Why Megalopolis could be Coppola’s $120m mistake

He didn’t even mind paying for it himself. An inveterate risk-taker and boundary pusher, Coppola argued on Late Night with David Letterman, back in 1982, that directors shouldn’t wait for anyone to give them the go-ahead. “My feeling,” he said, “is when you want to get a movie going, it’s so easy for someone to come in and say, ‘Well, we don’t like the idea’, so really, if you want to start, my feeling is just start, and follow your heart. On Godfather Two, we had spent a million dollars building the sets before Paramount ever told us we could make it.” That attitude could help to explain why Coppola’s own studio, Zoetrope, went bankrupt in 1990.

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His plan by this point was to take on mainstream director-for-hire jobs, such as Jack (1996) and The Rainmaker (1997), and then “keep that money separate and use it to make Megalopolis”. But even this plan was derailed by the terrorist attacks on New York in September 2001. “It made it really pretty tough,” Coppola said in Ain’t It Cool News in 2007. “A movie about the aspiration of utopia with New York as a main character, and then all of a sudden you couldn’t write about New York without just dealing with what happened and the implications of what happened. The world was attacked and I didn’t know how to try to deal with that.” He had “abandoned” Megalopolis at last, he said. It became one of those tantalising what-if films which seem destined to remain unmade: in a 2013 book on the subject, The Greatest Movies You’ll Never See, one writer concluded that “barring a miracle”, Megalopolis “will never see the light of day”.

What actually happened wasn’t a miracle, but it wasn’t far off. Remember the wine that Coppola sipped during that interview in 1983? Wine made from his own grapes? Whatever his ups and downs in the movie business, his wine business grew and grew, until it became the 13th largest in the US. He knew that his children Sofia and Roman Coppola didn’t want to take it over, so he finally chose to merge his company with someone else’s, and to sell his share, leaving him with all the money he needed to make Megalopolis.

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