Harry sits down in Austin with Francis Ford Coppola and talks YOUTH WITHOUT YOUTH, Seventies film, Wine, TETRO and the Coppolas
Hey folks, Harry here... Yesterday was one of those momentous days in one's life. It began with Yoko and I going to the post office to mail out the wedding invitations. As the stamps were affixed, it seemed to finalize in our minds the fact that, indeed, we're getting married. After that, I was to go to the fabulous Driskill Hotel on 6th Street to interview, one on one with Francis Ford Coppola.
I wasn't so much as nervous about this meeting, as much as I was stunned that it was happening. That I would be sitting down with Coppola in my home town, in the classiest hotel in town, in his room... 1 on 1. It was incredible. Then afterwards, I was going to the Alamo Drafthouse Downtown, to meet Farley Granger to watch my favorite Hitchcock film, STRANGERS ON A TRAIN, and have Farley autograph my original 1-sheet to me. It was a great day/night.
I found Coppola to be a relaxed and calming personality. There was no tension in the room, he seemed to be exactly a physical reflection of the surroundings he was in. Classy, comfortable and hospitable.
Some notes on the below interview. This is actually, the first time... in history, that I've done a sit down in-person ONE on ONE interview. So in preparation for the interview, I bought a fancy mini-tape hand held voice recorder and... after testing it... it turns out, I had it on a setting called VOX, which throughout the interview, it just would shut off, then turn back on. Sometimes missing great deals of our conversation.
What's missing? Essentially our rather lengthy discussion about Coppola's Wines, which I dearly love. And that he is extremely proud of. Also missing is most of the details upon his next film TETRO. That said, what I do have with you is close to 4000 words between Francis and myself.
I hope to have a chance in the future to bring Francis to town for a screening of YOUTH WITHOUT YOUTH and to sit with him again, with better equipment to continue our conversation.
Thanks goes out to AICN intern extraordinaire, Mike for his transcription of the faulty tape - and I hope you readers out there enjoy this remarkable opportunity I had with the brilliant, Francis Ford Coppola...
Harry: So what brings you to Austin?
Coppola: Well, I always like to come to Austin and as you know, I’m doing a show… my wife’s new documentary tonight, in a few hours and … I basically told my company, “OK, I’ll give you the month of May, but …”
Coppola: “… and be of what use I can be and then June I’m leaving, so take advantage of me…”
Harry: So you start filming down…
Coppola: Not filming, but I have to do the preparation…
Harry: Cool. I’m supposed to give you the “Hello” from Guillermo del Toro.
Coppola: So you’re friend is in London, right?
Harry: He’s in Budapest at the moment and I’m heading to Bucharest at the end of the week, I’m supposed to meet him at the end of the week and catch up, so…
Coppola: How long has it been since you’ve seen him?
Harry: About a year
Coppola: How is his weight, how did that operation go for him?
Harry: He said it went pretty great and he’s shed off quite a bit of weight, I’m actually supposed to go through the same process that he…
Coppola: …went through…
Coppola: Yeah, it’s for his health, you know he’s got to really watch it. You too, ya know… you’re young. How old are you?
Harry: I’m thirty-five.
Coppola: Oh, you’re really young…
Harry: Yeah, I’m a kid, but speaking of youth, when I was reading the diary you had on the site for YOUTH WITHOUT YOUTH… you had put out that you were concerned about great talent, recapturing the glory of their youth, and why great artists made great works at such a young age and then trying to recapture that for the rest of their careers, often times without success…
Coppola: Well it wasn’t really a concern, I was really using that little essay in three parts, because it was the first time I had announced to our constituency of that site that I was going to return to directing …it was a guessing game, where I first had one paragraph called “Youth,” then a paragraph with a “W” and an “O” and then the third, but it was actually a game I was playing with them …and they knew it was a “W” and they were trying to guess and you know, it was three little essays on, yes, the phenomenon of why… not to be concerned, but it was pretty evident in those paragraphs that I was just wondering why it is that often artists and novelists, playwrights make their mark when they are younger, than when they try to recapture or move past that and when they do, they discover they only had so many arrows in their quiver, I use that word a lot, quiver. …but also, I noted that, you know, often these young people come to the public’s attention when they are young, whereas it’s very rare for someone to be discovered and have their imprint made later in life. I for one mentioned Bill Kennedy as an example of that… You know, just exploring what it takes. As I was saying earlier, that I feel all of us are given a certain quiver of arrows and once you expose them, that’s somewhat it and so many… You know, even the great ones, even Tennessee Williams or Joseph Heller or Fellini or the guy with the, what’s his name? You know a very famous writer that writes a lot about boxing, what’s his name? (Francis was searching for Norman Mailer)
Harry: Yeah, I know, from the Ali/Forman documentary
Coppola: …he writes a lot about boxing and anyway that guy that you know or who wrote FROM HERE TO ETERNITY? That’s Jones? (James Jones)
Coppola: But, like if you get discovered and then you lay on what you got to lay on and then after you do that, you go on repeating yourself… few artists are able to come up later in their lives after exposing their few quivers, I would, I refer to arrows, but few with a whole new thing… Shakespeare could do it and you know, I was using it to tantalize my group there to the announcement of YOUTH WITHOUT YOUTH.
