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A Master Dreams Beyond His Medium: Inside Francis Ford Coppola’s Live Cinema Production, Distant Vision

A Master Dreams Beyond His Medium: Inside Francis Ford Coppola’s Live Cinema Production, Distant Vision


Francis Ford Coppola’s Distant Vision details the triumphs and tragedies of three generations of Italian-American families, whose lives unfold alongside the historical development of television in the 20th century.

With this live cinema performance piece produced over three weeks in May and June in a 6,000-square-foot soundstage on Oklahoma City Community College’s campus, Coppola claims to be pioneering a brand new art form.

The production format was perhaps most akin to live television: Actors performed onstage for an audience while a crew, orchestrated by the director himself, captured the proceedings on 22 cameras. Each shot was painstakingly crafted as one would on a regular film set—hence a certain cinematic effect—in a carefully designed sequence, spanning the narrative’s 52 minutes. Coppola intended this summer’s production as a kind of proof-of-concept for an expanded rendition he is currently working on.

Actress Chandler Ryan performs a scene from Distant Vision for both the cameras and a live audience.

Actress Chandler Ryan performs a scene from Distant Vision for both the cameras and a live audience. Photograph by Brian Roberts

“We have been looking at recorded art now for 200 years,” said Coppola, during a lecture to his team of professionals and students from OCCC (where his longtime producer Gray Frederickson is an artist-in-residence). “From the photograph, to the Victrola, to the motion picture, to television; we’re basically looking at canned art. The public is watching sports and going to rock concerts, so there must be a yearning to break that cycle of the canned.”

Over the three-week preparation, crew members from Coppola’s American Zoetrope production company hustled around the soundstage, building a midcentury living room, rolling out cables, and building 45 different interchangeable sets. They spent the start of the summer creating the set around the 22 makeshift cameras, which had the ability to weave in and out of each set. Cameras were rigged on anything from a new Steadicam to a faithful 40-year-old dolly that was once used on the set of The Godfather.

The soundstage at Oklahoma City Community College.

The soundstage at Oklahoma City Community College hosted the crew and the audience for the production of Distant Vision. Photograph by Jonathan Shahan

A supreme amount of practice was required from all parties involved. This unprecedented level of precision, Coppola felt, was what made his take on live cinema different. “In cinema, we can go for a take two, a take three, until we get one that works. In live television the philosophy is to just light everything up with an immense amount of light, and the cameras are just so big, with zoom lenses following everyone around—so there is absolutely no ‘shot.’ In this notion of live cinema, precision becomes a real mantra. You know that’s the thrill.”

DP Mihai Malaimare (The Master) made his rounds on set, checking on Distant Vision’s 22 different camera operators. It took an expert cinematographer to coordinate the exact timing necessary to focus all those precisely placed cameras, working together as one unit—and his crew was under an immense amount of stress to hit their marks exactly. Live cable wires became the bane of the production—strung up across the studio, hanging over people’s heads and tangling beneath feet. Camera operators rehearsed movements around the wires while their assistants trailed behind, releasing and pulling cables quickly in specific areas.

Cameras Mihai Malaimare (The Master) preps the camera for the perfect shot JS

DP Mihai Malaimare (The Master) preps for the perfect shot. Photograph by Jonathan Shahan

Throughout this madcap choreography, sound recording loomed as one of the largest challenges. Boom operators had memorized steps to meet actors at their marks while remaining outside of the stage lighting—yet when the footage was reviewed, many were still showing up onscreen. The eventual solution was a vertical one: boom operators were raised on mobile rigs five to 20 feet above the set, dipping their booms down toward the actors below. A live narrator held court in a leather chair onstage; meanwhile, a live composer played piano, improvising his melodies according to the action onstage.

While this was taking place, Coppola eagerly watched the film in Silverfish—an Airstream trailer equipped with a kitchenette, couch, and monitors, previously used it as a mobile headquarters for several films, including The Outsiders, Dracula, and The Godfather: Part III. Scanned the images on his live feed, Coppola would identify his choice of shots on the fly.

Distant Vision has a strong autobiographical bent for its creator. One character, Tony, is a polio-stricken youth who turns inward to his imaginary to endure the isolation of his disease. The incident is taken directly from Coppola’s own life, and during that scene the director shed a few onstage tears.

