Francis Ford Coppola invested 7 million $ of his own money in “Apocalypse Now” (1979) when the film’s budget exceeded the production company’s limit. In the end he had to mortgage the Napa Valley house and winery to finish the movie.
When Coppola first described the role of Kurtz to Marlon Brando, Brando remarked that an American Colonel would not have a name like Kurtz, he would have an English name like “Leighley”. Having never read “Heart of Darkness”, Brando did not appreciate the reference. Brando eventually read “Heart of Darkness”, but not until after the film’s completion. After reading the book and liking it, Brando demanded that his name be changed to Kurtz in the film, and Harrison Ford’s lines were dubbed to accommodate him.
When Brando arrived on-set, Coppola was horrified to find that Brando had become extremely overweight. Kurtz had always been written as tall and very thin. After some panic, Coppola decided to film the 5’7″ Brando as if he was a massively built, 6’5″ brute to explain his size, and kept the camera away from his huge belly.
Coppola played the reporter on the camera crew that was yelling at Martin Sheen’s character Willard, “Don’t look at the camera. Just keep moving”, during the beginning of the “air cav” scene with Robert Duvall. The actors that were to play the camera crew didn’t show up, so Coppola stood in as the reporter.
The movie was shot on film using ARRIFLEX 16ST Camera, ARRIFLEX 35 BL Camera, Mitchell BNCR Camera and Technovision Lenses with Vittorio Storaro as cinematographer and editing by Lisa Fruchtman, Gerald B. Greenberg, Walter Murch.
It took Coppola nearly three years to edit the footage, shooting nearly 200 hours worth. While working on his final edit, it became apparent to him that Sheen would be needed to tape several additional narrative voice-overs. Coppola soon discovered that Sheen was busy, and unable to perform these voice-overs. He then called in Sheen’s brother, Joe Estevez, whose voice sounded nearly identical, to perform the new narrative tracks. Estevez was also used as a stand-in when Sheen suffered a heart attack during the shoot in 1976. Estevez was not credited for his work as a stand-in, nor for his voice-over work.
Coppola wanted the film to be a special event by having it play in exactly one theater somewhere in Kansas in the geographical center of the country, built especially for the film, with a specially-made sound system, where the film would run continuously for ten years, and then hopefully anybody who wanted to show the film in their theaters would have to approach Coppola and exhibit it on his terms.
Happy Birthday, Francis Ford Coppola!
Image is from FICG.mx