Harry: You also mentioned trying to forget what you’ve learned as a filmmaker…
Coppola: Well that’s also challenging myself and would I be able to, in a sense, be able to make myself young again by trying to forget everything I knew and approach film with in the years of experience making movies.
Harry: So you forget everything you that you know… What did you do on this that you short of shucked off what you have done in the past?
Coppola: Partly in setting up an auspices... in other words, without all the protection.
Coppola: I mean as, you know, you look at any important director and when they go out… certainly in the commercial film world, they go out with a script that has been evolved in a long process of… well there are scripts being developed for them and then when the floor get rewritten and they put other writers on it, like the best writers available… they’ll take the best one and make that, then the other three will be shopped around for other directors and then they are sure to have the best cast that money can buy, the best photographer that money can buy… so they’re going out pretty protected…
Coppola: …whereas I was going to go and take myself and go to a place that no one can really get near me and get a cast and crew that may not, today be the best that money can buy, but who knows, it might evolve to be the best that money can buy - and with a script that I wrote myself, but I started off in my younger days wanting to be a playwright in the tradition of Tennessee Williams and Eugene O’Neil.
Harry: You shot YOUTH WITHOUT YOUTH digitally didn’t you?
Coppola: I had never said how I did it, because I shot film and digital and I kind of maintained that everyone should look at it and kind of figure out how I did it…
Coppola: …but, we did shoot film as well.
Harry: How did you come to the material, YOUTH WITHOUT YOUTH?
Coppola: I had been working for a year that period, when I was working on MEGALOPOLIS, during the so-called 10 years when I wasn’t doing anything, I was a little preoccupied on this script I wrote that I had made into an extremely ambitious project, that it was very difficult even to get feedback on it, given the fact that the sort of notes I would get would be related to the projects’ financial or pop-value.
I didn’t want that kind of narrow movie feedback, because I was trying to write a script that was even more ambitious than that. it’ll grow up after a while… I sent it to a friend that I had known in high school who was a young woman who became a great [tape blurs here] …at the University of Chicago and she read my script and gave me some notes, from a broader literary or intellectual perspective, which is what I wanted. That’s what I was trying to do and in the course of it, she sent me a lot of quotes from Mercea Eliade, who was this professor and thinker from which I learned a lot of stuff. And she had a lot of quotes relative to a couple of the themes I was playing with related to the consciousness of MEGALOPOLIS and I became curious of the story that these quotes had come from and I managed to get it. It wasn’t easy to get. When I read it, I just said “well, here I go. I’ll just retell everybody and I’ll just write this and go off on my own and use my own dough and just make a film.” …instead of being you know, stuck with this MEGALOPOLIS project which after the events of September 11th, 2001, I just didn’t know how to continue with it.
Harry: Is that what happened to it? Was when 9/11, it…
Coppola: It made it really pretty tough… a movie about the aspiration of utopia with New York as a main character and then all of a sudden you couldn’t write about New York without just dealing with what happened and the implications of what happened. The world was attacked and I didn’t know how to try to do with that. I tried.
Harry: When do you think that you could revisit that material?
Coppola: I have abandoned that as of now. I’m now going to… I plan to begin a process of making one personal movie after another and if something leads me back to look at that, which I’m sure it might, I’ll see what makes sense to me.
Harry: I think it’s fascinating that you have decided to go and make personal films again, as opposed to the more commercial efforts like something like [THE] RAINMAKER… but did you feel that [THE] RAINMAKER and JACK and DRACULA and those films were more commercial fare, but I assume they were of course personal to you?
