Tears and tales from one of Hollywood’s biggest directors, in front of a standing room only crowd, was a highlight for many yesterday at the Cannes Film Festival. The director talked about everything from animation, films of the past, the politics of Hollywood, self-distribution, and to of course his latest two releases “Youth Without Youth” and “Tetro” (which opened the Director’s Fortnight section here in Cannes.)
Coppola discussed how he felt about Hollywood films today that are made from a “formula”. Movies are repetitions of similar stories that made money in the past. Anything with emotion, or which is unique or artistic isn’t sought after by Hollywood. He said, “We’re in a commercial dictatorship, that the movie has to make money.” I think many agree this is a rule in Hollywood, which is why he set out to make his own films, with his own funds. Coppola decided to start the journey with “Youth Without Youth” and “Tetro,” but first he needed to tap into his emotional side…which he surely did.
The director said he wanted to make films with emotion and asked himself, “What makes me emotional?” The answer was…family. Coppola recounted many stories during the conversation, moderated by Scott Foundas at the American Pavilion, about his personal and family life, getting choked up on occasion with memories of his family and sister-in-law. His family brought the emotional side out of him and allowed him to make the movies he wanted, even writing the script. When he was young, he said, he “wanted to be the person who wrote his movie, went off and made it. I never imagined being a bigtime director.”
Francis Ford Coppola started out as a screenwriter and revised, rewrote, or adapted stories for others. The movie “Patton” was one of his first screenwriting ventures. After writing the screenplay they decided to go in a different direction, fired him, and shelved his script. Six years later it was dusted off and made into the film we know today. He told up-and-coming filmmakers to take heart from this story, reminding them that “the things you get fired for are the same things you get lifetime achievement awards for later on.”
Coppola encouraged fellow screenwriters in the room to do as he did. “When I write six pages I turn them over and never read them…Young writers have a hormone that makes them hate their writing.” He also suggested to “write in the mornings” as that’s what he does because “no one has hurt my feelings yet.” And he also encouraged screenwriters to exercise…by applying “the seat to the bottom of the chair and start to work cause there’s a lot of procrastination in writing.”
His latest, “Tetro” helped him dive deeper into his emotional ties with his family, Coppola said, as well as allowing him to learn something about himself along the way. Taking liberties with the story he said, “Nothing in ‘Tetro’ ever really happened, but it’s all true.” Many scenes throughout the movie are taken from his real life, but may have a slight variation. One thing he made sure to point out was that his father wasn’t like the father in the movie, “but was a very good man.”
Coppola filmed “Tetro” in Argentina with limited equipment and a smaller than average size crew. He said had a lot of fun during the 63 day shoot, which ironically was the same amount of time it took to shoot “The Godfather,” just without all the machine guns, blown up cars, he pointed out.
The conversation with Coppola was not only enlightening, but educational for those who attended the first in a series of AmPav chats. “Tetro” helped him achieve his H2O factor, he concluded, “Cinema is where writing and acting collide, the H and the O in water.” Without one you can’t have the other and have it be what it was meant to be. Coppola ended the conversation by educating us on the true definition of amateur, stating it’s about real passion for something. Then he declared, “I want to be an amateur filmmaker, because I love films.” While no one probably will ever consider him an amateur at filmmaking, his love for the craft was apparent to all.