I’ve not read much about Francis Ford Coppola or seen many of his films, so I was curious when I came across a recent interview with him on his 80th birthday. I found him both fascinating and inspiring, with a few quotes in particular standing out at me.
…every human being is unique, and to be an artist and not make your work be totally personal is a waste of the opportunity that every artist has.
I’ve thought about variants of this idea over the years. A related quote that previously struck me, by John Boyd, is “Do you want to be someone, or do something?” When I was at Pixar, I wrote about how I was a small pixel in a giant image. Every pixel is important in making up the whole, but I felt like I wasn’t fulfilling the reason I got into that line of work. I wanted to tell stories—my stories, stories that were personal and meant something to me. That’s a tough position to work yourself into, but I feel that, though my work is now on a much smaller scale, I’m on that track now more than ever before. I love Coppola’s quoting of Godard and the idea that if you make a truly personal work, audiences will know who made it without ever having to see the credits.
"I was seriously on the verge of getting fired maybe on three or four occasions. Had I not won the Oscar for Patton, I would absolutely have been fired from The Godfather.”
Coppola bet on himself over and over, taking huge risks financially and perhaps even personally. He was fiercely independent and assertive. Those qualities propelled him to his greatest successes and his greatest failures. But through it all, he’s maintained artistic integrity.
“I see a communications revolution that is about movies, and art, and music, and digital electronics, and computers, and satellites, and above all, human talent.”
Coppola said these things during his presentation of the Best Director award at the 1979 Oscars. While at the time he was embarrassed by his off-the-cuff remarks, they almost all came true. But what I love about his statement is that he emphasizes “human talent.” In an age of algorithmic YouTube videos, AI-based interactive storytelling, and feeling more and more like the product instead of the consumer or creator, I find the idea of celebrating people’s talent refreshing. People make art that touches other people. No machine can do that—and if it ever does, it will be a façade, an imitation of the real thing.
"I’m 80, but I have a 102-year-old uncle who just wrote a new opera that has been well received. Genetically, I could have 20 years and I will need that long to do everything I’m excited about wanting to do.”
I love that Coppola sees no reason to stop making movies, to stop creating. Where most people would see turning 80 as a time to slow down, it seems to give Coppola urgency. As Dickens said in A Christmas Carol, “…any Christian spirit working kindly in its little sphere, whatever it may be, will find its mortal life too short for its vast means of usefulness.” We have much to do. We might as well get on and do it.
Further Reading: Francis Ford Coppola: How Winning Cannes 40 Years Ago Saved ‘Apocalypse Now,’ Making ‘Megalopolis,’ Why Scorsese Almost Helmed ‘Godfather Part II’ & Re-Cutting Three Past Films by Mike Fleming Jr.