Ric Gentry

Francis Coppola is an ardent advocate of new audiovisual forms and technology. While he directs such mainstream films as Peggy Sue Got Married [1986] and, more recently, Gardens of Stone [1987], Coppola nevertheless proceeds to invest time and money in promoting video and, ultimately, in an entirely new, largely electronic means of production for storytelling. And he makes no bones about it—if he could revolutionize the film industry and all current means of popular entertainment and mass communication, he would do it. Not only that, he sees such an opportunity as one that would thoroughly revamp society and the prevailing political structures, both of which he is eager to do. Yet, as grandiose as these aspirations are, Coppola is clearly not interested in power and influence for its own sake. As this interview shows, Coppola is nothing if not a humanitarian and an idealist.

Coppola was able to realize his ambition of directing drama with video as the medium of record, as well as to direct specifically for television, after he met with Shelley Duvall, executive producer and the imaginative force behind the highly acclaimed Faerie Tale Theatre, produced for cable's Showtime. The result was the twenty-sixth and, at least tentatively, final episode of the Faerie Tales, "Rip Van Winkle," televised on March 23, 1987. This conversation was conducted in Coppola's office just as the postproduction editing and sound were being completed for "Rip Van Winkle."

FIGURE 2. Francis Ford Coppola shooting The Cotton Club (1984). Courtesy: Jerry Ohlinger Archives.

Ric Gentry: In your work, are you more interested in the form and the technology than in the content?

Francis Ford Coppola: I am. In particular, I'm interested in what kind of content the technology can produce. I've been trying to find a way to create new narrative patterns based on the times and the technology for a long time. It's also very difficult for me to maintain an interest in the traditional stories of old that get recycled into things we see today.

The climate of our times is very tired. It's not that we have fewer ideas so much as something in the culture that doesn't allow itself new approaches. Technology is delivering new values that have yet to be tapped. We've got all this new stuff and people aren't looking at the obvious, which is that something totally new in terms of stories can come about. Instead, we use the advances in technology to reproduce and reiterate what we've already seen, what's been done in terms of form for centuries. I think it's time we catch up with the tools that have been invented.

The truth is I am interested in a content that I cannot get at. I yearn to be able to move into a world where my ideas connect into a pattern that could be identified as a story. But I truly cannot get there. It's equally difficult for me to recycle the old stories of the past as most movies do today.

RG: So in a way you're saying that advances in technology are synonymous with new ways of seeing and thinking, and therefore our traditional stories, structurally at least, are sort of culturally redundant and, in every way—sociologically, psychologically, artistically—unvitalizing.

FFC: What I'm saying is that technology, if used in new ways, might break up the monopoly certain imagery, certain icons, have on our attention. I think we could see a less homogenized view of things, and we'll have to if there's going to be a shake-up in our current political thinking. There's something in our politics as old, as dated, as those stories from ancient times that get endlessly recycled.

With a new technology comes a tidal wave of new givens, new ideas, new beliefs, and most important, a new group of rulers. I hate to use such an archaic word for it but that's what they are—rulers. Whether they are the high priests of the powerful and entrenched world religion, or the lords who control the land and the agriculture, the merchant seamen, conquistadors, the captains of the Industrial Revolution, they are our rulers. They and their ideas move out when progress moves them out by changing the nature of where power comes from.

I am beginning to have the thought that my primal interest in technology is a temporary phase—a vehicle—not unlike the ships of ancient explorers taking us from the Old World to a new continent of content and story. At that time I fantasize of leaving the old ship and moving into still another area of art and thinking.

RG: I get the impression, and Faerie Tale Theatre seems to confirm this, that artificial situations, theatrical ones, are better suited to creative video than location work, which is better for a movie. So ultimately, video is less spontaneous.

FFC: In the case of movies, like Rumblefish [1983], you can do wonderful neat stuff. Those of us who were first attracted to movies always had those few shots that, when they came back from the lab, you were more anxious to see how they came out. It's just that I reached a point, not long ago, where I was no longer interested in that. I was very much interested in the new medium that was going to be approaching as the years went by, a kind of electronic cinema. Not quite television, but some modern version of that—advanced video, or high resolution, whatever you want to call it. I got involved with "Rip Van Winkle" just so I could continue to learn, try out a few ideas, and do my best.

Also, the process is very enjoyable. It didn't take very long—like a week of rehearsal and then you were shooting—and that meant the focus was more on acting and ideas than on this kind of slow molasses method of making some movies. Personally, I really enjoyed myself a lot. It was like doing a play in college. But I would love to do a fable that was very realistic and then one that was realistic and maybe live, without any cinema editing at all.

