Why Francis Ford Coppola Was Nearly Fired During The Godfather's Production

While Mario Puzo's book "The Godfather" isn't usually mentioned in the canon of the Great American Novel, Francis Ford Coppola's film adaptation is unquestionably one of the Great American Movies. In the 10th-anniversary edition of the American Film Institute's 100 Years...100 Movies list, "The Godfather" was second only to "Citizen Kane." However, Coppola's reputation as the premier auteur of the 1970s was not yet established when he made "The Godfather."

He had directed four other films in the '60s, but none of them were on the level of the four classics he would helm in the '70s: "The Godfather," "The Conversation," "The Godfather Part II," and "Apocalypse Now." Paramount Pictures, the film's production company and distributor, didn't have confidence in him, and according to Coppola, this and other factors almost got him booted from "The Godfather" while it was in development.

In an interview with Deadline (via The Playlist), he detailed some of the problems he faced while working on the project. It started with producer Bob Evans. Coppola said:

"I didn't get along with Bob Evans during 'The Godfather,' at all. He was so tough on me. I was seriously on the verge of getting fired maybe on three or four occasions. Had I not won the Oscar for 'Patton,' I would absolutely have been fired from 'The Godfather.' "

Coppola co-wrote the script for "Patton," but on Oscar night, he wasn't there to accept the award for Best Original Screenplay. He explained:

"I was in New York, about to get fired from 'The Godfather.' In fact, the night of the Oscars, I watched the show with Marty Scorsese and he said to me, 'How are they going to fire you now?' Because he knew I was in deep, deep trouble."

What Got Coppola in Trouble

There were a number of things that got Coppola in trouble with Evans and Paramount on "The Godfather." One of those was his casting ideas. He said:

"They hated the Al Pacino idea. They hated the [Marlon] Brando idea. They hated the fact that I decided to set it in New York and they fought it."

At the time, New York had a reputation for being, in Coppola's words, "inhospitable" and "expensive" to film productions. Add to this the cost of shooting "The Godfather" as a period picture, and it gave Paramount reason to balk at the New York idea. They wanted him to film in St. Louis instead.

Ultimately, Coppola got his way, and was able to shoot in New York with the actors he wanted. A number of those actors, including Pacino and Brando, would go on to earn their own Oscar nominations and wins for "The Godfather."

However, as "The Godfather Part II" came together in the wake of the first film's success, Coppola wasn't eager to take the director's chair again. He had so much trouble the first time that he pushed for a young Martin Scorsese, then relatively unknown, to direct the second film. It was only after Coppola asked Paramount to pay him a million dollars — and the studio surprisingly agreed to it — that Coppola took on the job himself.