Building The Godfather with Francis Ford Coppola

At the age of 29, Francis Ford Coppola was preparing to create the masterpiece that he never knew. Centering on the fictional Sicilian crime family, Coppola made it a priority to stay away from stereotypes. He never had any ties to a mob family, but the Italian director definitely knew about Italian-American culture.

This film changed the world of entertainment, not just the film industry. It is a film that is imitated and used to this day, in music, animation, clothing, art, and even food. The Godfather was released in 1972, which won three Academy Awards, including best adapted screenplay and best picture. Its successor, The Godfather: Part II went on to win six Academy Awards. The final in the trilogy, The Godfather: Part III was nominated for an Academy Award in 1991.

According to Fresh Air’s Terry Gross, Coppola said that he was unaware of how successful the movie would become. Being a young director, Coppola was more concerned with being able to do direct the movie how he wanted it. “It was just the most frightening and depressing experience I think I’ve ever had. I had no power and yet I had real opinions in how it should be done”, said Coppola.

The director also shared how the writer Mario Puzo would critique scenes in the film. One familiar scene that Puzo had to critique was Clemenza cooking the pasta sauce. “I said in the dialogue, ‘First, you brown some sausage, and then you blah blah blah.’ And, the note from Mario on the script said, ‘Francis. Gangsters don’t brown. Gangsters fry.’ So, that’s who Mario was. He was always correcting with notes on the page. It’s true. Gangsters would never say ‘brown’.”

On the violent scenes in The Godfather, Coppola said that he was inspired and impressed by the original Bonnie and Clyde film. He found out who provided the special effects, which was A.D. Flowers. Coppola would have Flowers work on The Godfather and Apocalypse Now.