Francis Ford Coppola Hasn’t Seen Those ‘Megalopolis’ Reviews Yet

Cannes 2024: “I’m told it went over very well,” says the legendary director of his wild and divisive epic

Francis Ford Coppola Adam Driver
Francis Ford Coppola and Adam Driver in Cannes / Getty Images

Francis Ford Coppola’s “Megalopolis” has been the talk of the 2024 Cannes Film Festival, for better and for worse. The massive, sprawling film, financed by $120 million of Coppola’s own money and starring Adam Driver, Giancarlo Esposito and Jon Voight as titans of a New York City that bears more than a few traces of ancient Rome, has drawn a handful of rave reviews, quite a few negative ones and a whole lot of “what was that?”   

On Thursday, the film has its world premiere, receiving a 10-minute standing ovation at its Grand Theatre Lumiere debut but getting a mixture of applause and boos at its main press screening.

But in a conversation with TheWrap the day after the film’s premiere, Coppola said he was unaware of any negative reaction.

“All I know is I came here, I showed the picture and I’m told it went over very well,” he said, and then shrugged. “Or maybe it didn’t, I dunno. But that’s what they told me.”

In TheWrap, Ben Croll wrote, “This is a project of operatic pronouncements, didactic repetitions and sprawling artistic ambitions – quite a few realized, just as many not – that makes little compromise for more earthbound worries.” Sharon Waxman added, “It’s kinda Batman, kinda Gladiator, kinda ‘Tomorrowland’ rolled up in a smorgasbord of ideas and images and the Cannes audience didn’t know what to do with it.” 

The film is now in Cannes looking for distribution. Coppola and Adam Driver spoke to TheWrap about the long-in the-works project, how the film fits into its director’s storied career and the state of Hollywood (and McDonald’s). From the beginning of the conversation, the 85-year old filmmaking icon also wanted to correct a few misconceptions.

You’ve been thinking about “Megalopolis” for a long time…

Francis Ford Coppola: Yeah. But that I would like to correct one misunderstanding. You know, I made a lot of different movies in a lot of different styles, rather than just make a lot of gangster movies, which I could have had a career doing. “Apocalypse Now” was one style, opposite from “The Godfather,” which was a more classical style. And I thought, someday when I’m old, I would like to make (another) movie, but I wonder what my style is. So I started to keep sort of a scrapbook from things I had read in newspaper clippings. I started clipping political cartoons because they tell a whole story in an image. The idea was that I was collecting these notebooks that one day might lead to a movie.

And eventually, after doing this for about 15 years, I started thinking what I’d really like to do is make a Roman epic and set it in modern America, since modern America was the historical counterpart of Rome. So when the people say I was working on it for 40 years, I sort of was, but it was more that I was just keeping a running scrapbook. (To Driver) Did I ever show them to you? The scrapbooks?

Adam Driver: I have seen the notebooks.

Coppola: So then I started to try to write it. That was about, I dunno, 15 years ago. So the idea that I’ve been writing this for 40 years isn’t really true. But I was thinking of the Japanese filmmaker Ozu. He started out making college comedies, but later he discovered what his style was, and he made these beautiful, simple family stories. I thought, maybe I’ll have a style in the future. I have no idea what it is, but I would love to think about it. That’s the more accurate version.

Ozu was known for the simplicity of his films. “Megalopolis” is at the opposite end of the spectrum from that.

Coppola: Yeah. There’s another thing that’s a misunderstanding. After I made the Grisham movie, “The Rainmaker,” I went on a hiatus. My idea was, I just want to learn. I had a little money, so I made some movies that cost $600,000. The one I made in Romania (2007’s “Youth Without Youth”). But it wasn’t like my career as such. I didn’t have a career. It was really just a period of learning about movies.

I just feel that it’s good to have a period of experimentation, where you don’t have everything on the line and you’re gonna be washed up if it doesn’t work. I did that for almost 18 years where I didn’t make any real movies, and then I decided to do this one, which was a real movie as opposed to a little $600,000 thing. So it’s hard to talk about my career as though it’s a normal career, because it’s not.

Could there ever have been a simple version of “Megalopolis?” Or was it always going to be this sprawling?

Coppola: I made this movie knowing that I didn’t know what kind of a movie it was going to be. But when you don’t know what kind of movie it’s going to be, the movie tells you if you listen. It was a little bit like “Apocalypse Now,” where we had no idea how to make that movie. But when we saw the boys unloading smoke grenades, we said, “Let’s do more like that.” The movie just got to be more surreal. This movie was the same way. It said, “Let’s do more of that. Let’s not do so much of that.” The movie made itself, really.

Adam, when you first got it, was it a completed script like the movie that we’ve seen now?

Driver: Oh, no, no, no. I don’t know where it was in the process, but it was different than what it ended up being. (To Coppola) You did send me something that you had written about the next thing that you wanted to work on. And it was not the Roman epic part, but the broad ideas.

Coppola: Yeah. At one point he told me he didn’t think he could do it. I was talking to him, and that gave me an idea, so I said, “I know you’re not gonna do it, but just for fun, this is what you made me think of.” I sent him this new idea and he said, “That’s interesting.” It was like floating an idea, and then the idea would change into something else. It was very collaborative movie, and he made some wonderful suggestions, even aside from his own role. I invited that. If anyone has an opinion, what the hell, we’ll try it. If it doesn’t work, we won’t do it.

