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Current time:0:00Total duration:40:20

Sal and Francis Ford Coppola fireside chat

Video transcript

all right so very exciting we're here at Khan Academy with the team and we have some students from Conrad school as well with the I'd say legendary Francis Ford Coppola most known for filmmaking I you know obviously the Godfather movies Apocalypse Now Patton I think by the time Freeman the outsiders Outsiders yes you have more Academy Awards than most of us but but not just I'm I think the one thing that we're all gonna learn today is as much as Francis is a legend and knows so much and is so steeped in film that his interest go well beyond film obviously a wine now and other things may be a good place to start since you are known as so much as a legendary filmmaker is how did you get into that what was your what was your arc from maybe being the age of some of these students at Khan lab school you know your middle school to eventually becoming a filmmaker well for some reason my father who was a classical musician moved every eight months it seemed and we were always in a new house in a new neighborhood and I was always the new kid at school and my name was Francis so there's other girls being so I got all of the typical hazing when you're the new kid but I was I was very good at science I was very interested in science and electricity and I used to love to read the lives of the inventors and I and I felt I knew all about that so much to this extent that when my father asked me what I wanted to be what I grow grow up I said a nuclear physicist and he said to me Francis you can't flunk algebra three times in a row and be a nuclear physicist and I said why not but nonetheless I was discouraged that I could ever be a scientist which is what I wanted to be because I was not good at math so whenever I went to a new school you were very strong in geometry I was very I was I won the geometry medal yes that's that I was really good at job but geometry you can see and you can see that you can see the whole all the time sometimes it's not clear but you see it all and I was good at that but so whatever I went to a new school I would always head to the theater department because they always needed people who were good with electricity and technology and and also that's where the girls were and I wanted to meet them so I figured if I was you know around the theatre department working I would get to meet the girls at that I could have also gone to the football team where they had girls but I didn't qualify for that an interesting note that to understand me is that when I was nine years old I was paralyzed with polio which was a big epidemic in 1949 and it struck kids many many many children were paola it paralyzed until only a few years later I think 1951-52 they developed a sec the Salk vaccine and the Sabin vaccine but but my generation polio was the scary children's disease and I got it and I missed the sixth grade because I couldn't walk but through the wonderful auspices of the March of Dimes it was a charity called the March of Dimes everyone donated dimes to it and they sent a therapist who slowly brought me back to the ability to walk about a year and a half later and I mean so how did you go from you know that state that you're talking about where you are a little bit involved in drama in theatre to actually decided that you wanted to be a filmmaker and actually making films well I had an older brother five years older who was very good student and very handsome and very accomplished and wonderful to me by the way and I just wanted to be like him in fact he was already interested in writing stories and his name was August Floyd Coppola and I just thought that was so cool that I made my own name Francis Ford Coppola just to imitate him although your it was not part for Ford is my middle name but but I used it because my brother had you I was I was born in Detroit and I my middle name was after Henry Ford because my father who was a classical musician played for the Detroit Symphony and in those days they were the big orchestras were on the radio that was the four tower and so there's a brother I was sounded that tired well I just want to do what be like him if I could you know when you're five years apart there's no contest of you competing he can beat you up he's smarter than you but he was so kind to me and encouraged me that I thought if he had he was so good at school that the family thought he was going to be the first doctor in our italian-american family and so I thought I would be an eye doctor so I could work with lenses and prisms because I always loved prisms and what light can do in a lab so later in college he flipped and became a philosophy major and told my father he was going to be a novelist so then I said we'll all be a playwright then and so when I went was ready in high school to be considered college I thought I would try to become a drama major and and eventually I entered school as a playwriting major but I of course worked in the technical part of the theatre doing the lighting and stuff one day when I was up on a ladder hanging a light I saw the teacher who was always the director the shows were always directed by faculty members and I saw the teacher telling the kid the actors oh you go here you got I could do that and so in college I started to direct plays and ultimately I was going to try to you know be a writer and director in the theater and in the theater in our country the the the great theater graduate school there are actually several great ones but one of the great ones is the Yale Drama School which is a