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Watch Francis Ford Coppola break down his most iconic films

Francis Ford Coppola is one of cinema’s most successful filmmakers, with 22 feature films under his belt, with many of these considered some of the greatest movies ever made. The director is best known for his 1972 crime drama The Godfather, which was succeeded by two more films about the Corleone family. Coppola also directed Apocalypse Now in 1979, which was inspired by Joseph Conrad’s novel Heart of Darkness, and is regarded as one of New Hollywood’s masterpieces.

The prolific director was recently interviewed by GQ, discussing some of his most iconic contributions to cinema, including the aforementioned films, as well as The Conversation, and his upcoming film Megalopolis. The interview begins with Coppola stating that “what we consider real art is a movie that does not have a safety net,” which he describes as ringing true for the production of his most successful films. Coppola’s strength as a filmmaker is partly due to his resilience and determination. After being faced with many challenges during the filming of such films as The Godfather and Apocalypse Now, Coppola carried on through, and as a result, produced some of cinema’s finest works.

Coppola describes his experience of filming The Godfather as a “terrible” one, stating that he was “always on the verge of getting fired.” This was due to the young director’s insistence on having Marlon Brando and Al Pacino as the lead roles, and the filming location be New York. He explains that in school he learnt how to outwit the faculty, therefore, he applied this technique while making The Godfather and managed to get his way with production companies. Furthermore, Coppola’s intense research into the Mafia, as well as his rigorous study of the novel of the same name by Mario Puzo that the film was based on proved highly successful. The Godfather is now considered the most influential gangster movie ever made, as well as one of the greatest films ever created. It not only took home the Best Picture Academy Award, but also Best Adapted Screenplay.

Talking about The Godfather: Part II, Coppola stated that he initially called it an “absurd idea.” The director wanted to make something outside of the gangster genre, as “if you make films you don’t know how to make, you learn a lot.” Yet, after an offer he couldn’t refuse, which eventually included complete control, Coppola yielded to the idea. In comparison to the first instalment of the franchise, Coppola claims that filming went really smoothly, despite it being a “more complex picture.” The relative ease of the film’s production demonstrated to the filmmaker that “being scared out of your mind is not a necessary element to make a good picture.” Following the success of The Godfather, it remains one of the few films that is actually considered just as good or even better than its predecessor, this time winning six Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director.

However, the filming of Apocalypse Now a few years later had its fair share of complications. Despite the success of The Godfather films only a few years behind him, no one wanted anything to do with Coppola’s project. When production did start, many expensive pieces of the set got destroyed by bad weather, Marlon Brando show up utterly unprepared, and Martin Sheen even suffered a heart attack during shooting. Coppola explains that if Sheen had died, filming would have closed down and he would have lost an awful lot of money. While Sheen was in the hospital, Coppola continued shooting scenes that the actor was not a part of, and eventually, the star recovered and made it back to finish shooting. The film was a huge commercial and critical success, garnering over $100 million at the box office worldwide.

Also mentioned in the interview is The Conversation, which was inspired by Michael Antonioni’s film Blow-Up, starring David Hemmings, Vanessa Redgrave, and even a young Jane Birkin. Coppola thought the film was “intriguing,” “moving” and “mysterious.”

Stating the importance of sound in cinema, Coppola used it to his advantage, since it was cheaper than picture, “and in many ways invented the modern soundtrack format.” Coppola also discusses the production of The Godfather: Part III, which he wanted to call The Godfather Coda: The Death of Michael Corleone, however the studio insisted otherwise. Instead, the 30th anniversary recut version that was released in 2020 used this title, with Coppola stating that “it does the job that I had hoped and Mario [Puzo] had hoped to do.”

Finally, Coppola teases more information about his upcoming film Megalopolis, which is inspired by his interest in Roman history and the Cataline conspiracy. Coppola says he thought it would “be interesting if you made a Roman epic, but didn’t set it in Ancient Rome, set it in modern New York.” The filmmaker states that every film he makes is underlined by a key word that sums it up. For Megalopolis, its sincerity. Production for the highly anticipated film is allegedly beginning this autumn.