RG: Do you have any ideas of how to implement that?

FFC: No. I mean, if someone said to me, "Francis, how would you like to do The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial on TV and do it live?," I would do it. Of course, I'd rather do something original from a book or some story. But I would take any opportunity. I would love to direct for even a few months. I can't, but I'd like to do a soap opera. That's my dream.

RG: Just because you could work quickly?

FFC: Just to learn about it, basically. They say that a person really has one idea or two in his lifetime. I am working up to mine, and I feel it has very much to do with television and live-style television and twenty-four-track recording style. It has to do with a type of television evolved because of advances not only in video, but in computer science and all sorts of systems and electronics.

RG: Maybe you could have a group, maybe Faerie Tale Theatre is a prototype of such an organization.

FFC: They just did the fairy tales, but they were able to turn out a full-blown dramatic production every six weeks using the resources of video, cinema, matting, and all the aids to production and then, of course, found a way to sell it, to get sponsorship. That's a really exciting thing to be connected with.

RG: But what about this idea that you're working toward? Do you think there's an idea that is synonymous with the new technology that isn't evident yet?

FFC: I don't talk about the types of work I would do because it's easier to talk about the technology. The idea is very hard to explain. I could probably explain it to you very well if we spent hours and hours and said, "OK, let's start from the beginning." But the truth, it's still coming into focus for me.

Basically, what I'm really interested in is becoming a writer of original, full-length dramatic material for an audiovisual medium, whatever it is. I'd be very interested in being a writer who could sit down, as I'm doing here, to explore to the best of my ability whatever my ideas and fantasies are, and then to know that I have a way to do it and to actually produce it for a cost that is not prohibitive, that is not so much that they won't let me do it. It's like a writer who wanted to have the theatre company of his dreams.

I went to college, a little one,* and you'd see, oh, my God, they have a radio station. Well, then you could write radio plays. Somehow the fact that you had the radio station or the little theater came first, and then second, what you could do with it. In a way, it is as important. The theatre has always had those people who loved what it was in terms of the greasepaint, the fly system,f the lighting board, the scenery, and the actresses. What's the difference why you love something, if you love it? So, I do very much come to television with a love for it because it made its impressions on me. I mean, I'm a kid, born in 1939, and in 1945, I was six and saw this thing. A Motorola television. In 1946 we had one. And so I fantasized about television for almost as long as I can remember.

It's interesting. When I was fifteen, I wanted to be a playwright. I didn't know if I could be a good playwright, but that just suited me to a tee. And I tried writing plays, and they were never any good. But finally, just being good at science, I was the guy who ran the light board for the shows at school, and that's how I got to be in that crowd. And then, putting up the lights on the ladder, I would look down and watch them rehearsing and see the director and say, I could do as well as that. So I started directing, but I started directing sort of on the same level as starting on the light board.

But what I really wanted to be was a writer. I had a big success during college when I was young. I directed a Eugene O'Neill play that I won an award for and I became the new student director at Hofstra College. But I wanted to be a playwright.

But then one day I went to see a movie at four o'clock in the afternoon. It was Eisenstein's Ten Days that Shook the World [1928]. I had never heard of him, but I was so overwhelmed by this film that I said, I want to be a movie director. So, I did. I became a movie director. But then, a few years ago, after Apocalypse, what I really wanted to do was a kind of super television. Television taken to its full potential to be able to interpret dramatic subjects. That's why I want a studio and I want to make that studio an electronics studio, so that some day it would have a company of actors, and it would have a means to essentially be a glorified Faerie Tale Theatre. I tried to have that studio and maybe it got pretty much out of hand, it was so big. But even so, whether it's big or small, now I know that I want to work in this new medium and learn about it.

*ED: Hofstra College, now Hofstra University, in Hampstead, New York. fED: The system that controls the movement of the scenery.

RG: I get the impression most filmmakers have some kind of phobia about video, that there's something they think they might lose in the transition. Maybe that's because video is in some sort of incipient stage of development.

FFC: It is in a new phase of development. More importantly, people in their time are ruled much more by social conditions. It's enough to turn people off that video is considered kind of second class and cinema is the big deal. Television has been regulated and it's been said that we don't have exciting original work done for television so much, that people shy away from it. But that shouldn't give the medium itself a bad name. I almost wish we had a new name for television because it's waiting for the new artists in the country—writers and actors and directors. It's going to be their instrument.

RG: Do you recall when was the first time you saw or used a videotape recorder?