graduate school so I was gonna be go right to the Yale Drama School and one afternoon I was in around the plaza of the college I pretty much just hung around the thought of drama department that was my life and I noticed a little theater that said today four o'clock screening of Sergei Stein's film ten days that shook the world I never heard of Sergei Eisenstein and it was a silent film but I had nothing to do when I went in and there were about maybe six other people in the theater don't what was that interested and it was truly silent than it lasted almost four hours and I had never seen a film like that in my life that the editing itself made up for the fact that there was no sound when they shot machine guns you could hear them just by the way it was edited because this Eisenstein who was a film director in the 20s invented and came up with new ways of cutting film together which is spoken of in his era as montage the the the curious thing that you could take a shot and cut it next to another shot and it means something different than either of the shots it's a kind of magic alchemy and I was just so impressed with that that I said I'm not going to the Yale Drama School I want to go to the UCLA film school and I can't my whole life and went on to be a film student in America at a time when no film student had ever gotten to make a feature film so that raises the question how what was it about either the the mindset that you took to it or how you developed yourself or even just fortune that put you in the right place that that allowed you to do that you just described a lot of students weren't able to make a future film oh well you know in in college in the drama department I became very Machiavellian do any of you know what that word means you all know that Machiavellian is there was a minister he was actually on the outs with the prince in in Florence and his name was Nico nikola Machiavelli so he wrote a little book about in a handbook for princes and you know how to double-cross people and how to do all those what we now call Machiavellian things that there was more to him than that but he's famous for that little book the little book you can read in about two hours it's called the prince and it's all the rules of doing all those political things I became very Machiavellian in college because I wondered why only the faculty members got to direct all the plays and those students and so I did a little research and I learned that the plays were paid for by the fees the students paid upfront for so-called co-curricular activities or extracurricular the words the yearbook or the the the newspaper or the drama department those were all considered like clubs and they were funded by student fees there were two clubs when I went to college at Hofstra College which is where the the debate that mrs. Clinton and mr. Trump had two debates ago was Hofstra called that theater that they were in I know backwards but so what I did is I became the president of both the musical comedy club and the drama club which were very different kinds of kids but I became president of both and I merged them together and then having merged them together I made a rule that you couldn't be in a show attacked in a musical or a play unless you had not missed the Club meetings or at least you couldn't have met miss three in a row because no one ever went to the club meetings so and then but I did a good thing with it but we had the meetings but I also invited everyone who wanted to to do a little experimental workshop or a little one-act play so the meetings were good but during the meeting I had a vote and passed the rule that faculty members could not direct shows that were funded by student money so suddenly all these drama teachers who had come there so they could direct the big show couldn't direct this right there I was the only student Wanda the director so I actually run for president of two separate clubs and enact those rules with that in mind that I will get enough support by forcing people to go to these meetings in two clubs to become flawless up to direct the shows well it's a funny thing about power you very usual you don't necessarily know that you're amassing it but you sort of do but I was going in that direction and it worked very well for me because I got to do not only could I direct the production but I used the strength of the that having the finance which was coming from the club - we did ambitious show we did original musicals we did a production of streetcar named desire we did all these wonderful thing and many of the things were wonderful that we have brought life to the drama department because of it and how did you so in college you get this great experience you're directing sounds like big productions how did that translate you know when you first did you know your first movie it played well I went to UCLA in those days there were two or three big film schools there was UCLA and USC and in New York that was NYU to make it more clear for you Marty Scorsese went to NYU George Lucas went to USC and I went to UCLA and no one from any film school had ever made a feature movie ever so you know I sort of went to UCLA with a big advantage because I had been a theatre student and a theatre student one of the you know fundamental things a theatre student has to learn is about writing and acting well writing and acting are the magical ingredients of any theatre or cinema performance you can see a movie and it could have beautiful photography and it can have great art direction but if it has terrible acting and a dumb script it's not going to be successful yet a film that has a wonderful script and