Posts Tagged ‘Francis Ford Coppola’

The following exchange is from the article Francis Ford Coppola: On Risk, Money, Craft & Collaboration:

Artiston Anderson: How does an aspiring artist bridge the gap between distribution and commerce?
Francis Ford Coppola: We have to be very clever about those things. You have to remember that it’s only a few hundred years, if that much, that artists are working with money. Artists never got money. Artists had a patron, either the leader of the state or the duke of Weimar or somewhere, or the church, the pope. Or they had another job. I have another job. I make films. No one tells me what to do. But I make the money in the wine industry. You work another job and get up at five in the morning and write your script. 

This idea of Metallica or some rock n’ roll singer being rich, that’s not necessarily going to happen anymore. Because, as we enter into a new age, maybe art will be free. Maybe the students are right. They should be able to download music and movies. I’m going to be shot for saying this. But who said art has to cost money? And therefore, who says artists have to make money? 

In the old days, 200 years ago, if you were a composer, the only way you could make money was to travel with the orchestra and be the conductor, because then you’d be paid as a musician. There was no recording. There were no record royalties. So I would say, “Try to disconnect the idea of cinema with the idea of making a living and money.” Because there are ways around it.

Related Posts:

The Breakfast Club for Writers (A 2009 article I wrote about several writers—John Grisham, Ron Bass, Elmore Leonard— who have talked about having other jobs and getting up at 5AM to write when they were staring out. Is Coppola reading this blog? Probably not, but you never know.)
Don’t Quit Your Day Job  (A post I wrote in 2010. Hmmm, just maybe Coppola has read this blog.)
New Cinema Screenwriitng (part 2)  (See why I called Coppola a prophet.)
Screenwriting & the Little Fat Girl in Ohio  (Revisiting the classic Coppola quote)

Looking back over the years I have quoted Coppola quite a few times. Maybe I should just admit that this whole blog on screenwriting is just a ploy to have dinner with Coppola. The closest I’ve gotten so far is a bottle of Rosso. (You gotta start somewhere.) Check out his winery website where he has a sections on food, wine, travel and storytelling.

And just to come full circle, Coppola was born in Detroit, Michigan and on Monday we’ll return to the second part of my interview with Kalamazoo, Michigan writer/director Cindy Gustafson and see how she recently wrote and directed her feature debut A Chance of Rain. (A film, by the way, that at this point a year ago was sitting dormant in a drawer.).

Scott W. Smith

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“I always had a good philosophy about risks. The only risk is to waste your life.”
Francis Ford Coppola
“Even in the early days of the movies, they didn’t know how to make movies. They had an image and it moved and the audience loved it. You saw a train coming into the station, and just to see motion was beautiful. 
The cinema language happened by experimentation – by people not knowing what to do. But unfortunately, after 15-20 years, it became a commercial industry. People made money in the cinema, and then they began to say to the pioneers, ‘Don’t experiment. We want to make money. We don’t want to take chances.’
An essential element of any art is risk. If you don’t take a risk then how are you going to make something really beautiful, that hasn’t been seen before? I always like to say that cinema without risk is like having no sex and expecting to have a baby. You have to take a risk. ”
Francis Ford Coppola
Interview with Ariston Anderson
Related Posts:

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“My father always said to me I would be a late bloomer.”
Oscar-winning screenwriter David Seidler (The King’s Speech)

The next time you hear a writer complain about not getting the break they think they deserve, or how long it’s taking for their script to become a movie, remind them about David Seidler. Seidler’s life story—like The King’s Speech—follows one of the most basic principles of drama; A strong protagonist who is willing to go to the end of the line to get what they want.*

For Seidler all it took was 73 years to reach the top of the mountain. Diablo Cody’s Oscar win in 2009 gave inspiration to many that it was possible to win an Oscar as a rookie writer** and Seidler’s Oscar gives inspiration to many that toward the end of your career you may finally peak in the way you’ve always dreamed.

And it really was a 70 year journey for Seidler. At age 3 he and his parents fled England due to the outbreak of World War II and the impending danger of German troops. Soon after arriving in the United States Seidler began stuttering, which if you’ve seen The King’s Speech is about King George VI’s desire to overcome stuttering as he prepares to give one of the most important speeches before England’s involvement in World War II. Seidler grew up listening to the King’s speeches on the radio and his father would point out to him that the King had overcoming stuttering. And Seidler, like the King, did overcome his speech impediment.

