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Apocalypse Now Info

Page history last edited by Jayson Yeagley 10 years, 9 months ago





Apocalypse Now was directed by Francis Ford Coppola. The original idea for the film was conceived in 1969. Coppola had just formed his own production company, American Zoetrope. He worked with screenwriter John Milius to produce the script for a movie about the Vietnam war, based loosely on Joseph Conrad’s short novel Heart of Darkness. Initial interest from Warner Bros. came to nothing and despite approaches to a number of other studios, no financial backing for the project could be found:


‘People were so bitter about the war just then. We were living in the time when there really were riots on the streets. People were spitting on soldiers. Studio executives are the last people who are going to get in the middle of that thing, you know. Studio executives are not noted for their social courage.”


John Milius

Coppola shelved the script and went on to win eight Academy Awards and break all box-office records with The Godfather (1971) and its sequel The Godfather, Part 11(1975). He revived the idea of making Apocalypse Now in 1975 and, with the sort of reputation be now had, he was able to raise the $13 million dollar budget he estimated would be necessary to complete the venture.


MarIon Brando, who had worked with Coppola on The Godfather, was engaged to play the key role of Kurtz, the Green Beret Colonel. He was at the height of his popularity and Coppola agreed a fee of $3 million dollars for three weeks work on the film, $1 million of which was paid in advance. Robert Duvall, who bad been in both Godfather films, was also brought in to take the part of the Air Cavalry Colonel Kilgore. Harvey Keitel was given the main role of Captain Willard who is assigned the mission to kill Kurtz.

The original conception had been to make the movie on location in Vietnam, presumably with the war raging around actors and crew. But by the time shooting began in 1976 the Americans had withdrawn from Vietnam and an alternative location had to he found. Coppola selected the Philippines. He negotiated with Ferdinand Marcos, then the President of the Philippines, to hire Philippino Air Force helicopters and pilots, and construction began of the main set, Kurtz’s compound, deep in the jungle.

From the beginning the project was beset with problems After the first week of filming there was a crisis over the casting. Coppola and his editors looked at the footage and decided that Harvey Keitel was wrong for the part be had been hired to play.

“We bit the bullet and did what is a very. very unpleasant thing that is replace an actor

in mid shooting. Not only unpleasant but expensive since we had to throw out several

weeks of work and start over.


Fred Roos: Co-producer


Keitel was replaced by Martin Sheen and filming started again. Unfortunately the Philippino government was engaged in fighting terrorists in the south of the country and the helicopters and pilots who were crucial to the shooting of many scenes were frequently called off the set to take part in real combat. The attack by Kilgore on the Vietnamese village was technically difficult enough in the first place hut was constantly delayed by the disappearance of the helicopters to fight the rebels. Halfway through shooting, a typhoon hit the Philippines and destroyed the main set. Filming had to be suspended for two months while a new one was built. At a later stage Martin Sheen suffered a major heart attack and was away from the set for two months recovering.

In addition to events like these which were beyond Coppola’s control, there were also artistic alterations which pushed the movie further and further over budget. For example, one scene was to be set in an old French Plantation. French actors were engaged and expensive costumes and props flown out to recreate exactly an authentic.


look for the scene. Once it was finished Coppola decided it did not work and all the footage was thrown out. Another difficulty emerged when MarIon Brando finally came on set. Coppola had already re-written the ending and he and Brando spent hours discussing how it should be played - an expensive business at $1 million dollars a week.

Coppola appeared stoical about the mounting budget crisis. As speculation in the media centred on the project collapsing and bankrupting him, Coppola likened making movies to constructing bridges and buildings:

“They’re huge projects. They always go over budget.”

But as he grappled with financial and artistic difficulty it was apparent to his wife, Eleanor, that the film was putting immense stress on Coppola. She wrote in her diary:

“Francis is making a film which is a metaphor for a journey into self He has made that journey and is still making it. It’s scary to watch someone you love go into the centre of himself and confront his fears: fear of failure, fear of death, fear of going insane. You have to fail a little; die a little; go insane a little.”

It is tempting to draw parallels between Coppola’s own crisis and the fictional journeys towards confrontation with profound moral questions made by Marlow, the narrator of’ Conrad’s novel, and Willard, his counterpart in Apocalypse Now. Coppola survived the experience of financing and directing the project and Apocalypse Now was eventually released in 1979, winning the Palme D’Or award at the Cannes Film Festival and Oscars for Best Cinematography and Best Sound.




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