wonderful acting that has terrible photography and terrible art direction and everything else can be a hit so I always say that acting and writing is the water and is the oxygen oxygen and hydrogen that make water that if you if you focus on the writing and the acting and of course you want the music and the photography everything to be beautiful but those are really where the magic I think happens so having come from theatre I a lot of a lot more about acting than any of the cinema students who were much more into the camera the great film director Orson Welles once said that you can learn everything about how to make movies in a weekend meaning the camera the editing and more or less of course that's a little overdoing it he when he made his first film had a great photographer but nonetheless it's somewhat true the camera and stuff is not the hard part the hard part is the writing in the acting so having done focused on that in theater I had an advantage when I went into the film school because there were philosophy student terrence malick was a philosophy student there were they were crazy to get their hands on cameras and I had already worked with actors so and and also there's a sort of prejudice against actors in I don't know if you know what I'm saying but there's a sort of jock mentality about actors among the film crews they think oh my god they're such a you know I'm a what do they do after him what an actor does is really hard because if you play a violin not only do you have to be able to play the violin you've got the violin between you in the audience the actor has to sort of do what like a violinist does except his instrument is himself or herself so it's really terrifying to be an actor and at the same time fight the self-consciousness that anyone would have so I always have movies and and theatre with tremendous respect for the actors and and the the actors the actresses today like to be known as actors because it comes from the verb to act it's the one who acts not that you act a role which it indirectly means but it's the actor means that the principal person making movement within the story could be a man or a woman could be an actor so actress is sort of like Professor s a you know a lady professor it's its diminutive so at any rate I had this advantage of having been a drama student and also having been enough Machiavellian that I could conspire which is what you have to do to get a movie off the ground certain in those days to try to conspire to put together a movie which I did and I got to me and because I was the first student to really make a feature film some other students from USA heard about this weird guy notably George Lucas who was about four years five years younger than four years younger than me and so he kind of came around a skinny kid with a beard when I was directing a picture at Warner Brothers and these kid is watching me everyone on the show was old and wore suits here's a skinny kid with the beard and I looked at him looking at me and I said well what do you see and he said not much and with that we became friends immediately and we started hanging out together and ultimately he became sort of an assistant he wouldn't say that now but because he he was younger and I've known George Lucas throughout all of his career produced his first movies like thx 1138 and American Graffiti before he went off on his own to do the astonishing work that he did and he's remained my friend he's - he's one of the few directors who still lives more or less in Northern California I think saman knows him and did I answer your question no but you know just following up on George was something you just told me which I found fascinating but the more I hear your story I'm connecting dots he - you aren't just known for writing and directing these great films there's also a famous character and popular fiction that is based off of you yeah that's Han Solo because George felt that I was that I just took crazy reckless chances and would jump off the mountain without knowing what was down there to land on and that I would end up with no money so he created you can look it up say Francis Coppola Han Solo and he'll you'll find it so I'm sort of the dashing failure dude how do you do you agree with that do you see yourself in Han Solo well I know what you know George is what I used to call you I always call an old stick-in-the-mud because George is very conservative although he is a man nation is wild but in his personal life he's pretty conservative and I'm the opposite I'm much more I'm not afraid of taking chances and taking risks because you we so far what we know you get this one life and the worst thing that could possibly happen when you're this old old old man or old woman to say be they're getting ready to die saying oh I wish I had done this I wish I had done that I wish that's that's you don't want to do that in my case I'm gonna say oh I got to make movies and I got to see my kids make movies and I got to make wine and I got to do it burn metal works and I'm gonna be so busy talking about all the things I got to do now when I die I'm not gonna notice it and that's my recommendation so I think that connects to another thing that it's pretty obvious when people hear you but above and beyond this I mean learning itself and I think this is a connection between yourself and what we try to do here at Khan Academy you know and its core learning is a bit of a passion of yours in and of itself well it's totally makes sense I mean in life there are many wonderful things you can do there are many pleasurable things many of them unfortunately have a bad side if you drinking