It is a cliché that has been repeated for decades among cinephiles: Francis Ford Coppola is a jinx. Or, at least, a director who attracts storm clouds to his shoots. Conflicting, temperamental, wasteful… a nightmare for producers because of his megalomaniacal ambition, which often yields impeccable artistic results, but leaves behind a trail of traumatized actors and technicians.
Granted, he is the director of the highly respected ‘Godfather’ trilogy, but also of ‘Hunch’, remembered as one of the biggest financial disasters in film history, or of ‘Cotton Club’, another box office flop with filming conflictive and that required the collaboration of an endless list of producers to be financed. The filming of ‘Apocalypse Now’ is famous because it was miraculous that it ended without casualties, and there are documentaries that recount a creative process that was a Vietnam itself. And ‘Bram Stoker’s Dracula’ ended up being a box office success, but during filming an absolutely apocalyptic failure was feared due to his excessive ambition. His production company, Zoetrope, has filed for bankruptcy three times.
All this seems to have been forgotten, because Coppola has found financing for a new and fearsome (economically, it is understood) project. It’s about ‘Megalopolis’, not exactly a new idea: Coppola has been trying to put it on its feet for no less than forty years. It is a personal project that the director had in the eighties, but that he was forced to postpone. Films like ‘Jack’, ‘Self-defense’ and ‘Dracula’ itself were commissions that he was accepting as a way of raising funds to get his project up and running.
At the beginning of this century, everything seemed to indicate that Coppola could start filming. Actors like Russell Crowe, Leonardo DiCaprio, Paul Newman and Nicolas Cage were on board, and the director shot some thirty hours of second unit footage to use in the film, but then the 9/11 attacks took place. The project returned to sleep the sleep of the just.
Finally, and already with 83 years, Coppola decided in 2019 to reactivate the project, putting the necessary budget entirely out of his pocket: 120 million dollars that he has paid, in part, by selling part of his wine business located in northern California. The reason for this budget is in the use of state-of-the-art technology such as the LED Volume that we have seen in ‘The Mandalorian’ and that would have given us spectacular images of the future city of the title without the need to build sets.
And what do we know about the plot?
Little: ‘Megalopolis’ tells the story of an ambitious architect who wants to redesign New York to modernize it after a disaster that has destroyed it (from that detail of the plot came having to paralyze it after the 9/11 attacks). He will be opposed by a powerful mayor, although his daughter, with whom the architect maintains a passionate relationship, will help him to get the project off the ground.
And there’s already a cast full of A-list names for the film: Adam Driver, Forest Whitaker, Nathalie Emmanuel, Jon Voight, Laurence Fishburne, Aubrey Plaza, Jason Schwartzman, Shia LaBeouf, Talia Shire and Dustin Hoffman are just a few of the cast. this sci-fi epic they have moved to Atlanta for filming. But of course, how could it be otherwise with Francios Ford Coppola at the helm, there are problems.
the problems return
The Hollywood Reporter recently reported, through multiple sources, that sheer chaos on set led to the production designer (Beth Mickle) and art supervisor (David Scott) being shot off the production. And they are just the tip of the iceberg: in December the special effects team led by Mark Russell, a veteran technician with credits to his credit such as ‘Minority Report’, ‘Hidden Fate’ or ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ ( which is reminiscent of a similar experience, three decades ago, in ‘Bram Stoker’s Dracula’, where Coppola also fired his effects team).
Apparently, all these abandonments and layoffs have caused the budget to skyrocket and production to come to a standstill, and media sources speak that it is not clear when the filming will resume normality. At the moment, it seems, the expensive LED Volume would have been renounced and production has been reoriented towards more traditional special effects, such as the usual chroma.
Coppola’s reply has not been long in coming: in an interview for Deadline, he assures that “I adore my cast, I adore what I’m seeing every day, I’m within the shooting deadlines and the budget: that’s what matters to me.” Adam Driver seconded: “The atmosphere created by Francis is one of focus and inspiration. So far, we’re on schedule, and it’s honestly been one of the best shooting experiences I’ve ever had.” It may be mere damage control, or it may be true, but one thing is for sure: if we follow the Coppola tradition, following this whole soap opera may turn out to be more fun than the movie itself.
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