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The Godfather won three Oscars, is considered one of the greatest films of all time and was named the best movie ever in a Hollywood Reporter-conducted survey of the entertainment industry in 2014.
But the classic Mafia movie — starring Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, Robert Duvall, James Caan and Diane Keaton, among others — would likely not get a green light from a major studio today, director Francis Ford Coppola said during a panel discussion with the stars of the first and second films at the Tribeca Film Festival on Saturday.
“The first Godfather cost $6.5 million, the second Godfather cost $11-12 million, which if you convert that for [what that would be today], it would take a major studio. But it would never get through the process of getting an OK or what they now call a green light,” Coppola said. “Nothing will get a green light today unless it’s a movie where they can have a whole series of them and a Marvel comics type of thing.”
He conceded, though, that the film “could get made today,” but since he didn’t think a major studio like Paramount, which released all three films in the Godfather trilogy, would release it, presumably he means that such a movie, with what were then a number of up-and-coming actors, would have to be made as an independent project.
The first Godfather film had a tough time making it to the big screen in the early 1970s, Coppola and the film’s stars as well as moderator Taylor Hackford explained at Radio City Music Hall after a marathon screening of the first and second films, with Robert De Niro joining the franchise as a young Vito Corleone in the sequel. The panelists, sitting on a set designed to look like Vito Corleone’s library with a framed photo of Brando as the character looking down on them, recalled how the studio didn’t want Brando or Pacino in their respective roles, with Coppola himself on the verge of getting fired for the first few weeks of shooting.
Pacino recalled hearing “giggling” or “snickering” while he was doing his scenes and said that he and Keaton, who played his onscreen love interest Kay Adams, got drunk while filming The Godfather’s early wedding scene.
Keaton said she still doesn’t know why she got her role, but she recently read that Coppola thought she was eccentric. He said that wasn’t exactly it.
“I had seen you and Richard Castellano in Lovers and Other Strangers. And from that picture I thought you would be an excellent Kay. To say you were eccentric is not entirely — what it was was Kay was written as this New England WASP in the book and she was pretty straight,” Coppola explained. “I felt like the mere casting of you would give it a lot of texture and interest.”
Coppola’s sister Talia Shire, played the Corleones‘ daughter Connie, and admitted she had some trouble on set.
“One of my first scenes, I walked into the camera and knocked it down,” Shire said. “It was Marlon Brando who said, ‘That’s OK.'”
Coppola said he found the experience of rewatching the films to be “very emotional.”
“I haven’t seen these movies for years. I tend not to see the movies I worked on. I know I haven’t seen Godfather II for a really long time. I saw the first Godfather because we had to do the restoration,” the director said. “I forgot about a lot about the making of it and I was more in the story, and the story used a lot of family or my personal stuff and it had my sister in it. So I found it a very emotional experience for myself.”
Keaton, meanwhile, recently watched the first film on her computer after having not seen it for 30 years and she gushed about the movie after not feeling like she belonged.
“I couldn’t get over it. It was so astonishing. Francis, it was so beautiful. And everybody is so great in it, and the music. Every choice you made was so authentically brilliant,” she said. “Everything was just astonishing to me, and I was totally surprised because I didn’t expect it. And on the f—ing computer! I was so shocked by it because I never really paid much attention to The Godfather because I always felt like I was the most outsider, weird person in the movie and ‘Why was I cast, again?’ and I had no voice, but then there was a couple of good scenes with Al.”
After Keaton raved about Shire’s performance, Coppola informed her that it was Shire who had the idea for Keaton’s character to have an abortion in the second film.
Many of the stories told by Coppola and the stars are well-known by fans of the films. But casual viewers who haven’t heard how Pacino, Brando and De Niro got into their respective characters; tales of the on-set antics (read: mooning and practical jokes); or how Vito Corleone ended up stroking a cat in the film’s opening scene — or want to see and hear them told again by Coppola and Co. — can check out the full panel in the video below.
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