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Francis Ford Coppola talks MEGALOPOLIS

Oh man, Harry here... Our man below found a great interview on line and excerpted the parts concerning Coppola's MEGALOPOLIS... a film that just screams impending coolness and possible greatness. As much as I like the parts we quote here.... ScenarioMag.Com's inteview goes into far more concerning Coppola's career... and damn if it isn't fascinating to read... GO CHECK IT OUT!!!

Hey there, Head G-Man!

Drive Kowalski here. This news isn't new, but just in case... Whilst surfing for some history on one of my favourite movies "The Conversation", I found an interview ( CLICK HERE TO READ THE ENTIRE INTERVIEW!!! ) with Francis Ford Coppola over at Scenario Magazine's site. In the piece, FFC talks about his script for the project people have been calling "Megalopolis", providing some info on the origins and mythology of the characters involved and his inspiration for the story.

The interview was conducted in 1999 by Annie Nocenti. Here's (mostly) the stuff pertinent to "Megalopolis":

q-What’s your new script about?

It doesn’t have a title, but it’s been referred to it as “Megalopolis.” It’s set in a Manhattan-type city, but it’s not science-fiction, it’s the present. Although, I’m realizing it’s a lot about time. No one’s ever read it, I never felt it was good enough. I got through to the end last year and when I read it through, my wife Eleanor said, well? What did you think? I said, well, now I think I know how to write it. So I started all over again. There it is. [Gestures toward a bulletin board covered in rows of index cards.] It’s starting to come together now that I know what I’m doing, which I haven’t known, except in an intuitive way, or a blind radar way. A story like this, the specific characters, how they interact, whether the events really happened, the arenas involved . . . I knew generally what it was going to be, but I never knew all the real characters. I would invent more characters, get rid of others, fuse them. I find it a lot of fun. It’s kind of like the classic irony of virginity—as long as I never let anyone read it, it’s mine and it’s wonderful. [Laughs] And there’s a lot of mystery from people about what the hell this thing is.

q-So it has a private life.

I think this is true about writers in general. It’s true about me. [Lifts script] If I didn’t have this . . . I mean, things go badly, things go well, but this is always my ace-in-the-hole. Even if it isn’t good, and for many years it wasn’t. I would read it and say, oh, this is awful, but the fact that I have it means everything to me.

q-So it can have a delusional aspect as well.

It does. I know one well-known writer who was working on a book for years, he was doing a lot of research. I read that book, and I swear he wrote that book in four months. I could tell.

It’s funny, I don’t feel any sense of accomplishment or any pride about anything I’ve done in the past. If I didn’t have this script, I would just be totally deflated. My wife is amazed. She’ll say: You’re so famous, everyone adores you, you made films that people say are great . . . but somehow, that doesn’t do it for me. What I live for is the idea that I’m going to make this beautiful film, not that I’ve made a few good films.

q-You live for the work. To be challenged.

Or maybe the things that I did make didn’t really live up to what I would love to make.

q-You have high standards. [Laughs]

[Laughs] But I really feel that way. If I didn’t have this script I could not hold my head up. I would be crushed. But, and I think this is good for writers to know, it’s that I can be pretty low, and then I have to start from the beginning again. And then I say, now I know how to write it. I read somewhere that Tolstoy wrote War and Peace ten times. It’s sort of what I’ve done. My problem is I never have any time to write. If you’re writing an original, if you steal ten days somewhere, that’s good. I’ll say, I’m going to go to Rome, I’m going to write. It happened—I went to Rome, and I’m sitting in a piazza, and there’re beautiful girls walking by, on a summer day, in summer dress, and that’s all I wrote. “A beautiful girl walks by.” [Laughs] Because it takes a few weeks to even start to get on any kind of track.

I always call the thing I’m working on “The Secret Journal.” Look at the date on this—1989. I even did this script once in the form of a radio play, a bunch of actors read it. For a long time I wondered—maybe I’ll do it, maybe I’ll never pull it off. But now I really feel I’m going to make it. I’m being offered movies and it’s always a dilemma because they’re studio movies where they can really pay you but they’re the ones that you don’t really want to do. But there’re a couple that could be good, so I’m thinking, well, maybe I’ll do it. If you haven’t made a film in a while, you start to want to just do it again. But now I’m even at that point, which is not a point I’ve ever been at before, where I’m wondering, should I not do it? Should I stick with this script? I know it’s going to be hard. It’s a big film, like Apocalypse Now, in what it would cost today. But I think I have the money to do it, with what I have and what I could get from distributors. I’m making money in the wine business like I never did in film. But it’s tough.

q-A risk you probably would have taken 20 years ago.

