WTF is going on with Francis Ford Coppola’s ‘Megalopolis’?

A number of sources have alleged that Coppola acted inappropriately throughout the film's production.

Francis Ford Coppola is taking the erratic mayhem he’s become synonymous with during production and channelling it into one final self-destructive implosion with his latest (and last) film – the heavily anticipated sci-fi epic, Megalopolis

The film is set to debut this Friday at the Cannes Film Festival, but the fact it’s even got to this stage is a miracle in itself. Megalopolis has been in development for more than 40 years, with the project plagued by endless rewrites and delays. In fact, the film likely wouldn’t have even come to fruition had Coppola not sold part of his successful winery estate to finance it when no one else would. 

Now, a new A new report from The Guardian alleges the filmmaker acted inappropriately throughout the movie’s production, including harassing multiple extras, and refusing to adhere to modern day movie-making techniques.

Troubled beginnings

Coppola’s career seems to have come to a stalemate in recent years, directing only three feature films since 1977, but Megalopolis was just one production he couldn’t let fall by the wayside. Production was rumoured to begin way back in 1989, with Coppola’s trusted production designer Dean Tavoularis and the comic book artist Jim Steranko designing sets. Cinematographer Ron Fricke reportedly shot more than 30 hours of  footage around New York for the film, and were in the city filming when 9/11 happened, causing Coppola to completely rethink the premise for his film. 

It took 40 years, but finally, in autumn 2022, shooting began at Atlanta’s Trilith studios. Mike Figgis, who was contacted by Coppola to direct a behind-the-scenes documentary about the making of the film, told World Of Reel that the director would consistently make things difficult for himself. “When he arrived in Atlanta, he was looking for accommodation for his extended family and he wasn’t finding anything he particularly liked. 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.”

“Has this guy ever made a movie before?”

It’s likely that production became a clash between Coppola’s old-school approach and spontaneity and newer digital film-making methods, such as filming actors in front of virtual CGI landscapes in a “volume” – a giant wall of LED screens. “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,” suggested one former crew member.

The virtual “volume” was abandoned in favour of more traditional “green screen” technology”, according to one source: “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 crew members would often find Coppola’s approach incredibly frustrating, especially due to his unpredictable nature: “We had these beautiful designs that kept evolving but he would never settle on one. And every time we would have a new meeting, it was a different idea.” When the crew members insisted they needed to do more work to determine how the film was going to look, they say, Coppola replied: “How can you figure out what Megalopolis looks like when I don’t even know what Megalopolis looks like?”

Plenty of time was supposedly wasted on set. A second crew member explained: “He 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.”

Meanwhile, a third crew member recalls they’d often question Coppola’s ability as a filmmaker. “This sounds crazy to say, but there were times when we were all standing around going: ‘Has this guy ever made a movie before?’”

Walking out 

Things came to a head in December 2022, roughly halfway through the 16-week shoot, when most of the visual effects and art teams were either fired or quit, according to The Hollywood Reporter. “I think he had to work quite hard to then figure out how to replace them,” says Figgis. “I think he just wanted to liberate himself while he was shooting. So he didn’t have to wait for stuff, and then he’d say ‘Oh, I’ll fix it later. I’ll fix it in post – which I guess he’s done.”

Inappropriate behaviour towards extras

Several sources also explained that Coppola could be “old school” with his inappropriate behaviour towards women. For example, he allegedly would pull women to sit on his lap. And during one nightclub scene being shot for the film, sources say Coppola came onto the set and tried to kiss some of the topless female extras, allegedly claiming he was “trying to get them in the mood”.

In response to comments about Coppola’s on-set behaviour, the executive co-producer Darren Demetre stated: “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.”

Relationship with the cast

Adam Driver previously told The Face that working with Coppola was a positive experience, describing the director as “a visionary”. And while there has been no issues raised by the cast in regards to the director’s conduct, Coppola did allegedly butt heads with Shia LaBeouf throughout production. “He and Shia had this wonderful combative relationship, which was very productive,” said Figgis. “Shia had a lot of questions, and sometimes Francis would be stressed by a bunch of other things and he would respond in a certain way. There was also a lot of humour involved, so it was very entertaining … But sometimes [Coppola] was just like, ‘Ugh, I can’t deal with this,’ and he’d just go into the Silverfish and direct from there.”

Mixed reactions

A private screening of Megalopolis in Los Angeles last month resulted in mixed reviews, according to IndieWire. “It’s so not good, and it was so sad watching it … This is not how Coppola should end his directing career,” said one critic. Meanwhile, director Gregory Nava claimed: “I feel I was a part of history. Megalopolis is a brilliant, visionary masterpiece.”

What Next?

Currently, it’s unclear whether any cast or crew members will take legal action against Coppola for any of his alleged inappropriate behaviour. The film is still set to premiere at Cannes this Friday, but is still awaiting on an official theatrical release date.

WriterChris Saunders