Francis Ford Coppola is regarded as one of the few filmmakers who embodied the New Hollywood or the Hollywood Renaissance which started in the mid-1960s. Every film of Coppola is considered a masterpiece that is celebrated both by fans and critics.

In his 50 years as a filmmaker, Coppola directed a total of 24 films including The Rain People (1969), The Godfather (1972), The Conversation (1974), Apocalypse Now (1979), and Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992).

Coppola is credited to have directed Hollywood’s first true blockbuster film, The Godfather which easily became the most commercially successful movie in 1972. With his blockbuster success, Coppola shifted the direction of Hollywood and influenced numerous films that eventually gained success at the box office.

Aside from his commercial success, Coppola also received numerous recognitions from the Academy Awards, The British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) Awards, and the Golden Globe Awards.

Below, we’ve listed 52 of our favorite Coppola quotes on filmmaking covering everything from screenwriting to directing actors to editing and more.

Francis Ford Coppola Quotes

I think cinema, movies, and magic have always been closely associated. The very earliest people who made film were magicians.

I think the language of cinema and the reason that in just 100 years we’ve become so comfortable with making cinema is from thousands of years of man dreaming. I think it is based on the dream, and the whole language of cinema comes from dreams

That’s part of the requirement for me to be an artist is that you’re trying to share your personal existence with others and trying to illuminate modern life, trying to understand life.

Art depends on luck and talent.

I probably have genius. But no talent.

If you don’t bet, you don’t have a chance to win.

I think the secret of life is to not be afraid of risk. People go through life risking their money, risking losing this, risking losing that. But the truth of the matter is, there is only one risk. Because for sure you’re gonna die, you are there and you’re thinking about your life and you say, ‘Oh, I wish I’d done this, I wish I’d done that.’ That’s the risk. So basically, I try to say yes more than no

Anyone who’s made film and knows about the cinema has a lifelong love affair with the experience. You never stop learning about film.

You ought to love what you’re doing because, especially in a movie, over time you really will start to hate it.

In a sense, I think a movie is really a little like a question and when you make it, that’s when you get the answer.

Quotes on Screenwriting and Finding Projects

When I do a novel, I don’t really use the script, I use the book; when I did Apocalypse Now, I used Heart of Darkness. Novels usually have so much rich material.

I just admire people like Woody Allen, who every year writes an original screenplay. It’s astonishing. I always wished that I could do that.

As I grow older, I realise that I always wanted to be a writer. With The Godfather (1972) being such a success, I was launched into a more industry-type career, which is wonderful, but I always wanted to be the director of my own material. I have always credited the writer of the original material above the title: “Mario Puzo’s The Godfather”, “Bram Stoker’s Dracula”, or “John Grisham’s The Rainmaker”. I felt that I didn’t have the right to ‘Francis Coppola’s anything’ unless I had written the story and the screenplay. I view Tetro (2009) as the second film of my second career. From now on I’m always going to writing the scripts, and every film will be personal. I’m going to be the kind of filmmaker I wanted to be when I was beginning.

[on Unforgiven (1992)] We developed that script, David Webb Peoples and I. We worked on it for months. The film was made based on that script we finished. Nobody wanted to make it. I’d even sent it to Clint Eastwood to act in it. I don’t know whether he read it. Finally after two or three years of paying the options, I let it go and then Clint picked it up.

I wanted to be a film student again, as a man in my 60s. To go someplace alone and see what you can cook up, with non-existent budgets. I didn’t want to be surrounded by comforts and colleagues, which you have when you’re a big time director. I wanted to write personal works.

Everything I do is personal. I have never made a movie that didn’t have very strong personal resonance.

The whole reason one wants to do lower budget films is because the lower the budget, the bigger the ideas, the bigger the themes, the more interesting the art.

To make great movies, there is an element of risk. You have to say, “Well, I am going to make this film, and it is not really a sure thing.”

