Francis Ford Coppola

Francis Ford Coppola books and biography

Francis Ford Coppola


Francis Ford Coppola at Cannes 2001
Born April 7, 1939 (age 67)
Detroit, Michigan, USA
Height 6' (1.83 m)
1980 Golden Globe Best Director
Apocalypse Now
1975 Academy Award Best Director
The Godfather Part II
1973 Golden Globe Best Director
The Godfather
Spouse(s) Eleanor Coppola

Francis Ford Coppola (born April 7, 1939) is a five time Academy Award winning American film director, producer, and screenwriter. Coppola is also a vintner, magazine publisher, and hotelier. He is most renowned for directing the highly regarded Godfather trilogy and the Vietnam War epic Apocalypse Now.


Life and career (1960 to 1978)

Francis Ford Coppola was born to Carmine Coppola, at the time first flautist for the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, and his wife Italia in Detroit, Michigan on April 7, 1939, the second of three children. Two years later Carmine became first flautist for the NBC Symphony Orchestra and the family moved back to suburban Long Island, where Francis spent the remainder of his childhood. Coppola had polio as a boy, leaving him bedridden for large periods of his childhood, and allowing him to indulge his imagination with homemade puppet theater productions. Using his father's 8mm movie camera, he began making movies when he was 10. He studied theatre at Hofstra University prior to studying film at UCLA and while there, he made numerous short films, including some soft-core porn films. While in UCLA's Film Department Francis met Jim Morrison, who's music was used later in one of Francis' most famous movies, Apocalypse Now! In the early 1960s, he started his professional career making low-budget films with Roger Corman and writing screenplays. His first notable motion picture was made for Corman, the low-budget Dementia 13.

On the set of Finian's Rainbow with Petula Clark
On the set of Finian's Rainbow with Petula Clark

After graduating to mainstream motion pictures with You're a Big Boy Now, Coppola was offered the reins of the movie version of the Broadway musical Finian's Rainbow, starring Petula Clark, in her first American film, and veteran Fred Astaire. Producer Jack Warner was nonplussed by Coppola's shaggy-haired, bearded, "hippie" appearance and generally left him to his own devices. He took his cast to the Napa Valley for much of the outdoor shooting, but these scenes were in sharp contrast to those obviously filmed on a Hollywood soundstage, resulting in a disjointed look to the film. Dealing with outdated material at a time when the popularity of film musicals was already on the downslide, Coppola's end result was only semi-successful, but his work with Clark no doubt contributed to her Golden Globe Best Actress nomination.

In 1971, Coppola won an Academy Award for his screenplay for Patton. However, his name as a filmmaker was made as the co-writer and director of The Godfather (1972) and The Godfather Part II (1974), which both won the Academy Award for Best Picture — the latter being the first sequel to do so.

In between The Godfather and The Godfather Part II, Coppola directed The Conversation, a story of a paranoid wiretapping and surveillance expert (played by Gene Hackman) who finds himself caught up in a possible murder plot. The Conversation was released to theaters in 1974 and was also nominated for Best Picture, resulting in Coppola being the first filmmaker to have directed two films competing for the same Best Picture Oscar since the annual number of nominees was cut down to five in 1945. (This had previously been accomplished seven times, by six different directors, between 1937 and 1943, when the Academy announced ten nominees yearly. Coppola's feat would later be matched by Herbert Ross in 1978, with The Goodbye Girl and The Turning Point, and Steven Soderbergh in 2001, with Erin Brockovich and Traffic.) While The Godfather Part II won the Oscar, The Conversation won the 1974 Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival.

During this period he also wrote the screenplay for the critically and commercially unsuccessful 1974 adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald's novel The Great Gatsby (starring Mia Farrow and Robert Redford) and produced George Lucas's breakthrough film, American Graffiti.