FFC: I remember very vividly because I was a real child of television and just obsessed with learning about it. My dad was on television in the symphony once a week. At one point, they called me in and said, "Look, Daddy's on television." So I ran to see it and there he was on television. And I couldn't believe it, because he was right over there in the room. And of course, it was videotape. I had never seen videotape. It looked so real. This was about 1956.

But after that I went to visit the UCLA film school and they had an early tape recorder there. And just the idea of having access to a videotape recorder seemed to me like having a rocketship. Then, when they began to come out with the first reel-to-reel home recorder, I would get every one. I have every model of every one. I even had the little one-quarter inch that Akai put out. When I was a little kid, we had a pretty big house for a while, with these big recreation rooms. I was always given a place for a shop. When I was eleven or ten, I built, on a full scale, wooden TV cameras and sound booms. I had in the basement recreation room a window that had a square in it and I used to play television. There was a wooden board you could hold for the microphone, and you would get the kids over and pretend you were videotaping. So I always had the idea of having a television capability. And I always had an audiotape recorder. I had been stricken with polio so I got a lot of gifts the year I was paralyzed.

So I did follow very, very carefully all of the developments, and knew a lot about it. I knew about Philo Farnsworth* and Dr. Zworkin.f I had my own systems that I used to put down on paper. In fact, I worked very hard on a color system in the days when the first color systems were pioneered. The system I devised as a child was very similar to the RCA system, except it had lines of color phosphors rather than dots.

*ED: Inventor who patented process of electronic image analysis and synthesis that we know as television.

fED: Vladimir K. Zworkin tried to buy Farnsworth's patents without success. Developed television camera.

RG: Were you building any equipment yourself?

FFC: No, but I did build a television, when I was fourteen, from a kit. I knew that in the early days of color television there was a dispute on the CBS color wheel. I was one of the kids that followed that stuff and understood how it worked. I built a mechanical television with a large rotating drum, covered with a spiral pattern of pieces of mirrors. When it rotated a beam of light would scan the subject and be read by a photoelectric cell.

RG: How does this lead up to your use of video for Apocalypse Now?

FFC: With Apocalypse Now, since we were in those very difficult jungle locations, we found that we were never able to view any of the work. Dealing with projection was very tough. So we started to transfer the rushes to video. The video was actually transferred in L.A., but we bought a couple of those very first Beta 1 machines. I had one in a little hut and I used to get these cassettes and plug them in and see it. After a while, I was lugging this Beta around. I even put it on a houseboat floating down the river so we were able to see material and make decisions for reshoot-ing and that kind of thing. Then a very interesting use developed when we got this job of making Godfather I [1972] and Godfather II [1974] into a special television feature for NBC. They were willing to pay a lot for it. I was in the Philippines, so the editor arrived with all the Godfather I and Godfather II on tape. It was funny because there were big typhoons and we were running around with this Beta machine in helicopters. Whenever we stopped we would use the Betamax to make decisions since we didn't have editing capabilities. At one point, we landed in some bombed-out place in the helicopter. We couldn't get any 110 [electrical current] because we didn't have a transformer. So, a helicopter pilot went into the kitchen where there was a washer/dryer and literally ripped the transformer off the wall. We plugged it in and that's how we made that NBC special.

RG: Do you think there will be the money and the channels, literally and figuratively, for the number of aspiring writers and video makers to get into and make an impact?

FFC: To predict how it's going to be for artists in the future.. . . It's not so much, "What could it be for the artists?" Because you have to go back and wonder about the history of the industry itself. It depends on who's running it, but it seems that the new video is something like television after World War II. It's something that really would connect with the writing talent, the design talent, the acting talent of the country if only there was a way for the three to come together. Right now, television is controlled, if not by the networks then the big cable companies, and if not by them, then by the big video cassette companies. It's a business like fast food. It's not like a national cultural interest. So it's hard to predict what's going to happen.

RG: Getting back to your story concept, the one you're working toward. Aren't there any contemporary issues or stories that stimulate you enough to say, "This is a new story," even if it's told with traditional beginning, middle and end? For instance, the nuclear threat.

FFC: No. I'm so bored with all those kinds of political films. I don't think it's the way to change the world and I don't think it's the way to deal with the issues. I feel that it's chipping away with a spoon at a wall so big. All the well-worn political issues that people choose to think they're being relevant and constructive with do not interest me. It's mainly that they announce themselves as political films. I like political work that sneaks up on you. I admire, to a small extent, those people. But I feel, in a way, that it isn't revolutionary work at all. That's like establishment revolutionary. We all know, at any given time that there are worthy causes related to either disarmament or peace. And then there's establishment press and movie business—but it's all entrenched, even the political areas. I'm interested in an area that is perhaps so radical that people don't even see it as political yet.

