Navigation Bar - Text Links at Bottom of Page

THE BLING RING

About the Production
Sofia Coppola's fifth feature film is a fictionalized version of a Vanity Fair feature the writer-director initially read on an airplane. Nancy Jo Sales' March 2010 article (now a Harper Collins book) detailed the brazen exploits of a gang of suburban Los Angeles teenagers who made international headlines after breaking into homes and stealing more than $3 million in jewelry and luxury goods from celebrities including Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, Orlando Bloom, Rachel Bilson and Audrina Patridge.

Coppola was already aware of the notorious so-called "Bling Ring" and thought it had tremendous cinematic potential. "There were so many great elements," Coppola says. "Teen burglars, Hollywood night life, audacious break-ins. And it seemed to say so much about our culture today in terms of the things the kids were obsessed with -- what they were posting pictures of and bragging about on Facebook."

THE BLING RING unfurls in a contemporary Los Angeles where wealthy, connected celebrities in the Hollywood Hills merge together with aspirational, acquisitive teens from the outlying suburbs of the San Fernando Valley, who track their every move over the Internet and on TV. Set against a backdrop of chic Hollywood nightclubs, sun-soaked suburban McMansions, even the Beverly Hills shoe closets of ultra-famous celebs like Paris Hilton, Coppola's bold, shocking and feverishly vibrant new feature provides an insightful glimpse at the fine line between the haves and the have-nots in a digital age when everyone is somehow connected.

"I think Los Angeles is the center of American culture right now because of all these reality TV shows like the Kardashians that are set in Hollywood and L.A.," says Coppola. "Even though this red-carpet culture has become so influential around the country, the story could only take place here."

Before she began writing the script, Coppola listened to Sales' transcripts of interviews with actual Bling Ring members, opting to fictionalize their actions instead of writing a straight-up take on the already abundant existing material. "Going through the research, editing it down, finding a way to make the characters relatable and sympathetic -- this was very challenging," Coppola admits. "I kind of just let my imagination go from there. Hearing their stories gave me ideas. I took things from my own childhood experiences -- not directly, but what I remember from being that age. And then I imagined what it would be like being these kids."

Producer Youree Henley, who worked with Coppola on her previous feature SOMEWHERE, describes the resulting script as something very minimal, in keeping with the style of Coppola's previous screenplays. "The film is interesting because there's a lot of stuff that's not scripted but is either stock footage or things that take place on Facebook pages, or other things that fill out the landscape without it being on the page," Henley explains. "Often with Sofia's scripts there's stuff on the page -- but a lot of it's not on the page. It's (material) she's either going to find later, or that's in her mind and she's going to explain it to you."

The film's casting team, headed by casting directors Nicole Daniels and Courtney Sheinin and longtime Coppola collaborator/advisor and executive producer Fred Roos, met with teen actors for a year before any semblance of a cast began to take shape -- a process Coppola describes as a long one, though necessary in order to find the right group of age-appropriate kids. "It always bugs me to see a 25-year-old playing a teenager," Coppola admits. "So it was very important to find kids that were authentic and really that age. It was fun to discover new talent. But it was also great to work with Emma Watson, who is playing a part so different from how we know her. It was also great working with the kids for whom this was their first professional job."

Some of the central cast members, including Taissa Farmiga and Israel Broussard, submitted self-recorded video auditions while others appeared at in- person auditions in Los Angeles supervised by the casting team. Coppola flew to New York City to meet with Emma Watson, who read for the role of Nicki -- loosely based on the pole-dancing yoga instructor Alexis Neiers who was the centerpiece of the Vanity Fair article and the E! reality TV show "Pretty Wild." Coppola knew right away Watson was the right fit for the role. "It was difficult imagining her doing it at first because she has an English accent and she's obviously very different from the character," Coppola says. "But when she read for me, I could see the character. She could have easily been a caricature or spoof but she took the part seriously and brought a sense of reality to it."

Those in the central ensemble who made the final cut received a copy of the script along with the Vanity Fair article and submitted to various chemistry reads to ensure that the ensemble felt natural. Katie Chang, who plays the ringleader Rebecca, had never acted before, though she immediately clicked with Broussard, who plays Mark, the new kid in town who falls under the spell of Rebecca, Nicki and the glittering Los Angeles nightlife that is their playground.

