Francis Ford Coppola, copyfighter

In this interview with The 99%, Francis Ford Coppola says some extremely thought-provoking and sensible things about creativity, mastery, copyright, the business of the arts, collaboration, and life. It's always great to learn about seasoned, accomplished artists who refuse the lure of reactionary, knee-jerk get-off-my-lawnery:
I once found a little excerpt from Balzac. He speaks about a young writer who stole some of his prose. The thing that almost made me weep, he said, "I was so happy when this young person took from me." Because that's what we want. We want you to take from us. We want you, at first, to steal from us, because you can't steal. You will take what we give you and you will put it in your own voice and that's how you will find your voice.

And that's how you begin. And then one day someone will steal from you. And Balzac said that in his book: It makes me so happy because it makes me immortal because I know that 200 years from now there will be people doing things that somehow I am part of. So the answer to your question is: Don't worry about whether it's appropriate to borrow or to take or do something like someone you admire because that's only the first step and you have to take the first step...

You have to remember that it's only a few hundred years, if that much, that artists are working with money. Artists never got money. Artists had a patron, either the leader of the state or the duke of Weimar or somewhere, or the church, the pope. Or they had another job. I have another job. I make films. No one tells me what to do. But I make the money in the wine industry. You work another job and get up at five in the morning and write your script.

This idea of Metallica or some rock n' roll singer being rich, that's not necessarily going to happen anymore. Because, as we enter into a new age, maybe art will be free. Maybe the students are right. They should be able to download music and movies. I'm going to be shot for saying this. But who said art has to cost money? And therefore, who says artists have to make money?

Francis Ford Coppola: On Risk, Money, Craft & Collaboration (via Kottke)

(Image: Coppola Francis Ford at Cannes in 2001, Ed Fitzgerald/Wikimedia Commons)

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  1. Can BB please do this every Saturday morning? This article and the ones immediately following it are all spectacular. I have the house to myself, a full pot of coffee, and a lifetime’s worth of ideas has just been delivered courtesy of BB. Thanks!

  2. I hope that this new era of art creation and distribution finds some happy middle ground between the money grubbing, industry supported wealthy artists like Metallica and artists who have to work a 9-5 Joe job, or have to seek patronage to create.

    There is often this nostalgic sentiment about the time when “artists never got money,” that somehow then their motives were more pure and that art was more genuine. But people forget that there were fewer artists and less art to go around then.

    Art was mostly relegated to the salons of the wealthy who had the brightest talents of their day working on hackneyed family portraiture instead of truly expressing their creative genius in a way they could have had they been able to support themselves at least modestly without patronage.

    I’m personally in favor of the artists themselves being able to make money, maybe not a ton, but enough to live and focus on their profession. And we’re seeing that happening more and more as the industry middle men are being cut out of the picture.

  3. Cory, I’m genuinely curious about how exactly you’d define what a “copyfighter” is. Someone who thinks that all art should be free? Someone who thinks that artists shouldn’t make any money from art?

    I should add that I find many, many aspects of current copyright law and its enforcement problematic… but not the entire concept.

  4. I think it’s comparable to “ecology activist” — someone who sits somewhere on the spectrum of copyright sceptics and reformers.

  5. I’m all over the (cc) thang, but as a person who works in the arts, in part, I think it’s very easy for him to say artists don’t have to make money…today. Maybe, if I don’t have to make money he can pay my rent? I’m sure it would be a rounding error on his taxes…

    That winery? That’s 1560 acres of old vines he bought 40 years ago with his income from The Godfather.

    Nice to be an artist with a backup source of income, eh?

    1. I think it’s very easy for him to say artists don’t have to make money…today.

      That’s not what he’s saying. He’s saying artists have never gotten paid well, and have only been getting paid at all for a couplefew hundred years.

      Now, he goes on to imply that winemaking is his “art” that his day job of filmmaking supports, or something, and it gets a bit woo-woo there at the end, but I agree that it’s important to recognize the history of artistic remuneration.

      1. So? The “middle class” as we know it has only existed for a couple of hundred years too. While many people fear for its future existence, I don’t think many people argue that it wouldn’t matter if the middle class disappeared just because it was so recent a development.

