Who Directed 1972 Film The Godfather? In this write up, reader will know not only the name of the director of the film but also his struggle behind making this film.
There is no doubt that ‘The Godfather’ is one of the best Hollywood films. Among trilogy 1st part released in 1972. The film is still popular to young generation film lovers. Dialogues like “I’m gonna make him an offer he can’t refuse” are still on the lips of film fans now a days.
In such context of this success, one name must be remembered. He is none other than the director of the film ‘Francis Ford Coppola’.
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History, Conflict & Development: Behind the Making of ‘The Godfather’
The film is based on Mario Puzo’s fifth novel, The Godfather. Paramount Pictures planed to buy the rights to the book since the novel written in just 100 pages, and eventually bought it for $80,000. Mario Puzo’s ‘The Godfather’ remained on The New York Times Best Seller list for 67 weeks and sold over nine million copies in two years.
According to the documentary ‘The Godfather Legacy’, it is known that- At first Stanley Jeffy, (vice president of Paramount Pictures at that time) called Albert Rudy and asked if he wanted to be the director of the Godfather movie. Albert has not read the book yet. So he immediately bought the book and was as fascinated as everyone else. But the problem was, Paramount had to incur losses due to the Mafia movie ‘The Brotherhood’. So Albert was afraid that people might not want to see the Mafia movie anymore. This is why he refused the proposal.
Studio executives had trouble finding a director. Their first few candidates turned down the position before Coppola signed on to direct the film. Since ‘The Godfather’ would be an Italian-American mafia movie, they were looking for an Italian-American director who has a good knowledge of Italian culture. That’s why 36-year-old Robert Evans (Paramount’s head of production) offered to direct the movie to a director named Francis Ford Coppola, who was a relatively unknown and not so famous director at that time. Studio authorities thought they would be able to do the work by Coppola at a lower cost. But they were wrong.
Why??? Well…. You will get the answer later. Keep reading.
Why Francis Ford Coppola Agreed for the Direction?
Francis Ford Coppola’s ancestors also migrated from Italy to America in search of a livelihood. With glasses in his eyes and a full beard, Coppola looked older than his age. Coppola has never made such a significant movie before. He himself ran a production company called American Zoetrope. It is worth mentioning here that Coppola is a very independent director. He always wanted to make a movie with full freedom.
At first, Coppola was very interested in directing on the ‘The Godfather’ . He wanted to make a mafia movie that would be from the director’s point of view. When Paramount informs him that the movie is going to be made based on a novel, Coppola then lost interest in working on the movie.
But then George Lucas, Coppola’s assistant and co-founder of American Zoetrope, told him- “We haven’t paid our bills, so the sheriff will come and lock our doors at any time. We need some money. So you have to do the work of this movie to save the American Zoetrope.”
At the age of 29, helpless Coppola realized that he has no choice but to make the movie. So he took over the direction job and started writing screenplays. Since Coppola knew nothing about the Mafia before, he read the whole novel, underlined in places, and noted down things that he wanted to use in the movie. Now it is known as ‘The Godfather Notebook’.
Paramount had offered twelve other directors the job with The Godfather before Coppola agreed. Coppola agreed to receive $125,000 and six percent of the gross rentals.
Disagreements between Coppola and Studio
After finishing the script, it is time to select actors and actresses for different characters. Coppola’s first choice for the movie’s central character, Vito Corleone, was Marlon Brando. But Paramount makes it clear to Coppola that whoever given the role, but not to Marlon Brando. The valid reason was Brando gained notoriety because of his high temper and indifferent behavior. But Coppola is stubborn.
The Three Terms
According to the 1981 New York Magazine, the studio finally agreed, but offered three strange terms. Such as:
- Marlon Brando has to work without pay.
- He must give a screen test.
- One-million-dollar deal would have to make so that Brando would not have to spend more than the budget for any work.
Coppola then agreed and immediately went to Brando’s home to take his screen test as a veto. Brando wanted Vito Corleone seems in the movie, just like in the novel. So he used cotton balls to make a jaw like Vito and then gave a screen test. Coppola showed that footage to all the executives at Paramount Pictures. Then they became quite satisfied with Brando’s work.
Another disagreement about characterization appeared. That is about Michael Corleone, the youngest son of Vito Corleone. Many actors gave good audition to get this role. But Coppola prefers Al Pacino for the role, who has just entered the film world. After seeing Al Pacino on a Broadway show, Coppola realizes that he gets his Michael character.
The studio could not accept Al Pacino in any way because Pacino was so young at that time. He didn’t have much fame. He acted only in one movie before and he didn’t do well in the screen test also.
Even then, why Al Pacino taken into such an important role? Coppola answered to this question in a documentary called ‘The Godfather Legacy’ He said, “Evans wanted actors who looked like him, but I wanted to see someone like me in this role”
Actor Al Pacino himself also surprised to get this role. He wanted to play Vito’s eldest son Sonny. But maybe Coppola saw something in him that no one else could see.
Coppola’s conflict with the studio does not end here. Paramount wanted to finish the movie at a low cost, with a budget of just 2.5 million. So, they wanted to make a gangster movie of that time (1970-80). They wanted to skip 1940-50’s plot which was in the novel. Coppola resisted their decision and was able to persuade Mario Puzo with great difficulty. Puzo then changed his original script (which was based on 1970, the way Paramount wanted). Then Coppola arranged the whole story. He co-wrote the screenplay with Mario Puzo. As a result, the budget of the movie went from 2.5 million to 6 million.
Finally, actual shooting started. Studio at first didn’t like any of Coppola’s work. Especially the low light. They said the film is too dark compared to that time. The movie shot in very low light. The reason was two. Not only create the the mood of the film but also cover Marlon Brando’s make-up. Brando was 45 years old at that time. But he had to look like 62 years old Vito Corleone. Brando had to spend about three hours a day in a make-up chair to seem like original Vito.
According to Paramount, the movie is much bigger than it needs to be. They also feared that the audience would be annoyed by the much longer dialogue. As a result, the studio decided to fire Coppola in the middle of principal photography and wanted to replace him with Elia Kazan. But Marlon Brando threatened that if Coppola fired, he would no longer work in the film. In the meantime Coppola re-shoot some scene and added some action scene in order to keep the studio happy and to save his job. He had to do this as the studio said that the movie has a lot of dialogue, but lack of action.
Release & Acclamation
After so many constant threats and disagreement with the studio, Coppola was able to finish the making of the film at last. But it is audience who will judge actually as a director Coppola did well or not. The movie released on March 15, 1972. After releasing, the audience response was so good. They did justice with Coppola’s direction and consistent hard work. Ordinary viewers even if the critics, everyone admired the film a lot.
The studio and the cast & crew never imagined that the film will be acclaimed internationally. The movie topped the list of highest grossing movies of 1972. Not only that, The Marlon Brando Godfather poster sold millions of copies. The film also won an Oscar that year. The film was nominated in 10 categories and won three Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Actor and Best Adapted Screenplay.
May be Francis Ford Coppola himself did not even imagine the success level of the film. But ‘The Godfather’ is one of the best film in the history of films today. If there wasn’t Coppola as a director of the film, we might have gotten a cheap so called Mafia movie. Marlon Brando’s remarkable performance never caught anyone’s eye. The success of this film gave birth to the sequel which is another masterpiece. The constant conflict with the studio, the fear of losing his job and recovering with all other obstacles Coppola was able to present Mario Puzo’s best creation, ‘The Godfather’ as the best film ever.