Francis Ford Coppola on One from the Heart
Francis Ford Coppola with Gene Kelly
Coppola really needs no introduction, with or without the "Ford".
Odds are that you have at least one of his movies in your DVD
collection. And if you don't, a lot of people would argue that you
don't have much of a DVD collection yet.
Coppola has been a visionary throughout his career and in the early
1980's, he embarked on what would turn out to be his most ambitious
project. Armed with high hopes and an audacious vision of the future
of filmmaking, Coppola embarked on nothing less than the complete
reinvention of the Hollywood studio system. For awhile, Zoetrope
Studios was the envy of Hollywood. Legendary elders like Gene Kelly
and director Michael Powell advised the new generation, while high
school-age apprentices learned every facet of the business. Zoetrope
commanded unprecedented employee loyalty, virtually unheard of in
any age of Hollywood. It was, by most estimations, too good to last.
Zoetrope's rise and fall is documented on the new DVD of Coppola's
one and only movie for the studio, the 1982 musical fantasia One
from the Heart.
In honor of its release, I was given the opportunity to pepper
Coppola with a brief Q&A. Our timing could not have been worse.
Within days of my sending the questions off, not only did his
daughter Sofia follow in his Oscar-nominated footsteps with her film
Lost in Translation, but his
mother, Italia Coppola, passed away at the age of 91. Nevertheless,
even with all this activity, Coppola found the time to respond to
our little dog-and-pony show. Our sincere thanks go out to Mr.
Coppola, Ian Hendrie at Fantoma, and Kim Aubry at American Zoetrope
for making this possible. Also, congratulations and best of luck to
Sofia Coppola. Finally, our condolences to the Coppola family. Mrs.
Coppola appears briefly in One from the
Heart, along with her husband Carmine Coppola, trapped in
an elevator as Teri Garr dithers about whether or not to go with
Raul Julia. It is to her memory that this interview is respectfully
Adam Jahnke (The Digital Bits):
Coming as it did after the extremely grueling Apocalypse
Now shoot, is it fair to say that it was almost
physically necessary for you to next make something as intimate and
contained as One from the Heart?
Francis Ford Coppola: After
spending 16 months in the jungle, I thought there had to be another
way to make movies. Apocalypse Now
was such a grueling shoot, that I wanted something completely
different, so One from the Heart
was really the antidote to Apocalypse.
I realized that, although my colleagues and I had been champions of
shooting on real locations during the prior decades when the studios
were trying to save money by shooting on the backlot, now I wanted
to go in a new direction where I could really control the elements
of the shoot, without having to deal with concerns of weather,
sunlight, and historical accuracy.
from the Heart is so uniquely its own type of film, it's
difficult to pinpoint your specific influences. Perhaps the closest
in style is the BBC films of Dennis Potter, such as Pennies
from Heaven. Were they an influence? What was?
Coppola: I liked the film Pennies
from Heaven a great deal, but actually I didn't see it
until after I had made One from the Heart.
The influences were really more the filmed musicals of the 1940s and
50s, and even the stage musicals I directed in college and the
Broadway shows I saw growing up. Also very influential were the live
television dramas of the 50s and 60s, especially those directed by
Jahnke: Although his songs are
used in films frequently, Tom Waits has written very little original
music for movies. How did you come to collaborate with him?
Coppola: My son Gian-Carlo
brought me a Tom Waits record, I think it was Foreign
Affairs and it had this beautiful duet called I
Never Talk to Strangers with Bette Midler singing the
female part, and I immediately thought this could be relevant to
One from the Heart! I can have
the two voices involved in a dialog, working out issues in song,
sort of paralleling the male and female protagonists in the story.
Jahnke: In the rehearsal
footage of you, Waits, and Crystal Gayle, you seem to be directing
them in exactly the same way you'd direct actors. As musicians, I
imagine they wouldn't be used to such an approach. Were they
receptive to this way of working?
Coppola: Tom Waits was already
interested in theater and acting and he is a truly renaissance man.
I wouldn't say that I was directing him as such, it was more trying
to get my conceptual ideas across in a way that he could use when he
composed and performed the song score. Crystal Gayle was a bit
nervous at first, she had come from working in the Nashville country
music recording studios although she had formal training and was a
huge fan of Hoagy Carmichael. We were asking her to stretch a bit,
into the more full voice you hear in musicals. She was wonderful to
Jahnke: Why do you feel the
film's reception was so disproportionately harsh?
Coppola: The film was shown to
exhibitors -- what they call a blind bidding screening -- and it was
still a mess, months before completion. I even recorded an intro
explaining that it was really a work in progress. However, it got
reviewed anyway -- badly -- and the downward spiral began. No one
really wanted a filmmaker who controlled a studio, so there were a
lot of forces looking for us to fail. Plus, I had this string of
incredible successes -- The Godfather,
The Godfather II, The
Conversation and Apocalypse.
