Masterclass Francis Ford Coppola

Fnac Montparnasse, 2009

Francis Ford Coppola is one of the greatest masters of the cinema. He is the director of the trilogy ” the godfather “,” Apocalypse now “, “Rusty James” or, more recently, ” Tetro “. It is on the occasion of the promotion of this film that Francis Ford Coppola has met the public at the Fnac Montparnasse.


After having worked for years in Hollywood, you are now returned to a cinema more independent, auteur cinema. Why ?

It is a privilege to return to a cinema that’s really more personal, something that I can control, or I can be sincere. Or something I don’t always have someone above me who tell me what to do. So I go back to movies of which I am the complete author, actually.

Take you still enjoy filming it ?

We get up early in the morning, one goes up and one works late in the evening. There are always problems to manage, but if the topic interests you, it gives you energy. With age, it may be, it is really necessary that you have fun and desire, of emotion to a film to get you started in this process. The cinema is an art that is very young, it has only 100 years. Nobody really knows what it is that the language is there, it’s still learning. It is for this reason that the word Masterclass seems to me ridiculous. We are all students, there is no master. There is talk of a film, which is being renewed, re-invented. You can teach me about film, something other than what I can teach you. There is a film language, which, as the language adapts and evolves. In 50 years, you’ll be there, the language of cinema has changed so much, you will not be able to recognize them. It is a privilege and it is also fun to work in the cinema, especially at this time, which is a time of transition.


Is it that he had to leave America and join Romania to the man without age, and Argentina for Tetro to find precisely this new energy ?

This is not really true. Go in these countries, in me it is possible to reduce the production costs. At this time, as you know, I finance my own films, it is me who brings the money and therefore it is not necessary that the production loses money, it is necessary that everything is economic. Working abroad allows us to go in a country where the exchange rate is attractive relative to the u.s. dollar. This also allows us to get away from the big industry in the united states and exempt from the laws that it is self-proclaimed. When you’re a foreigner, you can try more things, you have more freedom. It may be that some of you have also this desire there to write, become an author. I’m going to find a small apartment in a foreign country and I am going to put it, it is here that I am going to work. As you know, the dream of many artists, it is to come to Paris. This city has welcomed so many artists. For me, finding myself in a country with a very strong culture, such as Romania, such as Argentina, means that there is a culture of the theatre and I’ll be able to find technicians, actors… I try to explain to you how to lower costs. What is expensive in the cinema, it is the airplanes, the hotels, the restaurants, the compensation that is given to people because they are away from home. In a country with a tradition of theatre, so you have technicians, you will not have to come to the United States, and in the evening they return home, will eat with their children and it will be fine. You can spend the money where it should go : time. The time to develop the film, you do not have 10 days only to try to put ca in a box, but 30 days to 60 days to put in a box the movie.

You make me think of this sentence of Salvatore Dali, who said ” I have to earn the money to paint “. I have the impression that you won the money to make films.

You know, I think that if you win the lottery, many bet people would tell you “I produce a film, my film,” once you’ve fed your family what you can do with the money ? This is great, much better than going to see the producers and beg, ” please, let me make another movie “.

The about Tetro is apparently very personal and yet you said ” no element of Tetro has arrived but it is all true. “

Of course, this is fiction, but everything in it is true, in the sense that everything that is said in the film has been told in my life. Not necessarily by the same characters, this may not be the father who says, it is someone else. This is a work of an artist is to tap into its existence of elements and do something with it.

Is it that you have already felt a filmmaker without a film to do ?

Make films, it is about learning, you always learn, on self, on the technical, on time.


A question on the black-and-white, that you find years after Rusty James, a story of brothers. Why is it that you keep to black and white ?

From the writing, I designed it and I have seen this movie in black and white. The black and white has a poetic realism, and this is how I saw it.

Do you think that in 2009 it is possible to start a movie big-budget, without knowing what will be the end of this movie, like for example Apocalypse Now ?

