5 lessons from Francis Ford Coppola

5 lessons from Francis Ford Coppola

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For Coppola’s 82nd birthday, after almost 60 years of filmmaking, we’ve tried to extract some wisdom.

1) Don’t Give Up


Coppola almost got fired three times while filming The Godfather. But he didn’t quit, delivering a film most consider one of the greatest of all time.

2) Don’t Be Afraid of Change

 “I have seen movies change from devastating to wonderful in my life. And those changes could be made in a day”

In a recent interview to Vulture, Coppola said that when The Godfather Part II was previewed in San Francisco the audience was indifferent. 
That night, he made 121 changes, which is unheard of, because the sound edit was already completed and altering an already mixed movie, with music, is incredibly difficult. 
But three days later they previewed it again in San Diego and the audience reacted completely differently, and this ended up being the edit that we’ve come to love today.

3) Seize Every Opportunity, Even If It Scares You.

After making The Godfather II, Coppola pivoted to a completely different genre with Apocalypse Now and encountered an entirely new set of obstacles. 

“I didn’t know how to shoot helicopter sequences or such large-scale pyrotechnics. Then I had a lot of natural issues to deal with — the weather, the typhoons, and Marty’s heart attack (Martin Sheen suffered a heart attack while on the set of Apocalypse Now. Pushed to physical and emotional limits by Coppola while filming, he also experienced a full mental breakdown.)

4) The Emotion Is What Counts

“I mean any real Italian knows that Vito Corleone would never be called Don Corleone. You would call him Don Vito. I’m Don Francesco, I am not Don Coppola. What came out in Mario (the author of the Godfather book) was a natural understanding he had of the family.”

5) Cast Based On What Your Gut Tells You

Francis Ford Coppola has an eye for talent. He has cast either people who were at the beginning of their careers or total unknowns who went on to become huge stars — James Caan, Al Pacino, Robert Duvall, Patrick Swayze, Diane Lane, Rob Lowe, Tom Cruise, Nicolas Cage, Laurence Fishburne, Jim Carrey…

His advice is to cast whoever got stuck in your head. 

“Say you go to a party, and you meet several dozen people. There’s always someone the next day that you’re still thinking about, who stuck with you. Obviously, when you’re young, it might be a woman. Or it just might be some old guy who said something. But something sticks, and you don’t know why. That’s how I cast.” 

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