    2. But, don’t you get it? Anybody can fund their films from winery profits given that they first make an enormously critically and commercially successful film first in order to buy the winery. That’s not too much to ask, now is it?

  6. I agree with him. I’m an engineer with a side business creating unique electronic gizmos that make me enough money to indulge in my hobby, which is making unique electronic gizmos that cost money and provide only fun in return.

    People often ask me whether I have patented my products. Why bother? They serve a niche market that has no financial allure to the copycats, and even if someone copied my gizmos, I’d just be flattered.

    I don’t need a lot of money to live, and I have a day job.

  7. Most of those motivated to get up early to do their art can find a satisfying day job. Employers easily recognize value in the creativity and motivation required. And I think the day job is valuable input to the art too.

  8. Coppola is indeed a clever guy. By referencing Balzac he is playing the game on the safe side. Good old Balzac, for sure, is public domain ;-).

    I support everything he says, though. It’s my credo, too. And I don’t own vineyards.

    Twitter:@nachrichtenlos

    1. “The aristocracy and authority of talent are more substantial than the aristocracy of names and material power” Honoré [de]Balzac

  9. I think the missing piece in the “art should be free” argument is that we’d need an economy in which it would be much easier than in the current one to *not* spend the vast majority of your time and energy working just to pay your rent, buy food, save up for your old age etc.
    Under the current economic setup, working a full day job *and* producing art is difficult, and for many people impossible. (To make it work you need to be either an extremely driven and energetic person, or to have an exceptionally good support network that will relieve you of a lot of the non-work-related duties of daily life.) And of course, working part-time so as to have time and energy left for making art, under the current setup, makes it fairly likely you’ll not be able to, say, support a family, provide for yourself in your old age, etc. (unless you’re in a pretty high income bracket to begin with; and you don’t tend to get into that income bracket part-timing).
    Don’t get me wrong: I agree with the idea that “art should be free”. But I think the conditions that would actually allow it to be truly free need to be stated clearly.

  10. “Nice to be an artist with a backup source of income, eh?”

    I was gonna say. I’m happy to give away some of my art, and I do, but don’t tell me I’m not allowed to make a living doing something I love.

    And by the way, to make statements like that, mr. Coppola must have managed to answer that age-old question: what is art, and what is not art?

    I would LOVE to hear the answer to that one.

    1. I love sitting on my ass all day reading tweets. Doesn’t mean I have a right to make a living from it. ;)

  11. “We want you to take from us.”
    oh, we took…
    in 2002, we took a clip from the as-yet unreleased Blade2 and inserted that relevant bit of footage/clip into our movie, and THEN released our film online the SAME day as Blade2 had its cinematic release. say what?
    never done before or since.
    if that happened after youtube went big, more folks would have noticed. maybe that’s a good thing, we might have gottena big fine – but I agree with FFC, that’s what it’s there for.

  12. The biggest difference between art today and art 3-400 years ago is the means of distribution and consumption.

    Under the current economic setup, working a full day job *and* producing art is difficult, and for many people impossible.

    There are a few hundred thousand amateur youtube videos that say you are wrong. All of them made by people in their spare time and distributed to us for the cost of a general purpose device to watch them on and an internet feed to grab them with.

    And I know of a couple dozen personal friends who produce wonderful pieces all because they love doing it. Some have turned that into a day job of design, others into a studio space that teaches what they know, and others that still put in the 9-5 at some boring job so they can do that thing they love so much in their off hours.

    If you think it’s too difficult to live and produce art, I’m suggesting you don’t want to produce that art enough.

  13. “If you think it’s too difficult to live and produce art, I’m suggesting you don’t want to produce that art enough.”

    Hey, you stole that from Blake…

    Those who restrain desire, do so because theirs is weak enough to be restrained.
    – From The Marriage of Heaven and Hell

  14. A few years before Google got going I was informed that a university drama department was producing, unbeknownst to me, one of my copyrighted plays. They were misinformed that the work was in the public domain. By the time I got in touch with them the staged run was over and the box office closed. After I pointed out that an uncontested production might jeopardize my copyright, they apologized and offered to pay a royalty fee. I accepted the apology but declined remuneration in the spirit of Balzac’s and Coppola’s response. They were students. I was pleased that they liked the work enough to honor it with a production.

