Q&A: Francis Ford Coppola on George Lucas, an 'ambitious' new movie, and his five-film box set

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Francis Ford Coppola is ready for a big picture comeback.

The Oscar-winning filmmaker, now 73, has made some of the most iconic movies of all time, from 1972 mob classic The Godfather to 1979 war epic Apocalypse Now. But as an equally humble student and lover of film, he’s recently made smaller movies with tiny budgets such as 2009’s Tetro, starring Vincent Gallo, and murder mystery Twixt, with Val Kilmer and Elle Fanning.

Coppola spoke to EW about five of his films – Apocalypse Now, the extended version Apocalypse Now Redux, Tetro, 1974’s The Conversation, and 1982’s One From the Heart — all being released as a Blu-ray box set through Lionsgate on Tuesday. With new offices next year in Los Angeles on the Paramount Pictures lot, he also revealed his plans, and mentioned a first draft script, for a new “ambitious” big budget movie set in New York, as well as what he expects of his “kid brother” director George Lucas following the Disney- Lucasfilm acquisition. With the 2007 documentary Fog City Mavericks capturing the creative, independent spark of Bay Area filmmakers such as Coppola and Lucas, a new era for both has begun.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How did you decide on releasing together as a box set these five particular movies, including One From the Heart, starring Teri Garr, which has never been on Blu-ray? Apocalypse Now, previously released, looks amazing.
FRANCIS FORD COPPOLA: Apocalypse is used for people to try out their sound system, their home theater. The standard theater, the Dolby 5.0 system, that all derived from Apocalypse, because Dolby was in San Francisco when we did the film.

So many things are impacted by legal matters. Those are five movies that I own. Films such as The Godfather, or [1969's] The Rain People, the first that I wrote a screenplay for, Warner owns that one. I own the rights to Apocalypse Now and the others. Studios tend to not want to sell a movie because if they sell it and it becomes successful [on DVD, Blu-ray], it’s an embarrassment. Lionsgate thought of doing the collection. The Rain People isn’t even out wide on DVD.

Could a war movie such as Apocalypse Now ever be made today? I consider it one of the best war movies of all time, and it’s steeped in the period, the Vietnam War, plus Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness as source material. What you, Martin Sheen and the cast went through making it, the mayhem, the drugs, health issues, filming in the Philippines, the weather, being pulled into that dark, depression-filled space. Now everything is Tweeted, Facebooked, paparazzi-ed, revealed early on.
Back in those days, I was pretty young. I made The Godfather, The Conversation, The Godfather Part II so young. Nobody wanted to make a film about the Vietnam War. Even the actors I befriended didn’t want to go with me to the jungle. I was pretty frustrated as a young person. I made it myself. I hocked everything, the wineries. When the movie came out, there was a ragged reaction. They used to call it Apocalypse When, and portrayed me as Kurtz gone crazy, a megalomaniac. I finally showed it at the Cannes Film Festival unfinished, because so much had been badly written about it. I knew I was out on a limb, because of the style of the film. I sold it to the various foreign territories as if it was a World War II film like [1977’s] A Bridge Too Far. But it was so different. I was also financially on the hook.

And since then Apocalypse Now has long been considered one of the best movies of all time.
It’s a kind of a Cassandra Complex. Even if you did it once, and people sort of damned it, it became part of the culture. If you want to do it again, it doesn’t matter. You go through it again [making a movie]. Even in my personal life. My company and people think I’m wacky when I have an idea. … I know if I have an idea, no one will want to go through it. But if I persist, people will go through it.

What is going on with the Bay Area filmmaking scene documented in Fog City Mavericks, especially with you doing smaller movies, and now getting offices at Paramount in L.A. next year. Plus, George Lucas’ Lucasfilm being acquired by Burbank-based Disney?
George is like a kid brother to me. He’s someone I’m enormously proud of, fond of. You can expect from George three more personal films [post the Lucasfilm deal]. “Like Francis, I’ll make films no one wants to see,” he would say.

Why I went and did three little teeny movies. I wanted to be a film student again, as a man in my 60s. To go someplace alone and see what you can cook up, with non-existent budgets. I didn’t want to be surrounded by comforts and colleagues, which you have when when you’re a big time director. I wanted to write personal works. … You couldn’t go to a financier and say “I want to make a movie that wants to ask a question, then answers it with the movie.”

So what are you working on now, given your new offices next year at Paramount?
I have a secret investor that has infinite money. I learned what I learned from my three smaller films, and wanted to write a bigger film. I’ve been writing it. It’s so ambitious so I decided to go to L.A. and make a film out of a studio that has all the costume rentals, and where all the actors are. My story is set in New York. I have a first draft. I’m really ready for a casting phase. Movies are big in proportion to the period. It starts in the middle of the ‘20s, and there are sections in the ‘30s and the late ‘40s, and it goes until the late ‘60s.

Lastly, would you ever do a sequel to any of your other movies, following in the footsteps of franchises like Star Wars, such as another sequel to The Godfather?
No. I think a sequel is a waste of money and time. I think movies should illuminate new stories.

Check out two clips from Coppola’s One From the Heart, below:

For more film news

Read more:
Comic-Con 2011: Francis Ford Coppola brings gothic film ‘Twixt’ to San Diego — EXCLUSIVE FIRST LOOK
Francis Ford Coppola talks ‘Apocalypse Now’ on Blu-ray

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