In his latest book, Live Cinema and Its Techniques, Francis Ford Coppola, widely considered one of the greatest film director’s of all time, shares his brilliant vision for Live Cinema; a futuristic, evolving technique that combines methods used in live theater and live television which are implemented into a live format for movies. If television can be delivered live, and theater the same, why not cinema? Coppola couldn’t be closer to the truth, as he shares his experimentations. A lot of questions are proposed and answered in his book, in terms of the pros and cons of the process, in addition to the overall necessity of such an evolving format and/or medium to tell stories. The importance of a “shot” in cinema, versus a “scene” in theater and an “event” in television are compared and contrasted to levels of great detail and sophistication.
Francis Coppola juxtaposes the general methodology of the cinematography employed from his two most powerful films, Apocalypse Now (1979) and The Godfather (1972), where cinematographer Vittorio Storaro on Apocalypse Now used the camera equivalent to the way a hand moves a pen on paper, slithering the transfer with fluidity as Captain Willard (Martin Sheen) navigates his was through Vietnam and Cambodia to assassinate Colonel Kurtz (Marlon Brando). This method of camerawork is compared to the classical style of cinematography used by Gordon Willis on The Godfather, where each shot was laid down like the foundation of a house, built all the way up to its rooftop, thus completing the film. The characters of Apocalypse Now were being tracked by the camera, whereas in The Godfather they were being confronted by it.
Francis Coppola’s trials and tribulations with Live Cinema experimentation were documented in his book from two workshops he conducted at the University of California, Los Angeles and Oklahoma City Community College. Through trial and error, he figured out various methods to conduct a cinematic shot with multiple cameras while not revealing other optical instruments in each individual shot. Francis Coppola experimented with up to 9 cameras during his production and would have to figure out how to hide the other 8, when he would choose which camera to cinematograph his live movie. This style of selection is reminiscent of the late Tony Scott – masterful director of gems like Man on Fire (2004), Days of Thunder (1990) and Revenge (1990) – who would often use over a dozen cameras for any given scene, especially with films later in his career – like Unstoppable (2010). This gave him a wide variety of options to select from, assisting him in the directing process during post-production, in the editing room.
The most prominent question that continues to arise is “Why?”. Why attempt Live Cinema, by drawing examples and ideas inspired by “Live Theater” and “Live Television”? What advantages will it provide the filmmaker(s)? What different experiences will audiences have? From an actor’s perspective, in addition to a filmmaker’s, what purpose does it serve, other than spontaneity, lucidity and self-expression? Or are these reasons more than enough to motivate a new wave of actors and filmmakers, or seasoned veterans, to consider Live Cinema as an art form? Francis Coppola makes these inquiries of himself almost like cross-question quizzing, and provides cutting rejoinders.
“…Live Cinema isn’t really entirely live, and in truth, it isn’t. Live Cinema is a juggling act of many, many discrete pieces derived from live cameras which behave as if they are live but in fact can be juggled and used later.” Coppola says, discussing the idea behind traditional filmmaking techniques. Traditionally, from pre-production to post-production, filmmakers have full-control for manipulation and modification regarding the way a movie turns out – the way films were intended to be made. Is the end goal of Live Cinema to make a movie that looks like a classic “movie”? If so, then why bother with alternate techniques in telling a traditional story? “This offers the possibility of having a pre-cut sequence available to add to the on-line live program.” Coppola says, referring to the “sports package”, where current live sports television broadcasting has pre-edited clips that director’s of any given segment splice into the formatted content, giving the illusion of Live Television, but, in fact, it’s not live at all. Live Cinema would implement similar techniques to what we see with live sports programming, in terms of live content intercut with pre-edited clips.
By tackling questions he wrestled with during his experimentation process at UCLA and OCCC, in addition to implementing cinematic lighting techniques to the process, Francis Coppola shares the methods he discovered to balance daylight with artificial light on a shot, while using low-light, fill light and key light as opposed to a massive grid light from above, like in television or theater. Nonetheless, the cinematic lighting techniques during Live Cinema created a troublesome environment, due to the mere attempt at avoiding having equipment, and other cameras exposed within any given shot, causing the clever and artful concealment of anything being revealed to the audience through the camera during the live performance of the narrative.
Francis Coppola is commended for stretching the limits and pushing the boundaries of invention is his quest to master a new technique to tell stories. As digital moviemaking can now be executed by anyone with a burning desire, minimal crew and funds, Francis Coppola is paving the path for an exciting new method – Live Cinema. These so-called live narrative films will have the capability of being transmitted through the airwaves and the ether, to the other side of the world and back, where story lovers can engulf themselves with the expressivity of actors and filmmakers performing under the pressure of delivering live, soulful work, in an attempt to get it right with the first take.
Francis Coppola discloses cutting edge processes and varying approaches on practicing dummy runs in preparation and hiding equipment while performing “Live Cinema”, and as a result of his inventive experimentation, the legendary director is creating a four-part live cinema movie. Regardless of the outcome, Francis Coppola is in perpetual service to students, cinephiles, professors and dedicated devotees of movies and filmmaking. As if The Godfather Trilogy (’72, ’74, ’90) The Conversation (’73) and Apocalypse Now (’79) were not enough; the super genius Francis Coppola is doing us the honor of thinking outside of the box; creating alternate methods in telling stories, and for this, we can’t say thank you enough, Francis. We are forever in your debt and love your work for eternity.