• by writer/director Francis Ford Coppola
It is a dream come true to be able to make personal films and have
them shown in great theatres such as those of Landmark. Tetro is
the kind of film I might have been making 35 years ago, had my career
not taken an abrupt and sudden turn as it did with The Godfather.
Sure, it was exhilarating to find myself an important Hollywood director,
with all that came with it. But as the years went on, I found myself
unable to be comfortable making genre films, or trying to avoid becoming
a gangster film director, with all that came with that: stabbings,
shootings, car crashes and strangulations. It became pretty clear that
even if well-paid, a Hollywood director is expected to do what the
company who employs him wants, often with the script supplied. And
most times it is a genre film of some type, if not a gangster film,
then take your choice between a thriller, a caper film, a romantic
comedy (nothing wrong with that) but in all cases something that doesn't
veer too far from a film made previously that was very successful.
As I stewed in those juices, I found myself dissatisfied, and frustrated
over the fact that even though I had made successful films and won
plenty of awards, I still would have to go, hat in hand, to beg permission
to make something other than what they wanted.
With Apocalypse Now, I ultimately found I had to finance it myself.
Financing movies is a perilous activity, especially when the films are as unusual
as I wanted to make. At first Apocalypse Now seemed as if it would bury
me—the initial reaction wasn't good, despite some acknowledged spectacular
scenes, but it was deemed too philosophical or worse, 'arty'—which is the
ultimate damning word that can be used on a film. Well, I thought, weren't most
of Ingmar Bergman's films 'arty but good'? As were the many films of Federico
Fellini or Akira Kurosawa—or perhaps not 'arty' but certainly they went
their own way, and didn't just fall into categories by genre. Maybe those films
weren't financial powerhouses, but they stayed with you and were inspirational.
And also, they were all different from any other films being made. That
in the end is my main criteria for enjoying a film: that I never saw it before
or anything quite like it.
At any rate, things got worse for me after I ventured further into the
unknown with another self-financed film, One From The Heart.
I have few regrets in my life, if any—but I do regret the decision
I made about three weeks before shooting on that film started, not
to shoot it as live TV as I had planned, but to go it one shot at a
time. So yes, I have one regret in life, which was to back off the style
of shooting I had planned. But for my sins, I was punished and my life
as a Hollywood director changed. I was in debt for $25 million dollars.
I had to make a payment each year, in October I remember, of $3 million,
a daunting task and only possible if I directed a movie each year. So
now I was sort of in bondage, and needed a job that could pay me at
that level each year. I couldn't refuse and worse, sometimes went begging
for an assignment. At least I had the rule that I needed something about
the project, even though I hadn't written it, that I could fall in love
with; on Peggy Sue Got Married it was to make it in the style
of Thornton Wilder's Our Town, on Jack it was to work
with Robin Williams, and so on. Finally, after Dracula the
debt was paid, and I just needed to do three more films to have a little
money for myself and my family and I could stop. That turned out to
be only two more, and I did stop—and wondered what was next for
me, what would my place be in movies, if indeed I was even to make movies
Many years went by. I set out to do my film of films, something so ambitious
that I would be at the very edge of my abilities. It was called Megalopolis and
it was meant to be a film about utopia. But the world changed right at that moment
and in the light of the wars and dystopia that followed and still persists, my
film crumbled in my hands, even if I had been able to raise the many millions
it would have taken to produce it. Fortunately, the wine and hotel businesses
I had begun with the proceeds of my last two 'director for hire' films, were
beginning to show vigor and it was possible for me to support my family without
making films I didn't especially want to make, or even types of films I didn't
want to make.
Then, taking inspiration from my daughter who had learned the very same tricks
from me, I decided to return to my youth, and realizing that the smaller the
budget of a film the greater the ideas of that film could be, began to self-finance
the very kinds of films I had hoped to make at the beginning. It was like trying
to find myself, and my place, after being away a long time. Like the Samurai
in Yojimbo, weakened and beaten, who lies in a box trying to get his
strength and skills back. I took a story from Mircea Eliade, Youth Without
Youth, and thought if I followed his guidance, I could find myself. The
film was totally unorthodox, in structure and intention, but it was what I wanted
to do. When it was done, I found the film audience had ventured even further
away from anything other than the pre-made, pre-measured genre films that I had
tried to escape from, and now wanted even their independent films to be mini-Hollywood
ventures. No matter, I thought, the idea was to find myself and I had done that.
Now, the next step was to pick up where I had left off, and write an original
story and screenplay, something I hadn't done for 30 years since The Conversation.
The result is Tetro, which you are about to see soon at a Landmark theatre
near you. I hope you will find it moving, as it is drawn from real emotions related
to my experiences and life—though not in any way autobiographical. I hope
you wish me well on this new career of mine. It was the one I always wanted from
the beginning, to be an independent filmmaker, writing stories and making personal
films. God knows what will come next!