Eleanor Coppola was telling a friend about her adventures with a Frenchman as she and he traveled from Cannes to Paris eight years ago. She described the frequent stops. She talked about the flirty driver, who was a business associate of her husband, Francis Ford Coppola, director of “The Godfather” and “Apocalypse Now.”
Coppola’s friend was so enchanted by the story that she urged the documentary filmmaker (“Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse”) to try her hand at a fictional feature film.
The grandmother thought about it for a while and then decided to give it a shot. But she didn’t want it to be a “vanity project,” as she puts it. Instead, she wanted to make sure that people thought the project could be a decent investment. So she set about trying to raise money.
“If it didn’t have a chance to live in the real world,” she says, “then I didn’t want to make it.”
It took six years. But she did it, and the result — “Paris Can Wait” — will be in Austin theaters June 2.
You might think the Coppola name would get more quick support in the film finance business, but you’d be wrong, Coppola says. “If it doesn’t have robots and lots of car chases and other things, then it’s not the kind of film you get money for easily,” she says. “That’s the reality, and I learned my lesson.”
She doesn’t like this particular reality, of course. “I read some statistics that 24 percent of the movie-going population is 50 years old and older,” she says. “Well, how about targeting that population? If you have 24 percent of the population coming to your movie, it would be doing very well. So why not make a product for that?”
The shooting didn’t go smoothly. “I don’t think you can make a film without having a major crisis, and you can’t plan for it in advance,” she says. “That happened when I was doing ‘Hearts of Darkness’ (the documentary about her husband’s making of ‘Apocalypse Now’). But whenever there’s a crisis on the set of a documentary, that makes the film more interesting, because you’re looking for that. But when it was happening to me on (‘Paris Can Wait’), it was entirely different.”
The first big problem: She was planning to shoot at the Majestic Hotel in Cannes, and 10 days before the shoot, “we got a notice from the hotel that we would not be able to use it as the location because a Saudi prince reserved the entire hotel for his entourage, and security was going to be tight.”
Luckily, business associates found an alternative location a few miles to the east of Cannes, and the hotel owner was a film enthusiast. “The hotel was full, so the owner told us we couldn’t shoot until after 11 a.m., when the guests left for the beach. And we had to be finished by 4 p.m., before they came back for the cocktail hour.”
Then she found out that the actor who was expected to play Diane Lane’s husband couldn’t do the film at the last moment. So, realizing she had a small window to get the film made, she says she turned to her Rolodex and called all her friends.
“No one was available,” she says, “so I threw up my hands. And the next day, Alec Baldwin called Francis and said he was doing a fundraiser for a theater group and they were playing music from ‘The Godfather,’ and would Francis please come and help him host it. Francis said he couldn’t because he was going to be out of the country on that date, but he then asked Alec for a favor. Could he be in his wife’s movie? And he said yes, he could be there for three days.” That was in August 2015.
Coppola hopes that “Paris Can Wait” will find an audience. And she thinks that it will, at least among those who enjoy such life pleasures as eating and drinking well.
“My family definitely likes to eat and drink well,” she says of her home back in Northern California. “We have a garden, and my favorite kind of entertaining is having the guests go out in the garden and pick string beans or whatever, and then we go back to the kitchen and cook together. It’s a big kitchen, and it’s fun having people chopping and sauteeing. They feel more relaxed, and we make a meal.”
Coppola adds that she identifies completely with the type of life in “Paris Can Wait.”
“It’s something I aspire to,” she says. “Life’s a journey, and it’s wonderful to stop and eat strawberries.”