Genre: Drama/Event/touch of sci-fi
Premise: An architect in a futuristic New York tries to create utopia with a new mini-city.
About: One of the more famous scripts in Hollywoodland, this is Francis Ford Coppola’s long-gestating “dream project” which you’ve likely heard about in his interviews. Coppola, who notoriously lashes out at the studio system whenever he gets the chance, says he only made his last three studio films, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Jack, and The Rainmaker, so he could make Megalopolis. He started looking at actors and scouting locations for the film, but then September 11th showed up and changed the landscape of New York. Said Copolla: “It made it really pretty tough… a movie about the aspiration of utopia with New York as a main character and then all of a sudden you couldn’t write about New York without just dealing with what happened and the implications of what happened. The world was attacked and I didn’t know how to try to do with that. I tried.” With Coppola now being 71, it’s unlikely that Megalopolis will ever be made.
Writer: Francis Ford Coppola
Details: 212 pages!!! “unspecified draft” (This is an early draft of the script. The situations, characters, and plot may change significantly by the time the film is released. This is not a definitive statement about the project, but rather an analysis of this unique draft as it pertains to the craft of screenwriting).
For all you youngsters out there, Sofia Coppola was not the first of the Coppolas to make films. There was a time when a guy named Francis Ford Coppola, her father, used to make movies too, and pretty good ones at that (you may have heard of The Godfather and Apocalypse Now). But Francis came about in an age where experimentation was celebrated above commerce, and studios weren’t owned by corporate giants who only cared about the bottom line. So when the business grew through the 80s and 90s, it kind of left Coppola behind, and killed the ability to make films like Megalopolis. As he points out, “You see the movies they make now. They just keep making the same one over and over again.”
However blaming others is always the easy way out when things don’t go your way. It’s not “my” fault this isn’t a movie. It’s “theirs.” Whoever “they” may be. Maybe it’s the studios. Maybe it’s the suits. Maybe it’s the damn ticket-buying public themselves. “They” don’t understand what good movies are, which is why they’re not asking for movies like this one.
I happen to think that now is the most prominent time for experimentation in film EVER. Sure, you can’t do that experimenting on a 70-150 million dollar platform, but should you really be that pompous as to require 100 million dollars for an idea that has the potential to top out at 20 million? The more I think about it, the more absurd those old movie practices seemed to be. You might as well have gone to Vegas and put it all on Red.
Anyway, I’d heard about Megalopolis so many times over the years that I finally decided to sit down and read it, despite its ridiculous 212 page length (making Titanic look like a Pixar short). I wanted to come to my own conclusion on why the film was never made. Is this a great film in waiting that simply slipped through the cracks or a cinematic disaster of mega proportions?
Serge Catalane is our genius architect anti-hero, a controversial public figure whom the public has a love-hate relationship with. These days Serge does two things – work and gorge himself in debauchery. Serge would impregnate a mule if it gave him even a split-second of euphoria. Of course all his excess is to muzzle the sad man that he really is, which is probably why he works so hard – to keep reality at bay.
There are a TON of characters in Megalopolis. Too many for this reader to keep track of. I always tell writers to cut down their character count so that the reader isn’t backtracking every five pages to figure out who’s who – a surefire way to sap the entertainment out of your script. If you want to see just HOW damaging this practice can be, download Megalopolis and read it now. It’s like being in charge of immigration in 1853 New York without a book to write in. You just have to memorize the 18 trillion names in your head.
The key players are Mayor Frank Cicero, who wants to build a new modern mini-city inside of New York called “Cityworld.” He’s partnered up with the richest man in the city, 70 year old Gene Hamilton, to deliver this utopia. Then there’s Julia Cicero, Frank’s wild child daughter who doesn’t agree with his conservative ways.
Frank and Gene seem to have everything in place to make Cityworld happen when Serge charges in and says he has a cheaper cooler mini-city to make called “Megalopolis.” All the investors care about is the bottom-line, so they kick Cityworld to the curb and give Megalopolis the go ahead.
Frank becomes obsessed with taking Serge down but that plan goes screwy when his daughter (the aforementioned Julia) falls in love with Serge and joins him in his quest to create Megalopolis.
