The Godfather Or How I Learned To Not Give A Fuck About Studio Interference
While I’m working on an epic Batman post, I thought I would wax on for a bit about a film a fair few people might have heard of: The Godfather. It is currently on a limited theatrical release having been digitally restored with a new print. I was supposed to see it, but my friend and I spent too long in the pub. Alas, no big screen G’father action for me. But today, on my day off, I have decided to watch it on DVD, in tribute to a film that truly shook up Hollywood.
At every stage of its development, The Godfather was beset by troubles. Even when he wrote it, Mario Puzo was a sad figure; up to his eyeballs in debt and attempting to pitch a story about a middle-aged Gangster in a town that had enough of them. Eventually, he wrote his book and was surprised to see it go to the top of the bestseller list. Paramount bought the option, and things were good to go.
And that’s when the madness began. Francis Ford Coppola, now recognised as one of the greatest filmmakers of all time, was not first choice. In fact, he wasn’t fifth choice. Arthur Penn and Elia Kazan were the forerunners and both turned it down, as well as a host of other big-name directors. The only Itailian-American candidate was the new kid on the bloc, Coppola. Along with his buddies Spielberg, Lucas and Scorcese, he was a headstrong young auteur who showed great promise.
Once he got the job, the studio told him they wanted it set in Kansas City in the present day to keep costs down. Coppola’s first move was to keep the time and setting and demand $5 million as well as an 80 day shoot. Paramount gave him his money but only 53 days. The studio demanded Laurence Olivier was to play The Don and Robert Redford for Michael. Obviously with hindsight it sounds like they were smoking crack. But Coppola dug his heels in and fought for Brando and Pacino in the key roles. Brando was unpopular with the studios because he was known to be unco-operative and had no hits for a decade. Pacino was unknown and had to attend so many auditions he wept.
As shooting commenced, Coppola had the fear that Paramount were going to fire him throughout and replace him with Kazan. He overheard crew members talking shit about him and doubting his ability.
Yet he ploughed ahead with his epic vision, confident his casting decisions would prove him right. He maintained he was going to get booted, “I always felt that I still had to win these people over.” He said, “I was out – and then the Sollozzo scene came”.
I don’t think I need to say anything about the scene other than it’s intensity won over a lot of folk at the studio. It was the moment people realised that this wasn’t just a regular Mafia film, it was turning into the Mafia film. The one all other would learn from and look up to. So when you hear of troubled productions nowadays, look only to The Big G and see that sometimes a filmmakers vision can be achieved despite stupid studio shit behind the scenes. Sometimes it’s worth it to be precious with your work.