Coppola: I’ll address that, but there’s no question that those pictures where made at a time when I was financially way in hock at that time. You remember that I filed bankruptcy at that time, so I made a series of pictures to pay that off and then when I reached the point with DRACULA, that I had pretty much fixed that. My wife agreed with me, that I should make three more studio films to save money up and that I could keep that money separate and use it to make MEGALOPOLIS, so I made JACK, primarily to work with Robin Williams. It was his project and I was sort of suggested to him as a possibility, and Robin is a personality and a San Francisco neighbor that I had always wanted to collaborate with. I went into THE RAINMAKER pretty much because I was also fascinated by just [John] Grisham’s knack to make bestselling stories. After I finished that one, I just said “well I’ve kind of had it and I’m not going to do a third one,” [studio film] and then took the money I earned from most of it to put into MEGALOPOLIS and actually went to New York and did some tests and started looking at actors
Harry: I remember, I was covering all the details at that, many people were quite excited about that project.
Coppola: That’s how I financed that. I used… you know, my wife would be generous and said “look, it brought us back from financial disaster, you should make films from yourself, and use that money to make the first one.” So I tried and then I got into my snag with um… the events of that date …and then the World Trade Towers and I didn’t know what to do. Then at the time, my company also started to get more successful, so the financial earnings that I had from that period dating back from the bankruptcy to that point was such a success that I could finally afford to just make movies and finance them on my own.
Harry: How have you seen that your self financing route has liberated you from the days having to deal with the modern day studio process?
Coppola: Well, you know it’s the same process, even at the independent level… is so geared towards making money, I mean they want to have awards and be considered important artistically, but the biggest reason the big studios have the independent companies, is to uncover talent that they can eventually plug into their mainstream films like with Sam Raimi
Harry: Or some minor leagues going to the majors…
Coppola: Exactly! That’s why they’re in it… and so those things are operated, like you take FOX SEARCHLIGHT… I mean, they… LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE is the perfect kind of movie that they want to find, because not only do get a feel good movie which is essentially the same sort of thing the big studio side is making, that film is a junior version of what they ideally want to be making.. The studios are rarely interested in personal films, unless it gets them closer to talent that they’ll want to exploit elsewhere. Like the directors on LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE, they’ll be working in outside the independent area.
When I was in a position to finance my own movie, my goal was to start shooting the first day without anyone evening knowing I was making the movie and I only got busted really by Variety…who said “tell us about it or we’re going to announce it,” and I mean what, we were about three weeks away from shooting and I said, “well, you know, ok here it is.” But ideally, I’d love to make films without people looking at what I was doing, or second guessing the process. To just go from film to film and be making the next one before anyone caught on to what I was doing.
Harry: Richard Linklater does that here in Austin…
Coppola: Just starts, huh?
Harry: Literally, you will sit around, then the next thing you know you will see “Is that Rick shooting down at the corner? Yes, he is!” He’s just shooting digitally and hired actors… nobody knows what he’s up to…
Coppola: How does he even finance these things?
Harry: I’m not really sure, but it seems sometimes he just starts and then takes it to somebody at a certain point and says “Hey, I need… at this point I need to bring people on” or he will do rehearsals with his actors and show people that work. At least on his very indie films.
Coppola: That sounds like a good route and in answer to your question, the more privacy that you can maintain while you are in the formulative… It’s like, what would happen if a woman had conceived and she had to like half her belly in this glass thing and then everybody going like “well, I don’t know about the nose. It’s not going good… what do you think about that… I don’t think this is working…” There are things you want to do in privacy when you are creating and I think because you’re so secure, because nobody can be secure and you don’t want to hear all of those opinions, because you are trying to hang on to it all.
Harry: How much of the sort of fantastical elements of Eliade’s novella did you stay true to, I mean how accurate to that novella in terms of him being struck by lightning and returned to youth or…?
Coppola: Oh I loved that when I read it in the story, but there was so much more to the story like Eliade would mention that or that other things that he’s splitting into other personalities and you have this sense of the characters that were overshadowing the population… And they were superior intellectually, but that they can have their nuclear wars, because the people who would be left would be able to rebuild everything that weekend, you know? As I read the book, it just continued to surprise me with each layer of where he took the story so I tried, within my ability, to get that in a two hour movie.
Harry: When you were making films in the seventies, Like THE GODFATHER and THE CONVERSATION, I have a sixteen millimeter print of that one, because it was so unavailable until recently…otherwise, What was it about the seventies that made the films that you made, and Friedkin and Bogdanovich and Scorsese… That original group of seventies filmmakers. What is so different about the industry today, from back then?