    Besides, the school was my old gray alma mater.

  15. Maybe the first job of an artist is to game the system enough that (s)he has time and resources to create.

    Does that suck? Absolutely.

    OTOH, it may be a measure of commitment. As I once told a friend who insisted they needed expensive tools they didn’t have — to whom I suggested he use the tools he had, for now — to create his pre-masterpiece. Now he can’t imagine working without similar (computer-based) tools.

    There are supposedly only 7 stories, all else is derivative. Learning without imitation doesn’t exist, and everyone must start somewhere.

    Derivativeness as criticism leads to a place where one can never enjoy anything, based on its elements from elsewhere, and that is a bad place to be.

  16. Hahaha… Oh god. I produced a monstrous, rambling teal deer. May as well post it, even though, probably, nobody’s gonna read it:

    @ScottTFrazer: As it happens, I do a lot of “art stuff”, from amateur-level writing (and amateur computer game level building, and occasionally video editing), to pro-level jewellery making, so I do know that it’s possible. However, I also live with the financial restrictions that come with having the necessary time for all that (i.e. not having any money to save, never being able to afford anything resembling a holiday, not having enough money to afford more than a room in a shared flat, etc.). I have, so far, been able to find a space in my life for art, in this way, though it’s often been a much smaller space than I would like. And I know that, in times when I was working full-time, my art took a real hit. I would usually be able to keep one art project going, but everything else would wither (I’m usually a multi-project person).

    I’m about to enter full-time employment again – and for the first time in my life, it’ll be a position that will probably require the kind of time and energy investment I see most of my full-time working friends making, i.e., I expect to work much more than “9 to 5” in this job. So, yeah, I expect my creative projects to pretty much go into hibernation, for the time being (though I’ll be completely thrilled if it should turn out that when I come home from work at, say, ten in the evening, I’ll still have enough energy to work on a story in the hour or two before I have to go to bed!)

    I’m really scared, to be honest, because not being able to work on anything… art-shaped, for an extended period, always makes me unhappy. But I need a bit of financial security, for now. The idea is that maybe if I do this for a few years, then some day I’ll be at an income level where I can work part-time again without necessarily living on lentils and rice in a room in a shared flat. But yeah, it feels awful. Basically, what if I get hit by the proverbial bus before then, with all my projects unfinished? Scary thought. Writing, especially, is probably *the* thing that makes me want to live the most; my answer to the “why would it be a disaster if you died now” question is something like “because I haven’t written My Book yet”. So it feels horrible to put that aside, even for just a few years. Probably I won’t put it aside entirely; it will probably be the One Project I Keep. But it will be slowed down much if I can only work on it on weekends, and also, it makes me sad that I’ll probably have to give up all my other creative endeavours.

    My own case aside: as I wrote above, the people I know who work full-time tend to work insane hours. In some cases, you have to schedule a meeting with them several months in advance, because even their weekends aren’t ‘free’ time. Needless to say, they don’t pursue any large, sustained creative projects. And it’s my impression that this kind of setup (work insane hours, eat dinner, fall into bed, get up, have breakfast, work insane hours again) is sadly rather normal.

    And even people with slightly less insane hours tend to be exhausted in the evenings – as was I, when I worked full-time. There was the occasional evening when I felt fit enough to work on one of my projects – but that was once, maybe twice a week. So, yes, of course you can still produce art in what little time you have left beside work. But for many people, the time left beside work is *seriously* limited, and plenty of non-work duties also have to be fitted into it. There’s only so much you can do in the time that’s left. And yes, there’s always that shining example of someone who somehow manages to make it all work, who comes home from a fourteen-hour shift at her job and then works with her amateur film crew on an amazing zero-budget movie until four a.m., and then goes to work after three hours of sleep, only to do it all again the next night, etc. – but most people, and that includes most artists, aren’t superhuman. (And yes, of course I’m shamelessly exaggerating here.) Anyway, the point of my original post wasn’t to prove that it’s impossible to pursue any form of art in your spare time. Rather, it was that it would be much better for artists (and for everyone else!) if we managed to transform our economy and society in a way that would allow *everyone* more time for their private projects, be they writing a novel, making a movie, or, you know, raising kids, or chickens. ;-)