RG: Have you always felt this way? Or has it evolved over the years?

FFC: I've always been really turned off by the current political issues of the day. I find that people who gravitate toward that are, for the most part, just another version of the people who are in the establishment. I find them inordinately interested in power, fame, and money. I feel that they just see that as an area that's available and they go in there and rabble rouse. I don't respect them for the most part.

RG: After One from the Heart [1982], Vittorio Storaro told me that he thought everything you were doing was already ten years ahead of itself.

FFC: That's why we're so broke. That's why I'm in such trouble. [Laughter.]

RG: Do you still think we'll be able to beam pictures through satellite for movies rather than using film projectors in theaters as we know them today? And do you look forward to that?

FFC: I never talked about the kind of distribution methods. But there have been some breakthroughs. One of them is the writable videodisc. That has been a missing link, the write/read disc. The way it works is that each disc can have, say, twenty to thirty minutes each. I mean the discs are that fast. Right now, we organize a cassette for it to be simple. We have really gotten good at the librarian aspect. We don't put a lot of information on a cassette, so your random access is the old random access. But with the disc, the speed is extraordinary. With one hundred discs, you might have the rushes for a whole movie with one or two changes. Let's say you don't have any changes and instead you have twenty discs and each one has an hour [of rushes]. You don't have to worry about searching out the right scene, take, or time code because it's all available to you. The disc is capable of getting it so fast that your editorial time is going to be almost immediate.

RG: And then on a screen, you could add words, and the scene would appear on the monitor, parallel the sound track. You could also pull up or parallel the sound track.

FFC: That goes into my interest. So far, few people are interested in it, for some reason. I've done so much work in scriptwriting that I know the value of being able to put your hand over there and have that line for that take. That's what I'm after. There would be text connected to image and sound. So whether you move the image or the text around—or move the sounds around—each of its fraternal cousins will move accordingly. So that if you take control and you want to run the image forward, the script will be going forward, too.

Now the area that there hasn't been a big breakthrough is, and of course it's eagerly awaited by many people, a large-screen television format that's got clarity and luster. That would make a big difference to the field.

RG: Would that be something comparable to what we see at a closed-circuit fight, or better?

FFC: Yes, but that's the point. The best ones, Eidophor, cost $700,000 and the one under that is $100,000. There's got to be a time when people have large-screen televisions that are really sharp and clear like a monitor and don't cost that much. When that exists, then start talking about distribution.

We know, in terms of distribution, that cable satellite, microwave beams, and fiber optics are all ways to transmit images and sounds. They all work great and what they then have is a television set at the end of that. And the image of the television set is inferior to the transmission process. Right now, I look more to finishing the show on television and then transferring it to film because there are 35mm [film] projectors all over the world already. They're cheap and people know how to use them.

RG: What would be an ideal TV format to shoot on to achieve that transfer?

FFC: The new high definition format which they're pushing as a world standard, which is definitely improved television.

RG: You mean like the European PAL television system?

FFC: The NHK, the Japanese system, with 1,125 lines. I'm talking about the very best television image and transferring it to film. I believe the image would be acceptable for a movie.

RG: And by the time you get to a release print the quality is just as good?

FFC: It looks like film. It is film, because in the end that's what it is. You're projecting an image through light. I've always been interested in doing that and doing productions electronically and then releasing them in film. I don't think that the big-screen, quality television screens are going to be around for maybe another four to eight years, but we've got all the other parts—the writable disc, high-definition. . .

RG: Why is there this continual lack of standardization among countries and within the industry?

FFC: It's greed. There's no reason other than that and vested interests and political interest trying to control something that belongs to people. Technology is the product of humanity and belongs to humanity. I mean, how is it that some small, little vested group is going to determine how technology is used? It's bad enough that big groups like Eastman Kodak and IBM do it by using their wealth to buy up all the research talent and then release it as it benefits the company rather than the public. I'm tired of companies using technology, which is supposed to benefit mankind, to benefit their profit position.

And then with high-definition, I read these letters from people who own television stations. You know that all they're saying is, "Look, we had a great thing that made millions since 1946 on television, and now if you change it to make it better it's going to affect us. We would rather still make the dough than improve television."

Television in this country is a disgrace. We're stuck to that 1956 NTSC nonsense. We should have television that is as gorgeous as any image you can have in the world. And we're capable of doing it.

RG: Ultimately, is it safe to say that what you're looking to achieve, at least personally, is something in the new technology that will be a marriage between film style and video technique?