Taissa Farmiga, cast as the wild-child party girl Sam, had not previously heard about the Hollywood burglaries committed by the so-called Bling Ring and couldn't believe what she read as she traced the exploits of the real-life criminal gang. "My first thought in terms of the group of kids (who staged the burglaries) was What the hell is wrong with you?" Farmiga admits. "My second thought immediately went to the celebrities -- that they were presumptuous enough to leave keys under the doormat and windows unlocked. I thought, Really?"

For the adult roles, Coppola and her team cast Leslie Mann, known for her comedic roles in films like THE 40-YEAR-OLD VIRGIN, KNOCKED UP and THIS IS 40, as a former Playboy model who is both mother and home-school instructor to Nicki, Sam and Emily; and Gavin Rossdale, lead singer of the multi-platinum- selling grunge-pop outfit Bush, who plays the sleazy nightclub promoter Ricky in what is his fifth feature-film appearance as an actor.

Celebrity socialite Paris Hilton plays a crucial role in the film -- appearing briefly in a nightclub sequence but also serving as one of the Bling Ring's major robbery targets. Despite her central role in the real-life criminal case, Hilton readily opened her Mulholland Estates home to Coppola and her BLING RING crew. As a key victim in the actual robberies, Hilton understood the story better than most of the actors. Introduced to Coppola through her friend Stephen Dorff, the star of Coppola's previous feature SOMEWHERE, Hilton reached out to Coppola. "Stephen called me and told me Sofia wanted to talk to me about something," recalls Hilton. "So we started emailing back and forth and she told me about this project. Of course I knew a lot about the actual story because I was involved with it in real life. I really was out in the clubs with these kids who were wearing dresses they had stolen from my closet -- right there in front of me and I had no idea!"

THE BLING RING showcases a stellar ensemble cast, from big stars, bold newcomers, industry veterans, even cameo walk-ons from the likes of Hilton and Kirsten Dunst. "You make casting choices for individual roles but it's really about the balance, especially with a cast like this," Henley says of the film's labor- intensive but ultimately thrilling and fortuitous casting process. "It wasn't what they were going to do individually but what they could do together," says Henley of the ensemble. "We picked this really incredible group of actors -- when you see them all together, they all balance each other out."

Coppola asked her principal cast members to keep diaries written from the point of view of their specific characters. They also made vision boards incorporating pictures and inspirational phrases from magazines -- things that might have inspired the characters, material goods they coveted, or places they might see themselves in five years. "One of the little clippings I found said 'Do whatever the f@!# you want!', which pretty much sums up Sam, the character I play," says BLING RING cast member Taissa Farmiga. "She's looking for fun and she's going to find it."

Coppola also asked her cast members to watch reality TV shows like "The Hills" (starring Audrina Patridge, whose Hollywood Hills home was a Bling Ring target in both the Vanity Fair article and the film), "The Simple Life," co-starring Paris Hilton, and "Pretty Wild," the short-lived scripted reality series that tracked the everyday Los Angeles travails of teen socialite Alexis Neiers before she was arrested and charged as one of the Bling Ring members. "Watching those shows helped me get acquainted with this lifestyle and the type of young women that exist in it," insists Farmiga "Sofia asked me to pay close attention to the girls' accents in these shows, which resulted in me spending hours repeating Sam's lines over and over again until I could say them in the most conceited and annoying way possible."

During pre-production the central ensemble formed a pseudo-gang of their own, going so far as to stage a mock house break-in armed with a list of items Coppola had instructed them to steal. "We got in and out of the house with all of the items in about 15 minutes," explains Chang. "Maybe we were meant to steal from celebrities -- either way, we became scary-good at breaking into homes. I think that's the moment when we all realized that we worked so well together as a team."

As a newcomer to acting, Chang found herself turning inward in order to find the character of Rebecca, the ringleader of the group who Chang describes as intense, sneaky and misleading at times -- qualities the Chicago-based teenager does not embody in real life. "Rebecca on the surface is a girl who is obsessed with fashion and celebrity culture. She wants to be part of the Hollywood lifestyle more than anything," says Chang. "Under the surface, Rebecca turns out to be incredibly manipulative and self-centered, willing to do anything to get what she wants or thinks she deserves without really considering the consequences."

