CQ was a true labor of love for first-time writer/director Roman Coppola, and a way to explore several long-time passions. Says Coppola, "My interests have always been pretty diverse. I’m a fan of comic books and comic book movies outrageous, playful, fun movies and at the same time I’m drawn to more thoughtful, artier films. In the late 60’s, there were examples of both those things: movies like Barbarella, Danger: Diabolik, and Modesty Blaise were kind of kitschy, fun, comic book movies, and then people like Godard and Antonioni were making the opposite kind of films, films that were more artistically adventurous. This was my chance to fuse those two worlds together. It’s a great era to set a movie about the world of the cinema, because the cinema of that time was very diverse and dynamic. I also thought it would be fun to look at a film that was made in the late 60’s projecting what the future would be like in 2001, now that we’re actually living in 2001."
Before shooting began, Coppola spent months doing research, immersing himself in the style, music and films of the period; he then shared his vision of the era with the cast and crew. Says Coppola, "There are many references in CQ to films of the period, but the two key films were Mario Bava’s Danger: Diabolik (starring John Phillip Law, who appears in the film) and Jim McBride’s David Holzman’s Diary (starring L.M. Kit Carson, who also appears). These two films embody the two opposing forces: playful, artificial entertainment vs. a highly personal, ‘honest’ film. There were many other films, particularly Godard’s A Married Woman and Masculin/Feminin, that were helpful in regard to visual style and art direction. Other inspiration for specific sequences come from Fellini’s Il Bidone and The Swindler and Toby Dammit from the anthology Spirits of the Dead for the Roman New Year’s party, Jack Cardiff’s Girl on a Motorcycle for Dragonfly’s costume and Joseph Losey’s Modesty Blaise and Elio Petri’s 10TH Victim for the ‘60’s vision of costumes and sets. As I was writing the script, I collected hundreds, maybe thousands, of images from books, comics, movies, and magazines that I drew from for inspiration and ideas. I collected them all together and made a big bound book which I then gave to all the department heads."
Roman’s preparation was a great asset to everyone. As producer Gary Marcus says, "Roman was more prepared than any filmmaker I’ve ever worked with." Billy Zane, who plays the mysterious Mr. E in Dragonfly, concurs: "Roman’s been great. I’ve never seen a more prepared set the tools, reading lists, film libraries. A project benefits so much from information and from loving what you’re doing not only knowing it, but really loving it and he’s allowed everyone to share the love."
One of the first people that Roman showed the script to was L.M. Kit Carson, a veteran screenwriter/producer/director who starred as the title character in the 1968 independent film David Holzman’s Diary, a sort of Spinal Tap for the film school set. Recalls Carson, "It was a big surprise when I read it and realized what the film was about. I thought it was very funny and very inventive without being fancy. Roman has a very light spirit, and that spirit is what sticks on the film."
In CQ (which is Morse code for the phrase "seek you," a call for contact), Paul is caught between two completely divergent cinematic styles the honest, cinema veritι style that he fervently believes in and the purely commercial cinema which he does only so he can use the equipment in his off hours. In the late 60’s, critics and cineastes passionately, heatedly argued about cinema and how its power should be used. As Carson recalls, "Jim McBride and I did David Holzman’s Diary together because we were supposed to be doing a book for The Museum of Modern Art about cinema veritι. We interviewed a bunch of people, from Warhol all the way to Richard Leacock, and decided that cinema veritι was false, so instead of doing the book we did a movie that said ‘This isn’t true.’ For a while the museum was pretty angry, but when the movie began to get all this praise they liked it and they took it."
The era of CQ, the late 60’s, has become an almost mythic moment in history, to both those who experienced it firsthand and those who didn’t. 1969 saw not only Woodstock, but Neil Armstrong’s walk on the moon, the Manson murders, and worldwide protests against the Vietnam War. A sampling of movies from that year Alice’s Restaurant, The Wild Bunch, Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice, Fellini’s Satyricon, Goodbye Columbus, The Rain People, My Night at Maud’s, Once Upon a Time in the West, and Stolen Kisses shows a year alive with wildly divergent energy. Says Coppola, "Everyone has their own connection to the background of the film. I was born in ’65 and some of my first memories are from the year CQ is set, so I think there is something natural about having a connection to the era into which you’re first becoming conscious." He also finds it interesting that "the music in the film and some of the design is ironically contemporary because it’s back in style. It seems that 60’s design has reentered pop culture, so it’s kind of funny to have it be sort of timely."
Continues Roman, "I see CQ as a playful movie that has a lot of humor in it. Whether you were there in the ‘60’s and saw it firsthand or not, I don’t think it matters." Coppola goes on to describe the plot as "a bit of a coming of age story, even though I don’t really like that term. In many ways, it’s about a rising up of youth. On one hand there’s Paul, who is coming into his own and becoming more in control of his life and defining himself and his work, but also in the Dragonfly movie there’s this notion of revolution and youth rising up."