So out of the gate Seidler seemed destined to write this story. Seidler happened to go to high school with Francis Ford Coppola and before you start into the “it’s who you know” thing remember that Seidler has been paying his dues for decades. And it’s not just who you know, it’s what you learn from who you know. (But with that said, having a classmate like Coppola is a nice bonus.) Seidler in an interview on Jeff Goldsmith’s Creative Screenwriting podcast (January 07, 2011) says he picked up some great advice from Coppola:

“I learned a great deal from Francis. He’s a very, very bright filmmaker. One of the things I learned was—know what your ending is. And that’s something that’s really stayed with me. He said he always knows the big scene at the end of the movie he’s going for. It may not be the last scene, but it’s the apex of the action. And then everything is to move towards that scene.”

“Everything is to move towards that scene”—that’s great advice. In the script you’re working on now, does everything move toward that scene?

As Coppola launched his directing career in the ’60s, Seidler’s first job in the entertainment business was less exciting—transcribing Godzilla movies. In 1966-67 he landed his first writing gig on an Australian TV show called Adventures of the Seaspray. I believe after that he turned to a variety of jobs to pay the bills (advertising, Signal Corps, Playwright in Resident in San Franciscio, and political advisor in Fuji).

His next IMDB credit was not until 1981, an episode for the soap opera Another World.

There’s not much there to think that at that point in his career that the 43-year-old Seidler was on the fast track to have a feature made from his work, much less win an Oscar some day. But way back in 1981 is when he actually began working on what would become The King’s Speech. Obviously there were a few twists and turns in the road before it became a movie. And surprisingly, or not, Coppola—Seidler’s old high school classmate— had a small part in getting The King’s Speech script written.

“I had written Tucker for Francis and was just naive enough to think that that meant it would get made immediately and change my life forever. It took ten years to get made and it didn’t change my life that much. And I also thought that meant I could write anything I wanted in Hollywood. And you’re all wise enough to know that’s not true, but I did.”
David Seidler

And that’s when he began to work on The King’s Speech. But unlike Tucker:The Man and His Dreamsit would not take 10 years to bring The King’s Speech to the screen, or 20 years, but almost 30 years. As Paul Harvey used to say, “You think about that.”

Tomorrow we’ll look more deeply at the actual writing process that Seidler used to write his Oscar-winning script.

* A strong protagonist who is willing to go to the end of the line to get what they want. Other films in this year’s Oscars that fit that description include, Black Swan, 127 Hours, The Fighter, and True Grit. All which also build to a dramtatic ending.

**While Cody’s script for Juno was her first script I like to point out that she had been writing daily for 15 years.

Scott W. Smith

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“Cinema has always been marriage of technology and human talent.”
Francis Ford Coppola (older filmmaker based in Napa Valley)

“I think every filmmaker needs to make 20 awful films before they can make one good one. And I made my share of totally awful films with my friends.”
Bradley Jackson (younger filmmaker based in Austin)
Interview with Ron Dawson

Screenwriter John August has a post on his blog titled Writing for Hollywood without living there where he has a first person account written by 26-year-old writer/director Bradley Jackson from Austin, Texas. Jackson recently earned more than $100,000 by winning The Doorpost Film Project (best film, best director, best script) and optioning a screenplay.

What separates Jackson from the traditional way of thinking about a career in production is he has no intentions of moving to Los Angeles. His plan right now is to stay in Austin where he has friends and family and to commute to L.A. as needed.

August’s readers made various comments on whether this is a wise thing to do and speculated if Jackson can really pull off a career writing and making films in Austin. Because my focus is encouraging writers and filmmakers who live in unusual places (and that includes some places even within the 30 mile zone in LA) three thoughts quickly came to mind;

1) It’s not like Bradley Jackson lives in a small town in Iowa. He lives in Austin, Texas which is one of the most interesting places in the United States. It’s a giant college town, has a solid tech and political base, and an intense creative culture. It’s home to the Austin Film Festival, SXSW and the last time I was in Austin I was told there are more live musical acts in a given night in Austin than any city in the USA. (Yes, that includes NY, LA and Chicago.)

