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As Francis Ford Coppola Seeks ‘Megalopolis’ Distribution, ‘Everything Is on the Table’

After the March 28 friends, family, and industry screening for Francis Ford Coppola’s “Megalopolis” at Universal’s CityWalk AMC in IMAX, reactions were wild. Some said it was his most ambitious film since “Apocalypse Now;” another described it to Puck as “batshit crazy.” Made for $120 million and bankrolled entirely by Coppola through the sale of one of his vineyards, it incorporates new VFX techniques — ones, the filmmakers hope, will be seen on the biggest screens possible.

For that to happen, it will need a major theatrical deal and the filmmakers are now in talks with distributors and major studios. However, those entities have been particularly risk averse these days — and while Coppola is a legend, he hasn’t made a commercial success in three decades.

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The film’s stars include Adam Driver, Aubrey Plaza, and Giancarlo Esposito; maybe, say, Paramount or Universal want to be back in the Coppola business. Still, any studio that invests in an ambitious art house movie for theatrical release is already taking a major chance; it would have to be available, as they say, at a price.

It is the job of Barry Hirsch, Coppola’s longtime lawyer and a “Megalopolis” producer, to find a home for it. He told IndieWire “everything is on the table” as talks proceed. He said more screenings are being set starting today, April 2, for interested parties who want to see it again.

However, “everything” probably doesn’t mean streaming. With a timely story that holds a “magnifying glass to where we are today as a country,” Hirsch said the film is on the level of initially misunderstood masterpieces like “Apocalypse Now.”

Editorial use only. No book cover usage. Mandatory Credit: Photo by Zoetrope/United Artists/Kobal/Shutterstock (5886120be) Martin Sheen Apocalypse Now - 1979 Director: Francis Ford Coppola Zoetrope/United Artists USA Scene Still War
Martin Sheen in ‘Apocalypse Now’ (1979)Zoetrope/United Artists/Kobal/Shutterstock

“We need to be as creative in the dealmaking as Francis was making this movie,” Hirsch said. “People have told me that the movie is unlike anything they’ve ever seen before, and maybe that’s where the dealmaking will need to be.” Coppola’s preference, of course, is for a theatrical deal with a lengthy window, IMAX preferred.

Hirsch said he’s also spoken with several film festivals about which might be the best platform to launch “Megalopolis,” but added that it won’t play a festival until it has a distributor. Hirsch did not rule out Cannes as a possibility for its debut — both “The Conversation” and “Apocalypse Now” won the Palme D’Or — which would make time of the essence.

“I think over the last decade or so, studios have begun to underestimate its audience and indeed have underestimated Francis,” Hirsch said. “He has always made movies that have appealed to all ages of people over 14 years of age such as ‘The Godfather’ films, ‘Apocalypse Now,’ ‘The Conversation,’ and ‘Bram Stoker’s Dracula.’ ‘Megalopolis’ is no different than these movies in term of appeal.”

So if Coppola doesn’t get the deal he wants from a studio, what are the options? He’s already announced plans to make another film; a long-shot possibility is bidding on the rights to “Megalopolis” might include negotiating a deal for his next movie, too. He could follow in the footsteps of Taylor Swift and Beyoncé and release the film directly to theaters.

If all else fails, Coppola could decide to release it himself, fund for the film’s P&A costs, and find a studio partner willing to distribute “Megalopolis” through a negative pickup.

As Deadline first reported, the first “Megalopolis” screening was attended by the heads of every major distributor in town, including Tom Rothman, Ted Sarandos, Pam Abdy, Mary Parent, Matt Greenstein and David Greenbaum, Donna Langley, Courtenay Valenti, and Daria Cercek and Marc Weinstock. Major filmmakers and stars were also there including Sean Penn, Angelica Huston, Nicolas Cage, Cailee Spaeny, Joe Mantegna, Max Minghella, Al Pacino, Bill Kramer, Janet Yang, Cord Jefferson, Colleen Camp, Nat Wolff, Anthony Michael Hall, Vincent Spano, Lainie Kazan, Joanne Whalley, David O. Russell, Daniel Kwan, David Chase, Scott Cooper, Spike Jonze, James Gray, Darren Aronofsky, Jon Favreau, Gregory Nava, Roger Corman, Robert Zemeckis, Joe Kosinski, and Andy Garcia.

How did they like it? Short answer: it was awesome.

“I feel I was a part of history. ‘Megalopolis’ is a brilliant, visionary masterpiece,” the Oscar-nominated “Selena” and “El Norte” director Nava said in a statement to IndieWire about his experience. “I was so overwhelmed that I couldn’t do anything for the rest of the day but think about ‘Megalopolis’ and feel it’s powerful, uplifting message. Francis has taken cinema to a whole different level — the whole experience was profoundly moving. I still can’t stop thinking about the film and telling everyone I know – they all can’t wait to see it! It will blow people’s minds.”

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - OCTOBER 13: Adam Driver attends the red carpet for "Ferrari" during 61st New York Film Festival at Alice Tully Hall, Lincoln Center on October 13, 2023 in New York City. (Photo by Arturo Holmes/Getty Images for FLC)
Adam Driver at the “Ferrari” NYFF premiereGetty Images for FLC

“Megalopolis” is the story of the destruction of a utopian civilization and the ensuing conflict between Cesar (Adam Driver), an idealistic architect who wants to rebuild society with entirely renewable resources, and his conflict with the city’s mayor (Giancarlo Esposito) who doesn’t share his vision.

A film professional who attended the first screening told IndieWire the film is about a civilization teetering on a “precarious ledge, devouring itself in a whirl of unchecked greed, self-absorption, and political propaganda,” and echoed a Coppola quote: like “Apocalypse Now” before it, “Megalopolis” isn’t about the end of the world but the “end of the world as we know it.”

Over email, the source said they felt Driver’s character is an avatar for Coppola himself, describing both as visionaries with massive, provocative ideas pushing against the establishment.

“Coppola seems to have been born again by a strike of filmic lightning, and the movie – no, the experience (complete with in-theater ‘live cinema’) – that has emerged feels at once the work of a film-school wunderkind unbowed by notions of convention, but also the work of a wizened master who knows much about life and the ways of the world,” the film professional said in an email.

As to whether those raves have any correspondence to studio or general-audience sentiment remains to be seen. Hirsch said Coppola will do whatever is best for the film, whatever that turns out to be.

“I think Francis’ recoupment of his money is probably the last thing in the world he’s concerned about,” Hirsch said. “What he’s concerned about is having this movie seen by the most people in the theaters.”

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