Francis Ford Coppola and Kevin Costner Pay Their Own Way to Cannes

By J. Sperling Reich | May 21, 2024 3:01 pm PDT
2024 Cannes Film Festival - Kevin Costner & Francis Ford Coppola

Two of the most high profile selections at the 2024 Cannes Film Festival come from filmmakers with a lengthy and acclaimed history in Hollywood. Even so, neither Francis Ford Coppola or Kevin Costner could rely upon Hollywood and its usual cast of executives and financiers to help them make the films that brought them to Cannes. Instead, each took the unusual step of funding their film’s production out of their own fortunes.

It is not necessarily an unprecedented strategy, albeit often unwise, as Coppola has financed several of his past films including “Apocalypse Now” which won the Palme d’Or in Cannes at the 1979 festival and the 1981 musical “One From The Heart.” The latter film cost Coppola USD $26 million and was a box office failure, forcing him to sell Zoetrope Studio and ultimately file for bankruptcy. This checkered past didn’t dissuade Coppola from plowing USD $120 million into “Megalopolis,” a sprawling science fiction drama serving as an allegory for the fall of the American empire, a story which has been bouncing around in his head for decades.

Coppola’s passion project stars a massive ensemble cast including Adam Driver, Giancarlo Esposito, Nathalie Emmanuel, Shia LaBeouf, Aubrey Plaza, Jason Schwartzman and Jon Voight, to name just a handful. The cast and lavish sets surely did not come cheap, a detail that Coppola shrugs off when asked about bankrolling “Megalopolis.”

“I never cared about money,” he said after his film premiered in Cannes. “You know, one of the reasons why I had the line of credit that I did to be able to do this is because in 2008, during the financial crisis, I borrowed USD $20 million to build a winery where children could do something when their parents were drinking wine. So I built a winery like Tivoli Garden in the great, wonderful Denmark with swimming pools and games. I took this absurd risk of USD $20 million, created a place that now every winery tries to duplicate. And so I just took the money I wouldn’t have had if I had not taken the risk and I put the risk in the movie.”

Coppola is referring to the Francis Ford Coppola Winery in Napa, California which he sold to Delicato Family wines in June of 2021, giving him the necessary financing for “Megalopolis.” The Coppola family still owns and operates the Inglenook winery.

Like Coppola, Costner had a film he’d been wanting to make for quite some time and needed to mortgage his house to get it made. More accurately, the actor-cum-director has four movies he’s been yearning to make and had to mortgage four of his properties to get at least the first two made. Costner’s “Horizon: An American Saga – Chapter 1” is screening out-of-competition in Cannes and is the first in a four-film western saga. Both the first and second films will be released theatrically this summer.

And, similar to Coppola, when Costner set out to make “Horizon” nobody in Hollywood was interested. “I don’t know why it was so hard to get people to believe in the movie that I wanted to make,” he said the day after the movie’s red carpet premiere. “I’ve made movies before. I don’t think my movie is better than anybody else’s movie, but I don’t think anybody else’s movie is better than mine. It happened with ‘Dances With Wolves,’ ‘Field of Dreams,’ ‘Bull Durham,’ and ‘Open Range.’ It seems to be a pattern that some of the things that I like are harder to make. My problem is that I don’t fall out of love with something that is good.”

There are no specifics on precisely how much of his own money Costner has invested in “Horizon,” though reports put the budget for the first three around USD $100 million. He continues to search for anyone willing to help finance the remaining two films, joking that while in Cannes he’s knocked on the doors of all the luxury yachts anchored in the marina.

“I’ve had good luck in my life and I’ve acquired some things, land, some homes that are important to me and they’re valuable, but I don’t need four homes, like anyone, so I will risk those homes to make my movies,” Costner said of the chance he is taking. “I wish I didn’t do it, because I want to leave those homes to my children. But my children will have to live their own life and if I have not made a mistake, they’ll still maybe have these four homes.”

Costner is grateful Cannes is allowing him to properly introduce “Horizon” to global audiences in as grand a fashion as possible. It’s why, three days into directing the third film, he halted production to be in attendance. “This was important to me to be here,” said Costner, going on to hint that he’s not even sure he can finish the film. “I’m going to leave here and I’m going to go back and start directing again and go as far as my money takes me. This is my journey. It’s hard but I feel lucky to have found this business.”

Coppola seems to have a similar attitude about gambling on “Megalopolis,” even though the film has yet to find a North American distributor. (The film is slated to be shown in IMAX theatres sometime this year.) “What’s important are friends, because a friend will never let you down. Money may evaporate,” he said. “You know, in the end, there’s so many people, when they die, they say, ‘Oh, I wish I had done this. I wish I had done that.’ But when I die, I’m gonna say ‘I got to do this. And I got to see my daughter win an Oscar. And I got to make wine. And I got to make every movie I wanted to make.’ And I’m gonna be so busy thinking of all the things that I got to do that when I die, I won’t notice it.”

J. Sperling Reich