To prepare for the role, Chang kept a daily journal of her own thoughts as Rebecca, read the website style.com whenever possible, and clipped ads and clothing out of magazines. "When we were filming, Sofia kept reminding me that there had to be something interesting about Rebecca that would make Mark want to be friends with her," says Chang. "That was really important for me to remember, otherwise I probably would have played the character as mean and selfish for the entire film." Chang admits she was initially hesitant to play a character like Rebecca because she is not accustomed in real life to being a commanding and in-charge person like she is. "But that's one of the greatest things about acting," Chang admits. "You can stretch yourself and play characters so far from who you are."

It was a process that impressed Coppola, who describes Chang's debut turn as Rebecca as a complete transformation. "I'm impressed with how different she is as the character than she is as a person," Coppola says. "She's such a sweet, kind girl and then she can turn into an ice queen on camera." Emma Watson agrees: "Katie is perfect for Rebecca, because she looks so good in all her costumes. It's interesting casting because you want to hate her. But there is something very human and alive and intriguing about Katie that gives Rebecca added depth."

Up-and-coming young actor Israel Broussard submitted to three separate auditions followed by a chemistry read with Chang before flying home to Mississippi and finally receiving the offer to play the moral center of THE BLING RING, a new kid at a suburban Los Angeles remedial high school who falls in with the wrong crowd, only to find himself at the center of a very seductive new life. "I think Sofia wanted Mark to be the heart of the story," says Broussard. "There's something compassionate about him. I hope I brought that out well."

Broussard describes Mark as very insecure and almost lifeless, "the kid in hallway that no one talks to because no one knows much about him" until he is befriended by Rebecca and his social life blossoms. "Then he opens up to her in terms of all his insecurities and lets her into his mind," Broussard says. "He doesn't idolize the clothing or the thrill of what they were doing in terms of the robberies -- but he idolizes Rebecca."

One challenge for Broussard in relating to his character was trying to get comfortable with Mark's love of fashion, which is so crucial in understanding the psychology of the Bling Ring's lust for luxury goods and haute couture. "I remember having trouble with all that," says Broussard, who had little contact with fashion while growing up in Mississippi and South Dakota." But Sofia helped me connect with that world. I'm not into fashion like Mark, is and probably never will be. But I love music and the process by which that's put together. So I was able to tap into that interest and understand Mark's interest in fashion." With Sofia's help, Broussard created musical playlists for his character. They also staged mini-fashion shows. "She had me walking in bright pink size 44 Louis Vuitton pumps before rehearsal week was over, " Broussard admits.

Taissa Farmiga describes her BLING RING character Sam as "a wild and crazy party girl who is always looking for a good time." A sidekick to the pampered queen bee Nicki (played by Emma Watson), Sam is a teenager obsessed with appearances, material possessions, herself -- "anything that will earn her popularity and fame," according to Farmiga. "She's captivated by the power that comes along with celebrity status," Farmiga says. "Sam would like that title for herself -- to be somebody 'important.' And she doesn't seem to care about the repercussions of her actions, she makes her choices solely on what amuses her and helps her be a part of this glorified lifestyle."

Farmiga, whose most prominent role prior to appearing in THE BLING RING was on the FX network's "American Horror Story," reveled in the opportunity to work with young actors around her age and experience. "It's amazing the change in atmosphere when working with people who are discovering the craft through fresh eyes," Farmiga says. "And we all got along! We were very lucky in that sense. We absolutely became our own little gang, despite the fact that we're all fairly different, personality- and style-wise."

For Emma Watson, the only big star in THE BLING RING's young central ensemble, playing a character like the cunning, coquettish Nicki was an exercise in liberation because it allowed her to do things in the film she would never do in real life -- indelibly linked as she is with the pragmatic Hermione Granger character in the HARRY POTTER films. "It's fun to explore a different side of yourself through a character," Watson says. "It gave me permission to do loads of crazy stuff."

Watson auditioned in New York and both the chemistry and the craft was there from the start, according to Coppola. "She could have easily been a caricature or a spoof," insists Coppola. "She had a smart take on both the project and her character, and I knew she was dedicated, " Coppola says. "It's always fun to see an actor transform into someone so different than they are. It was important to me that the character didn't come across like a spoof, but instead as someone real."

To prepare for the role, Watson watched the entire season of "Pretty Wild" on DVD, taking cues from actual dialogue spoken by Alexis Neiers on the show -- the character on which the fictional Nicki is based. "It was important to me that I said things that Alexis actually said but at the same time she was being fed things because she was on a reality TV show," Watson says. "A lot of people are aware now that reality TV isn't really real. These women (on "Pretty Wild") are actresses of themselves and they have scripts and story lines written for them. My character is technically based on a real person, but it's a person who was acting and reading lines. So Nicki is like two levels of separation from reality."

