Francis Ford Coppola Explains His Secretive 'Distant Vision' Project

Francis Ford Coppola - H 2015
AP Images/Invision

Francis Ford Coppola - H 2015

“It’s hard to understand what I’m talking about basically, unless you see it,” the Oscar-winner says of his new "live-cinema" concept.

Francis Ford Coppola has a Distant Vision of the future of cinema.

His latest project is a concept he terms “live cinema,” which combines elements of classical stage and the latest technology. Though he’s secretive about the project, a personal, family-oriented story titled Distant Vision, the Oscar-winner gave some insight into his sprawling vision during the Marrakech Film Festival, where he is serving as jury president.

“It’s hard to understand what I’m talking about basically, unless you see it,” he said, of what sounds to be a live production-film hybrid that he is workshopping though a series of live readings. He’s careful to distinguish it from event-based live television like the recent The Sound of Music and Peter Pan specials that aired on NBC.

“Cinema is shot-based just as writing is sentence-based,” he explained, comparing the idea to a large storyboard in which the actors move around in different existing planes, akin to watching a movie as its being made through the magic of technology.

“In sports they do a lot of magical things we don’t even notice but we expect it. If there’s a goal right away we are able to see how he missed and how the other guy blocked it, so they have invented machines that enable you to control time even though it is happening live. Those machines are available for storytelling, but no one has tried to do it because no one has wanted to experiment.”

“I have been doing little experimental workshops. I take, say, 30 pages and say, ‘How am I going to do this?’ … I need the chance to try it out without showing everyone what I’m doing.”

The first workshop was 30 pages, clocking in at 54 minutes, held last June; the second and third are scheduled for late spring and in July at 70 pages.

Though Distant Vision will be a sprawling multi-year project, he says his comments on it being his final film were taken out of context. “I was being sarcastic,” he said. “I’m going to do this one big long movie that might veer towards this and it might veer towards that.”

The new format will put the creativity back in the hands of actors and directors instead of the editors that splice scenes together now. “Performance is different than canned art, where all the elements — and most importantly timing — are all handled after the fact by editors rather than the actors,” he said.

This new digital concept will also allow filmmakers to change the product constantly or add additional live elements, some of which he is experimenting with. While it will be detrimental to the current studio structure it will give filmmakers more creative freedom. “Those [digital] files can be what the filmmaker has made, or he can re-edit on that day, or it could be live. There’s a big expansion of possibilities moving forward.”

The blurring of the lines comes from what he calls the current "longform television" of the Sopranos — a “100-hour film” — and Breaking Bad, themselves extensions of the types of films Coppola and his contemporaries were making in the 1970s. He categorized these types of shows as a “rebirth” of cinema.

While theaters still draw crowds for event movies like the latest Star Wars, that will soon change as consumers become increasingly used to having everything on demand. The middle ground of film has already been ceded to VOD releasing, and he predicts a collapse of cinemas' stranglehold on even big Hollywood films. “In the future, it’s not really up to the theaters, it’s up to the audience to say where they want to see cinema. In the next three, four years we are in a very big transition.”

As for The Force Awakens, Coppola has no plans to see the it or attend the premiere. “My granddaughter Giancarla is going in my place, and she’s so grateful because it’s really hard to go to the premiere.” He dismisses the frenzy for the new film. “I’ve seen the Star Wars. I mean, you know there are several of them.”

He’s also content with his “Hollywood approval,” even if its waned on his later films. “The only honor I don’t have from Hollywood is my name on Hollywood Boulevard, and that’s because you have to pay for it.”