Francis Ford Coppola’s ‘Megalopolis’ in Peril Amid Ballooning Budget, Crew Exodus (Exclusive)
Francis Ford Coppola’s latest movie, the sci-fi-tinged Megalopolis, has descended into chaos, according to multiple sources. The movie, currently half-way through shooting in Atlanta, has in the last week lost key creative talent including its production designer and supervising art director. That’s on top of losing the entire visual effects team in the first part of December.
To many insiders, the self-financed production is giving severe Apocalypse Now redux vibes, one in which the iconoclast 83-year-old director is breaking a cardinal Hollywood rule: “Never spend your own money.”
Megalopolis has been a passion project, decades in the making for the filmmaker, who turned heads in the fall of 2021 when news broke that he would be self-financing the $120 million film, partially with the tens of millions he made selling his popular northern California wineries. The film’s budget has expanded and is now about halfway through its 80- to 90-day shoot, but a production source says it’s unclear whether the production can go forward as planned.
Representatives for Coppola have not responded to request for comment.
Coppola assembled a starry cast including Adam Driver, Nathalie Emmanuel, Forest Whitaker, Laurence Fishburne, Jon Voight, Talia Shire, Shia LaBeouf, Jason Schwartzman and Dustin Hoffman. The film centers on an architect who seeks to rebuild New York city as a utopia after a disaster. Sources say Coppola initially employed new virtual production technology similar to that used on The Mandalorian. But as the challenges and costs of that approach mounted, those sources say the production is attempting to pivot to a less costly, more traditional green-screen approach. “There’s no good answer here,” says a production executive. “[Coppola] is going to spend a lot more money than he intended. You can imagine how much he’s already got invested. It would be a very bitter pill not to finish it.”
Sources say Coppola, who has never made an effects-heavy movie, fired almost his entire visual effects team Dec. 9, with the rest of that department soon following. Mark Russell, a veteran whose credits include In the Heights and The Wolf of Wall Street, was leading the team as visual effects production supervisor. (Coppola famously fired his special effects department on Dracula 30 years earlier.)
More recently, the production designer Beth Mickle and supervising art director David Scott have departed. Between firings and resignations, a source says the film now has no art department. Russell, Mickle and Scott did not respond to requests for comment.
“The Art Directors Guild supports all Art Departments to ensure proper staffing and scheduling and is currently looking into the situation with Megalopolis to determine the next steps,” a spokesperson for the Art Directors Guild, which reps both art directors and production designers, said in a statement. “We have no further comment at this point.”
One talent representative whose client was among those fired says the dismissal was a blessing in disguise. “It was absolute madness, being on set,” this person says.
Despite the crew exits, Coppola is continuing on, hiring new staff this week according to sources.
In March 2022, Coppola told The Hollywood Reporter he was putting his own money into the film, which has no distributor, to make it his way. Said Coppola: “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’s methods have yielded some of what critics consider greatest films of all time, including The Godfather (1972) and its 1974 sequel, both of which one best picture at the Oscars. Yet he hasn’t had a hit since Dracula and last helmed the 2011 murder mystery feature Twixt, which starred Val Kilmer and Bruce Dern and was largely a home entertainment play.
The director has a long history of challenging productions. He self-finance the 1982 musical romance feature One from the Heart, which failed to perform, and followed it up with it up with The Cotton Club, the 1984 all-star crime drama. That movie, also a bomb, was notoriously known for not just for a troubled set — crew were abruptly fired — but also for a revolving door of financiers.
No more famous calamitous Coppola production was there than the making of Apocalypse Now, a grueling shoot that mirrored its story of a descent into madness and chaos. The 1979 movie went on to win two Oscars and became a classic.
At that year’s Cannes Film Festival, the filmmaker reflected, “We were in the jungle. We had access to too much money, too much equipment, and little by little we went insane.”
— Katie Kilkenny and Borys Kit contributed to this story.