Well, I always balanced it. I’d try and do a job, so to speak, to do a film where they paid. But it’s more than just getting paid. If you don’t do that, then the studios, or the professional distribution business, will write you off after a while. Not if you’re Stanley Kubrick, because he doesn’t make many films. But someone like Peter Bogdanovich, he’ll make a couple pictures that don’t do well, then not do anything for a while, and right away they start to forget you. You work, not only to make money, but to not have happen to you what happened to Orson Welles. He wanted to make films, but no one wanted him to. And this is such an ambitious story. This script takes the position that modern New York, which is to say modern America, is amazingly the counterpart of Republican Rome. I’ve taken a very famous and very mysterious incident in Roman history from the period of the Republic, not the Empire, called the Catiline Conspiracy. People who read Latin always have to read Cicero, and all the speeches in which he denounces Catiline. No one knows too much about who Catiline was, because all we read about him is from the people who were ultimately his enemies. I’ve taken the characters of the Catiline Conspiracy and set them in modern New York. I’ve told the story the way I imagine who he was. So in many ways what it’s really about is a metaphor—because if you walk around New York and look around, you could make Rome there. Say you’re downtown, around Wall Street, and suddenly you come across a Roman temple. You’ll see that sensibility in the way it’s staged and shot. A taxicab will be from modern New York, but you’ll feel like you’re in Rome. The story is a very Roman story but it’s also a very modern American story. What it’s really about are the different factions of the city—the patricians in those days, the social register of New York, and Cicero, he was a guy like Mayor Koch. Ultimately what’s at stake is the future, because it takes the premise that the future, the shape of things to come, is being determined today, by the interests that are vying for control. The future, in other words, is now. What the world is going to be like, how people are going to live together, what society is going to be like.

q-So in overlaying an historical incident with the present day, you make people aware that they should be paying attention to the players of their day?

Yes, in other words, we already know what happened to Rome. Rome became a fascist Empire. Is that what we’re going to become? So it’s an ambitious script, I have many levels I have to deal with, the different segments of a society. And I use a New York as it was ten, fifteen years ago when it was in a financial crisis, because the big issue of the day, in that period in Rome, was debt. It was the beginning of the credit system, so it was the first time people were really in debt. So debt and wealth and money were the primary focus of everything. Sound familiar?

q-[Laughs] So you’ll have a pantheon of imperial characters? The Donald Trumps?

Well, more like Robert Moses. He’s the only guy that could have cut it back then.

He’s the guy who either saved or destroyed New York with highways, I can’t tell which.

My Catiline is many people, but he’s got a lot of Robert Moses.

And then there’s the level of the Bacchanal, the decadent underground culture of old Rome and modern New York.

Oh, yeah, it doesn’t stop. That’s like Clodia and Clodilla, the Clodius gang of these wild young jet-setters just getting into trouble, and then all these beautiful married women who were kind of a clique.

q-And then the Roman courtesans of the time, who were highly educated, refined women. Is there a modern equivalent?

The mistresses of kings, the daughters of financial families. Today, you wouldn’t call them prostitutes. There’s a whole world that exists today of cultivated, beautiful women that sort of sell themselves. They just disappear for three months and no one knows why: Oh, I went to Hawaii. That’s a whole other story. But women are, of course, a big influence on the way things play out.

q-Will the Roman elements be subtext, or will you have obvious manifestations of both the ancient and the new?

You just won’t be able to avoid it if you look at modern times, through those eyes. Just a scene coming down from the steps of the New York Post Office—it’s Rome. Or Wall Street—the guys have suits and they get picked up in limousines and they’re involved in a hostile takeover, but it’s the same thing. Rome is here, this is Rome, it’s two thousand years ago. There are lists of similarities.

q-And do you carry the imperial aspects through to a fall?

Well, Rome didn’t fall for a long time. But how does an Empire die? It dies when its people no longer believe in it. But that could take 800 years. The Ottoman Empire was 800 years old. But, partly, I’m doing this to try and understand what’s going to happen.

So there you have it, big guy. I for one am looking forward to seeing Francis working again in earnest, as he was obviously smoking mothballs when he did "Jack". Keep up the good work, man. I gotta hit the tar again. Gotta be in 'Frisco by monday mornin...

Drive! Kowalski

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