There is no better example of a real Hollywood family than the Coppolas.
Garnering over twenty Academy Award nominations including nine wins, they run the gamet, from Best Screenplay to Best Original Score, Best Actor to Best Director, and even Best Picture. Family members range from Sofia Coppola, writer and director of Lost in Translation, to Jason Schwartzmann, an actor famous for his roles in Wes Anderson’s films, and Nicholas Cage, who acted in films like Face/Off and National Treasure.
Although there are a lot of successful members of the Coppola family, none of it would have been possible without the patriarch himself, Francis Ford Coppola.
Francis Ford Coppola was born on April 7, 1939 to his father, an American composer, Carmine Coppola, and his mother, Italia Coppola. The middle of three children, Francis and his siblings were third generation Italian immigrants, and raised in Queens, New York for most of their childhood.
Unfortunately, at a young age, Francis was stricken with polio. At the time there was no vaccine, and the illness left a young Coppola bed ridden.
With limited options to entertain himself he relied on his imagination and creativity to keep him occupied.
Combined with his interest in reading plays, A Streetcar Named Desire being one of his favorites, Coppola began putting on theatrical puppet shows and experimenting with audio/visual storytelling as a form of expression. His love of theater quickly morphed into a love of film and he began shooting his own movies on Super 8.
By the age of 16 he was attending Hofstra University’s theater arts program on a scholarship for his playwriting. Inspired to write by his brother, August, and inspired to direct by Elia Kazan, who directed the film version of A Streetcar Named Desire, Coppola had his dreams planned out and was well on the way to success.
Young Francis Ford Coppola
With a relentless drive to achieve his goals, Coppola completed his degree at Hofstra and immediately enrolled in UCLA film school. There he had the opportunity to discover his voice and start the process of discovering what kinds of stories he wanted to tell. Finding the poetry of Edgar Allen Poe particularly alluring, he began experimenting with horror. He wrote and directed two short horror films at UCLA, The Two Christophers, which was based off of Poe’s William Wilson, and Ayamonn the Terrible about a tortured sculptor. Although creatively he was hitting his stride, it wasn’t long before he was forced to face reality...
The reality: he was a young man in his early twenties, with no steady source of income. Like many other young artists Coppola found himself at the point of no return. He could either give into the pressures of the world, give up on his dream, and find a more financially stable line of work. Or, he could keep pushing and do whatever he had to do to keep him and his dream alive. Of course, he chose the latter. Following the lead of his peers in film school, he got a job filming “skin flicks”, nude and erotic films without the visual of actual sex. Although this was not the kind of film he was passionate about making, it granted Coppola the luxury of continuing to hone his craft.
For his thesis project at UCLA, he wrote and directed You’re a Big Boy Now, a feature about a 19 year old male at the precipice of adulthood. With the success of this movie, at not even 30 years old, Francis Ford Coppola had a theatrical release by Warner Bros. and a Best Supporting Actress Academy Award nomination for Geraldine Page’s performance.
You're A Big Boy Now (1966)
At this point, Coppola met his friend, George Lucas. Not long after that he met the rest of the movie brats, and in some ways Coppola became the group’s leader. Spielberg had not yet directed Jaws, Lucas had not yet directed Star Wars, Coppola, on the other hand, had just won his first Best Screenplay Academy Award for the film Patton. He was the first to really achieve his dream, he was officially a filmmaker. And with his success he set out to tell a story of brothers in the Italian mafia...he began working on The Godfather.
The Godfather (1972)
The irony of this incredibly successful film is that although it would go on to bring nearly $300 million, the process of making it caused him to file for bankruptcy. He had two children and a pregnant wife to provide for, meanwhile the studio overcomplicated every step of the process. They didn’t like his casting, they didn’t like his shooting style, they didn’t like this idea, or that idea, meanwhile Coppola was balancing his anxieties of losing his job, and thus not being able to provide, but also losing his creative freedom and not being able to make the film he wanted to make.
But, Coppola is persistent, and with his strong will he made the movie that he wanted to make, and even managed to garner not only his second Academy Award for Best Screenplay, but also the award for Best Picture as well.
Like all of the other members of the movie brats “gang”, from a young age, Francis Ford Coppola had a vision for what he wanted to do with his life.
He faced struggles and turmoil that ultimately led him to film as a powerful means of self expression. From there he found his community, he put in the hardwork, and most importantly he trusted his vision and followed through with it.
These five men, all with varying styles and stories to tell, were friends because they all shared the same thing, a really important thing, in fact, maybe THE determining factor in who makes it as a filmmaker and who doesn’t. They all had perseverance. In the face of adversity it is natural to want to self-protect. It is natural to walk away when things get too hard, and it is natural to want to avoid doing things that challenge us. But, these men ignored the part of their brain telling them to give up, and instead they fought harder. That is what makes them legendary.
The Movie Brats
It may seem impossible to become the next Brian De Palma, Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, George Lucas, or Francis Ford Coppola, so instead, become the next YOU! Don’t look at “impossible” as a fact. Instead, stare down the hardships you are facing, the roadblocks you need to overcome, and tell yourself:
“You say impossible, I say challenge accepted.”
Follow Hannah on Instagram: @hannahwagner3932
Always be writing.
Tell better stories.
Never give up.