The Man in the High Castle
Francis Ford Coppola is wrong.
I highly encourage young filmmakers to check out the above interview with Francis Ford Coppola. He says some wonderful, enlightening things about film as an evolving art form, as well as the possible death of paid artists.
As we teeter on the precipice of an entirely open world of shared entertainment and expression, it’s interesting to see such a visible and legendary film director as Coppola suggesting that “maybe the students are right”.
But I take issue with something Coppola says in regards to professional filmmaking:
“You have to remember that it’s only a few hundred years, if that much, that artists are working with money. Artists never got money. Artists had a patron, either the leader of the state or the duke of Weimar or somewhere, or the church, the pope. Or they had another job. I have another job. I make films. No one tells me what to do. But I make the money in the wine industry. You work another job and get up at five in the morning and write your script.”
This is confusing for two reasons. First of all, artists did get money from said patrons. Julius II wouldn’t let Michelangelo starve during the painting of the Sistine Chapel. Secondly, this statement is a complete false analogy when applied to cinema.
Coppola has another job, he says. Sure he does. He reigns over a giant food and wine empire. The wine’s not bad, I’ve had it. You can find it at your local Kroger for under ten dollars.
Here’s the hitch though, Francis, and it goes without saying: It’s completely unrealistic and unreasonable to expect any young filmmaker to overlook his passion for cinema for 40 years while they build a wine company or otherwise become a self-made millionaire.
Besides, even if it was a realistic goal, there would still be a conflict with something else Coppola says in the interview:
“I was always a good adventurer. I was never afraid of risks. I always had a good philosophy about risks.”
Coppola’s supposed brazen decision-making is chronicled in a dozen sleazy dirt sheet books about the New Hollywood, and I won’t quote those accounts as fact, but I’m certain for one thing: The man never took as many risks in building his company as he did in his art. No entrepreneur would take the risk that was Apocalypse Now. Asking a young filmmaker to lead a risk-free life outside of filmmaking is entirely irresponsible, if that exterior life is supposed to somehow finance the risky cinema.
I’m obviously irritated here, so I’ll get back to the point. What Coppola seems to miss is that you can’t actually make films by deciding not to get paid for making films. I can honestly say that every other filmmaker I know would gladly clean Taco Bell bathrooms as a day job every day for the rest of their lives if they could simultaneously sustain their families and make original, expressive, and authentic films. We’re not asking to get paid, Francis. No one’s asking to make money off of this.
But guess what? Cameras, awesome as DSLRs are, cost money. So do editing computers, and props, and printing, and transportation, and food, and distribution. But, honestly, I could stand for Coppola expecting all these things to come from the Taco Bell employee’s pocket. What that day job can’t cover, however, is the real issue, and the real heart of filmmaking.
Let’s cut the messianic, badly bearded indie film writer/director out of the equation entirely. There are extremely hard-working, passionate, and smart people who work on movies that deserve to be paid money for their hard work, passion, and expertise. This is the true need for cinema to be a fiscally endowed endeavor, and it is a just one.
Bravo for you, Mr. Coppola. You beat the system and you’re making movies on your own terms. Let’s not forget that you got paid to make some awesome movies. The Godfather is as close as America will come to having a national epic outside of Moby Dick and The Searchers, but I applaud you most for Tucker: The Man And His Dream. There’s an amazing speech at the end of the film:
When I was a boy, I used to read all about Edison and the Wright brothers, Mr. Ford. They were my heroes. “Rags to Riches” — that’s not just the name of a book, that’s what this country was all about. We invented the “free enterprise” system, where anybody, no matter who he was, where he came from, what class he belonged to — if he came up with a better idea about anything, there’s no limit to how far he could go.
Expecting the little guy of one stripe to become a big guy of another before he can blaze new ideas is a blurry fantasy. Cinema cannot escape its Industrial Age roots. It is an assembly line. That assembly line, however, does not have to be made up of soulless machines and yes-men and accountants. The key lies, not in giving up the dream of being rewarded by the faulty system, but rather twisting the faulty system to the needs of the dream.
Coppola has lost touch. The man in the castle, living in a second dimension. He can keep those insulated films that he finances as a tax write-off.
Meanwhile, a new generation of angry, starving, and bright young filmmakers are ready to be recognized, waiting for the right time to blow the socks off of anything the old men ever managed to produce. Those, the failed hippies, the drug-induced big talkers. Again, no one’s asking to make money off of this. At least none of us. It was Coppola’s generation that managed to turn the New Hollywood into an era of excess and greed.
We’re not asking to be rewarded for our work. We’re asking to DO our work, but that work happens to come with a price tag. Who knows what a new age of patronage will bring, but thank God there will always be the scrappy little guy, looking to peddle his newest idea to the keeper of the castle gate.