Francis Coppola, A Gambling Maverick Moviemaker Who Won Big, Betting On Star Cast For Epic ‘Megalopolis’

EXCLUSIVE: Breathtaking bets on his vision established him as one of the greatest living American filmmakers and a vineyard magnate. Now, Francis Coppola is ready to put a lot of his hard-won chips on the table one more time to make his epic dream project, Megalopolis.

While the financial configuration is still evolving, Coppola at 82 years young is betting big on himself once again, by sharing the financial risks of a film that will cost between $100 million-$120 million. He is in deep discussions with a stellar cast of actors eager to work with the director of The Godfather trilogy, Apocalypse Now!, The Conversation and other classics, on a seminal picture that is decades in the making.

While some conversations are further along then others, the actors Coppola is discussing roles with include Oscar Isaac, Forest Whitaker, Cate Blanchett and Jon Voight, with Zendaya, Michelle Pfeiffer and Jessica Lange also among those he is seeking. He will also reunite with James Caan, whose role as Sonny Corleone in Coppola’s The Godfather made Caan one of the biggest stars of that era. This for a big tapestry film that will have many other actors in the cast.

Deadline has written about Coppola’s Megalopolis hopes for several years – I’ve seen second-unit footage of Manhattan architecture and street sounds that was shot 20 years ago, a campaign that ended after 9/11 shook Manhattan to its core. Coppola’s enthusiasm never wavered.

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Emboldened by the recent sale of a portion of his considerable vineyard holdings in Sonoma County to Delicato Family Wines, Coppola has fortified his resources to borrow against, and is ready to gamble once again on his vision to make a movie he feels can be a North Star for a younger audience, and society in general, searching for optimism in a moment where global warming is taking its toll, and polarizing politics and digital misinformation are so pronounced that half the country is resisting Covid vaccines that scientists honed in a remarkably short time to combat a global pandemic.

“It has become like a religious war, in that it’s not about anything logical,” Coppola told Deadline. “I think the big news here is that I am still the same as I was 20 years ago or 40 years ago. I’m still willing to do the dream picture, even if I have to put up my own money, and I am capable of putting up $100 million if I have to here. I don’t want to, but I will do it if I have to.

“I’m committed to making this movie, I’d like to make it in the fall of 2022,” Coppola revealed. “I don’t have all my cast approved, but I have enough of them to have confidence that it is going to be a very exciting cast. The picture’s going to cost between $100 million and $120 million. Needless to say, I hope it’s closer to $100 million. I’m prepared to match some outside financing, almost dollar for dollar. In other words, I’m willing to put my money where my mouth is. What’s interesting about that is, there was a documentary about my dream studio, when I owned Zoetrope Studios and I was unafraid to risk everything I had in order to make my dream come true. Well, I really haven’t changed my personality, at all.”

While waiting for this Megalopolis moment, Coppola has spent the last few years preparing himself. He has kept off the weight he shed several years ago, and his stamina is in evidence in the way he created new versions of some of his past films, most notably the final installment of The Godfather trilogy that he retitled The Godfather, Coda: The Death of Michael Corleone, Apocalypse Now and The Cotton Club. I hear he will be at Telluride this weekend to unveil restored versions of his films The Rain People, and The Outsiders: The Complete Novel. After doing the work and feeling at peace with those past great films, as Coppola holds court at that festival, I expect the dominant conversation will be about how he is looking forward, toward Megalopolis. 

While few filmmakers would ever put their own money on the table, Coppola detailed to Deadline his big bets in the past when studios wouldn’t back him,; the musical One From the Heart plunged him into Chapter 11 back in the early ‘90s, and his risk-taking on Apocalypse Now once threated to cost him the vineyards whose revenues now dwarf his Hollywood earnings. Each time, Coppola found his way back from adversity. The classic Apocalypse Now continues to give him financial comfort.

“You know that I own the negative of Apocalypse Now, and do you know why I own it? Because nobody wanted it,” he said. “And Apocalypse Now these years earns almost as much as we get from The Godfather. Pictures like this [are difficult]; everyone wants to make the next Marvel movie, but no one wants to make a picture that really talks to young people in a hopeful way, that we are in a position to get together and solve any problem thrown at us. That is what I believe, and it is what the theme of the picture really is. Utopia is talking about how we can make the society we live in solve these problems. I believe it is an exciting change from the kinds of movies being offered to the public,” he said. “Mainly because it puts forward a fundamental message that it’s time for us to consider that the society we live in isn’t the only alternative available to us. And that utopia isn’t so much a little experimental place in the country; utopia is a discussion of people, asking the right questions on if the society we’re living in is the only alternative or, if for the sake of young people, there are better choices that should be discussed. That is the influence I dream of this movie having. And for that reason I am willing and capable of investing at a high number, to make it come true. I’m putting together the means of doing that.”

While Coppola set his script in a contemporary city and explores timely themes, the sprawling tale has its origins in ancient Rome.

“The concept of the film is a Roman epic, in the traditional Cecile B. DeMille or Ben-Hur way, but told as a modern counterpart focusing on America,” he said. “It’s based on The Catiline Conspiracy, which comes to us from ancient Rome. This was a famous duel between a patrician, Catiline, and that part will be played by Oscar Isaac, and the famous Cicero, who will be Forest Whitaker. He is now the beleaguered mayor of New York, during a financial crisis, close to the one that Mayor Dinkins had. This story takes place in a new Rome, a Roman epic sent in modern times. The time set is not a specific year in modern New York, it’s an impression of modern New York, which I call New Rome.”

Coppola realizes these serious themes leave him swimming against the tide in an industry fixated with franchises, high concepts and familiar formulas. But he’s been a maverick his whole life and would like to stake himself this one more time, hoping to prevail again.

“This film I want to make, I believe is an exciting change from the kinds of movies being offered to the public,” Coppola said. “Mainly because it puts forward a fundamental message that it’s time for us to consider that the society we live in isn’t the only alternative available to us. And that a utopia isn’t so much a little experimental place in the country; a utopia is a discussion of people asking the right questions on just that subject, and if the society we’re living in is the only alternative or, if for the sake of young people, there are better choices that should be discussed. Hopefully that is the influence I dream of this movie having. And for that reason I am willing and capable of investing at a high number, to make it come true. I’m putting together the means of doing that.

He also understands this turn of events brings him full circle, and it seems to energize him.

“I have some private financiers who want to come in on a partner basis, and I’m willing to match their funds, if I have to,” he said. “Obviously the more money I have to put up, the more complications it gives me, but I am capable of doing it. I am capable of going the whole distance if I really had to. It would be hard for me or anyone to put up $100 million to make a utopian dream of a film, but it is not impossible for that to happen. It has been in the news I just sold one of my wineries to another company. So I’m a position where I don’t have the money but I can borrow it. So basically I am the same position as I was in that Dream Studio period, where I want to see the dream come true and I am not afraid to risk my own money to make it happen.”

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