From the Magazine
september 2023 Issue

Sofia Coppola on Trusting Her Intuition, Dealing With Career Disappointment, and Jeffrey Eugenides’s Reaction to The Virgin Suicides

In her new book, the Oscar-winning director opens up her archives, from The Virgin Suicides to Priscilla; here, she opens up to VF about a quarter century of filmmaking.
Sofia Coppola on the Marie Antoinette set.
Sofia Coppola on the Marie Antoinette set.Andrew Durham/MACK.

“It’s hard to think of yourself as someone that’s important enough to save your junk,” Oscar-winning writer and director Sofia Coppola tells Vanity Fair. But Coppola’s boxes of “junk”—a collection of intimate on-set photographs featuring famous faces from Bill Murray to Paris Hilton; revised scripts, personal letters, and memorabilia; and even a marked up Vanity Fair article by Nancy Jo Sales, from which Coppola adapted her 2013 The Bling Ring—are another person’s nearly 500-page treasure trove. “I’m not very organized,” admits Coppola. “So there’s some kind of order to having it all in one place.”

Compiled like a scrapbook, which she hopes might be a useful guide for young filmmakers, Sofia Coppola Archive: 1999–2023 (MACK), out this September in a limited run, spans her nearly 25-year-long feature filmography. It begins with a peek behind the scenes of her dreamy directorial debut The Virgin Suicides, and closes with an exclusive look at her upcoming film Priscilla, based on Priscilla Presley and Sandra Harmon’s 1985 book, Elvis and Me—including a note from Priscilla herself and photos taken by Jacob Elordi, the film’s Elvis. “My office is filled with reference books, so I’m excited to have my own,” says Coppola. “If [the boxes] all burn, at least they exist somewhere.”

Ahead of the release of Sofia Coppola Archive: 1999–2023 and in between working on the postproduction of Priscilla, Coppola caught up with Vanity Fair over the phone from her home in the West Village.

Vanity Fair: Where were all of these photos and mementos living before you decided to open them up and start working on the book?

Sofia Coppola: Just some boxes. Whenever I would finish a movie, we would pack up whatever was left, whatever you might want to keep. I had them in storage and then I was looking for the Corrine Day photos she took on the set of The Virgin Suicides. When I found them I thought, “I want to do something with her photos,” and then it just evolved into putting them all in one place and making a scrapbook.

My friend Joseph Logan, who designed the book with Anamaria Morris, we did an issue of French Vogue together years ago, and I thought it would be fun to put it all together with him. And, I love photo books. My office is full of reference books, so I’m excited to have my own. There’s lots of guy filmmakers that have books, and I always kind of shied away from it, but I was like, “Okay, I need to have my own version.”

The film’s stars, Jason Schwartzman and Kirsten Dunst, between takes.Andrew Durham/MACK.

When the book was announced, I immediately thought of that amazing Bruce Weber photograph of your office that was published in Vogue. That must be everything that wound up in boxes, or does your office still look like that?

I’m still pretty messy, but not that bad. I was really happy that they found that photo and it’s in the book ’cause I totally forgot about that. My office is still pretty messy. I think, just as a creative person, I have stuff spread. I’m visual, so I have to have stuff spread all out. But it’s not as bad as that. That was in my 20s.

As you were going through these boxes, was there a moment where you started piecing things together and it started to make sense as a full body of work?

No, it got a lot bigger than I imagined it to be. It was a good process to scan things and put them somewhere. I had a whole box full of these little paper one-hour photo packets from a Japanese photo printer of all my snapshots on the set of Lost in Translation.

I just felt like I should probably save these, and I just threw them in a box. I was glad that Joseph went through them and edited them. ’Cause to me, it’s sort of overwhelming what was interesting to someone else. But it was fun to revisit each project, and I guess that was sort of a pandemic thing of pausing and looking back a little, and it’s fun to see how they’re connected. So just kind of gathering everything in one place.

Aside from photos, the book includes items like your personal correspondence with authors Jeffrey Eugenides and Lady Antonia Fraser about adapting their books into films. Why did you decide to showcase that aspect of filmmaking?

