Francis Ford Coppola: On Risk, Money, Craft & Collaboration

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How does an aspiring artist bridge the gap between distribution and commerce?

We have to be very clever about those things. You have to remember that it’s only a few hundred years, if that much, that artists are working with money. Artists never got money. Artists had a patron, either the leader of the state or the duke of Weimar or somewhere, or the church, the pope. Or they had another job. I have another job. I make films. No one tells me what to do. But I make the money in the wine industry. You work another job and get up at five in the morning and write your script.

This idea of Metallica or some rock n’ roll singer being rich, that’s not necessarily going to happen anymore. Because, as we enter into a new age, maybe art will be free. Maybe the students are right. They should be able to download music and movies. I’m going to be shot for saying this. But who said art has to cost money? And therefore, who says artists have to make money?

via The 99 Percent.

There Are 28 Comments On This Article.

  1. “I’m going to be
    shot for saying this. But who said art has to cost money? And
    therefore, who says artists have to make money?”

    well the bank that owns my mortgage says so, the people I pay my insurance say so; the people I buy my groceries say so; the utilities companies that supply me with gas, water and electricity say so; my daughter’s college fund says so; the idea that I may want to retire some day say so; the companies I buy and rent gear from say so; my assistants say so; and so on all the way down to the vintners whose wine I buy – they all say so.

    • @Ellis Vener, But none of those are telling you to be an artist. You are the one insisting on that.

      • @Erik,

        Exactly. I work a desk job I don’t enjoy nearly as much as taking photos but it allows me to only shoot what I want with no input from anyone else. I come home and start my second job, working most weeknights until 2am on photo. Luckily, I don’t have to be in the office until 10am. The day job’s both a blessing and a curse.

        “You work another job and get up at five in the morning and write your script.”

        • @J. Wesley Brown, Indeed. My “desk job” happens to be commercial photography, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less soul sucking than one not involving photography. Yes, I get to work on my craft, but it has little to do with my art.

          If I could not do it, and pay my bills, I wouldn’t.

  2. “I’m going to be
    shot for saying this. But who said art has to cost money? And
    therefore, who says artists have to make money?” – Francis Ford Coppola

    Dear Mr Coppola,

    The bank that owns my mortgage says so; the people I purchase my insurance policies from say so; the people I buy my groceries from say so; the utilities companies that supply me with gas, water and electricity say so; my daughter’s college fund says so; the idea that I may want to retire some day say so; the companies I buy and rent gear from say so; my assistants say so; and so on all the way down to the vintners whose wine I buy – they all say “Ellis make money.”

    • c.d.embrey

      @Ellis Vener, Stop confusing what you do as ART. You are a COMMERCIAL photographer.

      On a very few days the stars will all be in alignment and one of your COMMERCIAL jobs will be ART, but not many.

      • @c.d.embrey,

        yes I make money from commercial assignments. But I also make photographs that aren’t generated by commercial or editorial assignments. Photographs that are made with the same impulse that must have guided Van Gogh to paint sunflowers or a starry night sky or Picasso to sketch and paint — to see what my visual ideas and senses look like when they take a tangible form.

        • c.d.embrey

          @Ellis Vener, Do you expect to be paid BigBux for Art Photographs that aren’t generated by commercial or editorial assignments? Or are you doing as FFC suggests and using you Day-Job to finance your Van Gogh moments?

          • @c.d.embrey,
            “Do you expect to be paid BigBux for Art Photographs that aren’t generated by commercial or editorial assignments?”

            Yes I do, and sometimes it actually happens. Sometimes in large lump sums (some print sales and stock licensing fees) and sometimes in the accumulation of small sums in the forms of royalties for smaller print sales and stock licensing fees.

            If the question is: Do I expect Albert Watson, Bruce Weber, Andre Gursky, or Annie Leibovitz kinds of money? the answer to that is no.

            If your only point is to put me down, well… that is your problem and not mine.

  3. The reason art costs money is because people want it. People pay money for what they want.

    If there is only one painting, and many people want to own it, clearly the person who is offering the most money for it will get it. (unless the artist has a soft spot for someone they want to give it to.)

    The same is true for ad or editorial clients…. There may be some people that will shoot their job for free. But, they want to secure an artist that brings the look to the brand they need for their branding message. What’s in it for the artist to shoot the message of a drug of insurance company, an orange juice, or an airline, if not for money?

  4. Coppola is right and I”m glad that he took the risk to say it out loud. There will always be money in advertising and creating products (like pop music) for consumers. But maybe that’s not art and maybe people should stop confusing traded commodities and propaganda with art. The magazine rack at the grocery store might stimulate the senses but it is not a gallery, and the guy screaming into a microphone and pounding power chords on a guitar might be entertaining but he’s not Bach.