Fraser Kershaw (Behind the Water) and Greg Mellott (Jackie Chan's First Strike) console tearful Coppola and encourage him through his live piece of cinema BR

Collaborators Fraser Kershaw and Greg Mellott console a tearful Coppola during a particularly personal moment in Distant Vision. Photograph by Brian Roberts

Another autobiographical theme? Television itself. “What is the thing that really nails the period that I grew up in? We had civil rights… we had the Vietnamese war; we had the death of a president. I realized all these things came to me through television.” Coppola owes not just Distant Vision’s subject but his ability to produce it to the medium. “You couldn’t do this three years ago because the cameras didn’t quite exist; the lights didn’t quite exist. The technology of television has so rapidly advanced due to sports.”

This summer 2015 rendition of Distant Vision was live-streamed to private showings in Paris, New York, Los Angeles, and at the Coppola family residence in Napa Valley, California. The immense amount of labor paid off, it seemed, for Coppola, who said, “These past couple weeks have been some of the happiest in my life.” MM

This article appears in MovieMaker‘s Fall 2015 issue, on newsstands September 22, 2015.

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  1. Wanda G. says:

    I love this!!!

    • Lander Gruffie says:

      I love this article 🙂 It seems to inspire the artist in me. I find things like this to be rare. Well done, MM.

  2. Kerry Wayde says:

    It’s really touching to see this. Francis Ford Coppola is a true great man to be so real with his pain. Grown man crying is never a shame. Very touching indeed. Seems all great art comes from deep pain.

  3. Sharon Levy says:

    Let me add, my closest cousin had polio and they go through a hell on earth. They are in deep pain often times spent alone. FFC we support you! Keep going! I can’t wait to see what will come!

    Sharon and the Gang.


  4. Ray Zarelli says:

    It’s about time we come up with new stuff. We need real movies that without the Hollywood fake fluff. I have come to a point where I won’t even go to the movies anymore…because it’s the same POV, same score,same 90 minute 3 act structure. Coppola is on to something. I agree.

  5. Frank Gifford says:

    I have been following FFC for years even before the Godfathers. I’m not surprised by this new creation.

    I think Polio was the key to his legacy. It seems it took him all this time to come clean with his pain and create what he experienced himself. I would love to of been apart of this. How can I watch Distant Vision? Very impressed.

  6. Noah Lin says:

    When I created my first short film about my dying brother I was in constant tears and some people were looking at me strange. I feel like I can relate to him. It’s nice to have a team that also supports your very personal vision. I’m sure it was an absolute rush and great feeling to accomplish his ‘Distant Vision’ and I was also at ease when I was finished. Maybe the happiest time of my life too. Thanks for sharing.

  7. Amy Reed says:

    Our class read this today. I think it’s really cool how he takes risks to achieve greatness. FYI: Group hug of cuties in the last pic melts my heart.

  8. Brady S. says:

    My older brother is the biggest Coppola fan. I’m going to buy this article and enlarge it and frame it. This is great.

  9. Jake Lynwood says:

    HOLY CRAP! Now there is a chance for theater actors to make money!!!

  10. Joe Palumbo says:

    The master. The greatest. In the film world, nobody can compare. He is a walking talking visionary.

  11. Ron Devito says:

    Coppola is the modern day King of film now and forever. The new films still use his style of framing and storytelling. He has changed the world of film and how we see things. Does the mag come out in New Hampshire?

  12. Howard M. Reynolds says:

    As a self proclaimed jock I can appreciate his interlude. I’m a huge sports fan and avid music fan and I believe his thoughts about the movies being canned. We need live action in our face. Also, the greatest athletes cry after a victory as I’m sure that’s another reason why he shed a tear. I’ll never forget when Jordan wept..

    It looks like a big group effort to create something on the fly.. How can we see it?

  13. Rebecca Lynn says:


    The last photo is so cute it hurts. Moments like this in life, is why I train in acting workshops; to encompass an opportunity that will generate tears while facing ones greatest fears. Working on ground breaking projects is my mindset. Great read!


  14. Ophilia Stark says:

    In Russia we love him. He convinced us that Italian Americans are not so bad after all! LOL!! Congratulations on your success Mr. Coppola! Cheers.

