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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 3)

CA: But I've read articles that Charlie Bluhdorn was behind the picture, and that because you were an Italian, and only an Italian could do this movie, [the studio was] behind you, too. Is that true?
Coppola: They were behind it. That was as much Bob Evans and Peter Bart [Paramount Studios' vice president of creative affairs] as Bluhdorn. But at the beginning, they felt that by getting a young Italian guy, (a) they could make the movie cheap, (b) they could boss him around, and (c) it would give it some Italian flavor.

You gotta realize the budget was a little under $2 million. It was a book that was starting to attract attention, but the book had not become a success yet.

CA: How much did the movie end up costing?
Coppola: $6 million.

CA: That's all?
Coppola: Yeah. $6.2 million.

CA: You couldn't bake a cake in Hollywood today for $6 million.
Coppola: Yeah, but in those days, $6 million was more than just tuna. It still is. I'm gonna try to place this in a time frame for you. I wrote the script. At this point, it's a little movie. They are hiring a cheap, low-budget director who was supposedly gonna be able to make the film cheap and they could push it out the door. They showed me a script that Mario Puzo had written under their supervision that I hated. First of all, it was set in 1972.

CA: The movie was released in 1972, right?
Coppola: Yes. The original script was set all in contemporary time. It had hippies in it. That's because a contemporary movie is much cheaper to make than a period movie. For a contemporary movie, you go out in the street. The clothes are the same, and the hippies are right there.

Portrait of francis ford coppola smoking a cigar.
I went to them and said, "I don't want to make it as a contemporary movie. I think it's very important that this movie is also about America. And I think it's very important, like the book, that it should be set in the '40s." "Absolutely not," they say. "Absolutely not. If we set it in the '40s, we're gonna have to have costumes, we're gonna have to have sets. Cars. We gotta get old cars. We gotta make the budget, so absolutely not." I said, "Well, to me, the story won't work with hippies in it. It's a classic story," I kept saying.

I had decided I wanted to focus on the story of the father and the brothers. Forget all this other stuff, I was saying, and do it like a classic story. Like a Shakespeare story. Tell the story about the man, and he has got to find a successor. He's got one son who's tough and a Mafia guy. He's got one son who's sort of a little bit light-headed. He's got a third son, his youngest son, whom he probably loves the most, who is a war hero and he wants to go into politics and not be dirty. And I said that's what the movie's about.

Then I hit them with the really tough one; I had to make the movie in New York. "Absolutely not. You're crazy, you can't make the movie in New York," they said, "And you want to make it 'period,' you're not going to make it 'period,' you're going to make it in the '70s as cheap and you're not gonna make it in New York." I said, "Well, where am I gonna make it?" The studio guys say, "Well, you're gonna make it in L.A. or you're gonna make it in Kansas City or you're gonna make it in San Francisco. It's not gonna be in New York. New York is the most expensive place in the world to shoot a movie. You cannot make it in New York."

I'm just a kid. I'm 29 years old. I have no money. Meanwhile, as this is going on, Marvin, the book is becoming a best-seller. They're looking at this book, which they thought would make a cheap movie. The book has been selling and selling and selling and they're starting to say, "Hey, get rid of this kid. This is a big best-seller. He's not even very good; he's not cooperating and he's got terrible ideas. He wants to make a "period" movie. He wants to make it in New York."

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