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A Very Murray Christmas Director Sofia Coppola: I Wanted To Do Something ‘Joyful’

7 minute read

A Very Murray Christmas is not your average holiday film. Starring Bill Murray, it’s directed by Sofia Coppola and co-written and produced with Mitch Glazer — reuniting the trifecta for the first time since Lost in Translation. Taking inspiration from 1970s TV variety specials, the film boasts classic musical numbers and an all-star cast, including George Clooney, Miley Cyrus and the New York Dolls’ David Johansen. Filmed at New York City’s historic Café Carlyle, the romantic atmosphere radiates with holiday spirit. TIME caught up with Coppola to discuss the film’s cast, working with Bill Murray,and how Paul McCartney almost ended up in the film.

TIME: What made you want to do this project?

Sofia Coppola: I always like to see Bill [Murray] sing. Mitch [Glazer, writer-producer], Bill and I were talking about how I wanted him to sing at the Café Carlyle, and they were kind of working on a TV idea, and that turned into doing a holiday special. But just out of loving to see Bill and doing something musical around the holiday, to do something joyful.

You had Bill Murray down from the start, how did the rest of the casting come about?

Mitch, Bill and I got together and went to Charleston, where Bill was, and talked about how to put this all together and who we wanted to have in it. As we talked about ideas, we thought of who we’d love to work with and people we admire. I love Chris Rock and I knew he was friends with Bill, so I asked, “Can we call him?” Bill had ideas of people he wanted to work with and it just came together with who was game and who we admired.

How long did shooting take?

We shot it in about four-and-a-half days, so it was a scramble of when people were available and when we could shoot in our location. Luckily it came together enough where we could make a show out of it.

With such a quick shoot time, how did that affect the creative process?

I think there was a nice energy to it, because you’re all kind of scrambling to make something and I think when you have a short amount of time, you have to be creative because you have to find solutions . It just has an energy to it. I guess from doing so many shows, Paul Shaffer was such a pro, he was able to put the musical numbers together without a lot of rehearsal. Just with everyone being gung-ho, you focus and you’re working like crazy, but it’s a short amount of time and you can collapse after. Also my brother Roman had experience with multi-cameras, so we were shooting with multi-cameras, which I’ve never done before, more like live TV, which helped us to be spontaneous. Bill and a lot of the cast were such great improvisers, so we were able to have that be a part of it.

How did you want to make this different than other Christmas films?

It was coming out of the tradition of those TV variety shows, which didn’t have a lot of logic to them. They were just kind of getting people together to sing holiday songs and have that Christmas motif, so we wanted to do it in that tradition, but have a little bit of a story and kind of do our version of that.

How was directing this different from other films you’ve done?

I never did anything like this, I guess the biggest difference for me was doing musical numbers, which I’ve never done and shooting with multi-cameras. Every time you do something, you learn something. For me, the biggest challenge was doing the live musical numbers, we were recording live.

Music is a huge part of what you do, overall how would you say music plays into your visual sensibility?

I think when I do a movie, the music sets the atmosphere and it’s a big element for me because of that. This is different in that it was live musical numbers and choreography, the show was all kind of coming together around these musical numbers, which had to be done in a way that’s playful and sincere.

What was your favorite memory when you were working on this?

Just to be in The Carlyle in the snow with Bill Murray and our team, with Mitch. We all worked together on Lost in Translation, so it was fun to reunite. Then with all the people we had showing up, all these great talented people. It was really snowing in The Carlyle. There was a funny moment when our PA was keeping the entrance blocked, so people entering the hotel wouldn’t interrupt filming. At one point he turned away Paul McCartney, which I couldn’t believe, then I thought “I wish we could get him to be on the show!” It was a funny moment. Just being there, such a legendary place, and to get to have all these people that came, that wanted to be a part of Bill’s show.

How did your husband Thomas Mars’ band, Phoenix, get involved with this?

We wanted to have all our favorite musicians, so we asked if they’d come do a song. It took persuading, but then they found a song they liked. Mitch and Bill thought of the idea of them being French chefs, which luckily they were up for. Everyone was gung-ho, and I’m glad they were, I like the song that they do. I love that song because it was this random Beach Boys song that I think had never been released.

What Christmas films do you consider classics?

Scrooged. Mitch and Bill, that’s their show. It’s A Wonderful Life was always on TV in the background on Christmas.

Over the years, how do you keep the visual presentation of your films evolving?

Whenever I’m working on a project, there’s the look you put together and references. It’s whatever feels right for the project and appeals to me, I’m interested in photography and looking at references to help put the story together. For this, it’s fun to embrace an old fashioned classic uptown New York Christmas. Uptown New York feels very Christmasy to me with the decorations and traditions. To capture a drink at the Bemelmans Bar feels very Christmasy.

How do you define the relationship between subject and artist?

I mean for me I’m inspired by certain actors, and Bill is very inspiring. I wanted to make this just to see him sing and interact with all these people. It’s people like him I find really inspiring to want to make something around them and try to capture their personality.

Do you have any other projects coming up at the moment?

I’m just writing a script now and I’m planning on getting to that in the New Year, so we’ll see.

Do you prefer writing or directing?

Directing, I find writing harder. I do that alone, it’s more exciting when you get to a set and you have people around to help you and it’s collaborative. It’s such a relief to get to be with other people and make something, than sitting alone at your desk trying to be disciplined.

A Very Murray Christmas premieres Dec. 4 on Netflix.

A Very Murray Christmas
From left: Paul Shaffer, George Clooney, Bill Murray, and Miley Cyrus in A Very Murray Christmas.Ali Goldstein—Netflix
A Very Murray Christmas
From left: Jenny Lewis, Maya Rudolph, Paul Shaffer, Rashida Jones, Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzman, and Dimitri Dimitrov in A Very Murray Christmas.Ali Goldstein—Netflix
A Very Murray Christmas
Bill Murray and Chris Rock in A Very Murray Christmas.Ali Goldstein—Netflix
A Very Murray Christmas
Amy Poehler and Bill Murray in A Very Murray Christmas.Ali Goldstein—Netflix
A Very Murray Christmas
Bill Murray in A Very Murray Christmas.Ali Goldstein—Netflix
A Very Murray Christmas
Bill Murray and Sofia Coppola on the set of A Very Murray Christmas.Ali Goldstein—Netflix
A Very Murray Christmas
Phoenix, Paul Shaffer, David Johansen, and Bill Murray in A Very Murray Christmas.Ali Goldstein—Netflix

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