The easiest way to make sure a movie is successful is to make a traditional movie very well. If you make a slightly unusual movie or [don’t] exactly follow the rules as everyone sees them, then you get in trouble or, like with Apocalypse Now (1979), wait 20 years to hear that was really good.

When that happens – when risk is taken and the filmmakers dive into the subject matter without a parachute – very often what you get is something with those qualities that make it age well with the public.

The Filmmaking Business and Hollywood

I think it’s better to be overly ambitious and fail than to be underambitious and succeed in a mundane way. I have been very fortunate. I failed upward in my life!

Who said that all the ideas of how you tell a story or express the cinematic language were all in the silent era? Why aren’t there new ideas that are changing the language of film now? It’s partially because film is much more controlled. In those days guys went out and made movies and no one knew what a movie was so if they wanted to invent the close shot the producer wasn’t going to argue with him. Today, what is he doing? We want to make money on the film. We can’t just make experimental films.

What the studios want now is “risk-free” films but with any sort of art you have to take risks. Not taking risks in art is like not having sex and then expecting there to be children.

I think a sequel is a waste of money and time. I think movies should illuminate new stories.

Hollywood doesn’t really exist. What we’re talking about now is the “big industry” film – films that are packaged as a certain idea of action, and in many cases violence or thrills or mystery. These films aren’t expressions of the writer, but a compendium of ideas that could work as a blockbuster hit. That’s not Hollywood – it’s just wherever people want to make a lot of money. The less expensive a film is, the more ambitious the ideas and themes can be. And the converse is true – the more a film costs, the more salary everyone makes, the more limited the subject-matter has to be.

The trouble with American filmmaking is that producers don’t allow the risk of failure. If a good film can’t risk being a failure, it won’t be really good.

To me the great hope is that now that these little 8mm video recorder and stuff now, some – just people who normally wouldn’t make movies are going to be making them. And, you know, suddenly one day some little fat girl in Ohio is going to be the new Mozart, and you know, and make a beautiful film with her father’s little camera-corder and for once this whole professionalism about movies will be destroyed forever and it will become an art form. That’s my opinion.

The only TV I would be interested in exploring would be live television. There’s no substitute for a team of artists performing at their peak live when failure is possible. It’s a high-wire act. That excites me.

[on the vanishing distinction between TV and cinema] It has all become one. (…) There is no more film, there is no more television – there is cinema. And it can be everywhere and anywhere and it can do anything.

[on filmmaking today] Well, for under $10,000 you can buy everything you need. So now we have to undo the brainwashing of the past 50 years about what a movie can be: that it must be commercial, it must go down easy, it must be structured so that it appeals to the widest possible audience. Even people who read sophisticated books expect that when they go to see a movie, it won’t involve any thinking. They’re willing to give more to a work of literature. A movie is supposed to be something light that you go to, and you have a good time, and you don’t think too much, and you laugh, or you get scared, or you’re in awe of the violence, and you go home, and you forget it. And that has to be broken.

Coppola on Other Filmmakers

In the 60s they were four filmmakers who represented cinema and influenced everyone who came after: Fellini, Kurosawa, Bergman and Kubrick.

[on Akira Kurosawa] Most directors have one masterpiece by which they are known, or possibly two. Kurosawa has at least eight or nine.

[on Ingmar Bergman] My all-time favorite because he embodies passion, emotion and has warmth.

Steven Spielberg is unique. I feel that the kinds of movies he loves are the same kinds of movies that the big mass audience loves. He’s very fortunate because he can do the things he naturally likes the best, and he’s been very successful. Martin Scorsese, I think, is different. If Exxon went to Martin and said, “Martin, we feel you’re one of the best artists in the world today and we’re going to finance any movie you want to make because we believe that at the end of your life those will be very valuable movies,” he would be making very different movies from what he’s making now. I think he probably has scripts that he’s trying to get someone to enable him to make and then another one comes on and they say, “Look, we have Jack Nicholson and so on and so on. Would you do it? And of course he says, “Okay. Not that he doesn’t like it or they’re not good movies, but I think that his heart is maybe in more personal filmmaking.

