The work of Francis Ford Coppola is frequently regarded as some of the best of all time. Alongside Martin Scorsese, he is considered one of the most influential film directors to come out of the ‘New Hollywood’ movement of the 1960s and 1970s. Coppola’s The Godfather Part II is often referred to as one of the greatest films ever made, even as a standalone picture amongst the film trilogy.
The Coppola name will surely go down in film history, with many of Francis’ family being key figures in the American film industry. His daughter Sofia and granddaughter Gia are both film directors; his son Roman is a screenwriter, and his nephews Jason Schwartzman and Nicolas Cage are well-known and highly regarded actors.
As well as the Godfather trilogy, Coppola is arguably best known for his Vietnam War epic Apocalypse Now (1979), which was adapted from the Joseph Conrad novella Heart of Darkness (1899). Apocalypse Now was plagued by production issues, including bad weather and the ill health of some of the actors. The filming was severely delayed and ran the film well over budget, almost to the point that it ended Coppola’s career, and he almost went insane.
Yet it wasn’t the only Coppola-directed masterpiece to suffer from production issues. Paramount Pictures took significant issue with most of the production choices of the first Godfather film. They were unsure of casting choices, feeling that Marlon Brando was ‘past it’ and that Al Pacino could not play Michael Corleone as he was, at the time, an unknown name.
Paramount essentially wanted a cheap and quick gangster flick, but Coppola stuck to his vision of creating a sprawling Italian-American epic, battling the powers that be at every turn. The suits at Paramount criticised pretty much every decision Coppola made, constantly on his back, which left him exhausted. In fact, following the success of the film after its release, he felt so drained from the process of the first film that he suggested that his contemporary Martin Scorsese direct the sequel.
Fortunately, the critical and commercial reception of Part I led Paramount to give Coppola complete creative control over the trilogy’s second instalment. This made the production process of Part II an absolute breeze compared to the first of the franchise.
On making Part II, Coppola claimed, “It was the most complicated movie, but it was a production dream. It took 103 days, but it had scenes in Lake Tahoe, Las Vegas, the Dominican Republic, Italy, and in period New York. It was less frantic because I was in control of the production so firmly. We went to Sicily, and the sun never came out. Well, why would you want to shoot Sicily if there’s no sun? For many days, we just sort of said, ‘Well, there’s no sun. Let’s go home.’ It was a very complicated movie — much more complicated than the first Godfather, but there was no interference. I was the producer, and it went very smoothly.”
So, it was only once Paramount handed over control to Coppola that the production problems of the first film ceased. Coppola ought to have been trusted; he was the director employed the create the film, although rumour has it that he was only hired because he was himself Italian and was available at a relatively low fee.
Though it must be said that perhaps Coppola looks back on the making of Part II with such fondness because it preceded the absolute production nightmare of Apocalypse Now, on which, Coppola said at the beginning of Heart of Darkness (a 1991 documentary on the making of the film), “we were in the jungle, there were too many of us, we had access to too much money, too much equipment, and little by little we went insane.” Fortunately, as with The Godfather Part I, Coppola overcame such difficulties to create one of the greatest films ever made.