Says Jeremy Davies, who plays Paul, "One of the first things that struck me about the script was that it has a gorgeous structure. There are many things going on at once, many different planes and stories intersecting and cross-pollinating. There’s Paul’s real life, there’s the personal film that Paul’s trying to make, and then there’s the genre film that he’s been hired to take over. I was struck by how they interweave and by the consequent sparks and the confusion and how different worlds end up surfacing in others. I liked how Paul is thrown from planet to planet and from the film to a film within a film, sort of losing track of which place he’s in sometimes."
About Paul’s journey in the film, Davies says, "In life, one of the best defenses is to have the courage to gather self-knowledge and to be able to actually, truly recognize yourself and your potential and capabilities. I think it’s very common for people to deceive themselves and hide from themselves. I think what Paul is doing in this film is what many people wish they could do: taking a good look at yourself, slowing your life down, taking a look at your velocity, looking at the direction you’re going, and looking at what’s important to you and why."
It was Davies’ memorable performances in Spanking the Monkey and Saving Private Ryan that caught Roman’s attention for the role of Paul. Says Coppola, "I feel very blessed and lucky to have the cast I have. Jeremy is someone I was attracted to because of his sensitivity and his thoughtfulness and soulfulness. He can project a lot without doing a lot, which was my goal. I didn’t want the main character to be too dynamic. I wanted you to be able to see this crazy world through his eyes, and he was a great choice for that."
Although CQ is Roman’s feature film debut, he not only grew up on movie sets but has produced five features, shot second unit on several films, and directed numerous commercials and music videos. He says the film had "a very difficult pre-production period there’s never quite enough time but the actual shooting was very fun, and we had a lot of good grace from whatever force it is that looks out for you. We didn’t have any bad luck or bad weather, everything was very efficient, and we had an excellent, largely French crew that was a pleasure to work with. I’d shot enough that being on a set and being a director felt familiar, so it was very comfortable."
Says producer Marcus, "Roman doesn’t really fit that label of ‘first time director.’ He has a very successful music video and commercial company, so he knows how to run a company. He grew up in cinema, he wasn’t nervous about saying ‘action,’ he wasn’t nervous about making a decision, he was so used to being around a family that supported the creative environment and allowed him to be free to make decisions and not second-guess himself Roman’s a consummate professional and was very clear about what he wanted. He never lost sight of the movie and he completely enjoys innovating and improvising."
Says Carson, "I’ve known him for a while, and I was surprised that there’s an innocence to the film and savvyness at the same time. And looking at Roman’s music videos you also find a sort of antic wit going on; that’s in here, too. What Roman’s got here is his experience in living through his father’s work and being around movies and working himself, so it’s larger it has more to do with remembering a story and passing it on, which is what art is. If you can grab that story and pass it on, it’ll never go away."
Says Davies, "Roman is this thoroughbred observer, keeping an eye on the chaos and carnival around him. It requires him to be pretty still, and I think it’s hard to trust stillness and how little you need to do in film. Roman’s very comfortable with stillness and you don’t see that much. But he also knew what he wanted. Making a film is like playing chess on the train tracks, and if you don’t know what you want from the beginning it can be easy to just let it go off the rails. It’s hard for people to disagree sometimes and say, no, this is what I want, but I really appreciate when a director can tell me I’ve hit a wrong note; I think you have to hit wrong notes and stumble around in the dark before you finally hit some good notes."
Davies also enjoyed the research and the period of rehearsals before shooting began. "I know some people think that rehearsal deadens spontaneity, but it was really a springboard for spontaneity. It was trying a lot of different paths between points A and B, and trying different choices and loosening up and getting comfortable and intimate with the other actors. I think that’s very healthy for a film, so I appreciated it."
Angela Lindvall, a model from just outside Kansas City, stars in the dual roles of Dragonfly and Valentine (the actress playing Dragonfly). As Roman recalls, the film’s start date was quickly approaching and the role had still not been cast. "I did a very exhaustive search, looking for the person who could embody this super-sexy secret agent and at the same time have a sensitive, sincere and more innocent side. It was really tricky to find that in someone and we were really up against the line. Initially I was looking for a French girl she was written as a French girl, so I was focusing on that then I realized that Angela was someone I had noticed in fashion magazines and always thought was very appealing, and it finally sort of clicked. I thought, ‘Why not consider an American girl?’ and from there it all just happened. I met her and right off the bat I knew that she could do it. There was no hesitation, and I was really lucky and grateful that it worked out. I won the lottery with her."
