Francis Ford Coppola Allegedly Tried Kissing Extras, Smoked Weed "Often" on 'Megalopolis' Set

"It was like watching a train wreck unfold day after day, week after week," according to a crew member

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BY Calum SlingerlandPublished May 15, 2024

Days ahead of his long-awaited, self-financed sci-fi epic Megalopolis premiering at the Cannes Film Festival, it's been alleged that director Francis Ford Coppola's approach on set was so exasperating, it led some crew members to wonder, "Has this guy ever made a movie before?"

A new report from The Guardian finds a series of sources sharing how the creation of Megalopolis was a process "almost as fraught and chaotic as that of Apocalypse Now," pointing to Coppola's "old school" treatment of women and approach to filmmaking, ever-evolving ideas resulting in plenty time wasted, and even a property redevelopment project only tangentially related to the film.

As one crew member told the publication: "It was like watching a train wreck unfold day after day, week after week, and knowing that everybody there had tried their hardest to help the train wreck be avoided."

First, the location: Megalopolis was shot over several sound stages at Trilith studios in Atlanta, GA. British director Mike Figgis, who has known Coppola for three decades, told The Guardian that upon arriving in the city, the director went to extreme measures to secure accommodation for himself and his relatives.

"When [Coppola] arrived in Atlanta, he was looking for accommodation for his extended family and he wasn't finding anything he particularly liked," Figgis shared. "So he bought a drive-in motel which had just closed, and decided to renovate it. So all the way through the shoot, he lived there. The construction noise started at six in the morning."

Asked by Figgis how he handled it all, Coppola reportedly said, "'Look, it's all the same thing. Movie business, construction business: it's telling people what you want, and making sure they do it.'"

Through speaking with crew members, The Guardian characterizes the Megalopolis shoot as "a clash between Coppola's old-school approach privileging spontaneity and 'finding magic in the moment,' and newer digital film-making methods," which rankled those working alongside him. "We had these beautiful designs that kept evolving but he would never settle on one," one crew member told the publication. "And every time we would have a new meeting, it was a different idea."

Another crew member recalled how the director "would often show up in the mornings before these big sequences and because no plan had been put in place, and because he wouldn't allow his collaborators to put a plan in place, he would often just sit in his trailer for hours on end, wouldn't talk to anybody, was often smoking marijuana … And hours and hours would go by without anything being filmed. And the crew and the cast would all stand around and wait. And then he'd come out and whip up something that didn't make sense, and that didn't follow anything anybody had spoken about or anything that was on the page, and we'd all just go along with it, trying to make the best out of it. But pretty much every day, we'd just walk away shaking our heads wondering what we'd just spent the last 12 hours doing."

The crew member also recalled how Adam Driver's first day on set saw Coppola push to achieve a visual effect through use of projectors and mirrors, as opposed to modern digital technology, saying, "They basically strapped Adam Driver into a chair for six hours, and they literally took a $100 projector and projected an image on the side of his head. I'm all for experimentation, but this is really what you want to do the first day with your $10m actor? ... So he [Coppola] spends literally half of a day on what could have been done in 10 minutes."

The piece notes how in December 2022, about halfway through the 16-week shoot, most of the film's visual effects and art teams either quit or were fired. A source tells The Guardian that newer digital filmmaking methods were subsequently abounded in favour of "green screen" technology, adding, "His dig at us was always, 'I don't want to make a Marvel movie,' but at the end of the day, that's what he ended up shooting."

The Guardian reports the following surrounding Coppola's reported treatment of women on the Megalopolis set:

Several sources also felt that Coppola could be "old school" in his behaviour around women. He allegedly pulled women to sit on his lap, for example. And during one bacchanalian nightclub scene being shot for the film, witnesses say, Coppola came on to the set and tried to kiss some of the topless and scantily clad female extras. He apparently claimed he was "trying to get them in the mood."

Concerning such behaviour, the film's executive co-producer Darren Demetre stated to The Guardian: "I have known and worked with Francis and his family for over 35 years. As one of the first assistant directors and an executive producer on his new epic, Megalopolis, I helped oversee and advise the production and ran the second unit. Francis successfully produced and directed an enormous independent film, making all the difficult decisions to ensure it was delivered on time and on budget, while remaining true to his creative vision. There were two days when we shot a celebratory Studio 54-esque club scene where Francis walked around the set to establish the spirit of the scene by giving kind hugs and kisses on the cheek to the cast and background players. It was his way to help inspire and establish the club atmosphere, which was so important to the film. I was never aware of any complaints of harassment or ill behaviour during the course of the project."

"I think Coppola still lives in this world where, as an auteur, you're the only one who knows what's happening, and everybody else is there just to do what he asks them to do," a former crew member suggested to The Guardian.

You can read The Guardian's complete report here.

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