When Francis Ford Coppola first picked up the script for Apocalypse Now, based on Joseph Conrad’s novel Heart of Darkness, he claimed “It could never be licked”. Even Orson Welles couldn’t lick it, having it pulled by the studio execs moments before shooting. Orson commenced work on Citizen Kane instead and never turned back.
Despite his own words, in 1979, Coppola took a film crew to the Philippines to get started. Most said he would fail. What ensued is testimonial to a man getting sh*t done.
To float the film he raised most of the $13M budget alone. He put his own home and assets on the line as collateral.
Harvey Keitel, the lead actor, was pulled and replaced within just the first few shots after Coppola decided he didn’t quite work.
During the entire filming process, communist rebels occupied several locations south of the country. The Philippine government agreed to lend Coppola the use of their air force’s helicopters, however, the entire fleet was often pulled mid-shoot to fight the rebels.
Halfway through shooting, the film’s 36 year old lead, Martin Sheen, suffered a heart attack.
Marlon Brando was scheduled to play a thin and emancipated Kurtz. Instead, he arrived on set a year into shooting “so fat he was shy”, forcing Coppola to rewrite the entire ending.
Mid-shoot the set was hit by a torrential typhoon causing massive damage to constructions that had taken months and hundreds of man hours to build.
Coppola described the film as a “$20 million disaster” and went as far as to threaten suicide. Yet despite criticism from the tabloids and producers he persisted, claiming he had no choice.
The film went on to earn two academy awards, three golden globes and Cannes Palme d’Or – arguably the most notable award in film.