Keeping Up with the Coppolas: Imagining a Reality Show for Film’s First Family

Let’s go ahead and get one thing out of the way: reality television is trash. Granted, the majority of television in general is trash, especially when one considers just how much of it must be generated to fill up the program guides of your cable and satellite packages. But the growth of reality television in the last two decades feels particularly egregious because of how it swindles so many millions of people into thinking what they’re watching is untempered human behavior unspooling itself on a regular basis. Entire networks and brands are built around the myths that the docu-style dramas of Bayou log men and New Jersey housewives are any more real than those of Westeros or the U.S.S. Enterprise. It’s gotten so bad that we even have a former reality television star representing the Republican Party for president come November. And the other candidate has been the subject of over two decades’ worth of tabloid gossip and scandal, encouraged in large part by her husband’s own transgressions. In short, our culture is so enamored with the fictional and sometimes unfortunately honest realities borne out of media creations akin to reality TV.

But let me also let you in on a little secret: I (on occasion) enjoy the trashiness of the medium, in the same manner one enjoys eating fast food shamefully alone in an anonymous parking lot. When I do tune in, it’s mostly CBS competition shows (Big Brother or Survivor), day-to-day hustling yarns (Hardcore Pawn and Storage Wars), or about anything from Bravo’s Real Housewives of…brand. The one thing I refuse to stomach is E!’s Keeping Up with the Kardashians, which follows the Kardashian family’s efforts to claw their way to the top of Los Angeles’s food chain of sleaze. Though I find the group utterly repulsive, vain, and devoid of worth, I think it has a tinge of a good premise: let’s follow a family of celebrities (or semi-celebrities) as they get into various adventures that may or may not coincide with one another. The success of the show got me thinking about famous families that I would be much more interested in seeing depicted for twenty-two minutes on a weekly basis. And the choice was a no-brainer: The Coppolas.

Patriarch Francis Ford Coppola emerged into the limelight with his string of classics from the 1970s (The Godfather Parts I and II, The Conversation, and Apocalypse Now), which afforded him a lifetime of creative goodwill than inevitably petered out any sense of a financial one. His work since, while occasionally interesting, has hardly garnered the level of admiration his work from the seventies, making him cinema’s equivalent to beloved rock and roll acts contemporaneous to his brief but fruitful dominance of Hollywood. But if you make one masterpiece, much less a handful, you’re kind of allowed to rest on your laurels until the end of your days. Coppola, like the final years of Don Corleone, has enacted a semi-retirement in the Napa Valley while his family takes the reigns of his film and wine empire, an enterprise he started to ensure the family fortune didn’t solely rely on commercial filmmaking.[1]

All this makes for the perfect set-up for my proposed Keeping Up with the Coppolas, which follows the wacky and enlightening adventures of film’s first family as the navigate the art, trash, and all in between of Northern California and beyond. Let’s meet the players:

  • Francis: the patriarch (obviously) who frequently haunts the background as both a confused grandpa and wizened Jedi master.
  • Eleanor: Francis’s wife of over fifty years who’s an artist, filmmaker, and writer in her own right.
  • Sofia: Francis and Eleanor’s daughter who is frequently considered one of the best working female directors.
  • Roman: Francis and Eleanor’s son who is also a filmmaker, though much less celebrated than his sister.
  • Talia (Shire): Francis’s sister and actor who you may remember as Connie (The Godfather trilogy) and/or Adrian (The Rocky series).
  • Jason (Schwartzman): Talia’s son and actor who you’ll spot in nearly any Wes Anderson movie.
  • Nicolas (Cage/Coppola): Francis’s nephew through his father August, Francis’s brother; reputed actor and maniac.
  • Wes (Anderson) and Noah (Baumbach): family friends, particularly of Jason, who are acclaimed filmmakers in their own right.
  • Spike (Jonze): ex-husband of Sofia and (you guessed it) filmmaker.
  • Uncle George (Lucas): close, personal friend of Francis; the guy who came up with that space thing.

A clan as eclectic as this one would necessitate a variety of storylines but one in particular seems like a natural, juicy two-part epic…

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April 7: The Coppolas gather together to celebrate Francis’s birthday. The birthday boy, frustrated with operating his new Keurig from pal Marty (Scorsese), goes cruising around the Napa Valley with his BFF George in the latter’s new Porsche. The two reminisce about days gone by, friendships tested, lives lost, and laughs shared. Meanwhile, Sofia and Roman rush to finish competing tribute films for their father. Sofia, striving for elegant simplicity, artfully arranges a montage of old home movies and family photos set to the music of grandpa Carmine, Francis’s father who helped compose the music for a number of his son’s films. Roman, always the victim of misguided ambition, decides to remake portions of his father’s films with dogs, which culminates in titles like The Dogfather, Apocalypse Dog, and Bram Stoker’s Dogula.