Lindvall admits to being initially nervous about her first acting experience. Says Angela, "It’s different than anything I’d ever done before, so it was a challenge and a learning experience, and just fun, really. At first I was really nervous, almost more about the new experience than the actual acting part, and then we started shooting and I didn’t even feel like we were making a movie. One day I went home and it kind of hit me. I thought ‘What am I doing here?’ and I kind of freaked out. But I’ve been having a lot of fun with it. I actually find portraying Valentine, who is completely real, normal and natural, more challenging than being Dragonfly, this fabricated, over-the-top character, because that’s coming from a place that you’re just hamming about and kind of being funny, but the reverse is really truly acting."
Says her more seasoned co-star, Jeremy Davies, "I was very impressed with Angela. One of the first conversations we had was about the difference between her industry, modeling, and ours. And she was sort of visiting another planet by agreeing to do this it was a bit terrifying for her and I completely empathized. We talked about how as a model you have to be hyper-self-aware you have to be very good at knowing exactly where your body is in relation to the camera. Acting is entirely the opposite pole, in my opinion. Hopefully, it’s more about internal life and about thought and conveying communication and listening, and everything about modeling goes against that. And it’s very difficult if you’ve been a model for as long as she has to break from that rhythm of self-awareness. I think she accomplished that to a great degree and did very well."
Angela found her Dragonfly co-star Billy Zane a great help. Recalls Angela, "Before he arrived, I was really acting by myself, talking to a computer or a screen, and I really wasn’t that sure how this character was supposed to sound or be like because I was making her up. Once Billy arrived I had someone else from the same plane and time period and I could bounce off him. His character came from the same over-the-top place, so it made me feel more comfortable with what I was doing."
Continues Lindvall, "I’m glad I got to play two in one. It’s like my regular work, where you’ve got this fabricated image of what people make of you, but once you take the make-up off and the clothes and take the camera away you’re a normal, sensitive young woman. That was easy to relate to and it’s nice to show that in the film as well. You have these iconic women, you know, men hang their pictures on their walls, but most of the time, at least the ones that I know, they’re just these normal girls like Valentine."
CQ was filmed on location in Europe, mostly in Luxembourg. Says producer Marcus, "Luxembourg was great, because the movie’s set in Paris in 1969 and we were three hours away. We had a French crew. Roman was very specific that he wanted a French influence, a Parisian influence, and we had people on the crew who came from the school of cinema that our film is about, including our key grip, Bernard Bregier, our script supervisor, Jacqueline Gamard, and our set decorator, Phillippe Turlure. Our production designer, Dean Tavoularis, even though he’s from America, lives in Paris now. So they brought all their influence."
CQ has a large, multinational cast, each of whom brings a unique flavor to the film. From Elodie Bouchez to Italian actor Massimo Ghini to Hollywood stalwarts Zane, John Phillip Law and Dean Stockwell, the film features actors who like the characters they play have lived their lives in the volatile world of cinema portrayed in the film. The great, larger-than-life Gerard Depardieu plays the manic auteur Andrzej, who gets fired from Dragonfly, and Giancarlo Giannini is a perfect Enzo, the bellicose, raving Italian producer who hires Paul to save the film. Says Coppola "I just feel so lucky that all of the actors, particularly Gerard and Giancarlo, are in my movie. They were my first choice for their characters, so I feel lucky to have gotten them. For me as a first-time director it just made it so much easier, because you don’t really have to do anything with those guys. They’re so talented, they just do their thing."
Jeremy Davies was particularly thrilled to work so closely with Depardieu. Says Davies, "I adored him, and fortunately, for some reason, I think he adored me. He’s sort of like a gorgeously mad, brilliant clown. I’m always the first one to be immediately convinced of my underwhelming presence and my unworthiness, so to have him be so accepting, and even paternal, was wonderful."
John Phillip Law, who starred in both Danger: Diabolik and Barbarella, plays the Chairman in Dragonfly. A veteran of more than 50 films, Law has worked consistently on both sides of the Atlantic for the last four decades. About CQ he says, "I enjoyed it very much because it reminded me of films like Day for Night, but I think the big thrill was just being invited by Roman and Gary to be there. It was such a gas because it’s been over 30 years since Diabolik and they seemed to love the film so much. It’s always a great honor to have done something like that, to become sort of a living icon, I suppose. And it was nice to walk around and see Dragonfly’s lair. Her set reminded me a lot of Barbarella I’ll bet you Jane Fonda will get a kick out of seeing this, too."
Coppola hopes the audience will connect with the film on its many levels and, most importantly, enjoy the fun of the ride. Says Coppola, "I really enjoy the sensation of delight. I’m a big fan of magic, theatrical magic and magic tricks and things that are playful and fun and evoke a sense of delight, so that would be one of the sensations I would like people to have. To really appreciate the sense of playfulness and humor and the sheer fun of it."