea of someone saying, ‘It really sucks when people have access to equipment and can make any movie they want.’ It makes me want to slap the guy,” Coppola concluded. “Well, Hollywood has been putting out a lot of crap for awhile.”
Coppola is also developing an educational project with the Creative Cinema Collective (see their Youtube channel) for the Hera International Film Festival in China.
“I went to Qingdao, China, where they have Wanda Films—a huge studio,” he explained. “Forget the United States. Just California and China—the Golden State, the sixth biggest economy in the world. China is interested in creating their own Hollywood and they have a huge audience — the biggest audience in the world!”
“40% of my students are from mainland China. I have a great rapport with them and the SFAI film department is well respected in China. I’ll be taking what I am doing with film education here in SF and bringing it to China.”
“If you think about the school [SFAI], we have a lot of people who made it in the business: Wayne Wang, Katherine Bigelow [who started as a painter], Richard Beggs for sound, Lance Acord, the DP who shot Spike [Lee]’s movies. Spike went for a little bit. Phil Kaufman went for a bit.”
An impassioned Coppola presentation, also at Café Zoetrope, on behalf of the SF Art Institute film department. photo: D. Blair
“For the size of the school, a lot of people developed their personal vision and made it in the business. I think that the school can produce some very unique filmmakers.”
“Francis did it with Lucas, [John] Milius. This idea is carrying on what he started in the ‘70s, electronic cinema, giving young people a shot. He is very impressed with us, making two movies back to back.”
Gliwa nodded vigorously and smiled broadly, not unlike a shark. And what will he be bringing to the table, aside from cash?
“I worked for years in the bar industry in New York,” Gliwa told me, “and in the finance industry before that. I worked since 12 for my uncle, who had a sporting goods store, a Hallmark [cards] store and a toy store. I started raising money over the phone when I was 14.”
“By the time I went to college I was doing sales for the college, but I hated corporate America, so I went into the bar business and learned that industry from the guy who owned Studio 54. In 2006, I moved to LA and tried to open a bar in Sherman Oakes but it completely failed.”
That was the first major financial debacle of Gliwa’s life, so he took off six months, met a guy who knew about raising money for indie films, inhaled that business and started Blue Shark Pictures.
Between the two of them, Coppola and Gliwa have an amazing skill set and diverse perspective, perhaps enough to make the difficult dream of a Bay Area indie studio manifest.
Doniphan Blair is a writer, film magazine publisher, designer and filmmaker (‘Our Holocaust Vacation‘), who can be reached here.
Please visit Jeffrey Gliwa on his websites and blogs:
Original article; http://cinesourcemagazine.com/index.php?/site/comments/coppola_comes_out_with_film_and_studio_proposal/ – .Wh30V0tryV7