Imagine standing in the heart of the Philippine jungle, battling not only the elements but also the demons of self-doubt, anxiety, and the fear of losing everything. This was the hell that Francis Ford Coppola had to endure. Behind the incredible success of Apocalypse Now, one of his greatest masterpieces, lies an apocalyptic shoot.
Filming began in 1976, just after the release of the director’s biggest hit, The Godfather. The immense triumph of this film propelled the director to the forefront of the screen, but also marked the beginning of the darkest period of his career.
« The Godfather destroyed me », he said two years ago. Indeed, the expectations surrounding Coppola’s films had become higher and higher, and the director found it hard to cope with the terrible pressure; the appalling shooting conditions for Apocalypse Now didn’t help matters.
Shot in the Philippines, the film was hit hard by typhoon Olga, which destroyed the set. Things were no better for the actors. First of all, Coppola chose Harvey Keitel for the lead role. However, the director had become extremely fussy since the success of The Godfather, and was increasingly sceptical about his choices. He decided to replace Keitel with Martin Sheen just two weeks into the shoot. The director of The Conversation was uncompromising with his actors, forcing them to do totally surreal things. On one occasion he even asked Martin Sheen to get drunk to help him get into character. The actor suffered a heart attack in March 1977, which kept him away from the set for three weeks.
As the weeks went by, Coppola sank deeper into drugs and paranoia. The inordinate pressure and expectations surrounding the film affected the increasingly megalomaniac filmmaker’s mental health.
The film’s budget exploded from 13 million to 30 million dollars. Coppola was forced to finance the film himself. On the verge of bankruptcy, he had to mortgage his personal assets to complete the shoot. Panic set in. Coppola felt he was making the worst film of his career and attempted suicide.
Finally, after 18 months of shooting, the film was finished – but the director had paid a high price: a cannabis addiction and dropping a shocking 40 kilos in weight. However, the huge success of the film when it was released in 1979 saved Coppola from financial disaster and helped him to rebuild his psychological health.
Coppola’s painful experience is a topical subject that should not be overlooked. It echoes the difficult psychological situation in which some celebrities find themselves these days, such as gymnast Simone Biles and singer Stromae, who ended his tour last April.
These examples help to highlight the problem of celebrity mental health, which is all too often ignored by the general public.