Usually, when we’re saying nice things about El Rey Network it revolves around Lucha Underground, a hip, multicultural take on a pro wrestling show featuring reincarnated dragons, cage monsters and pissed-off skeleton ninjas. Tonight’s Francis Ford Coppola episode of The Director’s Chair has inspired similar passion, even if it has far fewer skeletons.
It probably makes me a bigger dork than usual, but I’ve always been a fan of director commentary tracks on DVDs. I had a chance to check out this episode before it aired, and I can say without anybody holding a gun full of money to my head that it changed the way I think about film, and a little about how I think about life.
Here are three reasons why it’s superior to your normal director’s commentary:
1. It’s a conversation. This is crucial. Hell, it’s such a conversation they’re airing The Conversation after it. Usually on director’s commentary tracks you’ve got a guy and a few people he made the movie with sitting at a table watching their film, trying to think of what to say. Whether it’s interesting or a waste of time is often beside the point; it’s not a director talking to you, it’s a director talking to a microphone. The Director’s Chair features a director talking to another director. That’s not a guy talking into a microphone. That’s not a chore. It’s two people who share similar passions talking about what makes them passionate, and there is no better recipe for an entertaining conversation in the world.
2. It’s not too much. With a normal director’s commentary track, there are ups and downs. Sometimes a scene or memory sparks an impassioned thought that hits on a deeper truth about filmmaking. Sometimes the characters on screen are having a boring conversation or it’s 10 minutes of scenery and the director just sits there coughing and waiting for something to happen. Here, Robert Rodriguez sits down to talk with a guy who has made a handful of the best and most important films of all time, and he hits all the high notes. He talks about the creation and inspiration behind making the films and some of the hardships and triumphs that happened between point A and point B, and they move on. It never drags. You never get a moment where Robert’s like, “so, any memories of Laurence Fishburne?” and Coppola struggling to come up with something interesting to say.
There’s also a great use of archive footage here, so moments that do get brought up are punctuated with living evidence. There’s so much of it, too.
3. It’s not just about how great they all are. If you’ve ever watched Inside The Actor’s Studio, you know it more often than not ends up stuck up its own ass. They’ll bring on Larry the Cable Guy, and he’ll sit there stroking his chin, answering these intense questions about the craft. It’s all very film school, somewhat by design.
My favorite part of this episode was when Coppola talked about failure. He’s had a few, and his perspective on the value of failure is as important as anything he says about succeeding. If you care about the subject matter, the people who created the subject can sometimes touch you in a way you weren’t expecting. I came away from the screening thinking a lot about how failure’s an opportunity, and how they should be held up right alongside the successes.
You don’t need to read me blowing the show for another 10 paragraphs, so here’s the tune-in. If you get the El Rey Network, watch the show. If you don’t, ask your TV people to get it. This channel’s doing a lot of important stuff for nerds, with or without the dragon luchadors.
January 20, 2015 — El Rey Network Founder and Chairman, Robert Rodriguez sits down with filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola for a new installment of “El Rey Network Presents: The Director’s Chair,” a series of hour-long specials featuring the industry’s most creative storytellers engaging in a revealing and unexpected exchange about the world of filmmaking. Immediately following “The Director’s Chair” at 8:00pm et/8:30pm pt El Rey Network will air Coppola’s The Conversation at 9:00pm et/9:30 pt.
“El Rey Network Presents: The Director’s Chair”
Monday, March 2 at 8:00pm
In this candid and insightful interview, Rodriguez and Coppola discuss Coppola’s epic career tracing his early filmmaking inspirations back to childhood. Never before has a filmmaker in the history of the medium had a streak of masterpiece-level films that Francis Ford Coppola enjoyed between The Godfather and Apocalypse Now. Part of the New Hollywood wave of filmmaking auteurs that anointed kingly status to the director, Coppola was able to work within the studio system though not without his own challenges. In the interview, Coppola discusses his surprising reluctance to do both The Godfather and The Godfather: Part IIas well as providing new insight into the well documented struggles on Apocalypse Now, which resulted in arguably the greatest war film of all time.