COMIC-CON: Francis Ford Coppola takes Best in Show

Posted by · 3:20 pm · July 23rd, 2011

My Comic-Con coverage came to a close this morning with Francis Ford Coppola’s first appearance here in 19 years, and a glimpse of his latest film, “Twixt.” There’s still the “Cowboys & Aliens” screening tonight, but reviews will be embargoed, so my big send-off is the master himself. And what a send-off it was.

“Twixt” is film chock-full of genre trappings starring Val Kilmer as Hall Baltimore, a genre writer working on a new premise based on a grisly discovery in a seedy town, where he’s holed up for a book signing. Edgar Allan Poe shows up. In a dream. Like Virgil to Baltimore’s Dante. (And based on an actual dream Coppola had.)

There are vampires. A seven-sided clock tower tells seven different times. 3D is employed here and there, but not for the whole film. (We wore Edgar Allan Poe masks outfitted with 3D lenses.) Elle Fanning is a pasty living-dead pixie. Bruce Dern is creepy. But let’s get into why this is the best Comic-Con panel I’ve ever seen.

Coppola spoke passionately about the gall of considering filmmaking a stagnated art form. “Cinema is so young,” he said. “How dare anyone think it doesn’t have anything else up its sleeve but 3D and higher ticket prices. CInema’s a baby. So of course we’re going to see innovations.”

“Twixt,” you see, aims to bring the live elements of entertainment back to the cinema and expand upon them. We were shown 10 minutes of footage, cut together like an extended trailer. But then Coppola really dug in.

“All we have that’s vaguely alive are the concerts you go to or theater or sports,” he said. “Because cinema is now electronic, is digital, it means the director could essentially change the experience to suit the audience. I feel like making a film is asking a question, and when you get to the end you have an answer.”

What he’s doing with “Twixt” is this: live creation of the film during a multi-stop tour of the production. Each incarnation will be re-edited by Coppola, on the fly, real time, like some kind of movie DJ, with musical accompaniment by composer Dan Deacon.

Coppola had an iPad set-up on hand to give us a taste with the footage he brought. He would pick and choose shots at random. He even hit a “shuffle” button to generate a random assemblage (and the crazy thing is it actually worked, however abstract).

The demonstration was not without technical difficulties, but the giddiness and the experimentation evident was enough to keep a big smile on everyone’s face throughout.

“We all become sort of facile at selling things and talking about our ideas,” said Kilmer, who was also on hand. “But you see him today the way he is, trying to capture something that’s genuine and exciting about entertainment. So every single day was a thrill, really.”

My colleague Russ Fischer noted during the demonstration, “The fact that the ideas Coppola is talking about seem so radical is indicative of how jacketed our ideas of ‘cinema’ really are.” And there’s no better way to put it. This might work, it might not, but to see a filmmaker like Coppola still pushing (really pushing, as in could-fall-on-your-face pushing) is exciting, inspirational and, above all, entertaining.

It was a massive hit with the meager crowd that turned up. (Hall H was barely half full for this guy, which is a sad and revealing state of affairs here.) Everyone was willing to go with it. Everyone got a kick out of a goth-rock repetition — “Nos-fera-TU. Nos-fera-TU.” — that he and Kilmer threw into the mix. It was just…fun.

And in some ways, Coppola is going back to his roots with this material, roots he already re-investigated with 1992’s “Bram Stoker’s Dracula” (the last film he brought to Comic-Con). And indeed, what he learned along the way and on that film, too, informed his approach on “Twixt.”

“I’ve always loved the Gothic romance story,” he said. “I began my apprenticeship with Roger Corman. And I used to be a camp counselor and I would read to them. I confess I read the entire Bram Stoker’s ‘Dracula’ to those 9-year-old boys. There’s no question that imagery helped me when it came to making ‘Twixt.'”

His opinions on the state of cinema affairs were also a big hit. He’s down on 3D conversion:

“I feel the same way about it as I do about colorization. Some movies were beautifully conceived one way and to conceive them another way is a pity. It’s just done for commercial reasons.”

He’s down on remakes:

“I think when they remake films it’s a pity, because that money could go into investing in new ideas.”

