Author, Ursula K. LeGuin once said, “There have been great societies that did not use the wheel, but there have been no societies that did not tell stories.” In the modern world, technology has progressed far beyond the wheel, and aspects of storytelling have also evolved by making use of advanced technology. For writer, director, producer, and all-round filmmaker extraordinaire, Christopher Coppola, technology and storytelling complement each other like PB & J. A member of the famously talented Coppola family, Christopher has been using cutting edge technology to impart meaningful stories on film for years. I was thrilled to be able to chat with Coppola to discuss his current ventures.
DigiVangelist is more than just Coppola’s new show on the ReelzChannel. THE DigiVangelist is Christopher Coppola, himself. The name was given to him by journalist, Xeni Jardin. While directing a movie called The Creature of the Sunny Side Up Trailer Park, Coppola experimented with not only HD and different temperatures, but also every-day, consumer equipment. More important to the director than technology, however, was the actual story. Hence, he became the DigiVangelist—a digital, movie master with a message. Coppola’s message with his new show is simple: “Whatever Hollywood is doing, you can do.” But, in doing so, when utilizing advancements in technology to create indie movies, Christopher says not to lose sight of that ever important, age-old tradition of the story. “Communicate from the heart, to the heart… Say things honestly,” he reminds us. DigiVangelist is making strides in spreading these messages by seeking out lay people and giving them the technology to document their own stories. Christopher travels the world with technology tools in tow, meets various, everyday people, and teaches them how to use the equipment. In one episode, Coppola travels to Italy and gives a camcorder to an Italian man on a golf-cart-like vehicle. After learning how to use the camera, the man travels through the village and captures life as he knows it. In another episode, Christopher works with middle school kids, giving them two cameras to shoot a short film for a 3D film festival. The kids meet with specialists who teach them the techniques of shooting in 3D. Even though they’re young, Coppola treats the young filmmakers as equals, essentially giving them a great deal of responsibility. Yet, he jokes with them and brings a lighthearted, humorous quality to the show, making it entertaining, inspirational, and educational to watch. And I must not be the only one who thinks so—the ReelzChannel ordered another eight episodes after the original four aired.
Perhaps, DigiVangelist is proving successful because it documents a truly exciting time in history—Coppola calls it a technology “evolution,” because technology is constantly being reinvented and improved. Christopher explains to me that when Hollywood was first created around 1911, everything was experimental because film was never used before. There was no such thing as a close up shot until someone played around with a camera and invented it. The only people who were able to take part in the film world back then were those who were directly involved with the Industry. Today, anyone who has access to a cell phone with a camera can take part in movie making…at least in some fashion. The digital age makes Hollywood less inclusive, especially since outlets like YouTube and Facebook allow everyone to showcase their pieces to a worldwide audience. The DigiVangelist says he’s hopeful for a “Digital Renaissance” but also stresses the importance of not letting technology get the best of us by allowing it to rule our lives. Coppola reminds us that it’s important to remember and appreciate the old school of filmmaking as well. The new school and old school “have to work together,” he says. “One needs the other.” In this way, it’s possible to use the easily-accessible tools of modern technology in order tell age-old stories that celebrate humanity. Going into the holiday season, this seems a poignant lesson to keep in mind, whether we’re unwrapping the latest technology toy or sharing a tale or two around the dinner table.
And speaking of technology toys, I wonder how it is The DigiVangelist keeps up with the ever changing abundance of products on the market. Instead of a technology “geek,” the filmmaker considers himself a regular guy with a love of technologic gadgets and gizmos. He usually hears about the latest devices through word of mouth, or sometimes a specific company will approach Coppola and ask if he will use or show a particular product on television. What’s great about DigiVangelist is that for technologically deficient people like me, product functions and their instructions for use are described. After a couple of episodes, a technologically challenged person could easily learn the basics of how to operate various pieces of equipment.
I delve further to ask how Coppola goes about finding people and locations to film. The DigiVangelist says sometimes it’s spur of the moment, on the fly. Other times, he finds his subjects through PAH—Project Accessible Hollywood. PAH is a festival that Coppola started, which has similar aims as the show itself: “Through a variety of free contests, [PAH invites] local participants to create their own short digital films with cameras and video-enabled mobile phones that are provided by the Festival.” While DigiVangelist sometimes features people who already have an interest in filmmaking, most of the time, those who appear are completely uninvolved in the Industry. Coppola and his sidekick producer, Nicolas Paine, will often do research to find their next target. In one case, the duo wanted to find out where the largest HD screen in the world was located? Their search brought them to the Dallas Cowboys’ Stadium where they filmed a segment that included Coppola talking and joking with some of the players in the locker room. The show definitely has its humorous moments.
Funny AND inspirational, DigiVangelist is imparting both technological wisdom and storytelling insight to aspiring filmmakers and laypeople alike. Coppola’s advice to those wishing to be the next big filmmaker is to “constantly be shooting” and to “do it your way.” Essentially, don’t try to imitate what you’ve learned in a textbook; instead develop your own unique voice and eye. With sophisticated technology available to the masses, anyone can get in on the Hollywood action. After all, as Coppola says in the opening of DigiVangelist: “You’re a star.” Christopher Coppola is a true star for showing the world the wonders of technology, storytelling, and the relatively modern art form of filmmaking. His work as The DigiVangelist will be one of his legacies, as it serves to remind us all that passing stories from generation to generation holds together the very fabric of our society.
DigiVangelist airs on the ReelzChannel every Sat. at 12:30pm ET / 9:30am PT