Francis Ford Coppola’s $100 Million Bet

Coppola started doing math in his chair. “Say I’ve got another 20 years of productive life, well, if I was an insurance company I’d say, ‘Well, just for the hell of it, let’s cut that in half.’ Okay: I have 10 years of active life. That means I’m going to die at 92. Well, that would be a wonderful long life. No one could complain. So, what can I accomplish? This movie is going to take me easily three years to make.”

So, figure that takes us to 2025, he said. “Now, if I’m still kicking, I’ll no doubt want to do this movie that I had abandoned before this, called Remote Vision”—a “live cinema project” Coppola started around 2015, about three generations of an Italian American family not unlike his own, told in parallel with the story of the birth of television and what followed.

That’s what you would do after.

“Yeah. And what would I do after that? Well, how much time do I have?”

I don’t know!

“You want to give me another five years? I’m sure I’ll dream of something to do.”

Before I left, Coppola wanted to show me something—a different project, one that he’s been working on for a few years now. Coppola is a filmmaker first, of course, but the business of making wine has taken up more and more of his time over the years. There are, he told me, 120 distinct growing areas of grapes on his property. On most vineyards, the fruit from these unique parcels of grapes go into far fewer fermenters, where they mix. But what if, Coppola wondered, you could build 120 fermenters, one for each growing area, and in doing so, learn which ones are truly great, which are average, and so on? The only limit was space and the neighbors, who probably would not take kindly to a giant fermenter plant being built anywhere they could see it. So, Coppola decided: We’ll build it underground.

He loaded me into the Leaf and drove over to the entrance of what is still a construction site. Guys in hard hats stood out front on a patch of dusty concrete. Inside it looked like the Hadron Collider—tanks and tunnels stretching out as far as the eye could see. “If you imagine this was a baseball stadium here,” Coppola said, orienting me, “this is home plate. So you would have home plate, first base, second base, third base. So the 120 fermenters are going to all go on either side.”

The space was cavernous; it boggled the mind. We stood there taking it in. And then he walked me back to the car.

“I’m so proud of this because I think the biggest thrill in life is to have a dream or imagine something and then get to see it be real,” Coppola said. “There’s nothing like that.”

You’ve had that happen more often than most people have.

“Yeah. But the more far out it is, the more thrilling it is. I mean this was such a crazy idea. When I said we’d do it this way, I can’t tell you the reaction.”

It was not positive?

“Well, it was the other one I get: ‘It sounds great. But how are you going to really do it?’ ”

Which is something you’ve heard a lot in life.

Coppola threw the car in reverse.

“I hear it all the time,” he said.

ZACH BARON is GQ’s senior staff writer.

A version of this story originally appeared in the March 2022 issue with the title “Can Francis Ford Coppola Make It In Hollywood?.”

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