Study Guide

Lost in Translation Production Design

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Production Design

Old- school 35-millimeter film

We know this sounds hard to believe, but, sometimes, parents offer good advice. When it came time to shoot Lost in Translation, writer-director Sofia Coppola was being steered toward video since it’s less expensive than film.

Then her dad stepped in.

Father Knows Best

Did we mention that her dad is Francis Ford Coppola, a.k.a., the guy who directed The Godfather trilogy and Apocalypse Now? Yeah, her old man knows a thing or two about making movies.

According to Filmmaker magazine, the elder Coppola encouraged his daughter to shoot Lost in Translation on film before it went the way of the dinosaur, Betamax, and 7-Up Gold. Sofia Coppola took his advice, not necessarily because this might be her last chance to get her celluloid on, but because she thought the look of film would be a better fit for the story's wistful sense of romance. Here's how she explained it:

“[Lost in Translation] is the memory of an enchanted few days. Video feels more immediate, in the present” (source).

Good call, Sofia. Good call.

Filmmaking on the Fly

If shooting on 35-millimeter film helped capture the mood of Bob and Charlotte’s encounter, cinematographer Lance Acord's eye seized the shimmering soul of Tokyo at night.

As an audience, we see Tokyo how Bob and Charlotte see it, from street level and totally strange. Acord captures the outsider's perspective of the city. In fact, his film crew shot several chunks of the film using a run-and-gun technique so they could skirt permits and paperwork. The filmmakers nabbed subway footage using Aaton handheld cameras, for example.

Entire scenes were also improvised, like the pivotal karaoke scene. Coppola set it up like a real-deal party and worried later about clearing the songs that were sung. When Charlotte walks through the Shibuya district in the rain, that was an audible called by the filmmakers, too, because the rain added just the right amount of gauzy Tokyo ambiance (source).

BTW, Lost in Translation remained a family affair through its shoot. Second-unit shots around Tokyo were nabbed by Coppola's brother, Roman (source). No word on whether Sofia and Roman's mom, documentary filmmaker Eleanor Coppola, showed up on set to produce a quick "Making Of" doc or just to drop off a case of vino from the Coppola family's famed Napa Valley winery.

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