Who Is Billy? Coppola Winery’s Comical Short Film Has Two Wildly Opposing Theories

Rodrigo Saavedra's 'The Red Stain' screened at Sundance

The Red Stain/Coppola Winery

We hear a lot about “storytelling” in one form or another these days. It’s become one of the most overused and hotly debated buzzwords in the business.

Now, acclaimed commercial director Rodrigo Saavedra of The Directors Bureau puts storytelling in sharp focus for Francis Coppola’s winery in “The Red Stain,” a 10-minute brand film that debuted Friday at the Sundance Film Festival.

Saavedra’s frequently nutsy narrative, set during a sunny, sleepy Italian summer, suggests the often ambiguous nature of stories themselves. It reminds us that telling tall tales remains central to the human condition, while interpretations and takeaways can vary wildly, adding considerable spice to life.

“The Red Stain” breezily mixes familiar styles, its initially grounded comic set-up upended by all manner of odd goings-on, served up with a Euro art-house twist. It plays at times like a continental Wes Anderson homage, with a vintage sitcom sensibility and dash of Rashomon tossed in.

Young American Billy brings a wine-splattered shirt to the dry-cleaning business of an elderly Italian couple. After he leaves, they spend hours spinning increasingly intricate, improbable yarns about the origin of the stain. This, in turn, leads them to wonder about Billy’s identity. Is he a hot-blooded lover in the midst of an affair? A superspy? A chess-boxing champion? All of these, perhaps? And why did he venture abroad in the first place?

Saavedra tosses in aliens and vampires, too. Sort of.

Perhaps the biggest whopper here is that so many Italians, in Italy, would stow bottles of Coppola-brand wine from California around their villas. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Actually, those clearly visible, mildly intrusive labels enhance the film’s barmy bouquet. Having Coppola wine generate plot points in a branded film about storytelling seems molto (and meta) bene to this paesano. Capisce?

“Our lifestyle brand is one of adventure, creativity and passion,” Jennifer Leitman, senior vp of marketing for The Family Coppola, tells us. “The Red Stain,” which will be shared on the company’s social platforms, its website (TheCoppolaClub.com) and at festivals, seeks to “connect with our audience and tap into their own desires and rich imagination,” she says.

In that sense, the film does this by leaving the true nature of the stain and Billy unresolved. Though we’re pretty sure aliens had something to do with it. And vampires. La verità è là fuori! (And to each his or her own explanation, no matter how outlandish—which is the overarching theme of the story.)

“The film is essentially a comedy, but it is in many ways an homage to different cinema genres,” Saavedra says. “This was our biggest challenge, I guess, striking that balance between what sometimes was incredibly silly subject matter with an elegant cinematic aesthetic.”

“When we first sent the film’s script to the Italian service production company, their first reaction was: ‘Oh my God, I bet this kind of thing happens at my local dry cleaners,'” he says. “It felt like that eccentric type of humor fit perfectly in that location, and we did film in a real dry cleaners, so throughout that day we had some customers show up asking for their clothes.”

“At one point, a rather suave Italian man in his late 50s showed up in suit trousers, perfect Italian shoes but with no shirt on. He told us: ‘I’m not leaving without my shirt!'”

Roman Coppola, a stylish filmmaker in his own right and an Anderson collaborator, served as producer. He tapped Saavedra, a Brazilian, based on his notable efforts for brands such as Corona, Nestlé, Scrabble and Volkswagen.

“It was really all him” in terms of creative development, Leitman says. “We did write up a brief with some general guidelines, consumer targets and background. He developed the concept, wrote and directed the film. Italy made perfect sense given the [Coppola] family’s background,” and “The Red Stain” was shot on location last summer.

In a broader sense, the film represents an effort by the Coppola brand—which encompasses everything from boutique resorts and a film studio to organic pastas and sauces—to harness marketing for its expansion plans.

Along with “The Red Stain,” the company has partnered with media platforms including Gothamist, Time Out and Pandora for cruises and other live events. Last year, Roman Coppola judged a short-film contest, which received nearly 1,000 entries. The winner, Jon Ayon’s “Sombras (Shadows),” tells the story of his parents’ immigration to the U.S. That film, and the four other finalists, were screened at Sundance, along with “The Red Stain.” Coppola is the exclusive wine sponsor of the festival.

“Consumers engage with brands differently now,” Leitman says. “They watch a crazy amount of content, and when a brand can be part of that, entertain them, and deliver it seamlessly, there’s value. The brand is more memorable. A branded film isn’t just articulating the attributes of the product or the price, it’s reaching people in a more emotional way. People view their brand choices as part of their self-image. It’s very much about feeling.”

Director: Rodrigo Saavedra
Production Companies: The Directors Bureau, Think | Cattleya, Landia
Executive Producer: Roman Coppola
Executive Producer: Sue Yeon Ahn
Producer & EP, Think | Cattleya: Martino Benvenuti
Junior Producer: Alice Chauvain
Director of Photography: Pierre De Kerchove
Colorist: Fernando Lui
Production Designer: Francesca Di Mottola
Costume Designer: Laura Di Marco
Editor: Carla Maimoni
VFX: Mosh VFX – Bruno Vianna
Sound/Music: Antfood – Lou Schmidt, Wilson Brown, Pedro Botsaris

Billy – Francesco Di Raimondo
Claudia – Daniela Igliozzi
Luca – Gianfranco Mazzoni
Monica – Giulia Di Quilio
Garbarov – Kyle Portman
Boxer#2 – Emanuele Barbalonga
Monica’s husband – Marco Nobili
Bet collector – Enrico Maria Ferrante

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@DaveGian davegia@hotmail.com David Gianatasio is a longtime contributor to Adweek, where he has been a writer and editor for two decades. Previously serving as Adweek's New England bureau chief and web editor, he remains based in Boston.