Costumes were an important part of Watson's performance and Nicki's character, providing a challenge to the seasoned young actress in terms of how to wear the outfits. "Nicki isn't as interested in fashion as Rebecca," Watson says. "She's much more interested in things being 'hot' or 'sexy' -- the trashier and tighter the better. All of my usual fashion rules just went out the window. Nicki was all about visible panty lines, bras, cleavage, very short skirts, lots of high heels, big hoop earrings. A lot of bling, basically."

Rounding out the central ensemble is Clare Julien, who describes her character Chloe simply as "badass." For the daughter of Oscar-winning cinematographer Wally Pfister (Christopher Nolan's BATMAN trilogy, Bennett Miller's MONEYBALL), it was easy to tap into Chloe's party-girl energy because she grew up in Hollywood's seductive glare. "A lot of people tell me I was cast very true to character, and I agree to an extent," Julien admits. "I wouldn't do the things that Chloe has done, nor would I make the same choices she does. But I can see the similarities. We have the same sense of humor, the same taste in music, we even use the same language."

Although this is Julien's first experience acting in a movie, she is already a veteran to a certain degree, which helped her better understand the seduction of celebrity though the eyes of her BLING RING compatriots. "I do feel slightly more jaded and more experienced than the others," Julien admits. "But I have a lot of experience on set, and with crews. Talking to everyone, watching how it all works, helping out -- this has always interested me whenever I get to visit my dad on set, whether it's across the world or on a Warner Brothers set."

With its vast sprawl of hills and valleys, symbolizing highs, lows and every emotion in between, the topography of Los Angeles has been a seductive cinematic backdrop since the dawn of the movie business in the early 20th century. The glitzy peaks and desolate valleys of the Los Angeles basin have become gripping film characters in their own rights, as illustrated in movies ranging from CHINATOWN, L.A CONFIDENTIAL and MULHOLLAND DR. to VALLEY GIRL, BOOGIE NIGHTS, MAGNOLIA and countless others.

With THE BLING RING, which conjoins the sparkling epicenter of Hollywood, with its tony nightclubs, celebrity mansions and show-business signifiers, with the tony outer suburbs of the San Fernando Valley, including Woodland Hills, Agora Hills and Calabasas, Coppola and her crew have created a classic Los Angeles movie elicits psychological tension from of the hills and valleys that define this unique Southern Californian terrain of haves, have-nots -- and those like the members of the Bling Ring who fall somewhere in between.

Coppola and her team scoped out more than 20 different locations in and around Los Angeles to ensure authenticity as well as a kind of heightened reality to what is one of America's more diverse and picturesque cities. "I think it shows so many different aspects of L.A., and it feels authentic," says Coppola. "We got the big mansions in Calabasas, a suburban high school, and Paris Hilton's house."

Producer Youree Henley grew up in Los Angeles and thrilled to the Los Angeles depicted in teenage movies of the 1980s, where kids often traveled long distances to participate in a youth culture that wasn't always inclusive to suburbanites from the Valley or other far-flung environs. "THE BLING RING reminded me of the films I grew up with, like FOXES and VALLEY GIRL," Henley says. "When I saw a little bit of those movies in the story of The Bling Ring, I talked to Sofia about it and we agreed this was the kind of world we wanted to reference."

In order to highlight the difference between the teens of the Bling Ring, who lived in Calabasas, a high-end area of the San Fernando Valley, and the celebrities living in more centralized Los Angeles, the team first scouted the celebrity homes, which represented a variety of architecture unique to L.A., and then found the suburban McMansions the teens would live in.

Coppola and the production design team spent days in Calabasas driving around scouting locations. "I couldn't tell where we were because it all looks the same," admits Coppola, "Even the multiple houses we shot during filming that became Nicki's house were all in the same neighborhood, and totally interchangeable. The layouts were the same. Where the kids lived was this beige world that was in marked contrast to Hollywood, with its flashy nightclubs and celebrity homes."