Coppola often worked with family members on his films. He put his two sons into The Godfather as extras during the street fight scene and Don Corleone's funeral. His sister, Talia Shire, played Connie Corleone in all three Godfather films, the last of which his daughter Sofia also appeared in. His father Carmine co-wrote much of the music in The Godfather, The Godfather Part II, and Apocalypse Now.

Career: 1979 to present

Following the success of The Godfather, The Conversation and The Godfather Part II, Coppola set about filming Apocalypse Now, a version of Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, with the setting changed from colonial Africa to the Vietnam War. Before setting off to make the film, Coppola went to his mentor Roger Corman for advice about shooting in the Philippines, since Corman himself was familiar with shooting a film in that area. It was said that all Corman advised Coppola was "Don't go". The creation of the film was a disaster from the start, being beset by numerous problems, including typhoons, nervous breakdowns, Martin Sheen's heart attack, and an unprepared Marlon Brando with a bloated appearance (which Coppola attempted to hide by shooting him in the shadows). It was delayed so often it was nicknamed Apocalypse Whenever. The film was equally lauded and hated by critics when it finally appeared in 1979, and the cost nearly bankrupted Coppola's nascent studio American Zoetrope. However, like Citizen Kane, reputation has grown in time and Apocalypse Now is regarded by many as a masterpiece of the New Hollywood era. Roger Ebert considers it to be the finest film on the Vietnam war and included it on his list for the 2002 Sight and Sound poll for the greatest movie of all time.

However, to many, Apocalypse Now represents Coppola's highpoint, a feat he has been unable to equal or exceed ever since. The 1991 documentary film Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse, directed by Eleanor Coppola (Francis's wife), Fax Bahr, and George Hickenlooper, chronicles the difficulties the crew went through making Apocalypse Now, and features behind the scenes footage filmed by Eleanor.

After filming Apocalypse Now Coppola famously stated:

"We were in the jungle, there were too many of us, we had access to too much money, too much equipment, and little by little, we went insane."

Despite the setbacks and ill health Coppola suffered during the making of Apocalypse Now, he kept up with film projects, presenting in 1981 a restoration of the 1927 film Napoléon that was edited and released in the United States by American Zoetrope. However it wasn't until the experimental musical One from the Heart (1982) that he returned to directing. Unfortunately, the film was a huge failure, although it developed a cult following in later years.

In 1986 Coppola, with George Lucas, directed the Michael Jackson film for Disney theme parks, Captain Eo, which at the time was the most expensive film per minute ever made.

In 1990 he completed the Godfather series with The Godfather Part III which, while not as critically acclaimed as the first two movies, was still a box office success. Some reviewers criticized the casting of Coppola's daughter Sofia, who stepped into a role abandoned by Winona Ryder just as filming began. Sofia Coppola had previously appeared in her father's films, but her performance in The Godfather Part III was subjected to critical ridicule, much of it mean-spirited. Sofia Coppola has since gone on to become a well-respected director in her own right.

His eldest son, Gian-Carlo Coppola, was in the early stages of a film production career when he was killed on May 26, 1986 in a speedboat driven by Griffin O'Neal. Coppola's surviving son, Roman Coppola, is a filmmaker and music video director, directing his first feature film, CQ and videos for The Strokes.

Coppola's father Carmine was a renowned composer and musician, and wrote the scores of many of his son's films; his nephew Nicolas Cage is an acclaimed actor. His other nephew is Jason Schwartzman of Rushmore fame.

In recent years, Coppola with his family has extended his talents to winemaking in California's Napa Valley at the Rubicon Estate Winery, producing a line of specialty pastas and pasta sauces, and opening resorts in Guatemala and Belize, inspired by his accommodation in the Philippines during the making of Apocalypse Now, with decor supervised by Eleanor Coppola.

