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Lessons From The Godfather

Here is something that caught our eye this week:

Making an offer that’s easy to refuse

We think most would agree that The Godfather is one of the greatest movies ever made.  This week, we were interested to learn that at the time of production, success was far from certain.  Francis Ford Coppola himself was not the studio’s first choice to direct the film, and once in the role, he clashed constantly with studio executives.  From a Fresh Air podcast with Coppola:

“The Godfather was a very unappreciated movie when we were making it. They were very unhappy with it. They didn’t like the cast. They didn’t like the way I was shooting it. I was always on the verge of getting fired. So it was an extremely nightmarish experience. I had two little kids, and the third one was born during that. We lived in a little apartment, and I was basically frightened that they didn’t like it. They had as much as said that, so when it was all over I wasn’t at all confident that it was going to be successful, and that I’d ever get another job.”

Coppola goes on to describe that despite having no real power, he harbored strong opinions about the movie.  For instance, he wanted the movie to be set in the 1940’s to align with the bookbut the producers wanted it to be set in the 1970’s for budgetary reasons.  His biggest fight with the studio, however, was about casting.  Coppola really had to fight for what now are considered iconic characters.  From the podcast:

“…[the studio] also hated my casting ideas. They hated Al Pacino for the role of Michael and they hated Marlon Brando for the role of the Godfather. I was told categorically by the president of Paramount, ‘Francis, as the president of Paramount Pictures, I tell you here and now, Marlon Brando will never appear in this motion picture and I forbid you to bring it up again.’”

No was not an option for Coppola, so rather than obey the president of Paramount, he shifted the conversation to ask the studio under what conditions they would cast Brando.  They responded with somewhat impossible demands: (1) that he would do the movie for free (2) that he would do a screen test (typically actors like Brando didn’t do screen tests) and (3) that he would put up a $1 million bond to ensure any misbehavior would not cost budget overruns for the studio.

Clearly, these were ridiculous terms.  However, to Coppola, it was a win.  It meant he could now talk about the idea and, in the process, move the studio toward accepting his idea.  He was relentless, and at the end of the day, Brando was paid for the role (although not much), he didn’t do a screen test (or at least a traditional one), nor did he have to put up a bond.  It just goes to show what can happen when you don’t take no for an answer. Coppola separately noted:

“In your own time, usually, the stuff that’s your best idea or work is going to be attacked the most. Firstly, probably because it’s new, or because they’d never seen an opening of a movie like that, or seen a gangster movie done in this style. So you have to really be courageous about your instincts and your ideas, because otherwise you’ll just knuckle under and change it. And then things that might have been memorable will be lost.”

While we are not creating cinematic masterpieces, in business, certain things often seem impossible.  Many people will tell you your idea simply cannot be done.  A contract cannot be won.  A business cannot be purchased for a certain price.  Operational efficiencies can only be stretched so far.  Pricing power is limited.  Learning more about Coppola’s unwavering commitment to his vision is a good reminder that no is often just the beginning of a conversation.

Have a great week,

Your Chenmark Team

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