  15. Brett Howell says:

    Outstanding! I support what he said! It’s time for CHANGE!

  16. Darryl G says:

    This Italian dude even liked by the black community. My moms screams everytime she hear did dudes name. Growing up I thought she was cheatin on my pops with mr. Coppoulah. Imagine looking at yo moms watch the Godfather SMH..

  17. Ava Antonia says:

    My my, HE is consistently surrounded by such beautiful actors and talented artists’. If you look at his track record he alsways attracts the best around him. Walt Disney did the exact same.. If you look at Hollywood A-listers today…Francis has his hand in shaping many of their early careers. This would of been a dream come true to have worked with him on this project. 🙂 Big Kisses for Francis Coppola.

  18. Paula Marie says:

    Will somebody hook me up with Fraser Kershaw? I need some of THAT in my life pretty please 😉 I LOVE Reading Motivational Food.

  19. Gene Redman says:

    We explored this reading today at our annual film society meeting in Lakewood, and as always Coppola challenges the status-quo with a mind boggling new art form that defies my mind. His renegade approach is flawless through his words of wisdom. The article does not give us any information on how he did that kind of bummed me out…Is this thing a secret? I wish I knew more. People always called him crazy and then 20 years later his stuff turns into masterpieces all together though, we as a team really enjoyed sharing this with our group.


    Lakewood Film Society

  20. Newman Mel says:

    Mr Coppola,

    If you’re reading this please know I have always been a complete fan and supporter of you and all your works. I looked up to you with all my work and film en devours. I’m looking forward to watching Distant Vision one day and I wish you well with your new project.


    Mel Newman

  21. Benjamin Miller says:

    A film, also called a movie, motion picture or photoplay is a series of still images which, when shown on a screen, creates the illusion of moving images due to the phi phenomenon. This optical illusion causes the audience to perceive continuous motion between separate objects viewed rapidly in succession. Coppola showed us this at the highest level and I’m so excited to see what will be revealed next!

  22. Howie Bell says:

    The innovator is back at it. Love it MM.

  23. Joe Brillo says:

    All the guys back in NYC are celebrating you and your success old friend.
    Sal and Joe- 4th and Queens

  24. Jason M- says:

    How do people get into the film industry? It seems like everything is a secret. Like there really is a mafia. Maybe Coppola is really inside the Mafia..I mean look at the you think he could of made that up from a book? I have a million friends in Hollywood and none of them are inside.

  25. Jay B says:

    Right on!

  26. Marey Opal says:

    May God give Coppola and friends the desires of their heart.

  27. Angela Van Hees says:

    Dear Mr. Coppola,

    You’re very clever. You articulates projects in a secluded wine valley to return to another secluded property in Oklahoma to make a grand new art form that is only for select people watch. Mafia, I think so. How can I join?


    Angela Van Hees

  28. Randy L. says:

    I can’t even wrap my head around this new film piece? I would love to analyze it myself.

  29. Mills Ryan says:

    Does this come out on DVD, online, or do you have to be there live on the spot to see it? This is so interesting. I would love to know more!

  30. Patti Wilmier says:

    Does this magazine come out in Austin, TX??!! I want to give my dad this article for his B-Day. Any thoughts?

  31. Holly Ream says:

    This is incredible!!! I want to see it!

  32. Nancy Peloni says:

    Of course he’s in the Mafia. I have lived in Los Angeles my whole life and have worked as an agent for 34 years. He had a sit down with the largest family while he was in production of the Godfather. The FBI couldn’t even get that meeting. He hand selects his crew on all his projects. It’s usually the same ones around him and half the guys you never see them in the media or names up on the credits. The new Hollywood is a bunch of half men with shaved chests to accompany their tight jeans. I can’t bare to go out and a drink anymore due to the onslaught of men and the lispy talk that echoes throughout the entire room.

  33. Barry Trenton says:

    Hello MM,

    I’m quite impressed! Great read and looking forward to seeing the ‘Distant Vision’ in the near future. North Carolina needs our tax credit back so when we do please send more productions our way so I can get work.


