Francis Ford Coppola’s Megalopolis

Feels like a new Brazil. I like.

Or an American “Babylon”.

Cast members including Adam Driver have spoken positively of their experience on the film, but, according to other sources, its making was almost as fraught and chaotic as that of Apocalypse Now. Much time and effort was allegedly wasted, crucial crew members quit halfway through and Coppola made things even more complicated by embarking on a property redevelopment at the same time. As one crew member put it: “It was like watching a train wreck unfold day after day, week after week, and knowing that everybody there had tried their hardest to help the train wreck be avoided.”

By the sound of things, the shoot became a clash between Coppola’s old-school approach, privileging spontaneity and “finding magic in the moment”, and newer digital film-making methods, such as filming actors in front of virtual CGI landscapes in a “volume” – effectively a giant wall of LED screens. Today’s technology enables directors to realise anything they can dream up – including utopian cities of the future – but working this way demands preparation and collaboration. “I think Coppola still lives in this world where, as an auteur, you’re the only one who knows what’s happening, and everybody else is there just to do what he asks them to do,” suggested one former crew member, who did not wish to be named.

The crew member sometimes found Coppola’s approach exasperating: “We had these beautiful designs that kept evolving but he would never settle on one. And every time we would have a new meeting, it was a different idea.” When the crew member insisted they needed to do more work to determine how the film was going to look, they say, Coppola replied: “How can you figure out what Megalopolis looks like when I don’t even know what Megalopolis looks like?”

A lot of time was, apparently, wasted. A second crew member recalls: “He would often show up in the mornings before these big sequences and because no plan had been put in place, and because he wouldn’t allow his collaborators to put a plan in place, he would often just sit in his trailer for hours on end, wouldn’t talk to anybody, was often smoking marijuana … And hours and hours would go by without anything being filmed. And the crew and the cast would all stand around and wait. And then he’d come out and whip up something that didn’t make sense, and that didn’t follow anything anybody had spoken about or anything that was on the page, and we’d all just go along with it, trying to make the best out of it. But pretty much every day, we’d just walk away shaking our heads wondering what we’d just spent the last 12 hours doing.” As a third crew member puts it: “This sounds crazy to say, but there were times when we were all standing around going: ‘Has this guy ever made a movie before?’”

“We were all aware that we were participating in what might be a really sad finish to his career,” says a crew member. But some of them felt “he was just so unpleasant toward a lot of the people who were trying to help facilitate the process and help make the movie better”.

The virtual “volume” was abandoned in favour of more traditional “green screen” technology”, according to one source: “His dig at us was always, ‘I don’t want to make a Marvel movie,’ but at the end of the day, that’s what he ended up shooting.”

That’s too bad and I hope that the finished movie will be, somehow, worth watching.

I was also hoping that somehow George Lucas (80 years old today) would be following in his old New Hollywood buddies’ footsteps again. Spielberg and Scorsese have been making some career-highlights terrific movies in their objectively old age. George had been musing about making experimental weird movies that maybe only he would wind up liking, once he had wrapped up the Star Wars prequels. But that was nearly twenty years ago. As far as I know, I don’t think he’s been behind a camera since some reshoots for Red Tails. A billion buck paycheck from Disney would have bankrolled at least a few THXes.

But where Lucas had Disney plus all his other merchandise loot, Coppola had been grinding out funding through his side hustle. He was trampling out the vintage where the grapes of cash were stored. I hope he didn’t raise all this money to wind up with a shitty movie – but then, old rich guys sometimes find interesting, eccentric ways to light their fortune on fire.

Well poo

Here’s a grab-bag of miscellaneous review quotes from the Associated Press’ coverage of the Cannes screening:

Seems like it doesn’t really have any commercial prospects, so I’m guessing this just ends up streaming somewhere and then completely forgotten within a year? Basically, a curiosity to throw onto the pile next to Twixt.