An excerpt from Thomson’s new book about the “story of the movies.” Thomson looks at some of the first novelists to work in film (Aldous Huxley, William Faulkner), as well as the early work of filmmakers like Peter Bogdanovich, Robert Altman, and Francis Ford Coppola:
“‘Why should I do it?’ Francis Coppola asked his father, Carmine. By chance, they had crossed paths at the Burbank airport. Francis had been at the Paramount building all day. ‘They want me to direct this hunk of trash,’ he told his father. He may have heard through the grapevine that the Mario Puzo novel The Godfather had already been turned down by Arthur Penn, Peter Yates, Costa-Gavras, Otto Preminger, Elia Kazan, Fred Zinnemann, and Franklin Schaffner. But those guys weren’t thirty-one and in debt, like Francis. He told his father he preferred to make art pictures, not lousy anti-Italian mobster stuff. But Dad said, take the money and then do your own things. The money turned out to be $125,000 against 6 percent of the rentals.
“The Puzo novel had been published by Putnam in 1969 on a $5,000 advance. It sold a million copies in hardback and had a paperback advance of $410,000. With the best will in the world, critics admitted it was a piece of trash, but one the public enjoyed. Paramount, in the person of its production chief, Robert Evans, bought the book on a $12,000 option against $85,000. They hired Al Ruddy to produce it, gave him a copy of the book, and asked what sort of movie he could foresee. Ruddy replied, ‘An ice-blue terrifying movie about people you love.’ These are the first words close to sense on the project.”