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If you like Francis Ford Coppola's story, you might also like:
Tenley Albright,
James Cameron,
Nora Ephron,
Ron Howard,
Peter Jackson,
Thomas Keller,
George Lucas,
Jonas Salk,
Dennis Washington
and Robert Zemeckis

Francis Ford Coppola's recommended reading: A Streetcar Named Desire

Teachers can find prepared lesson plans featuring Francis Ford Coppola in the Achievement Curriculum section:
Media & The Arts

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Francis Ford Coppola
Francis Ford Coppola
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Francis Ford Coppola Interview (page: 2 / 4)

Filmmaker, Producer and Screenwriter

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  Francis Ford Coppola

Was there a book that you read when you were young that inspired you?

Francis Ford Coppola: A book I would put in that category that I read when I was quite young -- it was around the house and I picked it up and read it -- was a play actually, A Streetcar Named Desire. I read it when I was like 15, or so. I'm not sure I understood it, I just thought it was so beautiful and moving -- just the pictures that the language painted when you read it. I think I preferred reading plays, to novels or other kinds of books. I also like reading biography of scientists, that was a favorite thing of mine. I think I could read quite young, because I remember reading the fairy tales. I remember being in kindergarten and that used to be my job, to tell them to the other kids. I liked Hans Christian Andersen, and the Grimm fairy tales, all the classic fairy tales.

Was there a person in your life that inspired you?

Francis Ford Coppola Interview Photo
Francis Ford Coppola: I had a number of very strong personalities in my family. My father was a concert flutist, the solo flute for Toscanini. That was an unusual profession for a kid to have as his father. He would dress up in a tuxedo. A concert musician has to practice a lot, and my earliest memories are of that. He was a great musician, very knowledgeable, and he used to tell us the stories of the operas, and all about the composers. He had a lot of knowledge, and he would make a point of telling us about it.

I had an older brother who was five years older than me. He was a very successful student, a very handsome kid. Having an older brother by that many years, was really an edge that I had. I had an older brother who would protect me. He was a very sensitive and talented boy, and he became interested in literature. So at the same time that I had all this information from my father, I also had a brother who was giving me books at a young age that I would not normally have run into. Brave New World, of course, which was fun, because it was sort of science fiction. As a kid, he was showing me books by James Joyce, and André Gide. So I was really stimulated at a younger age than I normally would have been exposed to that kind of thing.

Was there a teacher who inspired you?

Francis Ford Coppola: I had a number of teachers who hated me, at least I felt. I didn't do well in school. I did very well in school my first year and a half, and we left that school. I really quite liked that first school I went to. Life for me at age five and six was pretty wonderful and perfect. But then I went to a number of other schools. I went to many schools and went through that whole New York school system, P.S. this and P.S. that. I found them very frightening, like penitentiaries, and I didn't do well in those schools. Maybe partly because I was always moving from school to school. But nonetheless I do remember teachers who really singled me out for their discouragement. In fact, I had a sort of heartbreaking experience, because as I said, when I was nine, I always wanted to be a guard, because I was a new kid in the school. A guard in the school wore a yellow button that said "Guard." And they would be a hall guard, or a stair guard, or whatever they were. And the girl that I thought was the most wonderful girl in the world was a guard, I remember. When I got polio, of course, I was taken out of school. Then, about a year and a half later, I went back to school. They had a little ceremony and kind of welcomed me back, and they made me a guard, as part of -- I guess -- my being taken back into school. And my teacher, Mrs. Hemeshandra, who really was -- I think she was a very bright woman, but I remember her as an oppressor. I remember, like a week later she said, "Well, why should you be a guard just because you were sick?" And she took away my guard button.

Francis Ford Coppola Interview Photo
No, I didn't have any teachers who were especially encouraging to me until much later. In high school, there was a science teacher who thought I had a lot of ability, because I had a natural talent with scientific things. For some reason, I was bad in all my other subjects, but I was very good in geometry. It was amazing, I had one of the highest grades in geometry in the school.

I didn't realize it then, but I was the kind of kid that had some talents or ability, but it never came out in any school. In my senior year of high school, I had a creative writing teacher who was very encouraging, and there was a writing teacher in college who encouraged me to write.

When I was a graduate student, I had a wonderful teacher I admired -- a woman director, in fact, the only Hollywood woman director. Her name was Dorothy Arzner. She was very encouraging to me at a time when I needed encouragement. So I remember her very favorably.

Can you talk about some of the first jobs you had working with Roger Corman?

Francis Ford Coppola Interview Photo
Francis Ford Coppola: In those days I was an extremely energetic and enthusiastic person. I just loved to be involved in it all. Moving making was almost like my private passion, because it wasn't as widespread then. When I started the Hofstra Cinema Club, I think two people came. People weren't as fascinated with cinema as they are now.

Being a theater student, I was a little frustrated at UCLA. Theater students are very gregarious. You all work together, and stay up all night and making sets and doing shows. At UCLA in those days, the cinema department was in a kind of army barracks, and pretty much all guys. I think there was maybe one girl in the entire department, which was very discouraging. It wasn't as nice to be in a place where there were no girls going to school with you. I wanted to work all the time, and UCLA wasn't like that. Students there would work on their project, and then they'd be in their room editing for six months.

I landed a job with Roger Corman. Originally the job was to take a Russian science fiction picture that he had bought and he wanted me to write the English dialogue for. Of course, I didn't speak any Russian. Then I realized he didn't care whether I could understand what they were really saying; he just wanted me to make up dialogue. The movie was really a very idealistic science fiction picture. He wanted to add some monsters and have the story be related to that. So I got that job, and I worked very hard on that. Ultimately, I became Roger's assistant. That meant I had to wash his car, and he had me work as a dialogue director in the morning on a Vincent Price movie. Of course, they would pay my salary. But then I would leave at one and go work on his stuff. So he would basically get me for half the day, for free. Roger exploited all of the young people who worked for him to the fullest, but at the same time, he really gave you responsibility and opportunity. So it was kind of a fair deal.

There were a lot of names that came through his film school.

Francis Ford Coppola Interview Photo
Francis Ford Coppola: It was the only place that you could really get to work on movies. There was a whole crowd of young actors who used to be in a lot of those early, inexpensive films. Jack Nicholson is the really well-known one. In later years, after I had gone through there, Roger gave similar opportunities to Peter Bogdanovich, Marty Scorsese, Jonathan Demme. He basically was always looking for the very energetic person who would work for next to nothing, and had some talent.

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This page last revised on Oct 27, 2010 16:08 EST
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