FFC: Except, to be more accurate, I see it as a marriage of film and television, in particular of live television. When I say "live television," what I mean is television at its most elemental form, which is multicamera, live television production. Combine that with twenty-four-track audio production; which is to say, treat the video images that you get that way and be able to bounce them around on your video tracks in a way that you are treating the video pretty much the way audio is treated in sophisticated record production. Combine that with theater with its visual tradition of lighting effects and live action performances. Then add cinema with its great tradition of camera angles and editing. Take all of those mediums and put them into one super medium: Super Television.

RG: Do you ever get the impression that the communications industry and the film industry are afraid of the progress you're pursuing, or that they're afraid of you?

FFC: Yes, I do get that impression. They're afraid that if I ever got the chance, I'd change their lives. And they're right. But I'm only one representative of the times. You can be sure that other people are going to be doing the same kind of stuff, and the world is going to change. Right in our lifetime.

RG: How did you get interested in Faerie Tale Theatre?

FFC: I was interested in Faerie Tale Theatre because as a child I was interested in fairy tales and felt especially close to them. Then later, when I was a little older, there was a program on the radio called "Let's Pretend,"* which was a fairy tale anthology series that I thought was really great. As a little kid I just liked those kind of stories. Many kids are like that, but for me it was my special interest.

When I noticed that Shelley [Duvall] started to do the fairy tales, I saw that it was a less expensive way of doing television. I saw several of them. So when the chance arrived, I was very anxious to do one, although it was on very short notice for everyone. I just figured that this was my opportunity to experiment with something in the television format, which I'd always wanted to do.

RG: Was "Rip Van Winkle" your choice?

FFC: It was theirs. They offered me several possible stories.

RG: In your preparation for "Rip Van Winkle," was there anything technical that you wanted to experiment with that you hadn't before?

FFC: Yes. I wanted it to have a number of different areas of experimentation. For one thing, I wanted the landscape visuals to become an important part of the story. In other episodes of Faerie Tale Theatre, they approached the shows in a somewhat realistic way. They usually build little sets, and in a couple they experimented with Ultimattef—its background capability. I wanted to see if I could come up with a way to use those facilities in a style unique to this show.

"Rip Van Winkle" doesn't have much of a story. We all know something of it, but there isn't this whole complicated narrative with conflict. So I thought, this was an American fairy tale, and the mood and the environment we could create visually might be really something to work with. In particular, when I talked to the company, I said, "I want to make a Kabuki fairy tale. I want to use Kabuki techniques."

RG: You've been interested in that for a long time. One from the Heart was a project you made reference to as having Kabuki elements.

FFC: Kabuki, as I use it, is really that point at which the scenery and the settings connect with the main ideas of the story in a freer way, almost as though the scenery is a character. In other words, if I say, "They walked for twenty-five miles," there might be a way that Kabuki would move a curtain a little bit, or do something that shows they had walked twenty-five miles. So it was a way that

*ED: Created, written, and produced by former Vaudeville and Broadway actress Nila Mack, the series began in 1929 as "The Adventures of Helen and Mary." Mack joined the Saturday Morning Show in 1930 and was responsible for the re-enactments and adaptations of classic fairy tales and fantasies.

f Ultimatte is a device by which the points of view of two or more video cameras can be "matted," or, essentially, superimposed. Unlike matting processes for film, which are carefully planned and completed in a laboratory, the effects of Ultimatte are visible immediately.

the scenic element and the cast complement and reinforce one another. We have one scene, for instance, where Rip Van Winkle is out there sleeping on the mountain and he's freezing and you see the mountain shiver.

Several years ago, I directed the play Private Lives in San Francisco, and I did a kind of unusual production, the seeds of which, really, were where One from the Heart sprang from. I treated the play so that a lot of the songs commented on the action, although they weren't sung by the performers. But then I also liked the notion that the performers could, at a certain moment, burst into song. It didn't have to be so unified. And I think that that, along with some investigation ofJapanese theater I've been doing over the years, influenced me. Specifically, the notion that in Japanese theater, all the elements—the scenery, the music, the dancing, the singing—step forward to tell that part of the story which each element can best tell. So if someone is going to take a journey for so many miles, maybe the curtain would move. You can get at emotion in Oriental theater in a lot more different ways than just Freudian naturalism.

With "Rip Van Winkle," I did some of that. You know the settings are not real, but you accept them as not being real, and in return for their not being real, they are more animated and they tell their share of the story. It seemed that since this was a fable, sort of whimsical, without a lot of plot, I thought all that would be appropriate.

Also, I don't know why, but I associate America and Japan. I always do. Something of what America had in those days, the magic of the Indians and the Catskill Mountains and something really new, virginal and exciting. Somehow I thought we might be able to express that as well. It just seemed a lot of things to try to do in one little story.