2) Most people writing screenplays and making films make no money writing screenplays and making films. (Heck, even a good chunk of writers in the WGA, make little or no money in a given year.) Jackson just made over $100,000 in just the first two months of 2011 by winning The Doorpost Film Project and optioning a script. I’m not sure if that money is his, but whatever he takes home will go a lot further in Austin that it would in Los Angeles.

Jackson represents a new breed of filmmakers. He’s been making films since high school and by his own admission spent several years making bad films before he learned what he was doing. He got a film degree from UT—Austin where he was mentored by filmmaker/teacher Scott Rice.  He’s surrounded himself with other talented filmmakers in Austin and became Kickstarter savvy which helped him fund his recent film. He’s busting his butt, writing scripts, and willing to fly in to L.A. as needed.

3) Robert Rodriguez. While screenwriters and filmmakers have traditionally moved to Hollywood after they’ve gotten their first break, Rodriguez is the poster child for bucking that trend. Here’s part of what Austin-based Rodriguez told a group of filmmakers in LA back in 2003:

“One of the benefits of being outside of Hollywood—one of the reasons I think like this (shooting digitally) has to do with the fact that I don’t live here. Because (in Texas) you’re so removed you get to examine (how films are made) and say, ‘That doesn’t really make sense for us out here. Let’s do what makes sense.’ And you find a whole other way of shooting.  And that’s one of the best things you can do for yourself even if you work here (LA). Try to get a birds-eye view of things and really question it and you’ll start coming up with different ways of doing things that work.”

As I’ve said before, when I was in film school many years ago students were encouraged to not be a jack-of-all trade, and a master-of-none. But the new kind of filmmakers coming up (who may be in  middle school or retirement homes—and everywhere in between) are jack-of-all trades. And some of them are on their way to becoming master-of-all trades.

They  can not only write, but they know their way around cameras and non-linear editing systems, they are aware of various fundraising methods, they devour DVDs directors commentaries & online tutorials at lynda.com,  and they are keeping on track of new distribution trends and get exciting about the success that Edward Burns has had  self-distributing his films and the things that Kevin Smith said at Sundance ’11:

“The piece of advice that Walter Gretzky gave (his son) Wayne Gretzky was this…’don’t go where the puck’s been, go where it’s gonna to be.’ The philosophy was simple, if you puck chase you’re always going to be behind the game…You want to be the person that’s where the puck’s going to be.”

These new kind of filmmakers are reminiscent of those rebel filmmakers like Lucas and Coppola who back in their youth were embracing new technologies and pursuing a life beyond LA.

Today this new kind of filmmaker is going where the puck isn’t and they’re not afraid to make a bad film or two in their quest to make good films.

And, of course, they read Screenwriting from Iowa daily.

To view Jackson’s winning short film go to the film’s website, TheManWhoNeverCried.com

Related posts:

One of the Benefits of Being Outside of Hollywood

Screenwriting from Texas

The 10-Minute Film School (Robert Rodriguez)

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (Ten parts)

New Cinema Screenwriting (Part 1)

New Cinema Screenwriting (Part 2)

Scott W. Smith

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Now that it’s almost been three years since I started the Screenwriting from Iowa blog and have written over 700 posts, I thought October 10, 2010 (10/10/10) was a fitting day to pick a mix of ten of my favorite, most viewed, and  most helpful posts that you may have missed depending when you started reading this blog or how often you check your RSS feed.

One word of warning is the first year of posts were generally longer than they are today. It was not uncommon that they weighed in between 1,000 & 2,000 words. I’ve added a quote to give you a feel of each post and hope you can take the time to read one or two links. Thanks to everyone for frequenting this blog. Watching the numbers increase really does help keep me plugging away daily. (Hope to get it in book ready shape by the end of the year.)

1) Where Do Ideas Come From? (A+B=C)
“The way to have a great idea is to have lots of ideas.”
Linus Pauling

2) Can Screenwriting Be Taught?
“I wrote screenplays as a way to get into production. I wrote six or seven before I sold one.”
Lawrence Kasden
screenwriter, Raiders of the Lost Ark

3) Everything I Learned in Film School (tip #1)
“If real estate’s mantra is location, location, location, then for screenwriters it’s conflict, conflict, conflict.”