wine and and and and alcohol in moderation can be can be a wonderful thing but too much will make you sick or anything you do that brings pleasure if you think girls are great you're running after girls and your wife is gonna I've been married 53 years so I know the value of having having one one wife for a lifetime but you you know so you can't do that so you know if you eat too much you'll just get disgustingly fat which I have a problem with but but but in life learning is as much a pleasure as any of those things and there's no bad bad part there's no it doesn't bite you back and you can't learn too much and over though I've over learned this month I just don't feel the only thing I know like learning like that is music that I don't know any way unless maybe if you're listening to eardrum breaking rock-and-roll where it could be bad but music is generally good for you and we could talk about that because there's a philosophy that believes that music is the only way that we can really understand what's really out there beyond our senses any rate so so so learning I always thought when I was a little kid if they said to me you know for France you're about to learn about this and about that and you're gonna learn about algebra and algebra comes from the Arabs that was called algebra and they probably learned it from the Greeks and it's really an exciting way to cipher no one ever told me at the beginning of my education what a lot of joy is fun it was it always had me scared that I was gonna get that visit for missing shman to my father and then I would get a you know in those days there was you got hit if you got bad report cards which I did so so but no one ever told me but the exciting side of learning and that not only that I still how much school am I gonna you never had school I'm 77 and I learned so much every night I'm learn now I'm learning about genetics which is really fascinating about the human genome and the chromosomes and the genes and it's amazing to know that the scientists didn't even understand that really until the 80s I mean that's reason some of you were probably well not you guys the some of you were born in the 80s and imagine they didn't even understand how the how the gene worked and they don't entirely know well that's what I'm learning about now and it's it's thrilling it's so exciting and or to learn about history and understand really you know we all know that the world is troubled and that a lot of it focuses on the Middle East and Islam but no one knows that really you have to go back to almost to the first world war to understand the bad feelings that were engendered at that time and and also that Islam is not Islam was the the the the zenith of intellectual study and science in the 13 section a 13th century in terms of what's interesting because in Islam you have to pray five times a day and you have to point when you pray towards Mecca so it was to their advantage to really understand time so they knew they would pray at the right time each day so they studied the heavens to be masters of time and the reason that Islamic science knew so much about the heavens and time was for that reason you know it's because they and they want the point in the right direction so they brought so much to us in these areas of astronomy and navigation of course the the Islam the those states were close to ancient Greece so they preserved a lot of the knowledge that had been in Greek and that's how we still have such things you know as algebra yeah and before we open it up for some questions from from the audience how did how did we get connected what what what was your kind of how did you bump into Khan Academy well I ran across the name and that you were gonna that you had a course in algebra and I said why was I so stupid that I didn't understand grasp algebra so I looked at the beginning algebra course and I said gee if I had had this I wouldn't have failed algebra three times ever I understand no one ever explained it that there was that this was a method for solving problems I always said why do I care what X means I want to know what's something that I know me you know but no one explained to me that it was a it was essentially a procedure an algorithm as you wish to learn how to solve a problem they didn't say that to me they just have you're in bad trouble you're flunking algebra and since I was not I wasn't at the school from the beginning I was a new kid I just assumed I was stupid which is what they told me so I with that for some questions well what excites me about film there are many fuels that interest me I mean history philosophy philosophy is the study of how to think I mean what's better than it learn how to think because you have to realize when these early early people occupied the earth they didn't no one was there to teach them anything so they had to decide for themselves and using the thought process of well this earth as fire there's water there's air maybe these are the basic elements they just were using their ability to think to uncover so that's a wonderful fuel but in terms of film what's interesting to me about film is that in the last 15 years film which used to be a photochemical that was used to have photographic film that you'd put in a mechanical device and would take a series of stills then you had to send it to the lab and develop it in the last 15 years all of the elements of filmmaking have changed from photo mechanical and mechanical to digital electronic so the editing machine really is a computer now in which you compress the images and put it in a computer and then you can cut them together as you wish the camera has become so