Adam, what was the experience like for you?

Driver: Oh, everything he’s describing, I would just be repeating it. Our first day of shooting, he said at one point, “We’re not being brave enough. We have to take advantage of the opportunity and follow impulses.” Because Francis came from a theatrical background, it felt like experimental theater. And because he was paying for it himself, the typical noise on set wasn’t there. It was just a direct conversation with the director and it felt rebellious and exciting, you know? It was one of the best shooting experiences I have ever had. Because of that, it felt like we couldn’t make a mistake.

And in the editing, it was the same. He would come in with an idea that was something happening that he had read, or something happened in life and somehow it made its way into the movie. You have to be open and generous to do that. And that that’s something that Francis embodies. The assumption seems to be that it’s very dictatorial, you know? And this was the total opposite. He is incredibly generous with the actors and even people in the crew.  There’s an instant comradery that feels very much like doing a play, like a long run of a play.

Obviously this isn’t set in a specific time, with the New York setting and the references to the fall of the Roman Empire. But it feels very timely.

Coppola: Well, that’s the joke. Fifteen years ago, when I used to say, “I want to make a Roman epic but set it in modern America,” people would say, “Why?” But today, we know why, because it’s happening again. There are articles in the Nation or in the newspaper saying, “Is this Rome? Are we about to lose our republic? Are we going to have a dictator for life? Are we going to have an emperor? Are we going to have a king?”

When I first made “The Conversation,” people said, “What’s a professional eavesdropper?” But 10 years later, we knew what it was. Even the early film I made like “The Rain People,” which was about a woman who loved her husband but didn’t want to be a wife. That was in 1962, and what was that? But after ’68 and the women’s movement, it became more relevant. I think the same thing happened here, that America as Rome is more topical today with the Senate about to commit suicide in front of our eyes, you know?

Everyone gets a talent. It’s not always the talent you want. I didn’t get all the ones I wish I had, but one I got is I somehow can tell the future a little bit.

Did you expect the divided reaction, where reviewers have praised the film and others have essentially said, “What the hell is this?”

Coppola: Well, I didn’t find that. Is that what a lot of the reviews are saying? I haven’t read that. I’ve read a lot of good reviews, but maybe they’re not showing me the bad reviews.

“What the hell is that?” is very expectable. It’s like, what if you go to eat at McDonald’s and you get frog legs? Frog legs might be good, but you are not expecting that. All I know is I came here, I showed the picture and I’m told it went over very well. Or maybe it didn’t, I dunno. But that’s what they told me.

When I saw the film, by about an hour into it, I was thinking, I may need to see this again to figure it out.

Coppola: Well, good. That’s what happened with “Apocalypse Now,” you know? “Apocalypse Now” was not received so wonderfully when it came out, but people kept going to see it again and again to this day. And there’s always more in it. I think that’s a quality that’s desirable.

Driver: That’s also a testament to Francis having a strong conviction to show and not tell, which is a respect for its audience. I feel like a lot of things are made to be overly clear. The writing is to tell you exactly what characters are thinking. And that’s not this at all. I’ve seen it many times, and last night, I was moved in parts that I never really saw before.

Coppola: You as a person, you may not realize it – though I’m sure you do realize it – but there’s a lot of money being spent on you liking a certain kind of potato chip that you can’t stop eating or a certain kind of fast food. But the same thing is being done with movies. They’re teaching you that in the first few minutes, you have to know who the protagonist is and who the antagonist is very clearly. In other words, you are being given the formula of what a movie is so that when you then go to the movie that is the same as when you eat at a McDonald’s. You’re eating something isn’t particularly nutritious for you, but it satisfies what you have been taught to expect. And that’s the same thing the movie industry does, which is why they love sequels over and over again, because you are become their perfect audience.

So when you see a movie that doesn’t do that, you say, “What the hell is that?” Even if it’s interesting and engaging. You don’t know what it is because you’ve been taught that it should be something else. That’s my personal theory.

Adam, you, you’re playing a sort of visionary idealist who’s very driven. Was there some of Francis that went into your performance?

Driver: Yeah. I mean, Francis sets a tone of what it and how we’re working on it. And once he did that, it felt like Francis was in every character, you know? (Pauses) That’s the end of my answer. (Laughs)

Francis, you said that the movies you made for many years prior to this weren’t really part of your career. Do you still feel passionate about the art of movie making?

Coppola: Oh, very much so. But that’s another thing that gets me. People say this is a passion project. All movies are passion projects. You think when Steven Spielberg makes a movie, he isn’t passionate about it? Or Marty? Or even a director who got a job to do something ’cause he is broke? Once you get into the work, once you take this piece of film and put that piece of film and cut them together, and they mean something different than the two parts, you dance for glee.

Art is passionate. Every project’s a passion project. Movies are passionate, cooking is passionate, any art is passionate because that’s what makes it so wonderful.

Comments

2 responses to “Francis Ford Coppola Hasn’t Seen Those ‘Megalopolis’ Reviews Yet”

  1. Drasko filmmaker Avatar

    It is new 2024 Apoclipse,by Copola.

  2. Paully Avatar
    Paully

    At least it’s a new idea and not a sequel..
    Coppola gets credit for being new and different..

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