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The Godfather Speaks

Francis Ford Coppola, the director of the iconic Godfather series, reveals secrets about the making of the epic saga.
Marvin R. Shanken
From the Print Edition:
Francis Ford Coppola, Sept/Oct 03

(continued from page 9)

I would go home on the weekend and I had to rewrite scenes and I was in a cold sweat. I couldn't sleep at night. I'm in this horrible little apartment, with all the painting, my little boys. The second week was coming up and there were a few days when Brando was gonna have his first day on set and we're shooting downtown. They're all very anxious to see the Brando stuff.

CA: So, by that point, you're saying they were high on the idea of Brando in the film?
Coppola: Well, they kept him. They're not high on him, because I had done that trick of going straight to Bluhdorn. The first Brando stuff comes in and they hate it. They hate it. They said, "Oh, he mumbles. You can't understand him. It's too dark." Even Bluhdorn hates it. It was the scene when they're in the olive oil factory and Sollozzo comes in and they all are in a room. They just hated Brando. Now they're really serious about getting rid of me. We get through the second week and now the third week comes up and we're shooting Brando with the oranges and stuff.

We're all right outside the scene. I said to them, "Listen, it was Brando's first day. The actor's first day. First of all, I didn't think it was so bad, but Brando was a little nervous and stuff." I say, "Let me go again," I said to them, because I was right. It was right there in Chinatown and Little Italy. I was out in the street by the vegetables, and where we were shooting we'd also shot the scene they didn't like. "I'll reshoot it in a day." They said, "No." I said that's odd.

Gray Frederickson says, "Listen, this weekend they're gonna fire you." I won't get into the politics, but it was a lot of politics. My editor had sold them a bill of goods that the film wouldn't cut together and that he had directed a picture and that maybe he would be a better director. And he has a friend who was his producer, and he asked them to give this guy an assistant director's job.

Now I had a group in my own movie that was conspiring to get rid of me. My own friends! They figured I was lost. But I remember this guy, a friend that I looked up to, had a meeting with me, and he said, "Francis, face it. The acting is terrible. It's not gonna cut together. I don't know what to do. I can't put the footage together."

But I've been told that film studios never fire a director on a weekday, because if a director gets fired on a weekday, then the studio loses two days in the transition. They'll always wait till the weekend. They'll fire him after Friday, then the new director comes in and he'll be ready for Monday. So I took a real chance. I went in—and I knew who all the conspirators were; there were about 16 of them—I fired them all on Wednesday.

They were like, "What do you mean we're fired?" I said, "I'm the director. Fired. You're out." And I took my crew and I went and I reshot the Brando scene. Personally, I didn't really have to. It would be interesting today to look for the two versions, but I'm not even sure which one is in the movie.

Evans had a fit. "What are you doin'? You fired the so-and-so." I startled them, so that by the time the weekend had come, I had reshot the scene. I said, "Well, let's wait and see how it looks." So, they look at it and they say, "Well, it's much better and we don't need all the bad publicity." But I had already fired everyone anyway, and there was nothing they could do. Then I get a call from Charlie Bluhdorn, and he says, "I saw the movie scenes, and it's terrific." He said, "I want you to come to dinner with me tonight." I brought my father. And Charlie Bluhdorn takes me to the Palm Restaurant and he buys steaks and lobsters. I got his arm around me. "Ah, you're great," he says to me.

And from that moment on, he figures we're stuck with this loser. Let's at least build him up a little. They knew what they had been doing to me. They had been punishing me. We had this big dinner at the Palm steak house and suddenly, Charlie Bluhdorn is my best friend.

We continued shooting. Their guy, the minder, was still on me and we went a little over budget and they were very tough on me. For example, we're shooting the wedding scene in Staten Island. There was a scene in the script in which The Godfather is sitting in his tomatoes with his grandchild where he dies.

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