In 1997, Coppola founded Zoetrope All-Story, a flashy literary magazine that publishes short stories. The magazine has published fiction by T.C. Boyle and Amy Bloom and essays by David Mamet, Steven Spielberg, and Salman Rushdie. Since its founding, the magazine has grown in reputation to become one of the premier American journals of literary fiction. Coppola serves as founding editor and publisher of All-Story.

In 2001, Coppola re-released Apocalypse Now as Apocalypse Now Redux, restoring several sequences lost from the original 1979 cut of the film thereby expanding its length to 200 minutes.

The director is based in the San Francisco Bay Area where he co-owns the Rubicon restaurant alongside fellow San Franciscan Robin Williams and Robert De Niro. In addition to his restaurant, Coppola serves as the Honorary Ambassador of the Central American nation of Belize in San Francisco, California. On their official roster of worldwide honorary consulates found on their official website, he is referred to as "His Excellency Ambassador Francis Ford Coppola," although he is not a Belizean citizen.

In November 2005, Coppola took part as a special guest at the 46th International Thessaloniki Film Festival in Greece.

Selected filmography

  • The Terror (1963, uncredited director)
  • Dementia 13 (1963, director)
  • You're a Big Boy Now (1966, director)
  • Finian's Rainbow (1968, director)
  • The Rain People (1969, director)
  • Patton (1970, writer)
  • THX 1138 (1971, executive producer)
  • The Godfather (1972, director)
  • The Conversation (1974, director)
  • The Godfather, Part II (1974, director)
  • Apocalypse Now (1979, director)
  • One from the Heart (1982, director)
  • Koyaanisqatsi (1982, co-producer)
  • The Outsiders (1983, director)
  • Rumble Fish (1983, director)
  • The Cotton Club (1984, director)
  • Captain Eo (1986, director)
  • Peggy Sue Got Married (1986, director)
  • Lionheart (1987, executive producer)
  • Gardens of Stone (1987, director)
  • Tucker: The Man and His Dream (1988, director)
  • Powaqqatsi (1988, co-producer)
  • The Godfather: Part III (1990, director)
  • Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992, director)
  • The Secret Garden (1993, executive producer)
  • Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (1994, executive producer)
  • My Family, Mi Familia (1995, executive producer)
  • Jack (1996, director)
  • The Rainmaker (1997, director)
  • Sleepy Hollow (1999, executive producer)
  • Lost in Translation (2003, executive producer)
  • Kinsey (2005, co-producer)


  • He is the father of directors Roman Coppola and Sofia Coppola.
  • He has been granted the title of "Duke of Megalopolis" by the Spanish writer Javier Marías, claimant to the micronation of the kingdom of Redonda.
  • George Lucas reportedly based the Han Solo character on Coppola.
  • The Italian word coppola stands for the typically Sicilian cloth cap that can been seen in many Mafia films.
  • He is the uncle of Jason Schwartzman (who is the son of Talia Shire and Jack Schwartzman), Robert Carmine, also known as Robert Schwartzman, lead singer of the band Rooney, and actor Nicolas Cage.
  • Interesting enough, while Apocalypse Now was based on the book Heart of Darkness, Coppola failed to give credit to Joseph Conrad for the use of his material, possibly in violation of copyright law.
  • Coppola was in the early stages of developing a script for a fourth Godfather film with Mario Puzo which was to tell the story of the early lives of Sonny, Fredo and Michael. After Puzo's death in July of 1999, Coppola abandoned the project, stating that he couldn't do it without his friend.
  • Co-hosted with former "Cheers" star George Wendt on Saturday Night Live in 1986 as part of a running gag where he, Lorne Michaels, and Terry Sweeney (who was a writer and castmember) retool each sketch in order to raise SNL's dismal ratings at the time.


  • "They didn't like the cast. They didn't like the way I was shooting it. I was always on the verge of getting fired."
  • "The Godfather was a very underappreciated movie when we were making it. I almost got fired."

This article might use material from a Wikipedia article, which is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.

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Apocalypse Now

By Francis Ford Coppola
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