  5. Donnar Party

    Let’s remember that Francis Ford is talking about art, not commercial art. He says it flat: get another job if you want to create art. Get a patron. Or make commercial art to fund your art.

    Commercial art is a job. When I shot ads for telecoms giants it sure won’t art. It was always someone’s well designed comp, with my input. So yeah, lets get paid for the commercial art so we can pay the mortgage etc., but lets not confuse the audience to which Farncis Ford’s comments are directed.

    • @Donnar Party,

      My thoughts exactly. Demanding to be paid for art simply because you chose to be an artist and it takes money to make art (and a living) is a rather circular argument.

    • c.d.embrey

      @Donnar Party, Seems like many people DO confuse Photography and Art. 99% of photos, created by professional photographers, do not qualify as ART, but they do qualify as COMMERCE. And you should be paid for your COMMERCE.

      Most “Fine-Art-Photographers” don’t create ART either, although they would like you to think they do. 8-D

  6. How can art be free when it costs so much to produce? My 4×5 film costs money to own, develop, scan and print. Even if I am not producing work for some other entity to use commercially, if I am only producing work for the pleasure of myself and others, that work should carry a cost of ownership. At the very least because it cost me a lot to produce it.

    How can you be motivated, to spend the money it takes to produce quality work, if no one believes it should have a monetary value? Yes there is the idea of doing it for love, but damn, if I can make some cash to buy more film, that’s not so bad either.

  7. That Francis, who is a longtime presence in my neighborhood, is writing this is funny on several levels, even if there is food for thought in what he is saying. For a start, he might have made more films if he hadn’t won a reputation as a director who can’t manage money very well(mostly other people’s money). He has been a great artist, no question about it. But his development of a parellell career in the wine and hospitality industries might not have occurred had he been more in demand as a director. There are artists who do good work and struggle to survive. There are others who make their money from their art and manage it well. Everybody needs to pay the rent, the school fees, the health insurance, etc..

    • Donnar Party

      @john mcd., Studios were always a little shy after Apocolypse Now, and the near disaster during production of Godfather III. The fact that he pulled off both of those films, despite himself, is pretty amazing.

  8. “Artists never got money. Artists had a patron…” I don’t understand. Patrons paid artists to create their art. Essentially, patrons were the clients of the day. How is that not getting money? I’m sure Michelangelo had to show the pope a lot of comps for that marking piece he did on that ceiling.

  9. Hmm… I’m not sure what Francis is saying when he asserts that, “Artists never got money. Artists had a patron…”. As I understand it, patronage was [still is] a form of payment: either you were given monetary support, or you were given food, shelter, clothing, supplies, probably assistants, etc. in exchange for your art-work.

    Also, I think maybe it’s easy for Mr. Coppola to talk about having a “job” (a winery) in addition to making his “art” (films) when he has so much help doing both…both financial help, and help in the form of laborers-employees. I’m pretty sure Francis is not up there in Anderson Valley running his winery business by himself (and he’s certainly not alone on the set of a film).

    I think most artists are solo endeavors, or else very small operations — like maybe they have a husband/wife/partner and perhaps a paid assistant or two (or maybe just an unpaid intern or two). I’m sure Mr. Coppola works hard, but it’s extremely difficult to have the time and energy to keep making your art AND hold down a job when you really are doing it all yourself.

    What’s more, wasn’t Mr. Coppola able to get into the winery business only after making a lot of money through his “art”…? I could be wrong about this, but that has always been my impression!

  10. Konstantin Minov

    Don’t be that jumpy, guys. All he says is art is not necessarily a job. And that’s the beauty of it.

  11. I think this is the most important thing in what he says.

    “What is the one thing to keep in mind when making a film?
    When you make a movie, always try to discover what the theme of the movie is in one or two words. Every time I made a film, I always knew what I thought the theme was, the core, in one word. In “The Godfather,” it was succession. In “The Conversation,” it was privacy. In “Apocalypse,” it was morality.

    The reason it’s important to have this is because most of the time what a director really does is make decisions. All day long: Do you want it to be long hair or short hair? Do you want a dress or pants? Do you want a beard or no beard? There are many times when you don’t know the answer. Knowing what the theme is always helps you.

    I remember in “The Conversation,” they brought all these coats to me, and they said: Do you want him to look like a detective, Humphrey Bogart? Do you want him to look like a blah blah blah. I didn’t know, and said the theme is ‘privacy’ and chose the plastic coat you could see through. So knowing the theme helps you make a decision when you’re not sure which way to go.”