Coppola: Well, I think those days were still, in a way, run by either the great showmen of the past, the Jack Warners and Louis B Mayers… It had, at that time, jus recently lost them. But they were real showmen, kind of like Harvey (Weinstein) is these years, you know, he’s vulgar and he’s this showman. And the studios in those days they didn’t know what to do. The business was changing, THE SOUND OF MUSIC and had been the number one picture.
Then Arthur Penn makes BONNIE & CLYDE with Warren Beatty and suddenly were in there talking a big storm saying “let us do this and let us do that,” Then MIDNIGHT COWBOY got made with the great John Schlesinger and so there was suddenly now something to shoot for and Kubrick jumped in and started talking fast and you know, after them, there were accidents, like I made THE GODFATHER. That was supposed to be a regular studio picture, but I sort of took it my own way despite the fact that they didn’t want me to and I only got to make THE CONVERSATION because of the success of THE GODFATHER. So, there was just an opportunity that opened up, because the studios thought that they did not know what to do.
Now the studios know what to do, so they make SPIDER-MAN and they want to make PIRATES OF THE CARRIBEAN and that’s their formula that they have. That’s why they won’t make a drama anymore, they’re only interested in franchises. So that’s the business they are in now, and the big money of this year and this summer is going to come from three movies – SPIDERMAN, and the PIRATES OF THE CARRIBEAN and SHREK…so they have what they want… they know what to do. In the seventies, they didn’t know what to do.
Harry: What sort of advice do you give to like Roman [Coppola] and Sofia [Coppola], because I mean, I love CQ.
Coppola: Me too.
Harry: I think it is just a spectacular film and everything that Sofia has done has been just…
Coppola: Original! She goes her own way.
Harry: My fiancé’s favorite movie of last year was MARIE ANTOINETTE. She wants every shoe that was in the film and was just, in love with the juxtaposition of the music and the era. What advice have you given them? I mean, are they being courted by the big studios to make big projects or are they wanting to stay true to the path that I’ve seen them on, so far, which is making incredibly personal projects?
Coppola: They only want to make personal films. Sofia has had such success with LOST IN TRANSLATION which gave her the opportunity to turn her MARIE ANTIONETTE idea into something larger, which she wanted to do with that mainly because the style dictated that level of production. Roman hasn’t quite had the success yet, that Sofia has, but you take both of them, and you ask what I taught them, well, I taught them to make personal films.
They’re already rich from wine you know, so they don’t need to make much… Sofia is rich and so is Roman.
Harry: How does it feel to be making movies?
Coppola: It’s what I really love to do and I must say that having total control of a production, because it was dough and having the privacy that I want. And just how many more I can make at my age.
Harry: Well, I mean currently you’re pretty young in comparison to the ages that Hitchcock, Ford and Kurosawa were… they made movies till they were far older than you are.
Coppola: Yeah, no, I didn’t… you know, you just hope that I can stay healthy and be in good shape and enthusiastic… the enthusiasm. I mean, enthusiasm certainly is an ingredient that gets you up in the morning and gets you to walk up that hill, which normally you’d go “Oh, you know, what do I want to go to that hill for?” But if that’s where the shot is…
Coppola: You kind of do it without thinking about it. I feel very blessed and am very excited and I hope I make a sort of film right after TETRO, because now I feel I have what I’ve always wanted, which is the freedom I’ve always wanted.
Harry: … you are back doing the directing. What are you doing with Zoetrope? Do you intend to continue to produce and cultivate other talent…or are you concentrating more on your own personal direction these days?
Coppola: Well, Zoetrope is now owned by Roman [Coppola] and Sofia [Coppola]. I no longer own it and they make the decisions there. … the kids, Roman and Sofia, have decided they don’t just want to make movies just for movies’ sake. They only want to make projects that they care about personally, …but, they’re ready to do it.
Harry: …I’m excited to see you directing again, but I’m also hope to see you in a producing level, while also following both Roman and Sofia’s careers. It is amazing to me how wonderful their films are turning out. Sofia and Roman are really becoming great filmmakers.
Coppola: They were raised in it as little kids. They’ve been around movies all their lives. They were on location on APOCOLYPSE [NOW]. They were there.
Harry: So often, great writers or artists whose sons and daughters in turn attempt to become great writers, it doesn’t really turn out that way, you hope that they have the hereditary gene for brilliance, but it rarely happens…
Coppola: …but I think the movie business is more like the circus.
Coppola: And we are more like a circus family, because there is a talent element, but there’s also a lot of other daring and experience and you just have to have the passion and drive to do it. The Carnival has to have you.
Harry: It’s a pleasure to meet you!