He wants to break out of the indie circuit again and try his hand at another large scale work:

“What I’d like to do is work with a bigger budget but with the same economies and the same stringent control. I am writing a new script right now as we speak that is bigger. I don’t know how I can finance this one but I am writing it. I’m getting old and I want to express some things on a slightly larger canvas.”

But mainly, he wants to change the way we think of movies. He’s after a true game changer, if you will, because the aim of all of this is to blow back against the commoditization of art in some way.

Deacon mentioned that Stravinsky would make music just long enough so that it would fit on phonograph records, and noted that the big shift in interacting with art came when suddenly you didn’t have to be there with the creator anymore. Coppola offered that he felt a bit of yearning for a little of the “live” to be put back into things, and come hell or high water, he’ll try to knock down walls and see what he can do to change the status quo.

This is what a movie panel at Comic-Con should be about. Not lazy PR that we all follow (and report) like zombies.

So in closing, from the Con, I have to blow a big kiss and send a giant “thank you” to Coppola for this treat. It gives you a little hope.

[Photos: Kristopher Tapley]

→ 22 Comments Tags: , , , , , , | Filed in: Daily

22 responses so far

  • 1 7-23-2011 at 3:30 pm

    Rashad said...

    So is this going to be like those Red State shows, or will this have a theatrical release too?

    I really do hope Coppola does some more large scale stuff soon.

  • 2 7-23-2011 at 3:36 pm

    Maxim said...

    It sounds like he’s trying to do to film what John Cage has done for music. I guess we’ll have to see how it all comes together.

  • 3 7-23-2011 at 3:55 pm

    Speaking English said...

    LOL, and you didn’t want to go to Comic-Con at all.

  • 4 7-23-2011 at 4:18 pm

    Ben M. said...

    Coppola is always someone who I’ve found really interesting to listen to. I agree with him that film will continue to evolve in ways we can’t fully predict, I wouldn’t be surprised if it is a very different artform a generation down the line.

    I also think his idea of only using 3D for select parts of the movie that call for it is a smart one. Particularly when you are talking about post-conversions (which I’m a bit down on also, but the sad fact is they are much cheaper than actually shooting in 3D and with declining 3D percentage domestically I think studios will continue to rely a conversions that can bring a little extra from higher ticket prices at select venues without much investment), I often find they put much of the work into a few setpiece sequences but then the 3D doesn’t add much to other scenes and sometimes makes the image look murky in the worst cases. Which makes me feel they would have been just as well leaving those parts in 2D. By the same token I saw Superman Returns and Harry Potter 5 in Imax where they only did about 25 minutes of the movie in 3D and the effect there was very strong.

    Of course, the big setback is audiences are already pissed about theaters asking for $4+ more for 3D versions of films, unless exhibitors agree to wave the surcharge, I can see many refusing to pay for 3D when it isn’t the entire film.

  • 5 7-23-2011 at 4:37 pm

    Al said...

    I could really go for a Twix right now.

  • 6 7-23-2011 at 4:47 pm

    /3rtfu11 said...

    Kris: Is Val still a fatty?

  • 7 7-23-2011 at 6:39 pm

    Billyboy said...

    What Coppola is doing is not only inspirational but highly respectable. Everyone should bow and kiss his feet instead of feeding the Spielberg-Bay-Lucas blockbuster corporational hell.

    Imagine Coppola, Scorsese, Lynch, Tarantino, Almodovar, Von Trier on tour with their films?

  • 8 7-23-2011 at 6:58 pm

    Maxim said...

    Billyboy, care to explain what exactly you mean by blockbuster corporation hell and how the filmmakers you singled out are immune of making bad films?

    I take offense at equating Spielberg with Bay but I also think that Coppola himself would smack you for saying what you did about Lucas. Did you know, for example of their shared involvement in Powaqqatsi and Captain EO (to say nothing of the role Coppola played in helping Lucas make American Graffiti and Star Wars)?

    Typical oversimplified crap. I guess you just like the directors you listed, everyone else just does dumb blockbusters all the time.

    Lastly, what does “on tour with their films” even mean? Kevin Smith does that too, but Coppola actually takes the concept beyond the Q&A session approach.