RG: Did you have any kind of Kabuki orientation in The Cotton Club [1984]? There are the elaborate, beautiful sets, and a sense of convergence between reality and fantasy, of things happening in the streets or the train station that would ordinarily take place in the club, and vice-versa.

FFC: Cotton Club, in my mind, always was related to One from the Heart somehow—the theatricality of it, artifice of it. I tried to make Cotton Club within that theatrical style but relatively realistic. There was nothing in there that was strange, that you couldn't explain. Whereas One from the Heart had walls that became transparent and stuff that was extremely theatrical. "Rip Van Winkle" is even further in that direction. I'm just very interested in that subject and those techniques and trying to learn more about it. To put it in the simplest way, I wish I could work by having a great big stage and video capability and just make up movies and stories.

"Rip Van Winkle" is extremely theatrical. It's a little stylized thing, like a little operetta, but you could also make films in which their impact would be a lot more interesting and dramatic if they moved a little bit more in that direction. If they said, "OK, you're going to get what you want," I'd rather go in and experi ment with that than making movies in a conventional way. Because I feel that, for the cinema, not for other filmmakers but for me, my real interest is somewhere else. Always has been.

RG: Video, because of its technical nature, seems to lend itself best to overstated, exaggerated theatrical imagery, "hot" imagery in a sense. Film is more adept at picking up subtlety and texture. Did you find this to be true with "Rip Van Winkle?"

FFC: I think you can work a tremendous variety of all sorts of styles to either a great degree or a lesser degree, depending on the needs of the story. Video has great range. It's like comparing a synclavier music synthesizer to a piano. The piano can play piano like nothing else can, and nobody can play a piano like a piano, but a clavier can do piano and everything else. The electronic medium is like that. If you want to work in a style of theatricality, you can. "Rip Van Winkle" is that, but it wouldn't have to be, though it's hard to play a fairy tale like On the Waterfront [1954]. But it could have been a story depicted in a very realistic way of acting.

But you know what it is? The first time out, when you get the chance to work in it, you're almost a little brainwashed to think that it has to be that kind of theatre or style because you certainly can't do that in the movies. I wish that I could do six of them in a row, or a soap opera every day. I'm not kidding when I say you have to learn about it. You've got to see how the medium responds.

RG: Did you use three cameras* when you shot a given scene?

FFC: We did use three cameras because the three cameras came with the package, and we really weren't quite sure how the mattes were going to work. In other words, the show was conceived for the Ultimatte, and it was a new edition Ulti-matte. One of the abilities the Ultimatte had was that you could add dimensions to the background live. We had five dancers under the blanket [to form a moving] mountain, for example, and we photographed them and then put the mountain in, and then we could have another camera on the painting of clouds and Ultimatte that in. Technically, you could do that ad infinitum. You could create the frame of your movie the same way you'd add in a collage. You'd put your main actor there and possibly another actor. The frame becomes really plastic.

So we did run three cameras, but we very often had an Ultimatte-keyed preferred shot, and then other cameras would get anything else they could. Sometimes they got useful stuff, sometimes they didn't.

RG: Did you work from a storyboard so that you knew what kind of Ultimatte effects shots you wanted?

FFC: No, because, number one, we hadn't been preparing the show long enough to make a storyboard. They were wonderful over at the Theatre because we were

"Three cameras is customary for television production, whereas for film usually one camera is used.

a week away and we're talking about human mountains and stuff they hadn't even built. It was just a free-for-all. And I didn't know for sure what it was going to be, with the matted camera and everything.

You know, it looks good. If it hadn't looked so good, maybe we would have done something else, tried to get at the problem a different way. But in the overall, what we were hoping for was that the show had a style or a patina all its own, was unique and that was attractive and good for the story.

RG: They were pretty unflappable about having extraordinary or unusual ideas because they deal with that all the time.

FFC: That was what made it so nice for me. They were so trusting in so short a time. They could have said, "How about a little less far-out approach this time?" But a lot of it worked. Some of it didn't.

RG: Was there any difficulty or period of adjustment in moving from film to television work? The limitations of the [screen] ratio for example.

FFC: My experience was that once we were off and running, I was just out there yelling, "Get the thing in." You're only concerned to get done. You're out there and that's a wonderful kind of work because everyone is operating at their pitch and no one really knows what's going to happen. We just worked together.

