The writing, production, direction and distribution of the film version of The Godfather is a classic illustration of successful collaborations in the making of movies.
Contrastingly, Alan J Pakula – famous for films such as Klute and To Kill A Mockingbird – was best known for his skills as humanist and willingness to compromise in order to extract a successful product from a variety of sources. He held a life-long interest in Freudian psychology.
Prior to his collaboration with Mario Puzo and the production of The Godfather , Francis Ford Coppola confined himself to an intensive process of detailed note-taking, working directly from Puzo’s text and highlighting key expositions which he felt would become pinnacles in the film.
Once such example is the scene in an Italian restaurant where the film’s central character, Michael Corleone (played by Al Pacino) avenges the attempted assassination of his father, Don Vito Corleone (played by Marlon Brando). When Coppola wrote this scene, the actors had not yet been cast.
Coppola used his now-famous skills of persuasion to convince the nervous Paramount executives to cast both Pacino and Brando. The executives did not, under any circumstances, want the destructive Brando in their film, nor were they enthusiastic about the casting of the little-known Al Pacino. Technically, the studio executives were not wrong in originally wanting to cast the well-known Robert Redford in the role of Michael Corleone.
In the original narrative by Mario Puzo, the protagonist is characterised by his blond and Aryan looks, uncharacteristic of the Italian. Coppola had wanted to alter this characterisation in his family saga and was set on casting the much shorter Italian-American, Pacino, not anywhere close in looks to the original story’s character.
Alan J Pakula took a similar approach to Coppola in wanting to cast unknown actors in his films in order to deflect attention to the film as a whole and not allow a central ‘star attraction’ dominate his story creation. Robert Redford was the producer of All The President’s Men and was enthusiastic about taking on one of the two leading roles as the journalist Bob Woodward in spite of not resembling the Washington Post reporter in looks or personality.
While Redford co-produced the film and Pakula directed, they both collaborated as screen writers to come up with a definitive and apt script after many disagreements and revisions.
Similarly, Pakula wanted to cast an originally unknown Polish actress to play the part of the story’s Polish war victim, Sophie Zawistowska in Sophie’s Choice.
Redford famously commended Pakula for his amenable manner and the way in which he negotiated with his staff and co-producers. Given the volume of the original texts, it was necessary for Pakula to condense his screenplays and directions of William Styron’s Sophie’s Choice and Woodward’s version of All The President’s Men.
Through no fault of his own, Coppola was under more severe pressure from his film executives, mainly due to them not being comfortable with his innovative ideas in genre selection, scene setting and choice of actors. They were not comfortable with the idolization of the gangster, nor were they happy with the expensive choice of a New York suburb. Coppola gave licence to his production designer to find an authentic location for the filming of The Godfather.
Ultimately, the mis-en-scene created was effective. The camera placing in this suburb follows a young Vito Corleone (played by Robert de Niro), stalking his street-walking nemesis from the top of buildings during The Godfather Part II. In The Godfather Part III. Andy Garcia’s character was seem chasing his enemy on horseback through the same streets over sixty years later.
Such masterful collaborations did not go unnoticed by film critics and the Academy of Motion Pictures, Arts and Sciences. In 1972, The Godfather won the Best Picture Oscar while Coppola and Puzo were awarded Oscars for Best Screenplay.
Three years later, Coppola received the award for Best Director while The Godfather Part II was notably the Best Picture. Again, Coppola and Puzo won awards for their screenplay. There were also awards for Best Art and Set Decoration for Dean Tavoularis, Angelo Graham and George Nelson.
Two years later, William Goldman won the award for Best Writing and Screenplay for Material based on another Medium for All the President’s Men. Years later, Meryl Streep won the Best Actress Oscar for her role in Sophie’s Choice. Sadly, there were no awards for producer and director Alan Pakula.