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Filmmaker Sofia Coppola Goes Digital With Priscilla


Jacob Elordi and Cailee Spaeny in Priscilla (A24)

Sofia Coppola always capture acute feelings about a time and place. The films almost play as vivid memories, with emotions and sights so wonderfully intertwined. Over the years, the filmmaker has achieved that tantalizing effect with cinematographer Philippe Le Sourd, who shot The Beguiled, On The Rocks, and most recently, Priscilla.

It’s the first digital Coppola movie.

The decision was for practical reasons, as she wanted more time on the day to tell the story of Priscilla Presley (played by Cailee Spaeny). “It was fantastic,” Le Sourd told Below the Line. “I could sleep better. That doesn’t mean I don’t sleep well in film. I’m always concerned. But no, it’s fantastic because you see what you’re doing, see what you’re doing, and you discover, challenge, change, try, explore more, because you have more flexibility, and you react right away to the monitor.”

Coppola and Le Sourd shoot with perspective in mind, so on Priscilla, the duo would only shoot with one camera at a time. “Sofia prefers to stick with one camera because she feels more connected to the character,” the cinematographer added. “Most of the movie is about Priscilla, and most of the time it’s about when she’s in a shot because Sofia doesn’t overdo it. She doesn’t feel that she needs to create a world with ten shots for a simple scene.”

Coppola, however, isn’t bidding farewell to film. Even on Priscilla, she brought some celluloid to the party. “We shot a few scenes on 16,” Le Sourd shared. “For the wedding scene, and I said, ‘Oh, let’s try, let’s shoot with the 16.’ Even the quantity of light you need between a film stock and digital is completely different. But there’s something beautiful and nostalgic in the grain. But you can see the people react differently when you shoot with the small camera.”

Coppola and Le Sourd shot the 16mm sequences on a Bolex camera, which, for the cinematographer, brought even more intimacy to Priscilla. “I shot [on] the smallest one and the edgier one with a bad lens. Something feels more intimate, and you feel the reaction with the actor,” he added. “With a smaller camera, it is different. You feel more freedom, more intimacy about it compared to the digital camera. It’s completely different. It’s something very interesting to explore. If you were to shoot, for example, a full movie with a Bolex or iPhone, the relationship you create between the actor and the camera is completely different.”

Priscilla is now playing in limited release. 

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