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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: 4 / 4)

Filmmaker, Producer and Screenwriter

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  Francis Ford Coppola

What do you think are the most important characteristics for success in your field?

Francis Ford Coppola: Courage, I think, because I don't think there's any artist of any value who doesn't doubt what they're doing. That's what I would say in looking back at my life, at the things that I got in the most trouble for, or that I was fired for.

I wrote the script of Patton. And the script was very controversial when I wrote it, because they thought it was so stylized. It was supposed to be like, sort of, you know, The Longest Day. And my script of Patton was -- I was sort of interested in the reincarnation. And I had this very bizarre opening where he stands up in front of an American flag and gives this speech. Ultimately, I wasn't fired, but I was fired, meaning that when the script was done, they said, "Okay, thank you very much," and they went and hired another writer and that script was forgotten. And I remember very vividly this long, kind of being raked over the coals for this opening scene. My point is that what I've learned is that the stuff that I got in trouble for, the casting for The Godfather or the flag scene in Patton, was the stuff that was remembered, and was considered really the good work.

[ Key to Success ] Integrity

So, what that tells you is that...

In your own time, usually, the stuff that's your best idea or work is going to be attacked the most. Firstly, probably because it's new, or because they'd never seen an opening of a movie like that, or seen a gangster movie done in this style. So you have to really be courageous about your instincts and your ideas, because otherwise you'll just knuckle under and change it. And then things that might have been memorable will be lost.

[ Key to Success ] Courage

You need other things, obviously, a lot of energy and enthusiasm, because this kind of work is really grueling. You're in a lot of uncomfortable situations for many, many hours. You to stick to whatever your idea was, in a profession in which absolutely everybody is telling you their opinion, which is different.

The grips will tell you that you don't know what you're doing, or the camera operator, or the camera man. Everybody. I mean, when you go on a set -- that's one of the reasons George Lucas never directed again. No one knows this, but when he made Star Wars over there in England -- George is sort of a little, skinny version of me, you know, and he's doesn't have the most physical kind of stamina. And he was so ridiculed -- you know that kind of jock-like attitude that crews can have -- putting him down for what he was doing and stuff. He was so unhappy making Star Wars that he just vowed he'd never do it again. Plus, he was like diabetic, so he was a little sick. That's why someone today said, you ought to love what you're doing because -- especially in a movie -- you really have to love the project and love the story, because over time you really will start to hate it. And the fact that you say, "Gee, but I really like what this is about," is a very valuable asset.

[ Key to Success ] Passion

What does the American Dream mean to you?

Francis Ford Coppola Interview Photo
Francis Ford Coppola: We were raised in an Italian-American household, although we didn't speak Italian in the house. My father was a musician, so we were very proud of being Italian, and had Italian music. We ate Italian food, and pizza, when no one knew what pizza was really.

But I remember very vividly, when I was a little boy, my mother would say to me, "America is the greatest country in the world." And there was a sense, as Italian-Americans, that it was a great privilege to live in America and be Americans.

Most Italians who came to this country are, you know, very patriotic. And what that meant was just that there was this exciting possibility that if you worked real hard, and you loved something, that you could become successful, and wouldn't be held down, due to who your family was and what have you. And certainly, in my case, I found that to be true. I became quite successful very young, and it was mainly because I was -- I would have to say -- because I was so enthusiastic and I just worked so hard at it.

[ Key to Success ] The American Dream

Could you talk about the role of teamwork in your field?

Francis Ford Coppola: Our generation represented a major transition. It was the first time certainly that film students were given the chance to make films. Film, in the past, was a profession that you worked your way up. Frank Capra was a prop man, I think John Ford was a prop man. It was a little bit of a father and son thing, and you kind of worked your way up. When we all went to film school, my class, and my comrades there, we didn't think we were ever going to really get to make feature films. We thought we would end up making industrial films, or possibly be on the fringe, or maybe get involved in television. My aspirations when I went -- I had no idea. I just wanted to be part of the film business. I had no idea that I'd really get to direct feature films, or to be successful at it. And of course, my story is that when I was going for my graduate degree, I decided I was going to make a feature film as my thesis. That's what I was famous for, was that I was not only the first film student to kind of become a professional director, but I also had my thesis film be a feature film, which was You're a Big Boy Now.

Francis Ford Coppola Interview Photo
So I was the first one to break in. I always loved the theater-like feeling of working together. That's ultimately what I was trying to achieve in my life, because I had been a kid that moved so much, I didn't have a lot of friends. Theater really represented that kind of camaraderie.

So a lot of younger would-be film directors started to come and hang out, because I had an office at Warner Brothers. I had directed Finian's Rainbow when I was like 23 or something, and pretty soon all these kids -- some of them my age, some of them a little younger -- started hanging out with me. I had a little money, and I had a lot of ambition to set up a group, a company. So that's when I met George Lucas, of course, who was younger, and then he had all his friends. Ultimately, it became kind of this gang of young film makers who really were friends and hung around together. The key thing about film students at that point is we all wanted to work in 35 millimeter. Film students were junkies for equipment. So suddenly I had penetrated the Hollywood studio, and due to very funny circumstances, which is that the company I was with, which was Seven Arts, had bought Warner Brothers. So for a while, no one knew who was running it, so I sort of had the keys of the whole studio, as though we suddenly had Warner Brothers. And we walked around and talked about, "We're going to get animation going again." Before I know it, there were all these guys coming there, and we'd talk about it, and that's when I met people like Carol Ballard, and George Lucas, and John Milius, and Phil Kaufman I remember, and Brian Da Palma, and later, Marty Scorsese. They were all like a few years younger. Then we really decided we were going to be independent, we were all going to move to San Francisco, and we did. And that company produced some of those people's first films, George's films and what have you. I had always wanted to be part of that type of artistic scene like you hear about in Paris. What might have it been like to be there? There's Hemingway in the Ritz Bar, and F. Scott Fitzgerald, or Sartre, and these wonderful people. When we were there (in San Francisco), broke, trying to figure out how to pay for anything, little did I realize that in effect, that's what that was. That all those people were to go on and become wonderful artists and stuff. But then, it seemed like we were just a bunch of young people who wanted to take over the movie business. And in a way we did, but in a way we didn't, because we really wanted better things for it.

Well, thank you for all you have done. It's been a pleasure talking to you.

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