4) Starting Your Screenplay (tip #6)
“Who is your hero, what does he want, and what stands in his way?”
Paddy Chayefsky, Three-time Oscar-winning screenwriter

5) Screenwriting & Structure (tip #5)
“Structure is the most important element in the screenplay. It is the force that holds everything together.”
Syd Field

6) Screenwriting & the Little Fat Girl in Ohio

“One day some little fat girl in Ohio is going to be the new Mozart.”
Francis Ford Coppola

7) Rod Serling’s Ohio Epiphany
“I don’t think that calling something commercial makes it stink.”
Rod Serling

8) The Serious Side of “Gilligan’s Island”
“(Gilligan’s Island) is about, people learning to live together.”

9) Re-Writing Screenwriter John August
If you write a script anywhere and send it to an agent in Chicago or Detroit or Cleveland or wherever…and if that agent sends it to an agent in Hollywood who loves it…you can sell your script.”
Screenwriter Joe Eszterhas

10) How Much Do Screenwriters Make?
“Most screenwriters are unemployed, chronically unemployed.”
Screenwriter Tom Lazarus (Stigmata)

10a—bonus) Juno Has Another Baby (Emmy)
Don’t ever agonize about the hordes of other writers who are ostensibly your competition.  No one else is capable of doing what you do.”
Oscar-winning screenwriter Diablo Cody (Juno)

Scott W. Smith

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I don’t know the context in which Francis Ford Coppola said the below quote, but it offers a contrast to the post where I mentioned that Rod Serling said that be began writing with a theme in mind.

“Sometimes you never really quite understand what the movie’s about until you go into a matinée screening at the Oriental Theater on a Thursday afternoon.”
Francis Ford Coppola
As quoted in Lew Hunter’s Screenwriting 434

Coppola has had an amazing career, but I can’t help but wonder if not quite understanding what kind of movie you’re making is part of the hit and misses he’s had in his career. And perhaps why people are little confused by some of his films. But keep in mind that even the ambiguous Apocalypse Now, Coppola was nominated for an Oscar for his script.

It also seems to me from Coppola’s interviews and film commentaries that it is clear that on his three Oscar-winning scripts (Patton, The Godfather, The Godfather II) that he was aware of themes of the movies he was writing.

Scott W. Smith

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“Of all films I ever directed, the one that survived the longest as a genuine ‘cult classic’ is the one I did the fastest and the cheapest. It only took two days on a leftover soundstage to shoot the principal photography for The Little Shop of Horrors.”
Roger Corman

After Francis Ford Coppola earned his Master’s in film at UCLA, but before he won his first of five Oscars for writing the screenplay for Patton, he worked for Roger Corman. Corman is known as The King of B-Movies for his exploitation films in the 50s, 60s and 70s, but also had his share of more respected films in the 70s and 80s through his company New World Cinema. (This included releases by Bergman, Fellini, Truffaut and Kurosawa.)

While he directed 50 films himself, he had a hand in producing or distributing close to 400 films.  The majority, Corman will point out, made money. He also had an early hand in developing some fine film filmmakers and actors, giving many of them their first shot at directing. A list that includes Martin Scorsese, Peter Bogdanovich, Jack Nicholson, Jonathan Demme, Ron Howard, and king of the box office James Cameron.

In his book, How I Made a Hundred Movies in Hollywood, And Never Lost a Dime (written Jim Jerome) Corman recalls working with Coppola;

“I needed a non-union director. So I went to my ace assistant, a young man I had hired months earlier just out of the UCLA film school. His name was Francis Coppola. France’s background was largely in theater production at UCLA but he had also won the $2,500 Samuel Goldwyn prize for screenwriting.

His first assignment involved a Russian science fiction space picture I had acquired rather inexpensively. I asked him to edit, write, and loop the English dialogue so it made sense to an American audience and then shoot post production inserts with special effects. That movie came out as Battle Beyond the Sun.”

Let’s see a show of hands of people who have seen that film. Anyone? Anyone?

