Everyone has someone that they would kill to meet and listen to, and the producers at the sixth Produced By Conference at Warner Bros. got to have their wishes more than fulfilled with writer, director, producer Francis Ford Coppola of The Godfather trilogy, Apocalypse Now, The Black Stallion and American Graffiti (and so many more) producing fame who was interviewed by former Producers Guild of America President Hawk Koch.
In his signature linen suit and hot pink socks, the first thing he stated was that his favorite word is "hope" and his least favorite one is "no" and the word "life" was what intrigued and motivated him most. He seems so sweet and kind that you just want to hug him and ask him, "Are you sure you were one of the writers of Patton? That seems impossible because you are so sweet!" But he was and he is!
I remember once waiting by an elevator and finding myself standing next to this American hero and wondering whether I might mention that Marlon Brando was a close family friend and wanting to share some memories of the man. But then I didn't want to disturb him and I recall going round in circles in my head because not many ever really knew Brando and maybe Coppola was one of those people. In the end, I just smiled and said, "Hi!" but he had been so nice that I will always remember that about him and what a wonderful impression he made on me -- a hero who didn't disappoint! How often does that happen? Plus, he seems like such a happy man.
At the conference, he spoke about his father being a dreamer and how wonderful it is to dream and have dreams. His father was a talented man, a composer, and Coppola spoke of the importance of family and how he believes that many of his family members (some of whom were with him) are talented too. He introduced his wife of many years and his sister, Talia Shire, and maybe his daughter, Sophia, or son, Roman-- the words and faces were flowing fast and we were all engrossed with images of his films, his words, and we were in the dark. He stressed the importance of independent films or, as he put it, "Without them, we wouldn't have a cinema."
He doesn't like films that are similar or sequential i.e. Superman 1,2,3, but embraces "the independent, personal films such as those made by Paul Thomas Anderson, Wes Anderson, Steve Soderbergh and David O. Russell because these rich, creative, lower-budget films are lucky if they make money. What really makes the cinema alive and wonderful are these independent filmmakers -- people who are lucky if they make enough money to pay they rent by doing the film, and are desperate to find a way to distribute the film." This includes his own children who have certainly proved their talent.
As the winner of the Motion Picture Academy's Irving Thalberg Award in 2010, Hawk Koch thinks Coppola's five Oscars are all great but none as impressive as the Thalberg Award because of its nod to creativity. It is not given every year and past recipients include: Albert R. Broccoli, Steven Spielberg, Billy Wilder, David Brown and Richard D. Zanuck, George Lucas, Clint Eastwood, Saul Zaentz and Dino De Laurentiis among many creatives. Incidentally, George Lucas was at one time his roommate and like a little brother to Coppola. Also, I'm glad I never brought up Brando who "no showed" for Godfather II after agreeing to do it, Coppola explained. Coppola had to re-write the opening of the script on a Friday to have it make sense for a Monday opening shoot!
Fame and success are something he does not take lightly. Coppola is also well aware of now famous people who died penniless, never knowing success -- people such as Vincent Van Gogh, Georges Bizet and Claude Debussy, and he believes that you have to make your art regardless of what people may think... but he always keeps his producing budget in mind which is something he learned at both UCLA film school and at the hands of filmmaker Roger Corman for whom he was an assistant straight out of film school.
Years ago, Coppola gave a speech at the Oscars all about the future of digital technology...the thing is...digital technology hadn't even been hatched! What makes visionaries visionary? These last ten years, Coppola has produced and financed three films to challenge himself: Youth Without Youth, Tetro, and Twixt. Coppola has a film he's working on and at age, 75, is just a baby compared to the ideas still swirling in his imagination and waiting to come out... I wish him the best!
See you at the movies, I'm Patricia Rust.
Photos by Getty Images