Coppola took photographs of suburban Valley neighborhoods during the scouting process and gave one specific shot to production designer Anne Ross, who set about creating a look for the film based on a bland, peach-colored suburban McMansion on a washed-out street in Calabasa that epitomized for Coppola the world of Nicki and her friends. "Sofia and I really talked about palette from the beginning," Ross admits. "Inside and out we wanted the Valley to look like this overly lit, sundrenched kind of place that was also very bland. This was a hard thing for Sofia on the movie because normally she makes things she finds more beautiful. It was a struggle for her to accept that she was shooting what was basically this bland, washed-out box (of a tract house)."

Ross came to rely on costume designer and longtime Coppola collaborator Stacey Battat because so much of the set dressing included luxury handbags, shoes and clothing -- indeed, the so-called bling in the film's title becomes as much of a presence in the story as its human characters or Los Angeles setting. "I wouldn't necessarily know the difference between two handbags or why one is more important than the other," Ross confesses. "But Stacey knew immediately -- this is her world, and her input definitely enhanced those scenes."

For her part Battat worked closely with the filmmaker and the cast to create the perfect looks for each character, right down to the accessories they coveted -- and often stole. "We started talking about the characters in the beginning and we both had references, so slowly each character developed their own personality through their wardrobe," Coppola explains of her collaboration with longtime associate Battat, whose encyclopedic knowledge of luxury goods ensured that brand names like Louis Vuitton, Chanel, Gucci, Tiffany, Cartier, Prada, Marc Jacobs, Dolce & Gabbana, Burberry and Yves Saint Laurent came to life on the characters who craved -- and often wore -- the brands during the course of filming.

"The costumes, hair and makeup really helped me get into character," says Watson, who went so far as to submit to fake tans during the shoot in order to create the perfectly kept California girl. "All of those little things really put Nicki and her environment into perspective for me."

For Coppola, who typically shoots on film, THE BLING RING was an opportunity to work with new technologies. "It was exciting to shoot digital for the first time and just try and new way of doing something," Coppola admits. "I felt like it suited the material since it's so contemporary. (Kids today) are constantly filming stuff with phones, or they're looking at stuff online, so it felt like shooting digitally was suited for this digital world. The fact that Harris was setting the look made me feel assured that the movie would look good."

Coppola worked with director of photography Harris Savides on a number of projects, including her previous feature SOMEWHERE. Sadly, Savides passed away shortly after THE BLING RING completed principal photography, making the film his final work. Savides leaves behind an illustrious body of work, including major works for Gus Van Sant, David Fincher, Ridley Scott, Woody Allen and Coppola.

"I've loved working with Harris ever since I met him on a commercial we did together," Coppola recalls of the maverick cinematographer. "I had never shot on digital before so this was a new thing for me and he really came up with a look that he had never done before, and he put together a great crew."

Finally, in a culture obsessed with celebrity, members of the cast and crew often found themselves asking the question, Does THE BLING RING serve as a cautionary tale? "I tried to tell the story in a way that you can get into it from the kids' point of view and see how it's fun and exciting and then hopefully by the end of it you get another perspective -- that they've taken it too far," Coppola admits. "So I hope I'm not judging them too much. I'm definitely looking at them from a distance -- there is a critical aspect to it. You can get caught up in the bad- behavior aspect of it -- and I hope I'm not glamorizing that bad behavior. I feel like it's a mix of outcomes. In the end I hope it gives people something to think about."

Chang sees the film as another take on a story with multiple layers and nuances. "I think I understand why the Bling Ring was so obsessed with these famous people, and with the things they stole from them," she says. "But I don't condone their actions, and I don't think the movie condones them either."

For producer Henley it was emulation that the Bling Ring sought -- not material goods or status. "It wasn't about the money and the watches," Henley says. "These kids wanted to be the people they stole from. They would go into their houses and hang out. They wanted to see what was in the fridge, to spend time there as if it were their own home. The goal wasn't strictly to steal stuff -- that was only part of it."

For Broussard it was the thrill of simply undertaking the brazen action of ripping off absent, often clueless celebrities that made the story so compelling and resonant. "What the Bling Ring did was pretty awesome -- but I'm not saying people should go out and do what they did," he insists. "Think about it, though: They robbed Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan and Orlando Bloom! What kid would have the balls to do that?"

TOP

Home | Theaters | Video | TV

Your Comments and Suggestions are Always Welcome.
Contact CinemaReview.com

2014 84,  All Rights Reserved.

Google

Find:  HELP!

Google