Magazine article American Cinematographer

A Conversation with Coppola

Magazine article American Cinematographer

A Conversation with Coppola

Article excerpt

Visionary director Francis Ford Coppola says he's seen the future of moviemaking, and it's electronic.

Known for his adventurous ways with new technologies, Coppola's latest experiments have been with high definition video and its array of electronic accoutremerits - his most recent innovation is an electronic storyboard for his upcoming Columbia Pictures release, Dracula. "It may not be there yet, but there's no question that the electronic image can surpass that of the film image," he states with Coppola certainty, leaving no room for compromise on the matter. "Film is a medium in the apogee of its development. It's 80 years old. Video is much more youthful. There's a lot of growth ahead."

Coppola couches his discussion of high definition video with a reference to one of his more idealistic enterprises, Tucker: The Man and His Dream ; discussing high definition TV, he says, "is a little bit of the story of my dream." He is zealous about the need to strive for a high definition video standard of the utmost quality for the future, but he is equally avid about the possible applications of today's technology.

In addition to his electronic storyboard, for instance, the auteur says he's currently exploring new program formats that are possible only within the electronic realm. One such project is a Playhouse SO-style TV series that would take advantage of the immediacy and preservational qualities of high definition video.

Coppola asserts that high definition can serve as "the missing link" of the cinema process, bridging the gap between the preproduction process of storyboarding, the acting itself and the postproduction process of editing. To hear him speak on the subject of HD is to realize he is more knowledgeable on the topic than most members of the production community.

For example, Coppola recognizes the distinction between the high definition production standards that will impact the program community and the HDTV transmission standards that are chiefly the worry of telecasters, both cable and over the air.

The two areas overlap, he points out, in that both should be striving for even higher quality. Coppola is dissatisfied with the 1,125-line production format developed by Japan's NHK and approved by our country's own SMPTE. "There's a lot of arguing about HDTV," he notes. "Unfortunately, everyone's arguing not to make it better, but to make it worse. They're saying it's not even necessary that it be as good as it is, where as a filmmaker, I'm saying it's just on the edge of being good enough." Of the transmission formats still vying for FCC approval, quality ranges between 900 lines and 1,125 lines; Coppola scoffs that these systems are "nothing but souped-up NTSC."

Noting that the resolution of the above formats falls well below 35mm film's equivalence of 2,000 lines, Coppola urges the industry to press onward with development. Despairing of the world economic policies that have made HDW "a sort of hostage to trade and political interests," he says he'd just about given up on the hope of a futuristic W system that offered film quality, when recent developments in digital imaging renewed his faith. "Maybe it's time to start thinking now of a new world standard that represents a 1991 technology," he says. "Let's talk about 2,000 lines."

Coppola's fascination with HDTV dates back to his experimentation with electronic editing on the 1975 film Apocalypse Now. Living on location in the jungle, he found that the only practical way to screen and edit footage was by using video. "Maybe it was the solitude or whatever, but it occurred to me around that time that the future was electronic and that one day, all movies would be made electronically, on an electronic medium," he recalls. "It sort of came to me full-blown like that, partly, I'm sure, because I saw how easy it was to work with images and sound in this electronic medium, working on my little Betamax recorder. …

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