When a Young Sofia Coppola & Zoe Cassavetes Made Their Own TV Show: Revisit Hi-Octane (1994)

It makes sense that Sofia Cop­po­la and Zoe Cas­savetes would be friends. Not only are they both respect­ed film­mak­ers of Gen­er­a­tion X, they’re both daugh­ters of mav­er­ick Amer­i­can auteurs, a con­di­tion with its advan­tages as well as its dis­ad­van­tages. The advan­tages, in Cop­po­la’s case, have includ­ed the abil­i­ty to get Zoetrope, her father Fran­cis Ford Coppola’s pro­duc­tion com­pa­ny, to foot the bill for a project like Hi-Octane: in the words of a 1994 W mag­a­zine pro­file, “a non-talk show in which Sofia and Zoe dri­ve around and inter­view cool peo­ple, essen­tial­ly their friends” — a group that includ­ed Keanu Reeves, Mar­tin Scors­ese, Gus Van Sant, and the Beast­ie Boys.

Cop­po­la and Cas­savetes did­n’t do all the inter­view­ing them­selves. Their cor­re­spon­dents includ­ed the pho­tog­ra­ph­er Shawn Mortensen, whom they sent off to Paris Fash­ion Week to talk to the likes of Nao­mi Camp­bell, Karl Lager­feld, and André Leon Tal­ley, and Son­ic Youth’s Thurston Moore, who host­ed his own reg­u­lar seg­ment. “Thurston’s Alley” was usu­al­ly shot lit­er­al­ly there, in the alley along­side the build­ing where he lived in New York, and, to it, he lured guests like John­ny Ramone and Sylvia Miles. But in one very spe­cial episode, he vis­its the Condé Nast build­ing to inter­view none oth­er than Anna Win­tour — and, in one of the moments Hi-Octane’s view­ers have nev­er for­got­ten, to describe the may­on­naise-based hair styling tech­nique of Pix­ies Bassist Kim Deal.

“I wrote the script ’cause I was so into cars,” the young Cop­po­la told W. “And I have access to all these inter­est­ing peo­ple — these actors and musi­cians. But when you see them inter­viewed on tele­vi­sion, they just talk about their char­ac­ters and it’s so bor­ing. The sets are always hideous­ly ugly. TV peo­ple always say they want to cater to peo­ple my age, but they have no idea how to do it. So we just want­ed to incor­po­rate the things we’re inter­est­ed in — cars, paint­ing, music.” In one episode, she and Cas­savetes take mon­ster-truck lessons; in anoth­er, she gets a bass les­son from the Min­ute­men’s Mike Watt; anoth­er fea­tures an extend­ed pro­file of psy­che­de­lo-sex­u­al-apoc­a­lyp­tic painter Robert Williams, whom Cop­po­la’s cousin Nico­las Cage turns up to praise as “a mod­ern-day Hierony­mus Bosch.”

Hi-Octane aired at 11:00 at night on Com­e­dy Cen­tral, a time slot between Whose Line Is It Any­way? and Sat­ur­day Night Live. It only did so three times before its can­cel­la­tion, but each of those broad­casts offers a strong if some­what makeshift dis­til­la­tion of a cer­tain mid-nineties Gen‑X sen­si­bil­i­ty, whose out­ward smirk­ing dis­af­fec­tion is belied by its over­pow­er­ing sub­cul­tur­al enthu­si­asm and sense of fun. “I wouldn’t change it because part of the slop­pi­ness makes it unique and what it is,” Cop­po­la said in a more recent inter­view. “I think if any­thing has sin­cer­i­ty and heart, this is it.” She may have known even at the time that it was all too pure to last. “Com­e­dy Cen­tral says our show’s not fun­ny enough,” she says to Cas­savetes at the end of the sec­ond episode. “I think it’s fun­ny that they gave us a show,” Cas­savetes replies, and Cop­po­la has to give it to her: “That is… that is fun­ny.”

Relat­ed con­tent:

Lick the Star: Sofia Coppola’s Very First Film Fol­lows a 7th-Grade Con­spir­a­cy (1998)

Louis CK Ridicules Avant-Garde Art on 1990s MTV Show

Close Per­son­al Friend: Watch a 1996 Por­trait of Gen‑X Defin­er Dou­glas Cou­p­land

Andy Warhol’s 15 Min­utes: Dis­cov­er the Post­mod­ern MTV Vari­ety Show That Made Warhol a Star in the Tele­vi­sion Age (1985–87)

Revis­it Turn-On, the Inno­v­a­tive TV Show That Got Can­celed Right in the Mid­dle of Its First Episode (1969)

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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