Describe your Palo Alto in three words.
G: Aimless. Humorous. Emotional (she’s very soft-spoken).
If you were to explain what you do for a living to a small a child, what would you tell him or her?
G: I can’t even describe what I do to an adult! You go to a nail salon midweek and they ask you ‘You don’t have work today?’ and I’m like ‘No…’ (she giggles softly). I’d say ‘I make movies and I tell stories with pictures.’
Which encounter was the most influential in your career?
G: Meeting James (Franco – Natalia meets James) because he was one of the first people that believed in me. Before meeting him I was sort of just making things with my friends. He truly gave me a chance, which I hadn’t really had before. It was five years ago, I had just finished college, but it just took forever to get things going. Finally, about two years ago we got the financing, because he did this movie called ‘Homefront’ to kind of pay for ‘Palo Alto’. No one else wanted to finance the movie, because I was a first time director, the material was dark and then we wanted to use teenagers that hadn’t really acted before. It was hard to get people that wanted to back up that.
Why did you want to use teenagers that hadn’t really acted before?
G: There is something about telling a story about teenagers and using real teenagers that comes across in a way that I was sort of missing in movies and tv shows today, because all the actors are 27 or so… The way a teenager carries himself is so unique and you can’t really capture that unless you are in that moment.. Jack Kilmer, who plays Teddy, had never acted before, he was a senior while filming. He was perfect for the part.
When you were a little girl, what did you wanna be when you grew up?
G: Nat, what did I wanna be? I feel you always knew you wanted to be an actress (they met when they were 7 years old), and I had no idea…
N: Yeah (Nathalie looks at me), but I think Gia always had this kind of mischievous creative spirit. I think her progression to become a director and, before that, a photographer has been very natural, because she’s always had a very childlike imagination and a playfulness about her. The way she observes the world is very unique. So I feel she may had not known what she wanted to do, but it was always very clear that she was meant to do something along those lines.
Thanks, Nat. I imagine being part of such a legacy in filmmaking has its pros and cons. Which one is the most beautiful aspect about it, and which aspect has been the hardest to overcome, in the progress of becoming a director yourself?
G: There’s more pressure that comes along with my background. At the same time doors may be opened a little more easily, but it really just pushes me to show that I have my own voice. I want to do this on my own. Yet my family is supportive. I have so many wonderful people to turn to for advice. It’s been interesting now to communicate with them on a different level, because I feel I kind of understand now what they are talking about when they talk about the business’ side of movies.
Because you grew up hearing about it…
G: I feel I learnt about it through my own experience too, so it all makes more sense now. This movie was really small. We were all wearing many different hats.We were just a bunch of friends kind of getting together and making something, so that sort of pressure of my background didn’t really feel relevant to me at the time. I was able to be very free creatively, because I wasn’t thinking about the aftermath of ‘Who is gonna see this?’ and ‘How are people gonna react to this?”, so I am very thankful for that. I think that was probably because James was insistent that we just keep this (movie) very small, so all that sort of pressure could just drop off.
Do you think that was a conscious choice on his part?
G: Yeah. I think so, because it forces you to think outside of the box and be creative and also for me to experience that sort of camaraderie. You don’t always get to experience that. It’s a very special feeling. You become like a family in very grueling circumstances, all helping each other out. It was very sad when we finished shooting. The two boys (Jack Kilmer and Nat Wolff) lived at my mom’s house, I would drive them home at the end of the day and we would all have dinner together with my mom. It was like camp. We filmed for just a little over a month, but to me it felt such a long part of my life.
You directed your mom (Jacqui Getty) in the film. How was that experience?
G: It was very funny. I knew that she would be a good actress. I really wanted her to play that part, but she wouldn’t want to do it, she kept trying to think of other people. In the end I got her to do it. After every take she would just look at me and ask me ‘Did I do ok?’ and (she puts up an annoyed angry voice) ‘Mom, we’re still rolling, you can’t look into the lens of the camera!’ (we all laugh). Soooo, it took a while to get her to pretend that we were not there.
At the beginning of the movie there’s an image of a pink milkshake spilled on the cement, it lasts just a few seconds. I don’t know why, I mean, I knew it was your movie all along, but that sort of ‘nothingness made special’ made me think of this other image, a balloon at a car wash that is just moving softly in one of your earlier works. I thought ‘That’s so Gia’. To me is very reminiscent of a photographic aesthetic as well- what are your thoughts on that?
