Stop us if you’ve heard this one at some point in the last five decades: the shooting of a Francis Ford Coppola movie is reportedly devolving into pandemonium. According to an exclusive piece in The Hollywood Reporter, the 83-year-old Oscar winner’s next project, Megalopolis, is now in disarray following significant creative shakeups that went down midway through shooting the wildly ambitious, $120 million project in Atlanta.
Megalopolis, with a stacked cast that includes Adam Driver, Dustin Hoffman, Aubrey Plaza, and Laurence Fishburne, is slated to be Coppola’s first full-length feature since 2011’s Twixt (a high-concept literary horror flick that was widely panned and commercially unsuccessful.) In a February 2022 interview with GQ, Coppola spoke opaquely about the movie’s plot and the 40-year odyssey he’s been on to make it. To paraphrase a paraphrase, Megalopolis is about the ruins of New York, and asks existential questions about the nature of society. (THR sums up the storyline as centering “on an architect who seeks to rebuild New York City as a utopia after a disaster.”)
The THR report says that Coppola reportedly fired “almost his entire visual effects team” on December 9, including VFX veteran Mark Russell (The Wolf of Wall Street, The Adjustment Bureau). In the last few weeks, production designer Beth Mickle (Drive, The Suicide Squad) and supervising art director David Scott (Ad Astra, Spider-Man: No Way Home) left the project, leaving Megalopolis with “no art department.” Initially, the plan was to use the kind of “new virtual technology” utilized by high-gloss blockbuster projects like The Mandalorian, though now Megalopolis may opt for a “less costly, more traditional greenscreen approach” as drama continues to brew on set and vacancies need to be rapidly filled. A rep for one of the fired personnel told THR, “It was absolute madness, being on this set.”
Anyone who follows film history knows this is pretty much par for the course on a Coppola production. His sets are known for chaos and tension, from the myriad of problems on Apocalypse Now immortalized in the classic 1991 documentary Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse, to The Cotton Club, an unsuccessful 1984 crime picture that saw major crew shakeups mid-shoot and struggled to find consistent financing as its budget swelled.
The controversy around Megalopolis is particularly notable because Coppola is spending a considerable amount of his own money on the movie’s budget, something he spoke about in a March 2022 interview with THR. “There’s a certain way everyone thinks a film should be, and it rubs against the grain if you have another idea. People can be very unaccepting, but sometimes the other idea represents what’s coming in the future. That is worthy of being considered.” Coppola previously spent $30 million of his own money on Apocalypse Now, which was a major success, and then lost a good deal of his nest egg financing 1982’s musical One from the Heart, a box office bomb that eventually drove him to declare bankruptcy.
A significant amount of his present-day fortune can be attributed to his success in the wine industry, as his Francis Ford Coppola Winery boasts a popular vineyard and sells bottles across the globe. He told GQ that he sold part of his wine business in order to establish a line of credit to make the film.
“I know that Megalopolis, 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,” Coppola told GQ. “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?”