But Corman says he made money on that picture as he usually does on his films. That lead to Corman backing Coppola’s first feature Dementia 13. Coppola says of his experience working with Corman;

“Roger, having heard about my theater experience and good work with actors, which was rare for cinema type, took me on as an assistant for $90 a week. He was very proud that the winner of the Goldwyn prize was in his employ. He also made sure to tell me he once worked for $45 a week. Of course I’d have worked for him for nothing, except that I needed a meal once in a while.”

Who knows what the equivalent of that $90 a month week is today? But it isn’t much. But it was enough to turn into what Coppola called “a fabulous opportunity.” Keep that in mind when odd opportunites come your way.

Scott W. Smith

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“As a schoolgirl, my suspiciousness about those who attack American ‘materialism’ was first aroused by the refugees from Hitler who so often contrasted their ‘culture’ with our ‘vulgar materialism’ when I discovered that their ‘culture’ consisted of their having servants in Europe…”
Pauline Kael
For Keeps, 30 years at the Movies

One of the interesting things about visiting your favorite films over the years is how different the films feels because you have changed over the years. A film that meant so much to you when you were nine might seem meaningless 25 years later when you sit down and watch it with your own nine-year old child.

It’s probably been 25 years since I first saw The Godfather. While I can’t recall my exact original impressions of seeing the film I’m sure they were in line with being impressed by the acting and the production values. (After all, I was in film school and in acting workshops at this time). I also remember wishing I were Italian.

Having the name Smith seemed rather bland in school compared to my Italian friends. Even before I saw The Godfather movies its impression was felt—all Italians were cool, and some how connected to the Mafia. Over the years I discovered those both weren’t true. That’s what time does. It allows you to add data and experience as you form your own views of life.

One thing I know I didn’t think about The Godfather on that first viewing is that it was a critical look at capitalism and materialism in the United States. But apparently that was what Coppola had in mind when he made The Godfather movies;

“Ultimately it’s all about money in the end. But ultimately so much of America is about money in the end so that theme is of the Mafia really finding fertile soil when it came to America. Both the Mafia and America have, you know, the earning of money as the main purpose.”
Francis Ford Coppola
The Godfather Part II DVD Commentary

That’s an interesting thought when you piece that together with the letter Coppola reportedly wrote to Fidel Castro when he wanted to shoot Apocalypse Now in Cuba, “Dear Fidel, I love you…. We have the same initials. We both have beards. We both have power and want to use it for good purposes….” I don’t know the context of the letter so I’ll try not read too much into it. (Maybe Coppola was just being a director hustling a dictator for a location where he wanted to shoot his film.)

But Hollywood does have a long history of creatives who are not only critical of America and capitalism at times, but step over the line into at least flirting with socialism and communism. The United States is not perfect and, yes, we have a love affair with materialism. But let’s not lose site of what a great country this is.

To paraphrase film critic Pauline Kael, I am suspicious of those Hollywood-types who question American materialism while they are not only living in grand homes, but often have second and third homes. I can speak all day about the problems of American capitalism/materialism and the souless lives that it can produce, but history tells me that socialism and communism are not the answer.

Perhaps my views are shaded from spending a year in Miami and hearing the stories of exiled Cubans talk about Castro. (Yes, Castro helped raise the literacy rate and provided universal health care, but food, free speech and economic opportunity are harder to come by.) Dissenters either escaped the country (sometimes with pennies in their pockets), are in jail, or were executed. (Where does that leave most artists who enjoy questioning authority?)

Perhaps my views are shaded by the fact that I grew up in a house in Florida without air conditioning.(Working hard for a better life seemed like a good trade off.)  But I always find it interesting that some of the wealthiest people in this county are the most outspoken about the system that made them wealthy. Surley they could give all their money and property to the poor and move to a socialist or communist country—but for some reason they never do.

I don’t know what Coppola at age 70 thinks of Castro, Cuba, socialism, communism or materialism, but I do know that he has turned into quite a successful entrepreneur and capitalist with his winery. He’s increased his land ownership & wealth, created jobs, raised a family and along the way had the freedom to create art. He’s lived the American dream.

I’m thankful that when both Coppola and Mario Puzo were talented and struggling artists that they set out to make a commercial success. Because in writing and making The Godfather they not only became wealthy men, they created an artistic masterpiece.

