“If you ever want to know who’s running the world, look and see who’s hiring the artists, because then you’ll know who’s in power.”
Francis Ford Coppola
Inside the Actors Studio
Today starts a new category here called E-Filmmakers. And the first entrepreneurial filmmaker that came to my mind was Francis Ford Coppola. He is one of the oldest of the New Hollywood filmmakers that emerged in the 1960s.
Born in 1939 in Detroit, Michigan at Henry Ford Hospital, his middle was in honor to Henry Ford—the entrepreneur par excellence.
Coppola’s father where his father was in the Detroit Symphony Orchestra., and after he landed a gig with the NBC Symphony Orchestra he moved his family to Queens where Francis spent the rest of his youth.
After Coppola received his undergraduate degree in theater from Hofstra University, he began to do graduate work in cinema at UCLA and eventually began working on low-budget films for Roger Corman.
Coppola worked his way up the low-budget ladder until Corman allowed him to write and direct Dementia 13, Coppola’s first feature and shot in nine days and completed on a $40,000. Budget.
Coppola continued to be a UCLA student and eventually earned his MFA and in 1969 his feature The Rain People set the tone for him to start Zoetrope in the Bay area.
When funding didn’t quite materialize the way he had intended, he co-wrote the script (with Edmund H. North) for Patton, which would earn him and Academy Award.
The success of Patton allowed him to make The Godfather in 1972. Though one studio executive objected saying, “Francis who?”
“The Godfather was a very unappreciated movie when we were making it. They were very unhappy with it. They didn’t like the cast. They didn’t like the way I was shooting it. I was always on the verge of getting fired. So it was an extremely nightmarish experience. I had two little kids, and the third one was born during that. We lived in a little apartment, and I was basically frightened that they didn’t like it. They had as much as said that, so when it was all over I wasn’t at all confident that it was going to be successful, and that I’d ever get another job.”
Francis Ford Coppola
The Godfather won six Academy Awards including three for Coppola (Best Original Screenplay, Best Picture and Best Director).Today the film is considered one of the greatest films ever made.
In the decades that followed Coppola made some terrific film and also lost a lot of money. He was an early pioneer of experimenting with videotape. According to Yahoo! Movies he spent much of the 80s trying to pay back his debts leading Zoetrope Studios to final for bankruptcy in 1990. The spirit of the studio lives online at American Zoetrope where you can find out about their screenwriting contest and workshops, and Coppola’s other non-film related entrepreneurial endeavors.
He continued to direct films in the 90s, but he would also start a wine company that would grow into quite a moneymaker for Coppola. In 2007, after more than a decade removed from directing a feature film, Coppola released Youth With Out Youth and two years later Tetro.
Perhaps Coppola never quite became the Independent studio mogul he desired to become, but along with his colossal failures he had some off the chart successes. And some major behind the scene influences many today may be unfamilar with; Hiring George Lucas as an assistant on one of his films and helping him get American Graffitti get made, raising a daughter (Sophia) who would go on to become an Academy Award-winning screenwriter herself, and of course having a major part in launching the careers of Tom Cruise, Matt Dillon, Rob Lowe, Diane Lane in his 1983 film The Outsiders.
One wonders what a 25-year-old Coppola would look like today running around with an HD-DSLR camera. What kind of films would he be making? And whether they acknowledge it not, Coppola’s influence is alive and well in the independent spirit that is sweeping the world. Though Coppola may not be fond of the brand of entrepreneurialship that Henry Ford ushered in in the age of industrialism—Coppola the E-Filmmaker (and wine-maker) has lived up to his middle name.
Of course, 50 years from now, Coppola may be best known for his “little fat girl in Ohio” comment:
An interesting 1982 interview of Francis Ford Coppola by David Letterman: