Francis Ford Coppola
EmptyAWARDS: 1975 Academy Award, Best Picture, Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay for "The Godfather: Part II"; 1973 Academy Award, Best Adapted Screenplay for "The Godfather"; 1971 Academy Award, Best Original Screenplay for "Patton." CURRENT CREDITS: Although he's been busy executive producing films like 2004's "Kinsey," after a 10-year hiatus, Coppola returns as a writer-director-producer with Sony Pictures Classics' "Youth Without Youth," based on the Mircea Eliade novella about aging, identity and language. Next, he'll start shooting "Tetro" in Argentina. MEMBERSHIPS: Screen Actors Guild. Academy member since 1970.
The Hollywood Reporter: "Youth Without Youth" is not only the first movie you've directed in 10 years -- it may also be one of the most ambitious efforts in your career.
Why did you choose this as your comeback film?
Francis Ford Coppola: People ask me, "Was reading the (the Eliade novella) like getting hit by lightning, and did it make (you) into a filmmaker again?" The truth is the bolt of lightning that hit me was (1972's) "The Godfather." That changed my life, because I was 29, but it gave me the career of an older filmmaker. Even then I tried to take on more risky projects, but having become wealthy with my other businesses (as a successful wine producer and hotelier), I've been given the chance to be the filmmaker I wanted to be when I was 18 and saw all these great movies from (Michelangelo) Antonioni and (Ingmar) Bergman and (Akira) Kurosawa.
THR: This movie has a European feel that hearkens back to many of those filmmakers. Why do you think there aren't more movies like that now?
Coppola: In the regular movie business they seem to have eliminated risk from what they do. You can't have art without risk. So I'm obviously going to move in a direction where there is risk.
THR: Arguably the riskiest time was the 1970s, when so many great filmmakers were given freedom by the studios. Do you think that's ever possible again?
Coppola: I think it is. Look at who's out there now. We have a roster of independent film directors in this country, not to mention the rest of the world, that is enviable. We are wealthy with talent. What's happening, however, is that there's starting to be a bottleneck in distribution. The public has effectively been brainwashed by 40 years of network television. And Hollywood is emulating television in that movies have to be an experience that don't provoke thought, that are familiar, that don't have risk.
THR: So you think it's a question of the audience as much as of the business model?
Coppola: Even people who read books at night expect movies to be different from literature. Literature can have ambiguity, can make you scratch your head. And yet films are expected just to be entertaining. I love entertaining films. But there's room in cinema for a lot of different kinds of films. You can have a movie that you have a hell of a time and you laughed the whole time, and then you can have a movie where you come back at night and you think how much it taught you about contemporary life. You wouldn't expect poets all to be
making the same poem just because it goes down easy. Cinema has that job, too. Just because it costs a lot of money to make an extremely good film doesn't mean that it shouldn't be tried.
THR: It would seem that technology would take care of some of this problem because it's so much cheaper to make a film these days.
Coppola: There's no question that contemporary equipment can offer people a chance to make a movie that looks great and sounds great and is great for very little money. But still so much of the cost of making movies has to do with airplane tickets and hotel rooms and cars and being able to attract actors the public wants to see. It's still expensive in a lot of ways.
THR: You've directed several movies that changed not only your life but the face of cinema. Nearly 40 years later, how do you feel about "The Godfather"? Does anything about the effect it had surprise you?
Coppola: It was remarkable that it all came together and it hit the audience at the right time. There's never been a film like that. I got lucky. But even a few days ago, I walk out onstage at the Kennedy Center, and they play the "Godfather" theme. And I want to say to everybody, "I'm happy that you love 'The Godfather,' and I'm proud of it, and I beg your permission to go on and do other things."
THR: Another seminal movie, of course, is 1979's "Apocalypse Now," which in addition to being one of the most significant war movies ever made, is also notorious for problems on the set. Would you do it differently if you were shooting it today?
Coppola: The experience of making it was overwhelming. But I love to make movies that are what they're about. I allowed it to get a little out of control, but in doing that I captured something that was a little out of control.
THR: The WGA strike has captured a lot of people's attention. Where do you fall on the issue?
Coppola: In the old days when a movie just had a record (soundtrack), it was considered ancillary rights, and it was agreed that the studio would take 20% and put it in the pot,
and the other 80% would remain with the studio. But now ancillary rights include the DVD and the Internet and everything else, and the truth of the matter is it's no longer ancillary rights -- it's the profits of the movie. The studios want to remove the 80% (from the pot) that they are using to cushion the studio system. They couldn't pay those executives the bonuses or run the type of wasteful operations they do unless they were stealing 80% of the real wealth of the film. That's what the writers strike is really about.
THR: You'll finance "Tetro" independently through American Zoetrope. Can you see yourself ever returning to the studio system?
Coppola: No, I'm too old to have 20 producers on my movie and get notes night and day. I don't see the most important thing in my life for everything to be risk-free. I want to be a poet. Does a poet worry about the risk when he writes something? He just wants to catch something beautiful.