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How James Franco and ‘Palo Alto’ Director Gia Coppola Brought Teen Angst to the Screen

While the films of Sofia Coppola often examine the world of young wealth — see ‘The Bling Ring‘ and ‘Marie Antoinette’ — her niece, Gia, approaches coming of age from a different angle: the grittier, if you will, emotional lives teens lead while growing up in rural Palo Alto.

“I had just finished college and was kind of reminiscing on those years of high school,” she told ScreenCrush in an interview. “I had enough distance where I could kind of look at it nostalgically,” and it was the realistic experiences in James Franco‘s collection of short stories, titled ‘Palo Alto,’ she wanted to bring to the screen for her first directorial effort.

Following her years at Bard College, she was introduced to the actor/director/producer/selfie-takerĀ at a party through stylist Jamal Hammadi, and the two began trading each others’ work in the hopes of finding some common ground on which to collaborate. ‘Palo Alto’ was that intersection.

The film follows the intertwining lives of young teens living in Palo Alto — one’s a virgin dangerously flirting with her soccer coach, one is a reckless fire cracker, one is tormented by her bad reputation, and one is a generally lovable stoner. Franco had already been developing some of his stories into films to be directed by promising student filmmakers and funded through IndieGoGo, but when thinking of adapting ‘Palo Alto’ into a movie, he wanted someone who could make a faithful adaptation while bringing his or her own unique spin.

Once Gia was on board, finding the cast proved to be a simple task as the young director’s passion for the project quickly drew in talent — ‘American Horror Story‘ star Emma Roberts, Nat Wolff of the upcoming ‘The Fault in Our Stars,’ Val Kilmer’s son Jack, and ‘The Way, Way Back’ star Zoe Levin.

“I loved working with Gia. We just had a really good back and forth on set,” Roberts told us. “It was nice that we were very much on the same page and had like a really good shorthand with like not having to finish sentences and know what the other person meant. And that was really cool and made me really excited to go to work every day.”

Find out more about ‘Palo Alto’ — in select theaters this Friday, May 9 — in the video above.

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