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The Difficult Filming of ‘Apocalypse Now’

February 5, 1992

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ When friends marvel at how Eleanor Coppola has survived her marriage to turbulent filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola, she replies: ″It’s hard, up, down, all around, but never boring.″

The marriage’s most punishing period came with the filming of ″Apocalypse Now″ in the Philippines. Mrs. Coppola wrote about it in a book, ″Notes,″ published in 1979.

Now the entire adventure can be seen in a documentary, ″Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse.″

It’s all there: the firing of the leading man, the heart attack of his replacement, the destructive typhoon, civil war, the budget ballooning from $12 million to $30 million, wrangles with Marlon Brando, Coppola’s near breakdown, a near breakup of the Coppola marriage.

Mrs. Coppola, who’s been content to remain in her husband’s Olympian shadow, seems uncomfortable in the spotlight. A soft-spoken woman with blonde Dutch-boy hair, she gave a rare interview at the small Benedict Canyon home which is the Coppolas’ Los Angeles base.

During the filming of ″Apocalypse Now,″ Mrs. Coppola produced 60 hours of offstage film for a proposed documentary.

″Initially my assignment was to get five minutes of footage for television promotional purposes,″ she said. ″Since I had so much film, there were different ideas on what to do with it. One was to edit it with lots of explosions and special effects to sell the movie to the European market. Another faction wanted a woman’s perspective of the filming; the consensus was that women would not be interested in seeing ‘Apocalypse Now.’

″Francis didn’t want Marlon Brando to be in the documentary because he wanted to present Brando as a very theatrical person doing a performance he had never done before.″

Because of the conflicting opinions, the footage was put into storage. It remained there until 1989 when two young filmmakers, George Zaloom and Les Mayfield, suggested a look at the film’s making from a historical perspective.

Coppola’s Zoetrope Studios found financing from Showtime, which showed ″Hearts of Darkness″ on its pay channel. Now it’s been released theatrically.

Why would Mrs. Coppola relive such a painful period in her family’s life?

″Because we’re looking back to something that happened 12-15 years ago, You’re really quite detached from it, as if you were looking at your college yearbook. It was a very important and vital time in your life, but you’re not emotionally attached to it.″

She reported her husband’s reason for showing that rough period: ″Because it’s history 3/8″

He even joked that he should be considered for an Academy Award for his performance as Francis Coppola.

They were students at UCLA in the early ’60s, but they didn’t meet on campus. An art major, she was aware of his reputation as the whiz of the film school. When she was invited to serve as assistant art director on a low- budget film in Ireland, she welcomed the opportunity. The film was ″Dementia 13.″ The writer-director: Francis Ford Coppola.

″We worked together for the duration of the film and became fast friends,″ she said. ″I always felt that that was such a solid foundation for a life together. Our romance later grew out of this period when we were working partners.″

They were married in 1963, and their first child was Gian-Carlo (who died in a boating accident during filming of ″Gardens of Stone″). Roman was born in Paris in 1965 while Francis was writing ″Is Paris Burning?″ and Sofia in 1971 during the making of ″The Godfather″ in New York.

″I was very independent and ambitious when I got married,″ she recalled, ″so it was quite a shock to me to realize that I was in an Italian marriage where the wife has the kids and you come along with the family. At first I worried about that. ... I was a free-lance designer, I had to stop projects in order to go on locations with Francis.

″We had a family right away, and I felt that I was sort of missing out on my career. Then I realized how much I was learning and what an extraordinary experience it was, being part of the creative process. In retrospect I think that my life is much richer than if I had had a career.″

Mrs. Coppola observed that her husband’s portrait in ″Hearts of Darkness″ is in character:

″He’s had many experiences like ‘Apocalypse Now’ - that creative process of not knowing how to resolve a project, of getting new ideas along the way. Of course, ‘Godfather III,’ was a complicated experience. That really shows his process, I think.

″It’s that process of having a vision of what you want the film to be and going through the obstacles in order to realize it.″

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