For Francis Ford Coppola, a production off the rails is right on track


Last night, The Hollywood Reporter ran an exclusive status update on the fraught production of Megalopolis, Francis Ford Coppola‘s $130 million behemoth financed using the proceeds from his own remarkably lucrative wine sales. And true to form, the director famed for his obsessive particularity leading to wildly hectic shoots once again finds himself at the helm of a massive operation disrupted by the mad scope of his own ambition — historically speaking, an early omen of an incoming masterpiece. Considering Coppola’s record of beating the impossible odds he largely sets for himself, every bad sign could just as easily be a good one.

THR’s story projects an image of disarray, focused on the news of Coppola summarily dismissing his production designer and supervising art director in the past week after having done the same with his visual effects team back in December. The article expresses doubt that the film (a sci-fi epic about an architect rebuilding a leveled New York as a utopia, with a cast including Adam Driver, Nathalie Emmanuel, Laurence Fishburne, and Jon Voight) can move forward in its current state, but it’s a fool who fully counts Coppola out.

Though the report cites an insider’s claim that Megalopolis is “giving severe Apocalypse Now vibes,” a later paragraph likens this situation to the shakeups on set of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, in which Coppola fired an effects team dubious that he could achieve everything he set out to do with practical techniques. The filmmaker then installed his son Roman in the vacant position, and created one of the most resourceful and rapturously beautiful motion pictures of the ’90s in a James Cameron-esque reminder not to bet against the house. (At least in terms of quality, that is. Coppola’s not immune to flopping, but even when highly uncommercial, his results are always fascinating.)

The departments with which he’s taken issue suggest a resistance to virtual effects in specific, the article mentioning his scrapped plans to employ tech used on Star Wars television show The Mandalorian in favor of more traditional green-screening. And so the situation at hand with Megalopolis begins to look less like haywire chaos in line with his Vietnam quagmire — which encompassed out-of-control stars, weather events destroying expensive sets, tense negotiations with the government of the Philippines, and one grimly colorful incident involving real human corpses — and more like a case of a notoriously fussy director refusing to compromise on his principles.

So long as this thing gets finished, an outcome very much still on the table, the final product will speak for itself. Until then, considering the grand scheme of adversity Coppola has faced in his long and storied career, these hiccups are all small potatoes. We can start the “but can he pull it off?” conversation in earnest when we get the first act of God conspiring against its completion.

Published 10 Jan 2023

Adam Driver
Francis Ford Coppola
Laurence Fishburne

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