Paranoid that his sister is going to best him, Roman calls up Spike to invite him to his father’s birthday party that night in order to spoil Sofia’s inevitable moment of triumph. Spike happens to be in San Francisco testing an experimental jetpack/skateboard with Johnny Knoxville. Roman tells Spike that his sister is unhappy with her marriage and would like to rekindle her relationship with him. Spike, ecstatic, knows an opportunity when he sees one. Spike and Johnny try desperately to complete the prototype machine so they can get to the party on time! If they’re lucky, they’ll be able to use US Highway 101 as their own personal nosegrind!

Also in San Francisco are Eleanor, Talia, and Jason. The three are doing some last minute shopping for the party when the they run into some old family friends who insist in gabbing the day away. Eleanor and Talia are more than happy to shoot the breeze but Jason is growing impatient, especially considering that he was hoping to make a quick midday open mic at his buddy Joel’s indie coffee shop The Buzzard Cooties.  Matters are made worse when the other women keep remarking how it seems like only yesterday when Jason was “this tall!”, asking the poor man several times when he’ll be graduating high school, an event that happened nearly twenty years ago. Though Jason’s ageless looks may give him a leg up in Hollywood, in this instance, they have turned out to be a curse.

nic cage

Jason pries himself away from the chatty Cathys to call two of his closest homeboys, Wes and Noah, to ask how things are going in Vegas. Wes and Noah were asked by the busy family to ensure that Nicolas makes his way onto a plane for the Valley but things have currently stalled out. Cage has locked himself away in a hotel room and the two rail thin directors are having trouble busting their way in. On the other side of the door, Nic keeps screaming on the phone that he’ll only do a third National Treasure movie if his pet monkey Bogie gets an on-set trailer. Wes and Noah finally pry the door open, just at Nic is hanging up the phone. Though he’s happy to see the two, he claims that he isn’t going to be able to make the party, citing a boxing workout he needs to make that evening to prepare for The Croods 2. Noah: “Why do you need to do that just for a voice over role?”

Nic grows silent, slowly steaming under his Ray Bans that such an insignificant question was asked of a star of his caliber.  Finally, he roars back to life by screaming, “THIS IS MY VISION! HA HA HA HA HA!!!” The actor lunges at Wes and Noah but the two run back outside the hotel door. Nic, seemingly convinced he can travel through walls like the X-Men character Kitty Pryde, runs headfirst into the door, knocking himself out cold. Wes and Noah go back inside and see the star collapsed on the ground. Wes: “Look, let’s put him in one of those luggage carts and get him into the car downstairs. His private plane’s only like a mile away.” Noah agrees and the two scrawny directors begin the troublesome task of getting the sleeping beast out of Vegas.

Eventually, all the various parties make their way to the Coppola estate. Wes and Noah had a scare coming in, as Nic punched out the pilot when he woke up confused where he was, forcing the former star of Con Air and Left Behind to land the plane. Thankfully, only the landing gear was irreparably damaged. Spike and Johnny make it to the party just in the nick of time due to their own mechanical complications. The pair grow doubtful that they’ll be able to use the jetpack skateboard in Jackass 4 after all. Eleanor, Talia, and Jason also make it back in one piece but Talia keeps fretting that they didn’t have time to get Francis any flowers. Jason, very high strung, shouts, “Uncle Francis isn’t dead! It’s his birthday! He isn’t dead!” We get the feeling this conversation has been on repeated itself for a few hours now.

Sofia shows her tribute movie to the group, which ends in standing ovation from everyone. Francis hugs his daughter in tears, thanking her for the beautiful present she gave him. Roman’s film goes off a little more disastrously. No reaction occurs throughout, except for occasional fits of laughter from Uncle George. Francis still thanks his son anyway but Roman notices many in the room accompanying their whispers with not so subtle eye rolls. Uncle George (genuinely): “Terrific job Roman. I really loved the part when the dog barked ‘I love the smell of Kibbles and Bits in the morning.’ Capital stuff.” Spike, a short while later, tries to steal a private moment with Sofia but his ex-wife says she has to get back to her kids. Sofia gives him a hug though and says she really was happy to see him. The happy night ends quietly for the older folks: Francis, Eleanor, Talia, and George sit in the kitchen and play cards, laughing the night away. Meanwhile, Roman, Jason, Spike, Wes, Noah, Nic, and even Knoxville congregate downstairs for several dozen rounds of karaoke.

Stars: they’re just like us, right?

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[1] Coppola’s wine business is part of the greater umbrella of Francis Ford Coppola Presents, a lifestyle brand.

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