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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 11)

When The Godfather came up for the Oscars, it won Best Picture, but didn't win Best Director. I was Best Director for the Directors Guild of America, but when they announced Best Director at the Oscars, Bob Fosse won it for Cabaret, so I was a little depressed, because every young guy wants to win an Oscar. Charlie said, "Francis, you won The Bank of America award." All of a sudden, my little six percent was gonna be worth $6, $7, $8 million. I had never had two dimes to rub together in my life. Suddenly—how else can you say it—I was rich just from having that little piece.

Charlie started working on me to make another Godfather picture and I absolutely refused. He kept coming and coming. Finally I said, "I will find a young director that I think is really talented, that is every bit as good as me, and we'll have him do it, and I'll help. I'll be like a producer. But, I won't do it. I don't want to be involved with Paramount." I hated those guys. He said, "OK."

You know, a lot of business guys realize like I did that even with the terms that you agree to initially, it will all change. Four months went by and I was thinking about it, so I finally go back and I said, "I'm ready. We got an idea and I would like to suggest a director."

CA: Who is doing the screenplay for this? Who's going to write it?
Coppola: I was going to help. Me and Mario were going to help. There was no screenplay yet. There was only "What was it gonna be?" You know, the guy's dead. I go back and Evans was there and they go, "Who do you want to direct it?" I said, "Well, the guy I think who'd really do a great job is a guy named Marty Scorsese." And Evans said, "Absolutely not. He will never direct The Godfather. That is the worst idea I ever heard." I said, "Well, I can't deal with this," and so, I leave. Then, Bluhdorn says to me, "Look, you gotta do it. You're the only one who can do it. What do you want?'

And I said, "OK, first of all, I want to make my movie The Conversation, that I'm gonna do now." By then, I had gotten Gene Hackman to do it. "Second of all, I will do The Godfather—the second Godfather—but I have some conditions. One, is I want a million dollars." Some stupid amount of money that I figured they'd say, Forget about it. I didn't want to do it. I didn't know how to do it. "And, number three, Bob Evans can have nothing to do with it. He cannot…he cannot see the budget. I do it alone. I will do the whole thing, but no executives can be around. Nobody can be on the set. He cannot even see the script or see the movie until it's done. And the fourth thing I want is, I don't want to call it The Return of Michael Corleone, the way they always did it. I want to call it The Godfather: Part II.

They said, "Well, the million dollars is no problem. We can work it out with Evans, but we can't agree to calling it The Godfather: Part II." I said, "Why not?" He said, "Well, because everyone's gonna think that it's the second half of the movie they already saw. They're gonna think, "Godfather: Part II, oh, we gotta go in and go see the second half." I said, "Well, that's all right. We'll use the scene."

I didn't mention this earlier, by the way, that they had all these terrible ads for the movie, and I was the one who said, "No. I just want to use the same logo from the book, with the hands and the string." Then they had to go buy that. And, I said, "Well, we'll make it in red this time, so they'll know it's our movie." So, the big sticking point was calling it The Godfather: Part II in the ad. I was the first one ever to call a movie Part II.

CA: Did they give you a bigger percentage of the second film?
Coppola: I think I got a piece of the gross, as opposed to the net. And they told me they would let me do anything I wanted. I didn't have to show them the script. I didn't have to have any permission, and it was going to be called The Godfather: Part II. And then, I sat down and I wrote a script and I brought the script to Mario and then Mario helped me and we worked together and then we put together that movie.

CA: Was that a bigger grosser than Godfather I?
Coppola: No, it grossed less money. But it won all the Oscars and I won Best Director. It was very respected. It was the first sequel that was considered as good or better than the first movie.

CA: Given that you went into The Godfather project without any prior knowledge of the Mafia, how did you re-create a story that many people came to believe was real Mafia life? How did you do it?
Coppola: And the Mob did accept it. Although I had no experience or knowledge of the Mafia, in the end, they were just an Italian-American family. I based the film all on my uncles and my relatives. Now, they were musicians, or they were little businessmen or tool and die makers, but they were true first- and second-generation, third-generation Italian-Americans. I used my memories of what it was like in my family. How they sat around the table. How my uncles would get Chinese food. What the family dinner table was like. How my sister would serve and how the uncles would discuss world events. All I did was take another profession of Italian-Americans, which was what my family was like. In acting they call it substitution.

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