[on George Lucas] In many ways, because of Star Wars (1977), we were deprived of the films that he was going to make and would have made. All the merchandising and financial success of those films aren’t one-tenth to what he is worth as an artist and a filmmaker.

On Directing the Movie

I don’t go on set with an army of people because the most expensive elements of a movie production are the plane tickets, the hotel rooms, food and gasoline. If you’re willing to discover new colleagues in the place that you are, you can save a ton of money.

I like to work in the morning. I like to sometimes go to a place where I’m all alone where I’m not going to get a phone call early that hurts my feelings, because once my feelings are hurt, I’m dead in the water.

I don’t think there’s any artist of any value who doesn’t doubt what they’re doing.

If the movie works, nobody notices the mistakes… If the movie doesn’t work, the only thing people notice are mistakes.

You have to really be courageous about your instincts and your ideas. Otherwise you’ll just knuckle under, and things that might have been memorable will be lost.

Here’s a tip to young directors. They never fire you midweek.

I became quite successful very young, and it was mainly because I was so enthusiastic and I just worked so hard at it.

I like simplicity; I don’t need luxury.

The stuff that I got in trouble for, the casting for The Godfather or the flag scene in Patton, was the stuff that was remembered, and was considered the good work.

You can’t make a movie without flaws. (…) The difference isn’t that the good ones don’t have the flaws, the difference is that you don’t care about the flaws. You don’t look at them, you don’t notice them because you’re so caught up in the life of the people.

I believe that filmmaking – as, probably, is everything – is a game you should play with all your cards, and all your dice, and whatever else you’ve got. So, each time I make a movie, I give it everything I have. I think everyone should, and I think everyone should do everything they do that way.

[2020 interview, on doing director’s cuts of his films] It is not unknown in art previously for painters and artists to have the opportunity to revisit a work to get exactly what they had hoped for. The reason the ‘Mona Lisa’ is in the Louvre in Paris is because da Vinci never let it go, and when he was invited by the Queen of France, who had been the former Catherine de’ Medici, he had the ‘Mona Lisa’ with him, because he hadn’t quite finished it. ….So there’s a tradition of not letting go of a work because you don’t quite feel like it’s done. In some cases my films have stood the test of time, so I think it’s appropriate that I have the last word and make it be what I intended.

Coppola on Working with Actors

The first day of my rehearsals usually has two read throughs of the script. The first is a read-through without stopping, just to get a sense of the text. The second one,usually after lunch, is stop and go, with anyone able to make a point or ask a question, and the director has the opportunity to clarify, to help with intention or with pronunciation, or for any other reason. In the course of the read-throughs, the director tries to make clear that the rehearsal room is a place of safety, where no one need fear doing something wrong, or doing badly; the point is made that this is a place of play and enjoyment.

One of the biggest benefits that comes from extensive improv during rehearsal is that it gives an opportunity to examine the character and practice situations of the text without exhausting the freshness of the dialogue. This is of great importance. Often fine actors, including Marlon Brando, try to not know the lines or rehearse them often, so that during filming, the performance is lifelike, in that the character is saying the dialogue for the first time. Marlon, working on The Godfather and Apocalypse Now, was fond of saying, “You can’t care, or they’ll see it on your face.” For my purposes, improvisation offers a way to find new meaning in the character’s situations and problems without reciting lines.

Francis Ford Coppola Quotes on Editing

The essence of cinema is editing. It’s the combination of what can be extraordinary images of people during emotional moments, or images in a general sense, put together in a kind of alchemy.

A number of images put together a certain way become something quite above and beyond what any of them are individually.

Sound is your friend because sound is much cheaper than picture, but it has equal effect on the audience – in some ways, perhaps more effect because it does it in a very indirect way.

Recommended Francis Ford Coppola Books

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Live Cinema and Its Techniques (2017)
Francis Ford Coppola: Interviews (Conversations with Filmmakers Series)
A Filmmaker’s Life (2019)

Francis Ford Coppola Quotes Final Words

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