Eleanor Coppola is an accomplished documentary filmmaker, artist, writer and the wife of an icon of American cinema, Francis Ford Coppola.
They met on the film Dementia 13 in 1962 when she was the assistant art director and he was directing his first feature film.
Coppola has accompanied her husband on movie shoots around the world, giving her an insider’s view of the ups and downs of filmmaking. In the Philippines for Apocalypse Now, she shot documentary footage for the Emmy Award-winning Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse and kept a journal, released in 1979 as Notes on the Making of Apocalypse Now.
Her new book Notes On A Life, is an intimate portrait of her family that includes writer/director daughter Sofia Coppola (Lost In Translation). The 72-year-old Coppola talked about the book, being married to a famous director and the competing demands of career and family.
Q What was the impetus for doing this book?
A My mother wrote her thoughts on index cards for years. She filled shoeboxes with thousands of cards. I encouraged her to edit them. She always said she wasn’t ready. Then the time came when she was no longer able — she’s 99. I realized my nearly 30 years of notebooks were piling up.
Q Was it easy or hard going through old journals and deciding what to include, what to exclude?
A I started by selecting the most complete pieces I’d written. I laughed, wept and was bored. Memories triggered searching for particular entries and then I’d find old pieces I’d forgotten, such as the trip in Japan to visit Akira Kurosawa. It was revelatory to see repeated patterns weaving through my life.
Q Can you talk about the problems of being married to a hugely successful, famous man, when you’re a very accomplished artist in your own right?
A It’s a challenge to find time for my own work with so many responsibilities and seductive opportunities in my life with Francis, our children, the winery and resorts. Of course there are pluses too, some doors open.
Q You often write about the frustration of following Francis around on a location where he’s so excited and focused, while you have to deal with mundane issues. Do you feel that you sacrificed your own creative life to some extent?
A I may have gotten more of my art work done in other life circumstances, but going to far flung locations with Francis and our family enormously expanded my horizons. It gave me the opportunity to see life and art in other parts of the world and develop my critical thinking.
Q There are times, such as on the set of Godfather III in Rome, when Francis is depressed and angry and takes it out on you. Did he ever read your journal or the rough draft of this book and ask you to make any changes?
A Francis read the finished manuscript in finished form and didn’t ask for any changes.
Q Is it possible for a woman to have it all — a happy marriage, kids and a fulfilling career? Or does something have to give?
A Well, I see the current generation of young women doing a much better job than the women my age did. My daughter and her friends seem to take for granted that this is their right. Still, it’s not easy and requires a lot of skill editing and balancing the many demands.
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