Wednesday, June 7, 2023 Jun 7, 2023
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How Nicolas Cage’s Brother Made Me a Reality TV Star

Christopher Coppola came to town a digital media prophet, and left me in his wake.
By Peter Simek |
illustration by PJ Loughran

Here’s what the Video Association of Dallas’ Bart Weiss told me: “Go to Victory Park on Tuesday at 10 am, and they are going to screen the Texture of Dallas videos. Christopher Coppola wants someone there to appear on camera with him.”

Now what does that sound like to you? You see, Texture of Dallas is a video competition that D Magazine launched last year with Weiss. We asked our readers to make videos of their city with their phones. We had just completed the project, so when Weiss called with his message, I thought two things: 1) that’s cool that the videos are going to show on the big screens in Victory Park’s AT&T Plaza, and 2) who the hell is Christopher Coppola?

As it turns out, yes, Christopher Coppola is a member of that Coppola family, except he didn’t make Apocalypse Now like his uncle Francis or direct Bill Murray like his cousin Sofia or win an Oscar like his brother Nicolas (Cage). Christopher, Google told me, runs something called the P.A.H. Nation, a circus-like traveling film festival that proclaims itself a digital media liberator, a bearer of the means of movie production to the proletariat in little out-of-the-way American towns like Arlington, Texas, where, I learned, P.A.H. had touched down that past weekend. P.A.H. stands for Project Accessible Hollywood. Nowhere on its site does it acknowledge the irony that this everyman’s movie project is run by a member of the Los Angeles equivalent of the Bourbon dynasty.

Nonetheless, C-list celebrity or not, I was now called to meet this Mr. Christopher Coppola. And walking into the desolate Victory Park plaza on a chilly Tuesday morning, my imagination was working hard. I was going to talk to Coppola about our video project. He was going to ask me about our ideas. He would make the observation that we were both on a mission to use new technology to help the regular Joe or Jane tell his or her story to the world. In truth, Bart Weiss is Dallas’ digital prophet, but Weiss teaches class on Tuesday mornings. I was the happy stand-in.

I waited in the empty plaza for 15 minutes before I called the phone number Weiss had given me for the P.A.H. Fest producer. They were having trouble transferring the digital files into the correct format for the giant Victory Park screens. That’s fine, I said. I had time.

I waited and then got another call. Did I want to meet Christopher? Sure, what the heck? Anyway, we should probably prep for the interview.

Christopher Coppola sat in a Herman Miller chair in a large lobby in the Victory Park offices looking like a bloated Nicolas Cage. He wore a goatee, a bandana tied around his head, and two fists full of rings (one featuring a giant skull) that shouted “renegade” in a way his custom-tailored gray suit did not. Coppola was flustered over a snafu with his new reality TV show called DigiVangelist, and, after some polite greetings, he sat me up in front of his laptop to watch the first episode. In it, Coppola returns to his family’s hometown in Italy, where he ties digital cameras to Vespas, chases down new equipment, and manages to make something that is part The Amazing Race and part Best Buy commercial—all the while milking his family name for all it is worth.

At length, the file conversion was complete, and I was ushered back onto the plaza. Outside, all was explained. I was introduced to three local people who had shot videos with Coppola over the weekend in Arlington during P.A.H. Fest. The producer, now circling us with a camera, told us how the next few minutes would unfold.

“You are all really excited to see your movies on the big screen,” he said. “But Christopher isn’t here. But then he runs up and tells you that he is sorry he is late but he wouldn’t miss this for anything.”

Finally, I understood. I was there to appear on camera. I was supposed to play the role of an evangelized digital newbie for Coppola’s reality TV show. And this “reality” happened just as the producer said it would. After a huffing and puffing Coppola made his hasty appearance, followed by a brief soliloquy about how great it was that he was giving these nice people from Arlington the opportunity to watch our videos on these big screens in this big, empty square, he took a seat on the bench next to me. The video rolled. Coppola gave me a friendly arm punch.

“Isn’t this great?” he asked.

“Yeah,” I said, and smiled for the camera.

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