Hi Gia! What have you been up to lately?
I just made Palo Alto, it's a movie based off of James Franco's book of short stories, Palo Alto: Stories. It's an ensemble piece of teenagers, kind of trying to understand who they are and the growing pains at that age.
You studied photography, didn't you?
Yeah, I studied photography at Bard.
How do you feel your experience with still photography translates into making films?
It was a good progression, because it's just like an extension of photography but with more elements to play with.
Do you have a favorite photographer that you studied?
Well, I studied with Stephen Shore so I always really looked up to him.
I love his work too. He just did a book signing and spoke at our Space 15 Twenty store in L.A.
Oh, awesome! Tell him I said hi!
We will! What about movies? Were there any movies you watched growing up that you really loved?
I love American Graffiti, Last Picture Show, you know, my family's movies, Virgin Suicides, Outsiders, Rumble Fish, Jaws. Jaws doesn't have anything to do with this movie, it's just a movie I like!
It's a great movie! You started out making fashion films. Are you interested in fashion?
I definitely have an appreciation for it. I have friends that work in that field. It's interesting to see how clothes can be used as a medium, and I feel like clothes say a lot about a person and your personality.
How would you describe your own style?
I generally like to be pretty comfortable, like sneakers and sweaters, but I love Saint Laurent, Proenza Schouler and Zac Posen. Given the right occasion, it's actually really fun to dress up.
I love your red carpet style. Do you have something amazing to wear to your premiere tonight?
Oh, thanks! I think so! I'm excited about what I'm wearing [a white Saint Laurent suit].
So you met James and then read his book. What was it about Palo Alto: Stories that you related to or that sparked an interest?
I really love the dialogue in his book and the way he depicts these emotions that I hadn't seen in movies or TV in a long time. It's really accurate to what I felt it was like when I was a teenager and I was super excited to get to collaborate with James as well.
What was it like working with him on the film? He's a director as well, isn't he?
He was super supportive. He gave me a lot of freedom to have my own interpretation, because that's sort of why he was looking for another director, otherwise he could've just done it himself. But at the same time, when I needed him, he was very available to me and I wanted him to be in the movie and so he offered to do it.
A lot of the other actors in the film are your friends, too.
Yeah, it was really important to me to make this not feel like an intimidating environment or to feel like I had to be this authoritative figure...I wanted it be more of a collaboration. So I worked with everyone I had worked with on my smaller films—people that I knew I'd feel comfortable with. I didn't know Emma (Roberts) that well, but some gut feeling was telling me she was the right person. I kept bumping into her, and I'd never really bumped into her before, and she kept coming up in other people's conversations, so it was this weird cosmic thing that was pulling us together. I knew that she was going to be supportive of me as a first-time director and teach me and be giving to the other actors.
And Jack (Kilmer), I've known him since he was a little kid. He was just so much more fascinating to me than most of the child actors that I was meeting. He was just a real kid who interacted with the world in a real way. And Nat (Wolff) had a really hard role to play, so I was really nervous like, how do I find a young actor to play this part? But we just really hit it off and he understood the script and I got lucky that he and Jack hit it off and had a close friendship. They lived at my mom's house (during filming).
How long were you filming?
We shot for 30 days. It's long for a small film. We did six day weeks and we were just churning it out really fast. It's weird because it doesn't seem like that long but it feels like such an important part of my life and such a big part of my life that to say it was only 30 days feels kind of weird. But it took five years to get this movie really going. I guess maybe that's why it feels like such a big chunk of my life!
I didn't really realize so much time went into making a movie.
Yeah, movies just take a long time. It's like, David Russell says it's like eating your favorite food and then having to eat it every day and say how much you like it.
What was the best part of the whole process?
Just, like, being a family with all those kids and the crew and seeing them everyday. It was really sad when it all ended. But it's fun now to celebrate with them.
What was the most challenging part?
I really learned a lot in the edit. I think the hardest part though, really, is saying goodbye to everybody and letting go.
Do you think the film is true to life as a teenager in California, you having been a teenager in California yourself?
I hope so. I feel like what was so great about James' book was that even though it took place in Palo Alto, it's really just emotions that I feel like everyone kind of feels at that age. It's just part of human nature, your body's changing, you're too young to be an adult, too old to be kid, and this sort of flux period I think everyone goes through, even if you kind of excel at that age. But I do hope it's an honest depiction. That was my goal, to be honest and to collaborate with these kids and have them tell me what was cool and not cool anymore.
And you worked with Dev (Hynes) on the music for the film, what was that like?
Yeah! He's awesome. He's super talented. I was just a big fan of his and I found a friend of a friend to introduce me to him. He was interested in scoring movies. He has this thing called Synesthesia, where he can visually see music and colors, so it's very well suited for someone to score because he was working with images already. I felt like he really understood the sound, and my cousin Robert (Schwartzman) too, to make something that is classic but still modern and not look back on this and feel like "oh, that's so 2013." He's awesome. Seeing him live feels like you're witnessing a moment in history. I think he's going to be huge.
If you couldn't make films or pursue photography, what would you do?
Oh, no photography either?! Well, as much as I like making films I also love writing. And I feel like you learn a lot about yourself when you write. But at the same time it's very lonely. I wish I could dance. Or, be a professional dancer but I'm very uncoordinated.
What do you do when you're not working?
I feel like I'm always gathering inspiration no matter where I am, or just hanging out with my friends, or even doing something like this. I also love seeing movies, going to the museum, listening to music, or just kind of lounging and being lazy.
What kind of music do you listen to?
Well, I'm really into Dev Hynes's stuff. I feel like when I was younger I was really snobby about music and really did a lot of research on like, '70s punk and would only listen to the really cool things, and as I've gotten older I just want to listen to Top 40!
Preorder the Palo Alto soundtrack at Urban Outfitters on May 23, 2014.
Available in stores June 6, 2014.