high in its quality that a digital camera is sufficient to take the picture which only 35 millimeter film used to be able to take and the projector and the theatres you go to and you go to the movie theaters they're not they're not loading up cans of film they're also digital and there's possible to connect to them through satellite so in the last 15 years everything about filmmaking or cinema has changed totally to a different technology and my feeling is that how could that happen without the some degree it changed the essence what a what a movie is because now it's being made so don't lead if early that perhaps there are new horizons that wouldn't have been possible in the old days when it was really a piece of photographic film new things that we can do that we couldn't do before and that's sort of personally what I'm I'm experimenting with something I call live cinema what is live cinema live cinema means it's in my case a story told through what like a movie it looks like a movie except the actors are actually doing it live in that moment now we all know that they do live television like some of you probably saw Peter Pan or The Sound of Music but whenever you see a live show on television or a soap opera or something it looks like television it doesn't behave like a movie yet when we see a movie on television we know it's a movie just even though it's coming on in the same way it looks like a movie the way the story is told is different the shots are telling the action in a different way so what I'm interested in is learning how to it to be cinema so that it looks and behaves like a movie you wouldn't know that it's even not a movie except the actors are doing it live in that moment and to do that I did two workshops recently one at UCLA and one in Oklahoma Community College where the school invited me to work with their students and let me do my my idea there as an experimental workshop what we call a proof of concept to see if you could do it and and I learned so much that I wrote a little book that I've just finishing called live cinema and his techniques and it's my hope personally that that I would get the opportunity before I do the final oh I got to do this I had to do that to get to do Oh some live cinema it's something I've written I want to remind you all that I used to be a drama counselor in a camp when I was 17 so I used to just all summer I first went first week I do plays with the six girls than I do plays with the seven and eight-year-olds then nine and ten-year-olds and they're finally at the end of the summer we'd bring the boys at fifteen and the girls at fifteen from the nearby girls camp and do a musical boy without an experience I missed a couple of my name's Gia I work on the sustainability team here constantly it's such an honor to have you here I'm a huge fan of her films I also love the poster daughters I wanted to ask what kind of advice did you give her when she was starting out her film career and also how did you balance your role both as a father and as producer thank you well Sophie it was always a very precocious little kid she was even at age six and seven she was I remember I once took her which was I mean five or four we all had to make on Godfather - we had to go to the Dominican Republic in and we flew in this plane and we got off in Miami and it was really hot and humid and I said to her Sophia how do you like Miami and she said it's not Miami it's your a me so I knew I was in for a ride with Sophia but it's interesting she came to me when she was around 21 22 and she said dad you know I'm interested in fashion and I'm interested in fashion photography and she done some modeling and designing clothes and I'm interested in writing stories but I really want to be a painter and paint am I just a dilettante and I said to her you know parents always make the mistake of wanting their kids to focus in on something I'm telling you the opposite don't focus do everything you love because if you learn about everything you love one day what you're meant to do in your life will just come in together for you and it will be something that makes use of all the different things someday you'll find what you want to do and it will involve stories and will involve fashion and those things and it turned out that a few years later she made a short film at her Highschool and I could see that she had a lot of talent so I do think that parents often because you know we in the past there was a terrible depression way before in the 30s but people were traumatized that their kids needed to study something they could make a living with and you know the the best way to do that is just don't special I think people may disagree but don't specialize too young because being interested in one thing might stop you from thinking you could be interested in nothing be interested in everything you can be everything you love you should learn about because then one day it will all come together and be useful for whatever it is you choose you want to do with your life and that was the case with Sophia what's middle school what grade is middle school well six I was sixth grade I was paralyzed in bed watching television watching television day and night and that was before the remote control so I was stuck I couldn't walk to change it I was a prisoner of mid-50s television but you know my school you know I went to 22 schools before I went to college so I I was always I felt like an outsider I had no friends at all you don't have time to make friends and when you're there for six months and I always did badly so I was always in trouble with my father I wish that I had the sense to say when