My only thing is that when something happens with the actors that you feel is really lively and interesting and it doesn't conform to that, what do you do? You have to make a decision: am I going for the live version or the canned version? I go for the live version, and I always know that usually in the cutting room you can fix any problem you might have. The only thing is that the cutting was a difficult thing and it had to be done so quickly. I'm usually a little freer in the editorial process because you normally have so much more time.

RG: And here there's so much material to work with, considering the three cameras.

FFC: Yes. Television was a phenomenon of broadcasting, and broadcasting has a tradition of its own. The television tradition [of editing] comes from a guy cutting a little radio tape with a razor. That's editing in the broadcaster's mind. In the film person's mind, editing is Sergei Eisenstein.* So editing techniques and attitudes for video aren't really up to handling the image and sound in the same, very expressive way.

Film has been edited for sixty years by some of the great geniuses of our time, whereas video evolved more as an offshoot of broadcasting and had more mundane purposes. In other words, the tape recorder was invented by Ampex not so much as an incredible creative tool, but so they could do programming in New York and rebroadcast it. That is why they built it.

*ED: Russian film theorist and director, best known for The Battleship Potemkin (1925).

They didn't think they were ever going to sell more than ten of them. Somehow, video editing equipment has to be conceived more by film editors than by video editors. I feel that (as far as the equipment goes) someone has to take the gigantic technical advantages of video, but not lose sight of the tremendous literature or methodology of film. I feel that the video mentality when applied to editing is very limited compared to the film mentality, and rightly so. We have Eisenstein and we have [G. W.] Pabst.* We have all the great minds and they are the founding fathers of the medium. People who became video editors descended more from the technicians and broadcasters who were not really into the art. So, what I'd really like to find is a video editing system designed by a film mind.

My impression of a lot of good television, like Faerie Tale Theatre, is they do a scene in something of a set, and when they do it they are running several cameras. Those cameras are the legitimate coverage of that scene, so that if you just give them that tape [of the footage by the three cameras], it's crazy to cut that together. Whereas in "Rip Van Winkle," every shot was a different kind of idea, so it didn't all just fall in as though you've got a master shot and close-up. The shots were much more odd and not done in that way. It made it more interesting, but it also made it more time consuming.

RG: The footage I saw was gorgeous. It was hard to believe video could look that rich.

FFC: It was an attempt to make nice-looking television, to show people that the reason television looks so simplistic put side by side with cinema isn't the medium, but time and attitude in the way it's produced. And if you had a great lighting guy and a wonderful camera guy and a director who was anxious for the video to look beautiful. . . . You see in the videos they do for rock 'n' roll how gorgeous the stuff is, and some of that is video.

RG: Are you interested in rock videos?

FFC: I don't know. I'm not being modest, but I'd be a little scared to... all those guys with guitars.f

RG: I remember reading that you were very impressed and influenced by A Hard Day's Night [1964], which as a style is a kind of precursor to rock videos.

FFC: I thought A Hard Day's Night was fine, but those videos are so spectacular and fanciful it would be hard for me to sit down and think how I could do one that would be so good. You always hope you know how to do it. All these hip, young rock and roll guys. Kids would be able to do it better than I.

*ED: Austrian-born German stage and screen director, much influenced by Eisenstein and his theories related to montage.

fCoppola has since directed the 3-D "Captain EO" with Michael Jackson, one of the most popular attractions at Disneyland and Disneyworld. "Captain EO" was produced by George Lucas and photographed by Vittorio Storaro in the film medium.

RG: How close did you work with [Faerie Tale lighting director] George Riesen-berger on getting light levels for "Rip?"

FFC: He was wonderful. A lot of times people get the picture of what you're trying to do, but decide they're going to pretend the whole time that they don't. It's their way of protesting the picture.

But George understood that I was trying to work with lighting in a way related to the scenic thing—very strong colors, people going into gold or to red or artsy mood lighting. He was just wonderful and quick and the whole thing was just done so fast.

And that's another thing. When you do production the regular way, it always goes faster. Everyone is used to the procedure. Whenever you start doing things in a weird way a little bit, then it takes a bit of time to get everyone on the team and for them to understand exactly what you mean. They were kind enough to let me do the show in this sort of way and were pretty supportive, because definitely it was a tougher way to do it and without assured results.

Some of it is always bound to be interesting. There's nothing worse than when you get a movie and you realize you got what you expected and there's not one wrinkle in it. I watch movies a lot on cassette at home because we don't get television here. You have to buy a dish and we have not. It's an advantage. What I like is when you get a movie with something really interesting in it. It might be something that you want to watch a second time. That's a thrill when you get a movie that you want to watch a second time.

RG: What are some of your favorite movies? What are the ones that are most important to you?

