EXCLUSIVE: Barry Levinson will direct Francis And The Godfather, with Oscar Isaac starring as Francis Coppola and Jake Gyllenhaal as Robert Evans in a drama about the legendary and wild battles that went into making the 1972 classic The Godfather. The film is based a Black List script by Andrew Farotte that was redeveloped by Levinson. Echo Lake Entertainment’s Mike Marcus, Doug Mankoff and Andrew Spaulding are producing with Kevin Turen, Jon Levin and Baltimore Pictures’ Jason Sosnoff.
Endeavor Content is handling worldwide rights with FilmNation.
While The Godfather is considered to be one of the greatest American films and a symbol of the ’70s auteur era, getting there was no easy task. Coppola was 31 at the time, determined to convince Evans and the studio to allow him to film expensively in New York, set in the time period of a novel which would become a big bestseller. This after the original Mario Puzo script was set in contemporary Kansas City. Among the other debates was the idea to gamble on Marlon Brando, an eclectic character who hadn’t been in a hit film in years, to play mob family patriarch Don Corleone (for which he would win the Best Actor prize), and also Al Pacino as Michael Corleone, a character who slowly evolved from a desire to get far away from the family business to taking it over when it was clear his father would be murdered even after a bungled assassination attempt. Evans, who took the top job after a career as an actor, had pressures all his own, as the studio was in danger of closing up shop. There was also the uneasy discussions with real mobsters who were none too pleased to have their dirty business to be aired in a major studio film.
“Out of the madness of production, and against all odds, a classic film happened,” Levinson said.
The behind the scenes stories are ones that I’ve heard for many years from Peter Bart, my boss for 20 years at Variety (and sometimes coauthor on a back and forth column about movies. Bart was pried away from The New York Times to become Evans’ number two creative executive, and he was at the center of all these glorious arguments. It will be very interesting to see who Levinson casts to play him. and for that matter, Robert Duvall (Tom Hagen), James Caan (Sonny Corleone), John Cazale (Fredo), Talia Shire (Connie Corleone), Diane Keaton (Kay Corleone) and the rest of that fantastic cast. But the film clearly focuses on the clashes between filmmaker and a studio chief who badly needed a hit.
Aside from the Oscar for Brando — who famously boycotted the proceedings and sent to accept his trophy Sacheen Littlefeather, an Apache activist for Native American rights, as the actor protested Hollywood’s portrayal of Native Americans and the standoff at Wounded Knee — the film won Best Picture and another for Best Adapted Screenplay for Puzo and Coppola. There is rich terrain here for a movie for buffs. Ben Affleck is directing something similar in a movie about the making of Chinatown.
For his part, Coppola (who just did a new cut of the final film he’s entitled Mario Puzo’s The Godfather, Coda: The Death Of Michael Corleone), has given his approval.
Said Coppola: “Any movie that Barry Levinson makes about anything, will be interesting and worthwhile!”
Echo Lake’s Mike Marcus, who has seen versions of behind the curtain movie making drama as a top agent at CAA and MGM studio chief, said: “Here was a young man who lived outside the system and every step of the way the system was telling him, ‘You can’t do that.’ But Francis never gave up on his vision and the result speaks for itself.”
Isaac is repped by WME and Inspire Entertainment; Gyllenhaal and Levinson by WME.