I want for someone making stuff to know what goes into it. It doesn’t just happen. I was happy that I found those letters from Jeffrey Eugenides because I remember that moment, and he was discouraging. Then of course, in the end, he was really supportive. But there is that moment when you adapt someone’s book that they’re not going to want you to mess with their baby, which I understand.

Was there anything you had forgotten about that you were excited to find?

It was fun to find those Jeffrey [Eugenides] letters because it reminded me of the whole process [of adapting The Virgin Suicides]. And the Corrine Day photos I was really happy to find. It was fun to see old weird location photos or continuity photos and all the things that you prepare when you’re making a movie.

Coppola’s memorabilia.Andrew Durham/MACK.

You have such an abundance of on-set photography from throughout your career. Was capturing those moments outside of the film itself always a priority for you?

I’m just a photography fan, so when I did my first movie I was excited to ask Corrine Day to come take set photos. And I like seeing photos of old sets, it’s fun to see that process. So it’s mostly because I like taking pictures and photography. It’s a hobby.

It was nice to see the inclusion of photos of all the different departments from camera to costume throughout the book. It really takes a village.

That was one of the intentions of the book too, to be a tribute to all my collaborators.

Going through all of the sections of the book, I can imagine that each film could have been its own book. What was the hardest section to edit down?

Maybe Marie Antoinette, because there’s so much visual beauty with the costumes and everything. I don’t know if that was the hardest one, or what the biggest one was. I didn’t take as many photos on the last few sets. Then on Priscilla, I got really into taking photos on set again.

Speaking of Marie Antoinette, in the book you talk about how the film was not received in the way that you had hoped when it came out. Now, looking back, knowing that it’s a fan favorite in your filmography, how has this process helped you reflect on that film?

I’m always happy that I get to make what I want to make. I was happy we got to make that movie, but nobody saw it. It was a flop. So the fact that it’s lived on and people talk about it has been really satisfying because so much work went into it. It makes me happy that now it’s kind of found its way and people enjoy it.

The book gives a first look at your upcoming film, Priscilla. It fits in so cohesively with your body of work, but tell me how that came to be.

It’s funny, I looked at it years ago and I just kind of kept her story in my mind, but then thought, I think it’s too similar to Marie Antoinette. So I put it aside. Then, I was working on another project and revisited it again and thought, I never did real Americana ’60s, and it felt like a world that would be so fun visually.

I felt like a challenge, like, “Oh God, how are we ever going to re-create Elvis?” But as we were making it I felt, this is so me, like I’m seeing elements of all my work in this one. So I hope it doesn’t feel redundant, but I did feel very in my element, and I enjoyed that.

You mention in the book that in your work, there’s always a world and there’s always a girl trying to navigate it.

I didn’t really think about it, and then when Lynn Hirschberg was writing about it for the book, she was looking at it more objectively. I never really stepped back and looked at it. So it was interesting to see that they all fit together, and Priscilla is definitely an extension of that.

As a veteran of the film industry, with a feature filmography that spans nearly 25 years, how have you found that your methods or approach to filmmaking have changed, if at all?

My approach is pretty similar from when I started. I think I probably trust my instincts more than I did at the beginning, because you learn over time. You have to just go with your intuition and your instincts. It’s fun to be on set and be like, I know how to do this. I have a lot of experience now, and I know how to do it.

An entire generation of young women and young female filmmakers have grown up with your work. Do you ever think about that?

When my daughters say that their friends like my work, it makes me happy. I started making my work to speak to young women, and so it makes me happy that it still connects with them.

The book is dedicated to your daughters. Teenage girls can be tough critics. What do they think of your body of work and the book?

I don’t think they’ve looked through the whole book. They’ve kind of seen me working on it. The younger one hasn’t seen all of my movies, but they begrudgingly like my movies. I showed the younger one Marie Antoinette before we went to visit Versailles recently and she was like, “I liked it.” She admitted she liked it, but of course teenagers don’t want to like their mom’s stuff.