he was coming at me seeing my report card with his belt folded in his hand I wish I said but you take me out of school every six months so how can I possibly get good marks so I was a sad lonely kid through middle school and wanted to have friends and kept moving to different places and when you move as far away as like from New York in California it's really different in those days la Los Angeles was so different from you they didn't have baseball they didn't have comic books stores they didn't have White Castle hamburgers and and so I was just miserable at that your age I hate to say but Hemingway Ernest Hemingway the writer the famous American writer said that if you want to be a writer you should have an unhappy childhood so I had an unhappy family well my real first movie was a little horror film that I made in Ireland when I was about I mean a feature film when I was about 21 and you know I guess what struck me was I always have been a person with a lot of good ideas or a good imagination I would always see all these things but when you make a film you have to take what's in your mind and what is your imagination and you have to find practical ways to do it and it's not always as easy as you think that it's kind of what they say in car terminology when the rubber meets the road in other words the world of imagination and fantasy is wonderful because you have no limits it's just as you could just cook something up in your mind but then to translate that into a form that other people can see and enjoy involves a lot of practical stuff of scheduling and budget and you know you're the shot you had in mind you can't really fit it in it's not like you thought so you have to learn as part of the creative process to learn to be inventive and flexible to to try to there's two rows this what you imagined and to what you can do and you have to be the one between those and use whatever cleverness you can to get this why when I made my first film I realized that that practical side was really very important or you wouldn't get the great ideas in the film so yeah just to close out and I think all of us would love to sit here all day and continue to torille whole week but but just to finish off you know there's some parallels between what we're doing and things that you're interested in and that you have experience in especially as you just talked about film going into a new era with the technology obviously we're trying to do things along those lines of Education trying to reach a lot of folks what advice at any forum would you have to everyone here but the students and the members of Khan Academy as we go off on our journey well all human beings and all animals really seem to be good at play we like to play it's a natural thing we do and we have to realize that work that we do later in life is really a development of that so I try to keep the work I do as much like play as I can I can make a quick demonstration if you want to quit absolutely could I have what can I get about this group of kids in a circle where is there I do that over there where we can see you okay this is an acting exercise right so in their Sena just the one yeah okay how many you are well though everyone's sitting down here go make a circle over there I would do it with everyone but the V I don't see your space now make a circle will hold your hands in a circle okay good now make the circle as wide as you can come out to me all right now is that about it a little more okay now this is an acting exercise the actors have to be very concentrated because they have to appear when someone says something to them they have to make it seem as though they're seeing it for the first time like if you say something in a play it's in the script so you know you're gonna say it but how do you do so we play a game when I work with actors I try to make it as much fun as I can this game is called sound ball and the way it's played if I go like that I have an imaginary ball right boom boom pop I'm gonna throw it to you you catch it now here's didn't uh throw back to me okay now I'm gonna throw it to you but I'm gonna make a sound when I throw it ready pop now when you catch it you catch it with pop and then you throw it to me you give it its own your own sound you want to boo okay so when you catch it you catch it with the sound that person through with you and this is to teach actors concentration to they don't know when when a line is gonna come to them all right so here we go can you do it throw the ball to him throw the bowl to anyone you want baby ain't make a sound catch it with the sound and throw it with another sound make it louder oh you got to do it a little faster Fred can you do it faster let's go make it hard make the sounds clear so they could do it now what we're gonna do we'll do the same thing to go a little faster and I'm gonna throw a second ball in really high ready I'll start it ready Bop do once more when you get the idea you have to be aware if you're an actor you have to be aware and that look like you're aware but if someone's gonna throw you the ball you want to be there to catch it you're ready I'm gonna do it again Bing Bing hmm WAP we get the idea but there are a million acting games that call theater games that we could play and whenever possible if you can work and develop something that you want to develop like in this case concentration it's better to do it through the form of play because then the day becomes fun so I try to make all the work especially creative work because that's so much fun as you know as much play as possible for us and I think everyone watching on Facebook and online thank you thank you