Francis Ford Coppola

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Francis Ford Coppola at Cannes 2001
Francis Ford Coppola at Cannes 2001

Francis Ford Coppola (born April 7, 1939 in Detroit, Michigan) is an Italian American film director, screenwriter, vintner, magazine publisher, and hotelier, most renowned for directing the highly regarded Godfather trilogy.


Career: 1960 to 1978

Coppola studied theatre at Hofstra University prior to studying film at UCLA and while there, he made numerous short films, including some soft core porn films. In the early 1960s, he started his professional career making low-budget films with Roger Corman and writing screenplays. His first notable motion picture was made for Corman, the low-budget Dementia 13 (which is available on video).

On the set of Finian's Rainbow with Petula Clark
On the set of Finian's Rainbow with Petula Clark

After graduating to mainstream motion pictures with You're a Big Boy Now, Coppola was offered the reins of the movie version of the Broadway musical Finian's Rainbow, starring Petula Clark, in her first American film, and veteran Fred Astaire. Producer Jack Warner was nonplussed by Coppola's shaggy-haired, bearded, "hippie" appearance and generally left him to his own devices. He took his cast to the Napa Valley for much of the outdoor shooting, but these scenes were in sharp contrast to those obviously filmed on a Hollywood soundstage, resulting in a disjointed look to the film. Dealing with outdated material at a time when the popularity of film musicals was already on the downslide, Coppola's end result was only semi-successful, but his work with Clark no doubt contributed to her Golden Globe Best Actress nomination.

In 1971, Coppola won an Academy Award for his screenplay for Patton. However, his name as a filmmaker was made as the co-writer and director of The Godfather (1972) and The Godfather Part II (1974), which both won the Academy Award for Best Picture — the latter being the first sequel to do so.

In between The Godfather and The Godfather Part II, Coppola directed The Conversation, a story of a paranoid wiretapping and surveillance expert (played by Gene Hackman) who finds himself caught up in a possible murder plot. The Conversation was released to theaters in 1974 and was also nominated for Best Picture, resulting in Coppola being the second of three directors in Hollywood history to have two films released in the same year nominated for Best Picture and competing for the same prize at the Academy Awards. (The first director to achieve this acclaim was Alfred Hitchcock, with Foreign Correspondent and Rebecca. Rebecca went on to win the 1941 Best Picture Oscar. In 2001, Steven Soderbergh's films Erin Brockovich and Traffic were both nominated for Best Picture Oscars.) While The Godfather Part II won the Oscar, The Conversation won the 1974 Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival.

During this period he also wrote the screenplay for the critically and commercially unsuccessful 1974 adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald's novel The Great Gatsby (starring Mia Farrow and Robert Redford), and produced George Lucas's breakthrough film, American Graffiti.

Career: 1979 to present

Following the success of The Godfather and its sequel, Coppola set about filming Apocalypse Now, an ambitious version of Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, with the setting changed from colonial Africa to the Vietnam War. Before setting off to make the film, Coppola went to his mentor Roger Corman for advice about shooting in the Philippines, since Corman himself was familiar with shooting a film in that area. It was said that all Corman advised Coppola was "Don't go". The creation of the film was a disaster from the start, being beset by numerous problems, including typhoons, nervous breakdowns, Martin Sheen's heart attack, and Marlon Brando's bloated appearance (which Coppola attempted to hide by shooting him in the shadows), of which the actor was also unprepared. It was delayed so often it was nicknamed Apocalypse Whenever. The film was equally lauded and hated by critics when it finally appeared in 1979, and the cost nearly bankrupted Coppola's nascent studio American Zoetrope. The 1991 documentary film Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse, directed by Eleanor Coppola (Francis's wife), Fax Bahr, and George Hickenlooper, chronicles the difficulties the crew went through making Apocalypse Now, and features behind the scenes footage filmed by Eleanor.

George Lucas, Michael Jackson and Francis Ford Coppola filming Captain EO
George Lucas, Michael Jackson and Francis Ford Coppola filming Captain EO

Despite the setbacks and ill health Coppola suffered during the making of Apocalypse Now, he kept up with film projects, presenting in 1981 a restoration of the 1927 film Napoléon that was edited and released in the United States by American Zoetrope. However it wasn't until the experimental musical One from the Heart (1982) that he returned to directing. Unfortunately, the film was a huge failure, although it developed a cult following in later years.

In 1986 Coppola, with George Lucas, directed the Michael Jackson film for Disney theme parks, Captain Eo, which at the time was the most expensive film per minute ever made.

In 1990 he completed the Godfather series with The Godfather Part III which, while not as critically acclaimed as the first two movies, was still a box office success. Many believe that the film was marred by the presence of Coppola's inexperienced and clearly uncomfortable daughter Sofia, who stumbled her way through a role abandoned by Winona Ryder just as filming began. Her performance was subjected to universal critical ridicule. Son Roman Coppola is also a filmmaker, directing his first feature film, CQ.

Coppola's father Carmine was a renowned composer and musician, and wrote the scores of many of his son's films, and his nephew Nicolas Cage is an acclaimed actor.

In recent years, Coppola with his family has extended his talents to winemaking in California's Napa Valley at the Niebaum-Coppola Winery, producing a line of specialty pastas and pasta sauces, and opening resorts in Guatemala and Belize, inspired by his accommodation in the Philippines during the making of Apocalypse Now, with decor supervised by Eleanor Coppola.

In 1997, Coppola founded Zoetrope All-Story, a flashy literary magazine that publishes short stories. The magazine has published fiction by T.C. Boyle and Amy Bloom and essays by David Mamet, Steven Spielberg, and Salman Rushdie. Since its founding, the magazine has grown in reputation to become one of the premier American journals of literary fiction. Coppola serves as founding editor and publisher of All-Story.

The director is based in the San Francisco Bay Area where he co-owns the Rubicon restaurant alongside fellow San Franciscan Robin Williams and Robert DeNiro.

Selected filmography


He has been granted the title of "duke of Megalopolis" by the Spanish writer Javier Marías, claimant to the micronation of the kingdom of Redonda.

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