In fact I knew the end when I started making the film, since there was a screenplay by John Milius. Originally, we wanted to make a great war film, a great success, it was ca our intention. Our crazy idea at the time in Hollywood, and they wanted to make films that earn money and then we go home and make small arts films that we wanted, small, personal films. Arrived on the spot, starting to work in the philippines, the idea of the war began to assail us, the imagery of the war, a war is delusional. I had always on me “The heart of darkness” of Conrad and all of this has begun to change the very nature of the project. It is a rule that I apply, some of you, if you are actors, do ca, too, is that I try to feel myself available and to welcome all that happens, all the external events and to incorporate them, this is my way of doing it, and that’s what happened, it is that reality has pushed the film I had in mind. I let these changes happen, to intervene in the film, I was open and at the same time, the film took a different turn, and the end a fairly conventional scenario will suit him more. I therefore had to change the ending and find one that is suitable to the film as it had become, and that suits this topic out there, this war is strange. And so, ironically, I found myself not to make a big movie to make money but to make a large personal film, and it thus became an object of weird. Has to know if we could do this in 2009 ? I don’t know because I ask every film as a question and the film itself is the answer. I can’t say yes or no.

About apocalypse Now, there is an outstanding documentary made by your wife that you can’t see in the DVD ? This is one of the most beautiful documents on a film shoot, conflicts with the actors…

If, it will come out very soon. You know, I asked my wife to make this film for her to come with me on the shoot. Each time that I moved away, I always took my children, I withdrew from the school and they followed me. She always told me, ” I don’t like to go on a shoot, I have nothing to do there “. So I gave him a camera to make a documentary on the film. Each evening, I was walking home and I thought it was terrible, we ran to the disaster, that it was getting nowhere and my wife was there to comfort me. But instead of me comforting her, she took the camera and asked me to repeat what I just said.

With which French players would you like to work ?

You know, I don’t really know the French players and I’m not really making a film for actors, but in the other direction. I write, and as I say to myself that such a player could be good for such a role. There are cultures and theatrical industries in the world and there are always around interesting people with which to work.

You have worked with the greatest actors of the american (De niro, Pacino, Brando, etc), you have revealed a huge generation of actors up to Vincent Gallo. How do you choose ?

Originally I was working with young actors because I didn’t have the means to pay me of the stars. So I mostly worked with young talents that I wanted to give them their chance, or with actors confirmed which the star had weakened somewhat. Remember Travolta before Tarantino, there was no role. Marlon Brando the same, his time was over.

It is a process of selecting young talent, and I am organising a day of testing and I spend my day to shake hands and say hello to hundreds of actors, just to see, to feel some thing. It’s like for you, you will meet people, and when you come home, you say ” this person has influenced me “, not necessarily someone nice, but there is a trick. If I remember a person after a testing, she deserves can be be reviewed, as in real life.

How was your experience with the producer Roger Corman ?

On leaving the university, there was an announcement and I went to find it. “Roger Corman is looking for someone for an upcoming film that knows how to speak Russian “. I had no money, I needed a job, so I introduced myself. He had bought the rights for a science fiction film Russian. He wanted to transform the dubbing, because it was a film a bit theoretical, full of idealism, and he wanted a thing of horror. My job was to look at the Russian version and try to write a text that would be written about in synch with the lips of the people. I was trying to do a good job, I was working late at night, but mostly I was trying to make really good attention to this in the morning when Roger arrived at work, I am sprawled on the table as if I had worked like crazy the whole night. He then noticed and offered to be his assistant. I was excited, and happy. In addition, I would earn$ 80 per week I who earned nothing at all. One day he said to me, ” we share in Europe, we are going to make a film. I have a machine for the sound, is it that you know someone who knows how to operate this machine here ? “To which I replied” Yes, yes, I know it myself, I am a great specialist of his “… I then spent the night reading the manual, but he hired me and I was a sound engineer. Then he returned to the United States, where he had all the equipment for shooting films, I then said to him : “But can that I could take this equipment, a camera, and the turn me this movie. “All night I stayed awake and I wrote an opening scene of a movie, and I have shown. I said go do it in Ireland because there they speak English and you can very well do it. He gave me 20000$ as a budget for making the movie. On site, I met an englishman, I explained to him that I was here to make a horror film. He then offered me 20000$ for the rights English in the film. Suddenly I found myself with 40000$. I called Roger to tell him that I had sold the rights to English for$ 20,000 and he said to me, ” Great, send me the$ 20,000 and continue to make your film. I told him ” No, I keep the money and I’ll do the movie with “. It was in the 60’s, the film called Dementia 13. It was the kind of film that you did with Roger, it was really student-like atmosphere. Roger has given a chance to be full of people like this. This is how I learned to make a film with very little money.

I would like that we were talking about your memories about your collaboration with Stuart Copeland for the music of Rusty James. And why did you choose it ?

In preparing for Rusty James, I had in my ears a certain kind of music. During the rehearsals, I thought that I was going to create the music myself. In fact, the pattern recurrent in the film, this is the time that passes and I had in mind the tic-tac of a clock, so we tinkered a thing we even. During the shooting, my son advised me to work with Copeland, the drummer of the band Police. He came, he was super nice and he recorded his part of the percussion. He was so enthusiastic that he asked us if he could do other songs, compose the music himself. It is finally that the theme of the conversation that we have here also Stay open to what happens to us, to collaborations. Even if you have your project in mind, the idea is to remain open to collaboration and ideas from the outside. It is necessary to do what Napoleon said, ” use the weapons you have on hand “.

You have been at the heart of transitions, innovations, in particular when you have created this device which allowed you to get more control, the beginning of digital cinema, with your studio, zoetrope. According to you, what is the future of cinema, its future developments ?

It is certain that when we did Apocalypse Now, with the explosions, the helicopters, they were in the mud, I told myself that there had to be a better way, and this is what came to me that the film was going to be completely electronic, that it would be as beautiful as the 35mm and even on a day even more beautiful. In fact, what you call the digital, and what I referred to as electronic cinema, was for me to replace things and that eventually we would find a renewal of things. The traditional movie is a photomechanical process and with the electronics, it was something more creative. We also know, by our friends who worked in the sound, that things became electronic and that the digital was not. They were in the process of going from mechanical to digital, and they saw what it meant. You could with a small keyboard to give the impression that you had an orchestra. I said to myself, if it works for the sound, it will work for the image. After the experience of Apocalypse Now, when I’m back in America, I was certain that the cinema, a day, would be digital. I remember one night, Warren Beatty, who was always interested in what I was doing, what I was shooting, came to see me and I told him that one day, the film was going to be completely electronic, that we would be able to remove elements of the image, add a helicopter. And one day, if you ever want to play the role of a child, we are going to film you, you play the role of the child, and to the image, thou shalt have the air of a child. You can even play all of the roles in the film, as well as the musician may play several instruments with a keyboard. Warren listened to this, my wife was just next to it. Warren, in fact, was very very friendly with all the women. He looks at me, leans over to my wife, and even before quej e me realizing it, I was in a car crossing San Francisco to see a doctor and he advised me to take the Lythium. Warren Beatty had said that I was tfou, and yet, it is like this that it happened. The following year, I was one of the presenters of the oscars and I was going to give an award to Michael Cimino for Journey to the end of hell, and before him I wanted to say a word, that we change of the time and I explained the same thing that has Warren. 2000 people in front of me pulling a face… and I kept on, and after a while, the person who was accompanying me on stage stopped me and said, ” before we come to the cinema of the future, it would be necessary to give this Oscar “. Of course, at this time, all the people I listened to were taking me for a fool, and today, the cinema is digital and we can do things that were not thought of previously. I think that in three, four years, all movies will be digital and the films will be screened in cinemas with this means there. There is also a new potential in the fact that the cinema is now digital. The industry is in a crisis, many people lose money, because the public has a lot of other entertainment options, the sports, the museums, even the news on tv became entertainment, we all know. And there are more of these new media, media, downloads… moreover, to the question, is it that people have the right to upload files, I should perhaps not say it here, but I think yes. The question that must be asked is how the cinema is going to survive. Like all arts, it needs to evolve, find another short, just like language, which has evolved over the years. In my opinion, in a few years, when people go to the cinema, everything will be in digital. That is what it means ? The film will be malleable, it will become virtual. Specifically, if the director is present during the screening, he will be able to transform his film in direct, in each session, to each audience. We all know the movie, but this is not because we have a film culture that we know the direction the film will take. The cinema is going to become transformable like the Opera house could be. The conductor could, if a pass was successful, choose to replay it again. See what’s happening in the music, the Rolling Stones are touring and people are paying to go and see them, and after they make the discs. Why the cinema should he stay still and why should he be deprived of this side immediate and alive ? Is it not said that the theater is dead for 60 years ? All we will see is of the old, and on stage, they try to make us believe that we are in the cinema, there is a closeup on the actor who plays it, and it is transmitted on a screen, the theatre plays and the cinema. And if these two art forms, the cinema and the theatre, not jointed not ? There could be tours of films, that people would go to see, such as an event, and after we would make a DVD of this event and central living. I can well imagine that someone will take me in an ambulance and take me to see a doctor here after what I just said. It is certain that the film will survive but it will be in a form other than that which one knows for the moment.