G: You are really right on it, actually. That was just sort of a photograph that I wanted to see, but I was using a video camera to do it. I love my professor Stephen Shore from Bard College. He’s a photographer that I admire and his whole approach is taking these little mundane ordinary life objects or scenarios and finding them fascinating. I guess, because I admire him so much, that’s a way I like to view the world, keeping my eyes peeled. I feel everything is interesting and tells a story.
Yesterday I was on a hike with director Francesca Gregorini. She mentioned how much she loved the movie and that your approach towards the sex scenes showed a lot of talent. After watching ‘Palo Alto’ last night I understood what she meant… I imagine directing a sex scene can be difficult, what was your approach on that?
G: I feel sex scenes in movies are very standard and not really interesting to me. I admire Godard, Fellini and filmmakers that are a little more abstract. I was dealing with material that was outside of my comfort zone, but I had to find a way to make it work in within my sort of creative range. That was my approach, being able to feel what that character was going through, rather than seeing the act itself. Especially with Emma Roberts’ character, April. Going through that in her perspective rather than sort of doing the cliché of showing the sex scene. I also liked having an opportunity of being visually creative and that was a good place for it. Nathalie (Love) had a big part in it as well. I just remember when I first read the book I thought ‘Wow, this is intense material, I don’t know how I am gonna do this’.
Nathalie told me that I should just embrace it and take it on as a way to challenge myself, finding a way to make it work in a way that I was comfortable with. She told me nothing really had to show. That was a very pivotal moment, she changed my view point on how to go about it.
N: That’s what best friends are for (we all laugh).
Nat, can you describe Gia’s approach directing (Nathalie Love has a part in the movie).
G: Better be good (she laughs).
N: She was horrible, a tyrant of a director (she laughs). No, you know, there was just a vibe on set. I think Gia really had an energy and a generosity that was contagious. It felt very safe, there was an allowance for everybody to kind of play, to really live in that world. It wasn’t intimidating or scary. I had this little moment, but I really felt I was a nurse in that moment (she giggles in the cutest way). I’ve known Gia for such a long time, I just have a lot of pride. I am so proud of her because of everything she’s done in the last few years. It’s so impressive to me. I’m excited to see what she does next.
What’s the sexiest quality in a woman?
What’s the sexiest quality in a man?
G: When someone inspires me: I feel when I am learning something new from someone, that’s very exciting to me. Someone who is intelligent (she pauses for a second). And creative.
…and what’s the biggest turn off about a man?
What’s the best quality about you and what’s your biggest flaw?
G: These are hard (she smiles). I feel my goal lately is to be as honest and as open as possible, I am trying. I hope that I am succeeding. I guess the worst quality about me is that sometimes I can be selfish.
What’s the quality you admire the most in people and which one is the one you like the least?
G: Sense of humor. I hate when people are snobby and judgmental.
If you could host an imaginary dinner party and invite seven people, alive or dead, whether you’ve met them or not, who would you invite?
N: You better invite me…
G: I would bring Nathalie with me (she laughs). I just read this book on Andy Kaufman, so he would be cool. Maybe Cleopatra, I wonder what she’s like. Kubrick. Maybe Garry Winogrand, he’s a photographer. I just read something about Paddy Chayefsky, he was a great screenwriter, but I don’t know if would be very good company (she giggles), but he was a great writer. Wow. This is such a good question, I wish I has the time to really think about who I would invite (she pauses). Marlon Brando.
What’s your favorite part about your job and what do you like the least?
G: My favorite part is getting to work with other people and learning about other fields of interest, especially making a movie, I get to research and learn new things in that sort of way. The hardest part… I love it and I hate it… It’s the writing part. It’s very lonely and you just sit in a room by yourself all day. At the same time the possibilities are endless, you can dream up whatever you want. ‘I wanna go to the South of France’ and then you’re there (she smiles).
What makes you laugh?
G: Nathalie. No one makes me laugh harder than Nathalie.
What’s friendship to you?
G: Being able to communicate with someone beyond words, at least with Nathalie it is like that. I feel like we can pick up where we left off no matter how long it’s been.
What personal belonging you could never part from?
G: Nathalie! It’s true… I just moved to New York, so it has been really hard being away from my best friend, she feels like my home to me.