    Barry Trenton
    Raleigh, NC

  34. Cindy P says:

    We studied this project in class today. I think it’s cool how he combines different levels of people to work cohesively. I never heard of Francis Ford Coppola until today. I’m glad we covered this article today as it really opened my eyes to stretching my own artistic creations.

  35. Athens Film Community Resources says:

    Movie Maker Mag,

    This is such a great article. I think it’s so nice for Coppola to share his knowledge and art with so many different kinds of people. I’m a big advocate of creating art around pain, IE: diseases, PTSD, and abuse from the past are at peace when they can be explored and put into art. I’m an advocate of this project. If there was a way for me to contribute financially we would. Please produce more art around pain.


  36. Athens Film Community Resources says:

    This is so exciting and inspiring! It looks like such a huge group effort on many levels. I’m so glad I got the chance to share this with my class today. We are applying for grants for filmmakers to come to our University and put on a huge event like this on state property.

  37. Gary Silverstein says:

    I think it’s great what Coppola and Company is doing here. It seems he has taken the local OKC community and international professionals and put them together for a grand experiment. You gota love this world! Inspiring stuff and way to go 🙂

  38. Jenifer Rubio says:

    Mr. Coppola you’re a very dreamy man. I met you when we were in our 30’s in HWood. It was quick, but I’ll never forget you. When I see your work today that image of you never leaves my mind. May God continue to bless you my dear friend.

    Jenifer Rubio

  39. J.P. says:

    Ok, little confess..sess…I’m 21 and I honestly never heard of Francis Ford Coppola as a famous film director. I only knew the name ‘Coppola’ as the bottles of wine my parents drank during special occasions with their friends 🙂 So in celebration of my new knowledge of how cool this guy is.. I bought 5 bottles of Director’s Cut Chardonnay downtown tonight and I’m popping his bottles right now with my friends. Salute! I’m going to become freaky tonight and act slutty like I’m in Hollywood!!! I’m going to be an actress tonight! KISSSSSSSES MUAH!

  40. C. Tozier says:

    OCCC???!?! I remember Greg Mellott!!! WOW!! LOL!!! I would of never knew. I live in Miami now! This is awesome! I’m a Proud Alum!

  41. Ty Leathers says:

    I don’t really understand how he’s doing it or what’s going on to make what he’s making..but it’s All around awesome! I love mixed art forms! I’m a mixed media artist out of Modesto, CA and blending media will be the new norm down the road for sure.

  42. Missy W. says:

    Mr. Coppola,

    You’re the very best! Thank you for sparking a generation of filmmakers. Don’t ever give up on your future visions!!! We celebrate your films, food, and wine in our home here in Moreno Valley! XO

  43. Don Regal says:

    Film and Wine-

    My wife and kids visit the family Coppola Winery on our way down to Big Sur and then head over to a local film festival. He has one of the best spots in all of Napa. Def worth the drive- If one is into film and history, then check out all his awards and memorable photos from on display including the desk of Don Corleone in the Godfather at the winery. Cheers to another.

  44. Mike Diaz says:

    Pretty legit, Who would of known anything is happening in Oklahoma? I never heard of Oklahoma having any sort of ties to entertainment or film. This is some good press for (Ya’ll) Is that how you say spell it? Anyway, well done Francis Ford Coppola and I’m a huge fan. Got your poster in my bedroom with you holding your gun to your head making that silly face..and my GF hates it..but I tell her to bad. I’m loyal. I tell her..leave the gun, take the taco.

  45. Peg Marie Roberts says:

    I had no idea he was owned a wine vineyard? How neat is that?! I would cherish a bottle. I looked at his webpage just now and can’t find one store in Fairbanks, AK that carries his supply. I think I will have to order a few cases before winter:)

  46. Ian Wright says:

    Coppola is the king of film! I’m so very happy to see his project a success. Nothing like a good old fashion victory in this life! Renegade forever!!!!!!

  47. Cari Boyd says:

    Look at all the cute and handsome guys with long hair. Coppola will always be a hippy. ..AWWW..I just want to hug him so tight.

  48. Barry Ray Scott says:

    Reading this today on my computer today has given me a headache. The words are in small print. But on the upside it has given me a new hope in the entertainment industry.

