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Francis Ford Coppola Reflects on the Past, Present and Future of Cinema

Francis Ford Coppola Reflects on the Past, Present and Future of Cinema

READ MORE: The 5 Best Films of Francis Ford Coppola

In 1979, Francis Ford Coppola appeared at a press conference for “Apocalypse Now” “protected by an army of [his] kids.” At the event, he offered his thoughts on Nietzsche, personal films and also foretold the future of film. The iconic filmmaker said then: “Cinema as we know it is going to radically change. I see twelve cameras over here with movements shuttling film through it and I see one that doesn’t need that over there. The world cinema is going to be digital — whether you argue and say it will be in five years, no, it will be in three years — it will be electronic. It will be digital, it will bounce off satellites, and it will create the dreams and hallucinations of the future, of the world.”

And this month in Marrakech, where Coppola served as president of the jury of the annual Marrakech Internationl Film Festival, he offered a group of journalists his thoughts on the cinema of the future, from this point on.

“I have some ideas of the ways it’s going to go in, just as 30, 40 years ago I knew it would be digital & CGI and all that stuff,” he told us. “Only our prejudices of what a film shouldn’t be could hold us back.” Here’s what Coppola had to say:

The future is not 3-D.

“Around the time of ‘Avatar,’ everyone was saying this is the future of cinema. We had 3-D with ‘Bwana Devil’ in 1952… Cinema is too interesting and too big for 3-D to be anything. But there was a moment where executives were saying this and all movies were 3-D. So I started thinking about it and I realized that what we’ll call cinema of the future will change in a couple of areas.”

Cinema is in its infancy.

“Cinema is in its infancy. The thing that makes it difficult, maybe, is that we imagine the cinema as it is now and as we’ve been comfortable with it in the last 50 years. The truth of the matter is that, like everything else, it will evolve and change, like the theater. If we say the theater is thousands of years old, the novel is maybe 400 years old, then the cinema of the future…its golden age has not yet come. Though certainly in the last 100 or so years, there’s been such an abundance of greatness in such a short time. I’ve often thought that the cinema was an art form that was waiting to happen, and it was waiting for technology to make it happen.”

“I feel like [the cinema of the future] is already beginning, but that requires that we loosen our idea of what a film is…We have such a specific idea of what it has to be that perhaps we don’t allow what it can be and what it will be. I always like to imagine, not even films you might make, but that your great-grandchildren will make. How marvelous it would be if we could even get an inkling of what that will be like. I feel like there’s a wonderful cinema in the future.”

The Elongated (or Shortened) Sense of Time

“I was looking at the The New York Times, seeing all the current movies, and it occurred to me that they all looked like sort of sausages. Here’s this movie, and here’s this movie…Now that I’m old and it doesn’t matter and I’m sort of independent, I really don’t want to make a sausage about this. I just want to make a stream of what I’m thinking, what I’m feeling. Maybe for me, cinema will just be one long project and maybe I’m making only one more film, but it will go on and on and change and go into this and go into that.”

“I read a lot now. And I have a rule never to read anything related to a possible movie…I was reading about the assassination of the Israeli prime minister, and now I’m reading George Orwell’s ‘Burmese Days,’ and I was reading ‘Don Quixote’ recently. So my reading is like this sort of river…Maybe it would be nice to have a film like that.”

The Possibilities Within the Documentary Form

“If you go back to the documentary form originally, you know that it was never really truly documentary. I mean, if you look at ‘Nanook of the North,’ they did retakes and staged things; you have to. But that form seems to have such a wonderful [range]…when it’s used to tell a fictional situation or a fictional situation. I always speak of Sarah Polley’s film, which is called ‘Stories We Tell,’ where this thing comes around and it becomes so personal. And that seems very exciting to me: The reconciliation of the documentary form with the fiction film form.”

