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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 10)

CA: That's a classic scene.
Coppola: Well, funny story. They cut it out. They said, "You can't shoot that scene." I said, "Look, we'll do it right where the wedding is so no one will know and I can do it in fifteen minutes." "You don't need to show him die, you just cut to the funeral and we'll know he died." I said, "But, this could be nice with the little kid. I wanna shoot it." They said, "Well, we gotta break for lunch in a half an hour; if you can get it done in a half an hour, then get it."

We had the tomatoes and they made a big stink about it because the art director had flown the tomatoes in from Chicago at a cost of $3,000 or so much a tomato. We made the tomato patch and the little kid comes on with Brando, and the little kid is scared. He doesn't want to do anything. I said, "All right, we'll just do a shot. He's a little kid, he's playing and then he goes to tThe Godfather, but he's afraid of The Godfather." We do two takes. We have two cameras set up, which is to say we shoot it all at once. Brando says to me, "I got an idea." So, he takes an orange and he said, "We'll just shoot because we have twelve minutes."

In the movies, if you don't break at the right time for lunch, all the crew gets a fine. So, if you miss the break, it could cost like $10,000. They were there ready with the stopwatch. They would have cut me off. Brando takes an orange in the scene and he cuts it and puts it in his mouth and he smiles at them and the little kid goes, "Ahhhh [Coppola makes a whining sound]." You know…and he goes like that, and they say, "Meal break." So, it was that close that the scene wasn't gonna get shot. But we had it. Later on, we went and we did the part where he keeled over, and I was able to piece it in. Making the movie was like that.

I hated it. I hated it, I wanted to be done with it. It was the most miserable time of my life.

CA: In retrospect, you must be greatly satisfied, like a great chef who takes different food items and blends them together into great food, or a winemaker who makes great wine. You took unknown actors, a washed-out has-been, and on top of all the battles you had to fight, created something special. How does that make you feel?
Coppola: The key thing was that book I showed you. In that preparation with all those notes, I had outlined what the movie was going to be. And I had a cast of my friends who remained a really tight little group that supported me. Even though I had all this pressure from without, and nobody liked what we were doing, I had these wonderful actors who were on my side. And, I had this concept from Mario Puzo's wonderful book. That's what guided us, too.

But I had no idea, until the movie was long finished, what had happened. The struggles went on right through the editing. They pulled the music out and said how they hated the music, or how they told me to take a half an hour out or they were gonna fire me, and that when I took the half hour out, they said, "You ruined the picture." Or they said, "We ordered a movie and you brought us a trailer," so they put the half hour back in and then they said, "Look how brilliant we are, we put that in."

To me, it was just a horrible experience. I hated it. I still hate the memory of it. I didn't even know the picture was any good until a friend of mine that I called to give me some advice looked at it and said, "This is terrific." That was Bob Towne, the writer. But at the time, I had nothing positive happening.

CA: Did any of the Paramount executives ever say anything to you in the years following the movie's success?
Coppola: They desperately tried to go back and show how really it was to their credit. Evans claimed he had saved the picture because he asked me to put back the half hour that he had told me to take out.

CA: What about Pacino, De Niro, Brando?
Coppola: Yeah, we remained close and we worked together. They went on to become movie stars. But they had never been the doubters. They were just these kids I brought in and they were hoping I wasn't gonna get fired. The group was tight and remained tight. Of course, when I made the second film, which I didn't wanna make, the rules were different. Paramount had nothing to do with it. They didn't even see the script or anything.

CA: Tell me how the rules differed between Godfather I and Godfather II.
Coppola: Godfather I was done. I vowed I wanted nothing more to do with it. I didn't ever want to see anything about the Mafia or anything about the film. Charlie Bluhdorn says, "Francis, you have the formula of Coca-Cola. You should make another Godfather." I said, "Charlie, I don't even want to hear about that. I hate The Godfather. I don't want to know anything about…." He said, "But that's Coca-Cola." So, then he asked me to make a second film and I said, "Lookit, the movie doesn't need a second film. It ends at the end. It's not like Andy Hardy or something. You could make five of them. It's a drama, and it's done." "You gotta make another Godfather," and I said, "I absolutely will not make another one."

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