That’s when the weird shit starts happening. There’s a Cher/Madonna/Angelina Jolie like diva named Wow (yes, that’s her name) who I believe is marrying 70 year old Gene but who is secretly having an affair with both Serge and another guy (one of the bankers maybe? – it was so hard to keep track). She keeps popping up, though I couldn’t tell you why as I’m not sure she had any effect on the plot at all.
Then there’s Vesta, a 15 year old pop star who oozes sex and I believe is supposed to be a commentary on Britney Spears, although I thought this was written before Spears blessed America with her…um….talents. Serge ends up banging Vesta in a sex tape and Frank and Gene help get that tape exposed, in the hopes that it will derail Serge’s Megalopolis.
It doesn’t. In fact, not only does the court not give a shit, but Julie (conveniently) could care less as well. She lets Serge sleep with whatever and whoever he wants, explaining that it’s a small price to pay in order to be associated with genius. Aww, true love!
We then watch this thing get built over the next five or so years as a myriad of obstacles (some of them soap-opera’ish, others political) try and derail Megalopolis. It all culminates in a huge bloody violent finale festival celebrating the opening of the city dubbed: “Saturnalia.”
Megalopolis is one of those ideas you get early on as a writer that you like because of its ambitiousness, but never really consider how unfit it is as a full-fledged move. It has bits and pieces of coolness but there’s no one thing to latch onto. Minutes after finishing the 212 page opus, I still don’t see what the attraction of the film would be. It’s set in the future, which technically makes it sci-fi, but there’s not anything really sci-fi about it, which brings it back into the realm of a “normal movie.” Which means you have a normal movie about a guy building a mini-city inside a city, which is kind of confusing when you break it down…….I mean am I the only one struggling to figure out what the hook is here?
What Coppola may have been going for was the next Citizen Kane, exploring a deep, complicated, flawed character’s obsession with his legacy, and more specifically what happens when an out-of-control ego and all the money in the world combine. But trying to write the next Citizen Kane is like trying to build the next Eifel Tower. It’s such a specific element that nobody can ever replicate it.
My biggest problem, from a story sense, was that I didn’t like Serge. Anti-heroes can work but as I’ve pointed out numerous times before, you have to give us something in a character to root for. It should preferably be substantial but at the very least minor. I didn’t like anything about Serge. He was cold, he was rude, he was selfish, he was a misogynist, he was a cheater, he was a rapist. Lol. I mean come on here Francis! Throw me a bone! The goal here – to finish building Megalopolis – is a strong one. But it’s worthless unless we care about the man who’s trying to achieve it.
And don’t even get me started on the number of characters. At a certain point, when you’re writing a screenplay, you have to sit back and ask yourself, “Do I really need ONE MORE CHARACTER here?” Isn’t 30 enough? Do I need one more subplot that’s going to add one more 25 minute chunk to a movie that’s already 3-plus hours long? I’m thinking specifically of Gene’s hotshot miracle-boy son, Claude, who has this whole subplot about trying to take Serge down. Why not just make Gene and Claude the same person? They’re both trying to do the same thing. Stuff like this is going to annoy anybody who’s put aside 4 hours to read your screenplay.
I hate to make this comparison but Megalopolis is kind of like a more sophisticated version of Southland Tales. Super-ambitious, but painted in all the wrong colors. We don’t get Justin Timberlake dancing in videos or cars fucking each other, but Vesta and the whole statutory rape storyline felt like another universe altogether, creating a surreal touch that never quite gelled with the more conservative main plot.
You have to give credit to Coppola for creating something this complex and ambitious. Unfortunately, the pieces never end up fitting together, and the idea itself is too obscure to ever work as a whole. Luckily, this one is online for you guys to check out yourselves. So if you have some extra time, read it and tell me what you think.
Script link: A google search for “Megalopolis script Coppola” should bring you the goods.
[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[x] wasn’t for me
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: Sometimes you have ideas that JUST. DON’T. WORK. I believe one of the greatest talents a writer can have is recognizing when an idea isn’t working and abandoning that script. Because if you spend six more months, or twelve more months, or, gasp, 2 more years, on that script that isn’t working, that’s 2 years you could’ve used to write something that did work. I believe Coppola held onto this so long because no one gave it to him straight. No one told him, “This will never work.” (and why would they? He made the fucking Godfather!) As writers, it’s our job to read between the lines when someone gives us feedback. If you give your script to ten people and their enthusiasm level is a collective “meh,” no matter how polite that “meh” is, your talents may be better suited working on another idea.