Some people felt it was time they cut me down a notch. By the time I
showed the film at Radio City Music Hall, most people had already
written it off. I thought the screening was a success, but at the
press conference, I was asked what I was going to do now that it was
clear the film was a failure. It was clear that it wasn't going to
get a fair shot, so a few weeks after it was in theaters, I pulled
in and thought, 'Oh, I'll re-release it in a few years, when it will
get a fair shot.'
Jahnke: How do you feel about
the film today?
Coppola: Obviously, the movie
was important to me because it was the dawn of a new studio. That
studio was capable of a movie a month. So I was very interested in
all the technology and the ability to have such a facility and to
have complete creative control. I still regret that I didn't shoot
it the way I wanted -- as a continuous live television show. The
film itself is unusual, and charming, and seeing it again after all
these years, with all the effort that was put into the restoration,
it looks and sounds breath-taking.
Jahnke: Did you personally
believe One from the Heart was
ahead of its time? Is it still or are do you think audiences will be
more receptive toward it today?
from the Heart was an experiment. I think it influenced
the music video, and some of the innovations we introduced in its
making are still used today. I think or hope that audiences today
will look at it much differently as they are more open.
Jahnke: Why did you choose to
produce and release the One from the
Heart DVD yourself?
Coppola: There was never
really a final version of this film. There were three versions out
there (foreign version, early US version, and final version) -- one
a very poor VHS put out for home video of the day, and I thought
since we have our DVD lab and all this archival footage that no one
had ever seen, it was time to make the definitive cut. The DVD also
has given me the wonderful opportunity to go back and straighten out
some misconceptions, since there were so many rumors floating around
about One from the Heart --
yet so few people had actually ever seen it. The film has been
digitally restored and digitally enhanced and is in its original
Academy aspect ratio -- very few people have seen it shown that way.
We were really able to tell the whole story of the Zoetrope Studio
in the documentaries on disc two and seeing young Tom Wait's
creative process in writing and recording the score is a real
revelation for people who are fans of his work.
Jahnke: The amount of
rehearsal and behind-the-scenes footage on the disc is impressive by
any standard, all the more so considering it was done long before
the advent of Laserdisc or DVD. What compelled you to have all this
archive footage shot?
Coppola: A young couple
approached me at the beginning of the shoot, actually shortly after
we acquired the studio and they had this brand new state of the art
portable 3/4" video equipment and it seemed obvious to be that
this was the way to go. George Lucas had shot a 16mm film
chronicling the making of my road film The
Rain People in 1969 following us everywhere, and of
course my wife Eleanor had shot a great deal of 16mm footage in the
Philippines during Apocalypse.
But the advent of portable video equipment meant that the costs were
much less than film, and these videographers [Tony St. John and Ann
Humphery] could leave the camera running even when it seemed like
nothing of import was happening.
Jahnke: Can we expect to see
any of your other films released on DVD through American
Coppola: Well, the little DVD
Lab we built at Zoetrope has become, in its relatively short 5-year
career, kind of the "tiffany" of DVD facilities. They have
already done DVDs of most of our films, although these are
distributed by the major studios. Most notably the Godfather
DVD Collection, The
Conversation, The Cotton Club
and Apocalypse Now Redux. I am
proud of the DVD they made of a somewhat lesser known film, Tucker,
the Man and his Dream, and they did my son Roman's film
CQ and my daughter Sofia's two
films, The Virgin Suicides and
Lost in Translation. They are
working on a new edition of the film I made right after One
from the Heart, S.E. Hinton's The
Jahnke: Back in the late 70's
and early 80's, you made a number of predictions about the future of
filmmaking, virtually all of which have come to pass. Are there any
current films or filmmakers that you can point to as examples of
people who exemplify your vision of digital filmmaking?
Coppola: Robert Rodriguez
comes to mind, in that he has mastered all the technical aspects of
the new cinema, and I am impressed by so many experimental young
filmmakers, like Baz Luhrmann, Paul Thomas Anderson, Wes Anderson,
Spike Jonze, Gus Van Sant and David O. Russell to name just a few --
and then again, mostly I look forward to the new work of Roman
Coppola and Sofia Coppola.
Jahnke: Where do you see
filmmaking going in the next twenty or so years and what part, if
any, does DVD play in it?
Coppola: Big question: off the
top of my head I'd say that there will be a fusion of what we think
of the documentary film and the fiction film; plot will become
confining -- the cinema language dealing with time and the
expression of inner consciousness will become ever more
Jahnke: With Finian's
Rainbow and One from the Heart,
have you done everything you'd like to do in the musical genre or do
you feel another musical in you?
Coppola: Not really -- I would
love to do a true musical for film.
Our thanks once again to Mr. Coppola for the generosity of his time
and attention. If you enjoyed the interview, you also be interested
in reading my review of Zoetrope and Fantoma's new release of
from the Heart on DVD. Best!