You haven’t seen devotion until you’ve been in a room with nearly 6,000 “Godfather” disciples. The manic fandom typically reserved for Comic-Con and “Star Wars” assemblies was front and center when Francis Ford Coppola and the cast reunited Saturday at the Tribeca Film Festival’s closing night.
Capping off a nine-hour event that included screenings of “The Godfather” and “The Godfather Part II,” a 45th-anniversary panel discussion found Al Pacino, Diane Keaton, Robert De Niro, James Caan, Talia Shire and Robert Duvall recounting the messy process of making a movie they never expected to become such a defining Hollywood signature.
The sold-out crowd at Radio City Music Hall had been boisterous throughout both films, cheering at iconic dialogue and almost every gruesome death or Corleone victory. Just imagine how enthusiastic they were by the time this A-list group took the stage.
“The Godfather” is one of the most chronicled movies in history, as proven by the nearly 800-page annotated book Coppola published last year. Much of Saturday’s panel retread well-told stories: Paramount’s resistance to casting the crotchety Marlon Brando, the studio threatening to fire Coppola out of fear that his directorial choices would jeopardize the success, the fateful single take in which Coppola added a cat to the opening scene.
Frenzy erupted when moderator Taylor Hackford asked the audience to shout out questions. One fan posed something that further explained the film’s fervent following: Could “The Godfather” be made today?
The answer, according to Coppola, is no.
Well, it could be made, he said, but it would be an offer major studios would have to refuse.
The first “Godfather” cost $6.5 million, Coppola explained. That’s the equivalent of about $38 million today, which would make it a mid-budget project in a market that’s overrun by tentpole titles costing well over $100 million apiece, he said. The “Godfather Part II” budget swelled to “$11 or $12 million,” or about $64 to $70 million nowadays.
“It would never get through the process of getting an OK, or what they now call a green-light,” Coppola said. Contemporary Hollywood studios, he pointed out, are mostly interested in movies with built-in franchise potential ― “pretty much a Marvel comic,” a comment that provoked chuckles from the audience.
“Basically there’s not enough wires,” Caan joked, referring to the suspension technique used to film superheroes and Hogwarts wizards in flight.
Coppola and Caan’s assessment is painfully accurate: Original movies are no longer Hollywood’s breadwinners. The mid-budget adult release ― ranging from about $10 million to $70 million ― has become something of a relic over the past 15 years, replaced instead by comic-book adaptations, reboots and pre-determined cash cows.
Even though it’s based on the popular novel by Mario Puzo, were Coppola to pitch “The Godfather” today, he would have a tough time securing the funds and support needed. The first installment made $245 million worldwide, which today amounts to $1.4 billion. For a film without animation or dazzling technical effects, that seems impossible in 2017.
Coppola said former MGM owner Kirk Kerkorian once asked how one makes a movie that is both financially and artistically successful. “I said to him, ‘Risk,’” he said. “Nobody wants the risk when you get into business.”