  • 9 7-23-2011 at 7:03 pm

    Rashad said...

    Who doesn’t want directors to go tour and have to wait months to see a film even if you’re lucky enough to get a ticket?

    It’s an idiotic concept from a moviegoer’s point of view.

  • 10 7-23-2011 at 7:15 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    If we let moviegoers push the medium forward we’d stand still.

  • 11 7-23-2011 at 7:48 pm

    Billyboy said...


    I think there’s a difference between making films to make money and making films to keep cinema alive, reinvigorate it, keep the form in good health. As Coppola said, its a fairly young art and it has many things up its sleeve. I happen to respect those who live and fit for the second category. The first category is what I refered to as blockbuster corporation hell.

    I didn’t mean to offend you in any way. I don’t know if you’re aware that Spielberg has his name attached to all of the Transformers movies. He makes money out of them. He consults on them. What pisses me off about him is that he can make beautiful masterpieces (A.I) and a couple of years later attach his name to a Bay film. I don’t respect that.

    Now, about Lucas. He is not the same man he was in the 70’s. Let’s put it this way: While Coppola is making Twix, Lucas is preparing the release of The Phantom Menace in 3D.

    The directors I listed are not the only ones I like. The list goes longer. And I happen to think they can make crappy films (not by a mile “immune” as you presumed I regarded them) but I know their heart is in the right place.

    All I’m saying is the blockbuster way of living and working is not going to bring us the next L’Avventura or The Seventh Seal.

  • 12 7-23-2011 at 11:00 pm

    Parrill said...

    Does anyone remember when Guy Maddin released Brand Upon the Brain?

    He toured it with live orchestra, live foley, and live VO.

    I didn’t get a chance to see it but the DVD has different options for watching the movie. I heard nothing but awesome things and regret that I didn’t make it to this.

    Sounds a bit like what Coppola is doing.

  • 13 7-24-2011 at 2:51 am

    red_wine said...

    I could never call Coppola one of the great directors. Being a great director and making great films is different for me. Sure he has made four classics, but his other films do not herald a true auteur of the form who has a personality even in his lesser films.

    Just reading about it, this experiment sounds bollocks to me. It seems kinds like the movie version of those Goosebumps “Make Your Own Story” novels, some of which I read in my childhood. They were so mind-numbingly awful that I cringe now even removed at a distance of a decade.

    It sounds horrible in theory but might work in execution as you say. Even if its a good experience, it really does not sound economically sound or feasible as a film distribution model.

    Why can’t he make something like Tetro. That was a very good start I would say.

  • 14 7-24-2011 at 5:57 am

    Rashad said...

    billyboy: Have you ever seen what a lot of directors are producers of? Even Coppola did those crap Jeepers Creepers movies. There’s nothing wrong with Transformers.

  • 15 7-24-2011 at 11:48 am

    Billyboy said...

    @Rashad. I have seen what a lot of directors are producers of. They aren’t immune to crap, sure. But you can tell what’s moving each of them to produce a certain film/filmmaker. You can tell where their heart is. While Lynch produces a Herzog film (a not very good one) Spielberg chooses to produce a Bay film. I have issues with that. Clearly a lot of people don’t and it’s FINE.

    Almodóvar is producer to Lucrecia Martel’s films. You should check them out. Latin American cinema at its finest.

    “There’s nothing wrong with Transformers”

    That’s the positive thinking I long to have.

  • 16 7-25-2011 at 5:28 am

    Eunice said...

    @Kris, on your quote: “If we let moviegoers push the medium forward we’d stand still.” Truer words were never spoken. I think this is a good idea, and I’ll be crossing my fingers that I’ll get to watch it over on my side of the world.

  • 17 7-26-2011 at 5:03 am

    Rashad said...

    How is that statement true? Without moviegoers going to see the movies, the advancements wouldn’t permeate throughout the industry. Obviously it starts with filmmakers, but then again, everything does.

  • 18 7-26-2011 at 9:09 am

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Moviegoers want what’s safe, what they’re used to. If they were left to decide advances in filmmaking theory, philosophy, etc., we’d have no forward momentum. Not THAT crazy a thing to say, is it?