    I think the idea that only extremely driven, “high energy” type people can be real artists (because they’re the ones who’ll keep going no matter what, under the most miserable of circumstances) is rubbish. That’s the kind of person who can manage to produce art under the seriously adverse conditions that prevailed for most of history, and to some degree also in the present, true – but I wouldn’t be surprised if, under different economic conditions, a lot of people who are now too busy and too exhausted just keeping up with the demands of economic survival, were to create art, as well. And, IMO, that would be awesome. Because I don’t believe that people aren’t talented or don’t have anything to say, just because they’re, y’know, tired after work.

    People’s energy levels differ. I know I’m a fairly “low-energy” kind of person; I get exhausted easily and quickly, and it takes me a long time to “recharge”. I also know I have a genuine, lifelong urge to create art. I know this because I’m in my mid-thirties and the urge, and the resulting activities, have been a constant in my life since my childhood. It’s been too long to be “just a phase”, and too dominant to be “just a hobby”. – Knowing these things about myself, under current conditions I have essentially two choices: 1.) work just enough hours in a day job to survive and focus most of my energy on art; continue living as cheaply as possible and hope that when I’m old/sick, people will take care of me even if I’m dirt poor, and 2.) work a normal full-time job and do a little bit of art in my spare time; have some financial security etc. – Note that both options allow me to produce art. 1.) Allows me to produce more, 2.) less. But, note also: both options suck, just in slightly different ways.

    /tl;dr

    I apologise for this. Obviously, a topic that bothers me a lot, at the moment and in general. No doubt this could be a lot more coherent, not mention more concise…

    1. I worked full-time as an R&D scientist at a small company for a while been college and graduate school. I’d like to point out that that was the most free time I had had since the 6th grade. I aimed for 8-5:30 days, sometimes longer of course, but whenever I got home that was it. I was home. My time was my own. When I had a day off- like weekends- the hours were mine to do with as I pleased. That was a tremendous changes from my life in middle school, high school, and college, where not being in school just meant it was time to do my homework; getting done with my homework meant it was time to go to more extracurricular activities (some of which I liked, others I did because colleges care about that sort of thing). I suspect I will never again be as busy as I was fall of senior year of high school (thankfully), and even then I still had time to fit in some of my own hobbies- because they were important to me.

      I would love to live in a world where everyone has all of his time free to do what he most enjoys doing. But, we haven’t invented and built that world yet. And until we do, some of us are going to have to spend some (or even most) of our time doing things we’d rather not have to do.

      I think one thing the internet has taught us is that even under these conditions, there are countless people willing to pour their own hours into creative works that they then give away for free.

  17. Folks, what Franis Ford Coppola is saying is pretty simple: Don’t quit your day job, and don’t expect people to pay you to be happy.

    That might be blunt and brutal for some, but tons of art has been created by folks who work during the day and create at night. Or work at night and create during the day.

    If you happen to luck out and find a patron or two, congrats! You are one of the rare. But anyone complaining that Coppola is just being elitist, seriously do you read the histories of world renowned or famous artists? The chances are strong that most of them suffered and earned not one penny in their life and only became respected after they died.

    Also, bless Coppola and his winery. Why are you folks complaining? Charlie Sheen gets fame and fortune and what does he do? Blow it on cocaine, hookers, lawyers and rehab. This guy goes and takes his money and reinvests it into something that is decent, respectable, helps funds projects and is generally pleasant and people complain?

    C’mon. He’s cool.

    1. “Also, bless Coppola and his winery.”

      Oh, hells no! Have you drank that swill? If that’s art I’m giving up my tongue. Most of it taste like paint thinner and kool-aid. The worst of all the on he named for his daughter. I see people buy that day in day out, just because it comes wrapped in pink cellopane. Let’s be honest; Godfather was a great movie, but Copploa’s true art is riding that money horse far, far into the sunset.