I wanted to know if you had abandoned your project Megalopolis ?

I do what I want, according to my desires, so I don’t know in advance what I’m going to do. Megalopolis was around the subject of utopia. I was in the idea that humanity had arrived at an age of good sense, or she was going to find the means to lift themselves out of their problems, in short, go towards the progress. I always think, but I also believe that this will not be for the next week. We were shooting during the 11 September, I filmed images of the event. Therefore, I understood that it would be impossible to make this film after these events there, as if nothing had happened, then I left to do something else.

Why are you interested in particular to the Vietnam war and why you have not taken another war ?

At the time, it was the war that nobody wanted to shoot, there had been no film on the Vietnam war, it is a war that did not exist at the cinema. John Milius had written this scenario so strange and so strong, it was something important. At the outset, this is not me who had to carry this film, but George Lucas, but the latter preferred to devote himself to another project that eventually took the name of Star Wars. I had the rights to the film, so I proposed to John Milius to do… but it was Conan The Barbarian at the time so I said to myself that I could do it, that we would win a lot of money with this great war film, and that after that I could return to my personal movies.


Why in Rusty James, only the fish in color ?

If I made this movie in black and white, it is above all because the character in the book, does not see the colors. The fish is the metaphor of these characters and so I told myself that it would be well to make them stand out. Also, I do not remember any movie in black and white before Rusty James who has color.

You say that you do not consider yourself not as a teacher but as a student. Could you tell us who are your masters and in what areas ?

The literature gives me a lot of inspiration. At the cinema, I would say Murnau, go see his movies made in the 20’s and 30’s in Germany.

People ask me what are my 5 favourite films but I have a hundred, moreover, it is quite extraordinary to have, for an art form that has only 100 years, to have produced so many discoveries and so many masterpieces. I always wonder what would have made Goethe with the film because he was a poet, a scientist… He would have loved the film.

Let you a lot of freedom to your actors or do you have a clear idea of what you want them to do ?

Before each film, I gathered everyone in a room, this is not in the scenery, and it is just for two weeks. We get together and I simply have a table with objects, things that we may use, glasses, various accessories. An actor is someone who is afraid, especially at the beginning of the process so I prefer to do games, improvisations. For example if I have actors who will play a married couple, I ask them to play their encounter. It makes them souvenirs as a character, this gives them a background. At the end of two weeks, in this process, the character becomes the actor, and you can tell the actor to cross the street and call a taxi and it will do so exactly in his character. After this process the actor knows the character better than anyone, and it is at this moment that he must listen to him and stay available to suggestions because the actor knows the character better than anyone.

You have lived in the new Hollywood. 30 years later, what do you and especially on Star Wars, which is both one of the “members” of the new hollywood without necessarily having the spirit ?

If the question refers to Star Wars, I think that when you produce and make something that has such a success, huge, global, and it is tempting, irresistible not to try to remake it, continue it. Me-even when I made the godfather, I never thought that there would be a sequel much less a third. The first film was a story that was standing alone has that had an end, but afterwards, people coming up to you and it is tempting to accept it. The movie industry likes ca, avoid the risk. It is for this reason that you always see it in the multiplexes, we re always the same thing. Except that the cinema is also an art, and art needs risk to evolve.


After being so invested in a movie, if this is not too frustrating that his fate to be delivered into the hands of the distributor and its marketing skills ? How do you feel ?

It’s like any marriage, or any couple, you fall in love with someone and after a while you hate. In the framework of Tetro, I handed over the distribution to a small company, Memento Films, and they work really, really hard for the film.

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