Francis Ford Coppola has always been a risk-taker. Even after making three of the finest films of the 1970s (and beyond) with The Godfather, The Godfather: Part II, and The Conversation, the studios weren’t willing to take a gamble on Apocalypse Now, the five-time Oscar winner’s surreal fever dream of a Vietnam film, loosely based on Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. So he invested every cent he had to get the budget where it needed to be, and made one of the most celebrated war films of all time. “I invested all my money and own the film,” Coppola told The Washington Post in 1979. “I think I’ll get it back.”
But for as long as Coppola has been making movies, he has really wanted to make one movie: Megalopolis. And now, at the age of 82, the filmmaker told GQ that he’s ready to risk it all again and drop some seriously mad cash—likely more than $100 million—on finally seeing his pet project through to completion.
It is a film called Megalopolis, and Coppola has been trying to make it, intermittently, for more than 40 years. If I could summarize the plot for you in a concise way, I would, but I can’t, because Coppola can’t either. Ask him. “It’s very simple,” he’ll say. “The premise of Megalopolis? Well, it’s basically… I would ask you a question, first of all: Do you know much about utopia?”
The best I can do, after literally hours talking about it with him, is this: It’s a love story that is also a philosophical investigation of the nature of man; it’s set in New York, but a New York steeped in echoes of ancient Rome; its scale and ambition are vast enough that Coppola has estimated that it will cost $120 million to make. What he dreams about, he said, is creating something like It’s a Wonderful Life—a movie everyone goes to see, once a year, forever. “On New Year’s, instead of talking about the fact that you’re going to give up carbohydrates, I’d like this one question to be discussed, which is: Is the society we live in the only one available to us? And discuss it.”
It’s certainly a tall order, but given that this year marks the 50th anniversary of The Godfather, maybe it’s not so far-fetched to believe that if anyone can make the next great classic film, it would be Coppola. Even so, no studio in Hollywood seems ready to make that gamble.
After more than four decades of talking about Megalopolis—which he says is as ambitious as Apocalypse Now—Coppola understands that, “the more personal I make it, and the more like a dream in me that I do it, the harder it will be to finance. And the longer it will earn money because people will be spending the next 50 years trying to think: What’s really in Megalopolis? What is he saying? My God, what does that mean when that happens?”
Still, the situation feels like déjà vu to the director. “Do you know why I own Apocalypse Now? Because no one else wanted it,” he says. As for casting? Oscar Isaac and Zendaya are just two of the stars Coppola is eyeing.
You can read Coppola’s full GQ interview here.