    I’m very disappointing in Hollywood and the trash that is infiltrating out community with lies, hate, sex and violence. Do they really think movies don’t effect us? Whatever is between our eyes and ears gets us. Believe me, I’m 84. The people making the movies today are absolutely sick in the head and should be labeled as so. It’s nice to see Francis create his pain and share it with us. My sister had polio and it drove my family into a depression.

    This must of been a very deep project for him. I couldn’t even imagine opening up our family box of worms. Thank you for this read today, I will pass it on to my sister Jane. I hope it too makes her smile.

  49. John Fields says:

    Not a fan of live Theater. I’m so glad he sparked it up with cinema.

  50. Tom Barto says:

    I have every one of his wines & movies on a display in my store here in San Fran..

  51. Aldo & Alessia says:

    There is nothing more romantic on this earth than Italians making art together. Art is evident in our food, in our wines, in our movies. Americans claim we have high tempers, but hey, when your not living the good life why stay silent? Stereotypically we demand excellence in all our art and this is why we have so many tourists coming to try, look and experience our culture. Now get back to work!

  52. MARIA ABBÀ says:

    I’m a 1st generation Italian American mother and I have to speak Italian to my Mother and English to my three children. It’s so heartwarming to understand a little about Coppola as a family man within the many generations. I can relate to the vision here. Every family is a bit dysfunctional with family idiosyncrasies that comes with both dirty and clean laundry. To revisit it takes a lot of courage. Most therapy classes encourage patients to revisit the past and open it up so they can discuss and analyze to overcome. He is such an innovative deep thinking artist. I commend him for his efforts and fully support the creation. I’m very intrigued to see more and impressed by what he did here.

  53. Diane Diven says:

    A round of applause for all involved here! Cheers to live entertainment! It has always been live, since the beginning of time around the fire we have performed live with stories! Sending Kisses to Coppola 😉 x

  54. Michael Chang says:

    An entertainer entertaining his own. This project feels fascinating.

  55. Larry Wilmer says:

    I was a big fan of Jim Morrison and when I heard his music over that scene in Apocalypse now it took me back to Nam and I had a Distant Vision.

  56. Patty Morin says:

    The television controlled our generation and all that we saw. It was our greatest source of information. It was the radio for my parents, and my kids are currently glued to the internet like a drug. It’s very touching to see the cuties gather in arms to lift the spirit up of another. Now isn’t that what life is all about? Thanks MM.

  57. Linda Harks says:

    His wine helps me get through many of days. To be honest I want to say something nice but whatever he created sounds confusing and I don’t care to know more. Who has time to figure out artists. Get a life. It’s like when my kid draws on the wall you analyze it?

  58. Orlandi, Rhonda says:

    The Outsiders changed utterly changed my entire life. I was always a greaser and will always be an Outsider and FINALLY as a young poor girl I had something to relate to on the big screen. Love me some Coppola. XO

  59. Mike Haul says:

    Idk why but this makes me happy haha Seriously fascinated by this project. I believe artists should follow Coppola’s thoughts on breaking the movie format. Who came up with the idea they have to be 90 minutes or longer or whatever?He’s always ahead of the times. I think he’s more of an inventor/engineer than a filmmaker and in 20 more years we will all be doing distant visions!

  60. Warren Gene says:

    INCREDIBLE! I have all his stuff on VHS and once a year we have week long marathons. I would of LOVED to be in that private audience.

  61. Beej Willer says:


  62. Beej Willer says:

    He is full of original thoughts. This is why he is constantly misunderstood. This project will probably be the new norm in 20 years. Our minds haven’t caught up yet..

  63. Roy Damien says:

    Coppola just killing it wit his crew. always love me some gangsters.

  64. Leila Roberts says:

    He is so adorable in the last pic. I would just melt in that group hug.

  65. Rex Jenson says:

    Our film committee reviews this article and I was amazed how he gathered so many people from different backgrounds to work on a groundbreaking piece that nobody in Hollywood could even dare conquer. I tip my hat to you Mr. Coppola and I hope this art crushes the Hollywood superficial teeny bopper wana-be evil empire. Let’s shoot the belly of the beast right where it counts. I’m in!

  66. Ronny Linton says:

    LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE THIS! Theater and Cinema have always been bed buddies.

