Hollywood Bean Counters Disrespect One Of Our Greatest Directors

(Photo by ANGELA WEISS/AFP via Getty Images)

Gage Klipper Commentary & Analysis Writer
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Legendary film director Francis Ford Coppola recently debuted his lifelong passion project, a sci-fi thriller titled ‘Megalopolis.’ It’s said to be an epic work, brought to life after a grueling over four decades of work and sacrifice. But seemingly all Hollywood studios can do is scoff and grumble. You might think they have no shame, but what they really lack is vision.

Coppola is without a doubt one of the most esteemed film directors of all time. He’s best known for his “Godfather” trilogy, of which the first two installments won Academy Awards for Best Picture. Although it was nominated, “Apocalypse Now” lost out on Best Picture, but went on to wholly redefine the war movie genre in a post-Vietnam America. Through a diverse career as director, screenwriter and producer, he enjoyed not only critical praise, but commercial success as well. “The Godfather” broke box office records when it was released, bringing in a whopping $250 million all the way back in 1972.

His name alone is enough to sell tickets to his latest film, “Megalopolis,” which tells the story of two men as they clash over their competing visions for how to rebuild a city struck by disaster. One is an idealist architect (Adam Driver), the other a pragmatic mayor (Breaking Bad’s Giancarlo Esposito); the parallels to own time are obvious. But despite A-list billing and a topical theme, studios reportedly see the film as too big of a risk to distribute.

Nearly every studio big-wig was in attendance at the film’s premiere late last month, insiders told The Hollywood Reporter. Heads of NBCUniversal, Sony, Paramount, Disney, Netflix and Warner Bros. were all spotted. It was generally well-received, with some anonymously commenting how it was “really imaginative,” a “very big film” and they “liked it enormously.” However, others noted it was too “experimental” and “indie,” and would be an “enormously hard sell to a wide audience.” One distributor seemed to sum up the general mood: “There is just no way to position this movie.”

“Everyone is rooting for Francis and feels nostalgic,” another attendee told THR. “But then there is the business side of things.”

Despite Coppola’s fifty years of dues, the short-term cash is all that matters here. Coppola reportedly funded the entire $120 million project himself, but a major studio must still pick it up for distribution in order for the public to actually get to see it. That requires some major investment on the studio’s part. All told, Coppola reportedly envisioned a $100 million global distribution agreement from a major studio. The studio would shell out the cash for marketing the film and hope to recoup its investment at the box office; if it is indeed too experimental for the public, the studio will lose millions. Still, Coppola reportedly thought he’d get this deal without breaking a sweat. (RELATED: The Best Easter Movie Of All Time Was Made By A Gay, Commie Atheist. No, Really)

However, some of the biggest studios — Universal and Searchlight — have already passed on the film, THR reported. And smaller studios that specialize in indie films would not have the budget for such an investment. Coppola’s only real option at this, one distributor suggested, is if he agrees to “backstop the spend” himself.

For all their efforts to foist left-wing social issues on the American public, these studio jerks have forgotten the one area where they actually deserve to have a hand in shaping American tastes and values: on the movies themselves. The true artists of Hollywood know what makes a great movie, what elevates mere film to the level of true artistry. Forget woke politics — this is where their “expertise” truly lies. And sometimes, the American public does need to be nudged along.

There’s no one more qualified to do this than Coppola himself. The Mafia film genre didn’t really exist before “The Godfather.” Sure, there were a handful of gangster films before 1972, but even the best of them are laughably one-dimensional compared to “The Godfather.” They told simple stories, and dealt mostly with the base aspects of gangster life — the crime, violence and often desperate poverty — or sensationalized it entirely. None addressed the morally gray areas of power, family and honor at the heart of real Mafia culture. (RELATED: Hollywood’s Latest Blockbuster Wages War On The Legacy Of Great Men)

Bolstered by technicolor visual richness, Coppola introduced a whole new level of complexity to the mafia genre. He abandoned the typical film noir style of gangster flicks, and used innovative lighting, editing and camera movements to pioneer an entirely new form of visual storytelling. Through richly detailed world-building and a narrative arc spanning decades, Coppola explored all of the mafia’s gray areas on an epic scale. Could we maybe come to sympathize with Michael Corleone’s choice to pursue a life of evil? The lines were no longer so clear. Through the rise and fall of the elegant Corleone family, Coppola romanticized (but stopped short of condoning) the violent life of the mob in a way that a still-morally upright American public did not even realize they were prepared for.

No one could have predicted that an adapted screenplay about the vicious crimes of a still-disparaged minority group would have appealed to 1970s America. But it did — largely because Coppola’s artistry and storytelling made it impossible to resist, transcending the tastes and values of the time. It started a trend of complex, elevated Mafia films which, starting with Martin Scorsese’s Mean Streets (1973), continues to this day. To name but a few — how many millions of dollars have studios made off of “Goodfellas,” “Scarface,” “The Untouchables,” “The Departed” and “American Gangster?”

Hollywood is a business; that’s just a reality. But good business practice doesn’t always mean taking the shortest-term profit or chasing the lowest risk. The sequels and spin-offs that dominate theaters today can only go so far; people will eventually lose interest without artists guiding them toward new heights. The studios used to understand this. They used to be populated with true lovers of cinema willing to take risks on art and artists they knew pushed boundaries in a way that deserved to be seen. Today, they’re simply neurotic careerists who only take cues from a spreadsheet.

If Hollywood is to survive, it will need to take risks on new ventures, concepts, even entirely new paradigms that will drive the industry forward — and take the public along with it. Sadly, everyone calling the shots in Hollywood seems to have lost sight in this vision.