Live Cinema

“Live cinema is very different from live TV. Recently I’ve been writing something, and I took 30 pages and I went to a school in Oklahoma and they gave me about 70 students. We had a big stage. I did 20 minutes to see sort of what I was talking about…When I went off to do that thing in ‘Apocalypse Now’ and I had to do that helicopter scene. I thought, what was I thinking and how do I do this? I had to have all these helicopters and blow up all these things. So I sort of learn by doing, as we often do. So when I went to Oklahoma and I started to do what I thought was live cinema, it was sort of the same thing, and it was so interesting. And in an attempt to do it, I learned about it. And I learned so much. The 30 pages ended up being 54 minutes. As I was working on it, I kept thinking, this is not theater, this is not movies, this is not television. It’s something different. Because live television was always good in its greatest time, and now it’s about coverage of an event, be it a sports event or a play. It’s very different.”

“Cinema’s basic unit is the shot, just as with writing the basic unit is the sentence. And live cinema, it’s as if you saw a storyboard with a Pixar film, and actors were poking around in the storyboard, doing it with shots and everything that we’re used to, but in the end it was a live performance. And that was sort of what we did. And it was so exhilarating when I realized what was possible. Because the technology that’s been invented for sports and is only used for sports — football games, soccer games — you could use that for storytelling, and it does some very magical things. You gain a lot from control and being able to edit, but there’s also something to say for live performance. When they did those operas in the 18th century, they were huge productions, but they did it live. And there was the thrill of, ‘I saw “Aida” the first night.’ And you could have that in film, too.”

Learning from Sports Entertainment

“We’ve had so many years of canned stories, the only area where there’s still some surprise is in sports, where you don’t know what’s going to happen and they don’t know what’s going to happen. With this, stories will be really exciting.”

The Changing of the Guard

“I believe this industry will have new ownership in three or four years. It won’t be owned by the people who own it now, who are these businessmen. And it will be owned by people who are desperate for real content because they have a lot of money, and that’s of course all the internet companies. You look at Yahoo, which is floundering, and even companies that are successful like Facebook, they’re all based on advertising. Anyone who’s been on Facebook, if you’ve been on it for a few years, I’m sure you’re thinking, I’m never going to go back, it’s a waste of my time. So they’re all going to be in the movie business. If that will be better, I don’t know!”

“A company like Sony, when they bought a movie studio, the first thing they did was hire all the old studio executives. But I believe there will be a changing of the guard of the owners. So I think you’ll see some changes. There will be new owners, maybe some smart people.”

The theater will be anywhere.

“I believe the way movies are distributed [will change] — this idea that movies are separate. The movie that you see in the theater, which will still be a wonderful option, you’ll be able to see at home. The idea that the theater owners will want to make what they call a window is ludicrous. The public will have what they want. And this work will be available anywhere. I mean you can see it in your hotel room, you can see it in a movie theater, you can see it in a community center. For lack of a better word, the media will be available anywhere.”

Is cinema the literature of our time?

“I wonder when cinema can really grow up to be the literature of our people, of our time. It could be literature, but it’s not even classified as that. And certainly the filmmakers have no control over all that; they’re just trying to get another job. Unless there’s one or two…and even that one or two, that’s very few. There’s Steven Spielberg, certainly at the top, he has to wheel and deal and cut the budget. Now with the Chinese audience being the biggest affluence, and they love action films more than anyone, so it’s going to make it worse for a while. I think it’s harder for people to make a personal film than it was when my colleagues and I were striking out. And if you do get to make it somehow, then it’s hard to get it released and find distribution. I’m admiring of young filmmakers not only for the beautiful work but there’s so much against them to try to get it released. It’s so difficult.”

All filmmakers must remember to look toward the future. 

“It’s true I made ‘The Godfather,’ ‘The Conversation’ and ‘Apocalypse Now’ pretty much in a run over five years. And it’s true ‘The Godfather’ was this tremendous success even thought it was critically batted back and forth a bit, at first. But the other films weren’t immediately thought of well. I was very despondent in those years. It was only after time, [with] ‘Apocalypse Now,’ people were interested in it and they went to see it. But it was very slow, over years, when it was more accepted as something worthwhile.”

“I didn’t know that these films might be thought of as classics. Consequently, films that I made even more recently, you see that there’s a process where the evaluation changes over time. So now, as an elderly person, I think, oh, isn’t that strange, I was so suicidal over that or I was so miserable, it makes you realize, if you’re younger, don’t worry. Just do it; you never know what’s going to happen. It’s just odd to me that some of those films [of mine] are thought of so well.”

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