Why Louisiana Matters to Filming Projects

Posted on June 30th, 2017 by Leonard Alsfeld

Gnarled oaks and shadowy interiors are the backdrop of “The Beguiled,” a deliciously gothic Civil War drama filmed in New Orleans’ City Park and Madewood Plantation in Napoleonville, among other Louisiana locations.

In May, the film won Sofia Coppola the best director honor at the Cannes Film Festival. Coppola is only the second woman in the festival’s 70-year history to receive the prize.

“The Beguiled” stars Nicole Kidman, Colin Farrell, Kirsten Dunst and Elle Fanning. Farrell plays a wounded, roguish Union soldier who finds shelter at a girls school in war-torn Virginia. The film opens Friday in New Orleans.

Madewood Plantation House in Napoleonville, a pre-Civil War Greek revival mansion, serves as the façade for the story’s girls school, Farnsworth Seminary. Exterior locations also included City Park, the setting where Oona Laurence’s precocious Amy finds Farrell’s injured Cpl. John McBurney. The movie’s interior scenes, filmed at a private residence in New Orleans, include the school’s parlor, music room, bedrooms and long, winding staircase.

Coppola and her cast attended the May 24 premiere of “The Beguiled” in Cannes, France. Following the screening at the Grand Théâtre Lumière, they received a five-minute standing ovation.

Four days later, Coppola was back in New York when her best director award was announced in Cannes. Passers-by on the street spotted the filmmaker and broke the news about her victory at Cannes.

“I was actually going to Coney Island with my kids,” she said last week. “People were saying, ‘Congratulations!’ ”

Coppola had no idea that only one female director had previously won the honor. The Soviet Union’s Yuliya Solntseva took the prize in 1961 for her World War II drama “Chronicle of Flaming Years.”

“It was really exciting,” Coppola said. “Especially all the love and support I felt afterwards from so many friends who are women artists.”

In Coppola’s absence from the Cannes awards ceremonies, German filmmaker Maren Ade (“Toni Erdmann”) read Coppola’s acceptance speech. Coppola thanked her parents as well as director Jane Campion (“The Piano”) for being a role model for female filmmakers.

Coppola’s many previous honors include an Academy Award and Golden Globe for writing 2003’s “Lost in Translation.” Her 2006 film, “Marie Antoinette,” won Cannes’ Cinema Prize of the French National Education System. And 2010’s “Somewhere” received the Venice Film Festival’s Golden Lion.

Production for “The Beguiled” began in Louisiana in late October. Following a month of prep, the director, cast and crew shot the project in a mere 26 days. 

Prior to “The Beguiled,” Coppola mostly had been a weekend visitor to New Orleans. Her film director father, Francis Ford Coppola, has a place in the French Quarter.

Sofia Coppola visited New Orleans in 2013 when her husband, Thomas Mars, singer in the French pop-rock band Phoenix, headlined the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival.

“I loved getting to know the city more,” the director said of her extended stay in the city for “The Beguiled.” “Of course, we ate very well, and it was fun being in the Quarter. We had such a good time.”

Coppola also has high regard for her Louisiana film crew.

“Everyone was so nice and enthusiastic,” she said. “It was a hard to go back to New York right after, because New Orleans is such a different pace. The warmth and friendliness. People take their time there, which I really appreciated.”

Her film’s evocative Louisiana locations stand in for Virginia in 1864.

“I love shooting on real locations,” Coppola said. “I was really happy to shoot on a real plantation with those beautiful trees and such history. Of course, it’s a dark history. The combination of beauty and darkness added a lot of atmosphere. And shooting in City Park, in a forest in the middle of the city, that was amazing. The tone of New Orleans is so unique. It adds a lot to the film. You could never create that on a stage.”

Coppola had not seen the original 1971 film version of “The Beguiled” until her production designer, Anne Ross, brought it to her attention. Directed by Don Siegel and starring Clint Eastwood, it’s based on Thomas Cullinan’s 1966 novel. In the jealousy-fueled tale, a handsome, charming man suddenly enters a household of women isolated by war. After seeing the 1971 film, Coppola couldn’t shake its twisting storyline.

“I was never interested in remaking Don Siegel’s movie,” she said. “I wanted to take the premise and go back to the book, to reimagine it the way I would do it. The biggest difference is that I’m telling the story from the women’s point of view. It starts in their world. These slow days. And then he comes into it and turns it upside down.”

The Eastwood-Siegel film tells “The Beguiled” from Cpl. McBurney’s male perspective, Coppola said.

“I thought there was room to do something new, to make these women human, to connect with them,” she said of her adaptation. “Reading the different stories in the book, I tried to personally relate to them. I’ve been the different ages of each of the women characters, so I can imagine what their lives are like. The challenge was for me to do something in this genre but in my style.”