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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 8)

They did get Pacino out of The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight and De Niro did get the role in that movie. Then, we're all set to go with the same cast that we had done in San Francisco for the $500 eight months before. They got exactly that cast and they didn't have to spend the $300,000 of screen tests.

We all go to New York ready to make The Godfather. I was so broke, even with $175,000 I couldn't afford anything. They give you what's called "per diem," about $1,000 a week to live on. I decided if I just banked the fee for all my debts, I could live really cheap. I borrowed my brother-in-law's one-bedroom apartment in New York that he had that was being redone. So, I had to live in there while they were painting it. I had two babies and a pregnant wife.

CA: Where was the apartment?
Coppola: It was a little studio apartment on 60th Street that was being painted. I had these two little boys and Eleanor was pregnant. We lived like real paupers. During that period, my father, who had a very tough career, was on the verge of becoming a high school teacher. He had the idea that he could write all these little dances and stuff and lead the band in the weddings. He was there, too. We're all like this impoverished Italian family. And it was just miserable. They'd pick me up every day in a station wagon with five other guys, and I started shooting and, of course, the result is I remember every day what I shot the first week.

CA: Where was the actual shooting done in New York?
Coppola: We shot on different locations. The first shot we did was the scene where Michael and Kay come out of Best's department store. And Bobby Duvall is in front of a toy store where they snatch him. Then we shot the restaurant scene where Michael killed Sollozzo, the third day of the shooting.

CA: Was that downtown?
Coppola: That was in the Bronx. It was in an Italian restaurant in the Bronx. And then the last day, Friday, was in the hospital where they go to kill The Godfather. They look at the footage, they hate it: it's too dark, the camera never moves.

CA: "They." You mean the Paramount executives?
Coppola: Bob Evans. They send this horrible guy to be my minder. This real mean guy.

CA: What's a minder?
Coppola: A minder like in Iraq. Everything I did he was there, countermanding my orders. They were convinced that this was the worst picture ever made, that I'm the worst director ever. They hated it. And it's interesting, because I've heard them on the record saying, "Well, yes, at first it didn't look that good."

But the truth of the matter, it's probably the best scene in the picture, which was Michael and Sollozzo in the restaurant. That was all shot that first week. And they didn't like it. I was being told, "Listen, they're gonna go to Kazan now, because Kazan knows Brando and they're gonna offer him a lot of money and you're gonna be out." I was always being told, "You're out."

CA: Was this common in those days? Were directors replaced all the time, or was this a very unusual situation?
Coppola: Well, directors could be replaced, especially when they're unemployed directors, as I was before the film started, and especially since I was such a kid.

CA: How old were you?
Coppola: I was 30. The last day on that first week, Friday, Pacino twists his ankle and they had to take him to the hospital and I didn't finish the scene. Now they're saying, "He's falling behind schedule." I said, "What does that have to do with whether they take the actor away with a twisted ankle?" They really were pushing to get rid of me.

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