FFC: I was very impressed with Ashes and Diamonds [1958], and with films like I Vitellone [1953] by Fellini. As I said, I was very impressed the first time I saw Eisenstein, and also Kurosawa, Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove [1964]. But I also loved Lawrence of Arabia [1962] and movies like that. Of the directors of my generation, I like Billy Friedkin's The French Connection [1971], George Lucas' THX 1138 [1971] and American Graffiti [1973], Scorsese's Mean Streets [1973], and I enjoy Spielberg's films.

RG: Was there anything about the "Rip Van Winkle" production that surprised you, or that you benefited by, unexpectedly?

FFC: It's hard for me to put them into something like nice quotes. You know how sometimes when you're learning, say, the piano or the typewriter or the automobile, you start to get the knack of it more through the way you feel, the feeling of competence you get. I would say that as a result of this opportunity with Faerie Tale Theatre, although I could make fifty statements, it's more what I feel—comfortable and having something of the hang of it. I want to go back to my next lesson. You know, so many things turned out to be exactly as I expected and so many were not.

FFC: Well, the manipulation of the three cameras. And the fact that when you're doing very general types of lighting you create a lot of latitude of what it looks like with three cameras, because it's in a way destroying the directionality of depth of the light and it sort of makes it easy to shoot. But the more we gave the thing a look with the angle and the light and the other techniques, the more the other cameras had no place they could get a shot. And I'm confirmed in my feelings that just to rely on long lenses, when you want to reach out and get a close shot, you only get a very low level close shot. You don't get a beautiful close shot, which is much better with a slightly shorter lens put in the right place with the lighting being right. We tended to get them with the other, the B and C cameras, by reaching out with the long lenses.

So one of the things I would really want to think about carefully and one of the reasons I would like to do a live show is to work on my camera work. I would like to do a show with four cameras like John Frankenheimer did when he did live TV* to see if I could do it. That's why I would like to practice and maybe even do a soap opera, a dramatic story without the fairy tale stuff.

Something I did learn was not to let television fool you into thinking the performance should be simply broader or more theatrical. The performance should be extremely realistic, just like film. If I had to do it over again, I would have played it more realistic. I was so involved in so many elements of it that I almost wasn't thinking. We just started doing it that way because the script was written. But I think if I was going to criticize myself or to say something I learned, it would be that video responds to that same kind of believable, realistic acting style. Harry Dean Stanton is such a naturalistic actor, anyway. And the best ones are the ones who are the movie actors.

I could go through one hundred things that I learned. But just as I thought, it's a plastic, versatile, tremendous new instrument that no one has felt. It's like music, and music has Mozart and Beethoven, who have written masterpieces. But here's a medium that's so new that there isn't anyone who has even written anything for it or done anything with it yet compared with what is going to happen with it in the next fifty years. It's the instrument of youth. The young people are going to make it come alive.

RG: You've always been a pioneer in the use of sound for movies and sound technology. Is there anything unique in terms of sound for "Rip Van Winkle"?

FFC: We were going to try something a little novel. Instead of the regular video sound that economics and time force on the production, we were going to give it a slightly more developed soundtrack, more the way a movie soundtrack is done with someone really working to design a combination of music and sound

*ED: Frankenheimer directed You Are There for a time, and over one hundred television plays, including many for Playhouse 90.

effects. It will be very expressive. It will underscore the visual style. They are making it possible to get Richard Beggs [Academy Award for sound for Apocalypse Now], who does my movies. He's going to take it and see what happens.

RG: Was there anything unusual about the editing?

FFC: Murdo [Laird, Zoetrope's chief engineer, Electronic Cinema Division] edited and did an excellent job. He didn't have a lot of time to do it, and a lot of it was spent in the nightmare of video editing.

We ourselves have a project at Zoetrope, a video editing system we hope will someday be available to us. It's a piece of software that uses disc editing. The disc is going to make a big difference. Laser Edit in Burbank, where the on-line was done [for "Rip Van Winkle"], has a disc installation system. I sense that video editing still has the big road to go to come close to what you can do in film editing, as I was saying. Film editing is totally mechanical and infinitely more precise. Video takes you through a series of elaborate rerecordings to get at it. But I'm really confident that in the near future the right methodology will be found. I think that's what it is—methodology.

There are some people who have some formidable hardware for doing various jobs, but the television editor's mind and people designing the video systems pretty much design them for broadcasting people, the networks and the big companies that buy them. But that kind of so-called television network editing is very different from motion picture editing and very different from what it has to do, what its job is and how it manipulates the soundtrack. We're just not there yet in terms of a real editing system that can really cut like a movie editor can. So we're dreaming that up. We're working on one.

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