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
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
"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
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
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
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
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
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
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
"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
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?"
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