Francis Ford Coppola’s Technique to Break Down The Godfather’s Novel
There is always something new to learn from Francis Ford Coppola‘s adaptation of The Godfather. This video is not new but was to me and I found it really inspiring, especially in these times where everything is about the latest software to type your screenplay faster.
In the video below, Coppola explains how he went on working on Mario Puzo‘s massive novel to keep track of the key scenes, make sure everything stayed cohesive, find out what were the points to be particularly careful about so that each scene would work etc… Here is how he went about creating what he named his ‘multi-layered roadmap’:
#1 – Writing down his impressions during the first reading
“Those are the first instincts about what you think was good or what you didn’t understand, or what you thought was bad.”
#2 – Creating a Prompt Book
Inspired by the play’s treatment in theater, Coppola created a frame around each page of the book, so he would have margins to write down additional commentaries and notes. As you can from the picture above, those margins proved useful.
#3 – Creating his own scenes break down
Coppola didn’t follow the chapters break down but instead created a break down for each section he felt made a scene.
#4 – Analyzing each scene through a list of set criteria
Once his scene break down done, Coppola would go through each scene and review it through the prism of these 5 criteria:
- a Synopsis of the scene
- The Times: how the times the scene takes place influence the story
- Imagery and Tone
- The Core
- The Pitfalls: what were the risks if the scene was not executed well.
Coppola gives several examples as of how this notebook helped him keep track of specific scenes in the films, but also fight against Paramount’s decision to make the film in the 70s instead of the 40s to save money. As he explained: “I had done this preparation before I wrote the script, so I wrote the script from this, but the script was really an unnecessary document, I didn’t need a script because I could have made the movie just from this notebook.“