  18. Okay, Reader’s Digest version of the above:

    (…) the point of my original post wasn’t to prove that it’s impossible to pursue any form of art in your spare time. Rather, it was that it would be much better for artists (and for everyone else!) if we managed to transform our economy and society in a way that would allow *everyone* more time for their private projects, be they writing a novel, making a movie, or, you know, raising kids, or chickens. ;-)

    (…)

    I think the idea that only extremely driven, “high energy” type people can be real artists (because they’re the ones who’ll keep going no matter what, under the most miserable of circumstances) is rubbish. That’s the kind of person who can manage to produce art under the seriously adverse conditions that prevailed for most of history, and to some degree also in the present, true – but I wouldn’t be surprised if, under different economic conditions, a lot of people who are now too busy and too exhausted just keeping up with the demands of economic survival, were to create art, as well. And, IMO, that would be awesome. Because I don’t believe that people aren’t talented or don’t have anything to say, just because they’re, y’know, tired after work.

  19. Oh, and also, I hope I wasn’t misunderstood as arguing against the “free art” idea. I was adding a wish for larger social transformation to that, is all. For what it’s worth (except for the jewellery) all my art so far has been produced entirely for free, simply for the love of it. Vibrant, free art “gift economies”/subcultures are one of the things I love best about the net. :-)

  20. Back when artists didn’t get paid for their work? The general public also didn’t get to use it for entertainment. Perhaps I misunderstand, and everybody who’d like to return to not paying for art and music is also volunteering to stop enjoying it.

    Otherwise, this just sounds like a whole bunch of people–ALL of whom get paid for their time, labor, and skills–saying that artists are a special class of people who shouldn’t get paid for their time, labor, and skills.

  21. Sure you do. You have a right to make money off of anything which is legal and which people want to pay you for. And no profession should be arbitrarily denied that right- why would we single out art? I expect because it’s creative and a labour of love?

    Again, until we can determine precisely what is art and what is not there is no point to this conversation. I work on film sets- hundreds of people banding together for months to make a work of art. If ‘ who said art has to cost money?’ and ‘who says artists have to make money?’, then should we get paid? Should the office people whose work is not artistic get paid? Perhaps the director should work for free. The animators? But perhaps the IT department should get paid, since their part is not art. Six months of hard work for free, what’s the problem?

    Citing the number of youtube videos doesn’t prove anything. Of course art does not need money to exist. The artist, however, very much does. If you want him to keep on making art you enjoy, sorry, you have to help support him. If it rubs you the wrong way to pay for his art (because art should be free) then find another way to pay him- and if he spends less time on his art, or forsakes it almost completely because he needs to find another job to support himself, then you can’t complain that your free art is gone.

  22. I have been inspired by Cory to release my next story with the CC license, in part because as humans we mingle. We share ideas, concepts, precesses, etc. Nothing is new under the sun, right? We All get our inspiration from someone or something. And at this point in earth’s existence, we wouldn’t be first. If we somehow are the first, sometime later, someone will be inspired by what we have done.

    I think back to the days when Apple was suing Microsoft for the their implementation of the GUI. Now I had my reservation around the way MS did come about it but I Did know that the concept of the GUI was not something to be held by 1 company alone. Heck, Xerox PARC was sitting on it for a number years.

    Art is an expression of one’s self. Like the way you speak, some have a stern face, some are very animated. A man who has what is thought in some cultures to be ‘Fay’ nature about him though he is heterosexual. Or a Brash and candid woman. These are extremes but they are but examples.

    But back to Coppola’s comments…, I agree with pretty much what he had to say. (That’s not because he’s my favorite filmmaker, he’s not #1, but he’s on the list.) Expressing one’s artistic side is a result of an aspect of what it is for us to be human. I myself am learning this with my work and plans.

  23. yeah, Coppola, yeah, copyleft, but has anyone else had any luck identifying what Balzac quote he’s actually talking about?

    Because I’ve tried several times since this interview came out a couple of weeks ago, and I can’t find anything even close.

  24. Phew! I was worried he might take issue with my latest spec, “Apocalypse Today.” Also, do you know from which of his two resort properties in Belize FFC made the comments about artists not needing to get paid? Just curious.

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