There are those who sneer, based on his output of the last decade, that Francis Ford Coppola's current passion is making wine, not movies. Disagree and they'll point to the Niebaum-Coppola cafe/retail store under construction on the ground floor of American Zoetrope's emerald edifice at Columbus and Kearny. Certainly the drab elevator to Zoetrope's offices, papered with an uninspiring flier for Sofia Coppola's The Virgin Suicides, doesn't conjure visions of a movie empire. Sit with Fred Fuchs for a few minutes, though, and you get a different picture.
Fuchs hooked up with Coppola in the late '80s as a free-lance producer on Tucker: The Man and His Dream, then joined Zoetrope as president. "At the time we were deeply in debt," Fuchs recalls. "And I felt such love and affection for Francis, and loyalty to him, that I said, 'Sure,' and threw myself into it." A decade on, with Zoetrope and Coppola financially secure, Fuchs is relinquishing his management duties Jan. 1 to explore new paradigms for entertainment on the Web and produce movies such as Agnieszka Holland's The Third Miracle. "I'll go up to Toronto for the read-through, I'll be there for two days, and I have to come back here and keep the 35 other plates spinning," Fuchs laments. "And I don't want to be a plate-spinner anymore."
Fuchs shepherded Coppola's The Godfather Part III, Bram Stoker's Dracula, The Rainmaker, and Jack, plus 10 other films under the Zoetrope banner, but he'd rather look ahead. The hottest project in development is Montecristo, a "Gothic western that transposes the classic mythology of the Count of Monte Cristo story to Mexico in the 1870s"; Guillermo del Toro (Cronos) will direct local writer Matthew Robbins' script. Next in line is The Good Shepherd, a family drama written by Eric Roth (Forrest Gump) that takes on the early days of the CIA. Zoetrope's active TV arm shoots a two-hour television pilot, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, in January, and is developing a Fidel Castro miniseries for Showtime and another on the building of the Brooklyn Bridge for a major network. Werner Herzog's epic film of the Spanish conquest of Mexico is also being reimagined for TV.
"It's a big, expensive feature because it requires a lot of visual effects to create the cities," Fuchs explains. "But working within a television environment and screen, you can do the effects work so much cheaper and easier. We did The Odyssey and Moby Dick; it's not inconceivable that this could be a fascinating, four-hour miniseries for international television."
Forget about the adaptation of Philip K. Dick's The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, although Hoover (with the Hughes brothers directing from Curt Gentry's book) is moving ahead without Zoetrope. As for the iconic Jack Kerouac book that Coppola has owned for 18 years, Fuchs declares, "We will absolutely make a film of On the Road one day. It is the most difficult project, because you only get to make it once, and you better make it right. We just haven't gotten it right yet --script, casting, director -- but it will happen, no question about it."
Coppola's days as a director for hire are over, Fuchs confirms. "He's now focused on doing original writing which he would direct. The company's been successful doing features and television without him, so now he has the time to retreat and work on his writing. Is it possible two months from now some unbelievable screenplay will appear on his door that he couldn't say no to? Of course. But he's not rushing to do anything. Dracula, Jack, and Rainmaker did a lot of great things -- they were financially successful, he did them on budget and within the studio system -- but I think they felt to him to be a little less than wholly fulfilling on creative levels. So he's going to be very careful about the next one he does, and he's going to make sure it's something more personal."