Book I: Genesis
Gianluigi, a struggling writer, was in a bind.
He had accumulated over $10,000 in gambling debts. The bookies were breathing down his neck. His only current project, an unfinished 60-page manuscript, was languishing. So, when the studio offered him $12,500 for the option to make a movie out of it, he jumped on the deal.
The contract specified that Gianluigi would receive an additional $80,000 if the manuscript would actually be made into a movie. Fat chance, thought Gianluigi, but the $12,500 was enough to get him off the hook, and then some.
The studio handed the manuscript to Albert, a producer known for bringing his films in under budget. He was tasked with making the movie.
Albert set out to hire a director.
His first choice turned it down to work on another movie. His second choice had no interest in the manuscript's subject matter, and declined as well. And so it went. In all, Albert offered the movie to twelve directors. All twelve turned it down.
One of the directors who rebuffed Albert, Frank, described the manuscript as "sleazy and sensationalist" and "pretty cheap stuff."
After friends and family pointedly reminded Frank that he had debts exceeding $400,000 and no current prospects, he went back to Albert, hat in hand, to see if the job was still available. It was.
Frank was hired to direct.
The casting debates began. Frank and the studio executives argued about actors and roles for months.
Frank wanted to cast an unknown actor for a principal role. The executives wanted a well-known actor. Frank won that battle, and cast the unknown actor.
For another prominent role, Frank wanted a particular actor known to be challenging to work with. He was able to get the executives to approve the casting, but under the condition that the actor put up a bond to ensure he wouldn't cause any delays in production. The actor complied.
Another battle ensued regarding the film's setting. The executives wanted it set in the present time to cut down on production costs. Frank wanted it set in the time of Gianluigi's novel, thirty years before. Once again, Frank prevailed.
Frank's indecisiveness and constant conflicts with the executives made production fall behind, and a studio vice president was brought in to keep a vigilant eye on costs. The VP's involvement made Frank fear for his job. Convinced that his editor and assistant director were conspiring to get him fired, Frank preemptively fired them both.
After six months of fraught pre-production, four months of turbulent filming, and another four months of post-production, Frank finished the film.
Book II: Revelation
Please click here: for some appropriate background music while you read the following.
"Gianluigi" was Mario Gianluigi Puzo, better known as just Mario Puzo.
The "studio" is Paramount Pictures.
"Albert" is legendary film and television producer Albert S. Ruddy.
"Frank" is Francis Ford Coppola.
The then-unknown actor championed by Coppola is Al Pacino.
The "challenging to work with" actor was Marlon Brando.
The movie is, of course, The Godfather, which was nominated for ten Academy Awards, won three of them (Best Picture, Best Actor (Marlon Brando), and Best Adapted Screenplay (Mario Puzo and Francis Ford Coppola), and even added some spice to the 45th Academy Awards:
- The Academy was forced to revoke the film's nomination for Best Original Dramatic Score when they learned that the composer used some of his score from an earlier movie.
- Pacino had more screen time in the film than Brando, yet Brando was nominated for Best Actor and Pacino was nominated for Best Supporting Actor. This didn't sit well with Pacino, who boycotted the awards ceremony in protest.
- Brando, citing his objections to the depiction of American Indians in film and television, not only boycotted the ceremony but indicated he would refuse the Oscar if it were awarded to him. Fittingly, when he was declared the winner at the ceremony, this happened:
Everything about The Godfather is fascinating. Watch it again sometime.
That's an offer you can't refuse.
Attribution Note: In addition to the resources linked above, background material was gathered from this Mental Floss article, this Vanity Fair article, and this Showbiz Cheat Sheet article.