  67. Pete Aiken says:

    when the artist sees that inner vision you got to go after it. Glad he stuck with his instinct and went for it. looks like he had the right team around him to catch a glimpse of the past. it’s all about team in film making..oh wait? is this a film? i love that we can’t label this thing… genius

  68. Kyle Steager says:

    Not bad. Grew up on film sets with my pops in Burbank.. from a studio standpoint, this looks a bit over the top bizarre and unfriendly to creators, yet mind blowing in every logistical way.. I don’t even know where to begin…either way would of been a great honor to work alongside him…cool stuff.

  69. Lan Van Gick says:

    Greetings Movie Maker,

    Francis Ford Coppola hasn’t performed as a head director in roughly 5 years. One would think he planted a seed years ago so he could harvest it now.

    A creation done carefully under the nose of many is risky because of failure. It seems he succeeded and I’m very intrigued. He’s a brilliant man to many and will continue to stand as one of the top 3 directors of all time.


    Brecht, Belgium

  70. Paul A. says:

    MAFIA? Yes, 100%. He s actually a real actor/artist/film guy and it so happens he’s really good at it. Actually he is a very serious guy, heavily loaded with eyes for big business who uses his muscle. He never takes no for an answer. Everyone in Hollywood was intimidated by his crew. It’s rare you see any of his people in the media..that’s why this article is kind of cool. Maybe he is done with it all and just wants to make wine and relax with his friends and family. Every man comes to that point. It’s good to hear he’s happy.

  71. Patrick Tuttle says:

    Unbelievable!!! We covered this in our film class today! This is the exact reason why I’m pursuing a film career….to break the norm and create new experiments that change history.
    #New Idol #Ideas #Groundbreaking

  72. Hailey Anne says:

    We had to read this in our early rise acting class. I would of loved to be involved.

  73. Joe Penino says:

    Francis is actually a Penino. This is where he gets it from. The Coppola side was creative, the Penino side is the business. Nobody knows he’s really more of a Penino.

  74. Mick Haul says:

    The television ruled the roost. Now it’s the phones. My Distant Vision is the phones will eventually turn into chips to be inserted. Is that his Distant Vision? He is a deep guy.

  75. Harold Wheatly says:


  76. Penelope Rios says:

    I love the group hug of artistic cuties in the last photo. awweeeies..

  77. Fay Biega says:

    Italians do it best! Copppla we love u doll. Keep it up 😉

  78. TJ Scott says:


  79. Lamar Young says:

    Gangbangers in the hood have mad respect for Italians and family. Wish he would of done like a Bronx Tale type movie. But the other way around flipping it.. where the black dude get the Italian Chik.. good sh#t Coppola

  80. Paloma Jacobs says:

    When someone constantly uses the filler word “like,” you probably think they don’t sound so smart.

    But have you ever met someone who’s babbling “like” after “like,” and then suddenly inserts a zinger of a vocabulary word such as “sycophant,” which means a person who acts obsequiously toward someone important in order to gain advantage (or “obsequiously,” which means full of or exhibiting servile compliance)? All of a sudden, you’re looking at this person in a whole new light. Maybe they’re smarter than you thought they were. Coppola is exactly like this with the his critics. My hero.

  81. Jake Warring says:

    Mihai Malaimare should of won the Academy Award for Best Cinematography for “The Master” …It’s because he was foreign. Coppola always has the best.

  82. Gia Skova says:

    When can we see it!>>! LOVE IT!

  83. FIFA Coins says:

    That’s not the point.

  84. Phil Wyland says:

    I’m really curious about this project! Coppola is a ninja..22 cameras is insane.

  85. Will M. says:

    Coppola never lets up. I would of LOVED to be in that studio witnessing that unforeseen magic. #Dreamingoutloud

  86. Cole S. says:

    I was suppose to be apart of this if it wasn’t for the flu!!! AWEEEEE!! WHY? ScrewML

  87. Live Cinema? ahhhhhh WHAT IS IT? We need more info here….

  88. King Mike says:

    I’m not sure if I’m pissed or happy reading this. Will we need 22 cameras now to play in the industry? He changed it this another wave of the beginning? If so, it looks like I will sticking with my youtube vids.

  89. Brian Zang says:

    What is the purpose of rigging 22 cameras?

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