PS. A fun fact about Detroit born Francis Ford Coppola is the Ford part of his name came from the respect his father had for uber-capitalist Henry Ford.

Scott W. Smith

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“Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer.
Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) quoting fatherly advice
Ranked #58 on AFI’s 100 Years…100 Movie Quotes

After the screen success of The Godfather the studios were interested in making a sequel. Wrtier/director Francis Ford Coppola, who did not enjoy the process of making The Godfather, was not as thrilled with repeating the experience and turned down their offer. The studios told him they couldn’t  believe he had found the secret formula but was not interested in making more of the product. Eventually Coppola agreed to produce the film finding a new director and then circumstances changed and once again he was leading The Godfather family, writing and directing the sequel.

“The Godfather Part II had taken upon itself a very ambitious structure  which was that it was going to tell its story in two entirely different time periods basically going back and forth in a kind of parallel structure between them. Actually, this was an idea before I knew I was making this Godfather Part II, I wanted to write a screenplay about a man and his son but both at the same age—like let’s say 30 years old— and tell the parallel story. Finally, I found myself doing The Godfather Part II—I basically just took that notion and conceived of Part II as having two time periods told against each other.”
Francis Ford Coppola
Mario Puzo’s The Godfather Part II DVD Commentary

Coppola basically wrote the contemporary parts that were set in Miami, Lake Tahoe and Cuba while the older sections in Italy and New York were taken from Mario Puzo’s novel The Godfather. The Godfather Part II was nominated for 11 Academy Award winning 6, including Best Screenplay from Adapted Material for both Coppola and Puzo. The Godfather Part II is listed #32  on AFI’s !00 Years…100 Movies—1oth Anniversay Edition. And Michael Corleone is listed as the #11 top villian in AFI’s 100 Years…100 Heroes and Villians. Not bad for a film Coppola didn’t initially want to make.

(Though personally, I must add that I think Pacino as Tony Montana—Scarface— could take Pacino as Michael Corleone any day of the week. Unless Montana was all coked-up.)

Scott W. Smith

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“In both of my Mafia books (The Godfather, The Last Don), I’ve wanted to show the parallel between the normal business world and the Mafia. Both operate with power. They crush their opposition. Hollywood can be as ruthless as the Mafia and just as clannish.
Mario Puzo
Interview by Robert Fleming

Though we usually refer to The Godfather movie as simply The Godfather, Francis Ford Coppola was very gracious to have the opening title card be Mario Puzo’s The Godfather. While the film is identified with the many giants that helped create the trilogy including Brando, Pacino, De Niro and Coppola himself, the creative process all started with Puzo and his novel.

Puzo was born to a poor immigrant family from Italy in New York City back in 1920. He was raised in Hell’s Kitchen, served in the Air Force during World War II, and used the G.I. bill to attend night classes at New York’s New School for Social Justice. He published his first short story when he was 30 and his first novel when he was 35. He worked for an extended time in pulp journalism where he heard various anecdotes about the Mafia and hoped to write a book on the subject.

“The reason I wrote The Godfather was to make money… I owed $20,000 to relatives, finance companies, banks, and assorted bookmakers and shylocks. It was time to grow up and sell out, as Lenny Bruce once advised.”
Mario Puzo

Puzo got a $5,000 advance and it took him three years to write The Godfather. It was published in 1969 and became a number one New York Times Bestseller. He worked as a screenwriter on three Godfather movies with Coppola and won two Oscar awards. He wrote other novels and screenplays after The Godfather, but The Godfather proved to be his day in the sun.

But before the Godfather movies were made, before the paperback rights sold for $410,000, before 10 million copies of the book were sold, and before the book was even written Puzo was just another writer that needed to make a little more than he was making.

“I’d published two novels for which I’d received very fine reviews—especially the second one, The Fortunate Pilgrim, and I didn’t make any money (both books netted him a total of just $6,500.) …and I looked around and said, ‘Gee. I’ve got’—you know, I was working as a government clerk, and then I was working on the magazine…’I have five kids and I thought, I’d better make some money.'”
Mario Puzo
Larry King Live
August 2, 1996

Puzo also wrote an autobiography The Godfather Papers & Other Confessions. He died in 1999.

Scott W. Smith

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