I recently came across this documentary on youtube, it concerns a film by Coppola that I’ve been trying to find for years. It’s one of his earliest, his fourth I think, it’s ‘The Rainpeople’ from 1969, what’s interesting about it to me is that he made it when he was getting just a little bit of support from Warner Bros based on his scriptwriting, I think he’d just done the script for Patton [which went on to pick up 7 Oscars]. He approached them with a fairly radical idea, he wanted them to finance a project where he would take a tiny film crew and cast on the road in two vans and several cars and would partially improvise the film based on whatever they encounted along the way. He had a cast, James Caan, Shirley Knight and Robert Duvall plus others and he wanted to escape the studio/union system that said there must be X number of crew on all projects. The union demanded that there be dozens of workers handling lights, transportation, sets, food, etc: he wanted to shoot it like a student film with a very lean crew. There would be less than a dozen crewmembers and all the equipment would be carried in two vans.
The story outline was that a young New York woman, Shirley Knight, needs to escape from an unsatisfactory marriage, she gets in her station wagon and drives not knowing where she’s going, she just needs to escape. The camera crew follows her all over the eastern and southern US and she has several adventures along the way, one involves a brain damaged football player [James Caan] who’s hitch-hiking, she picks him up, another involves a motorcycle cop [Robert Duvall] who stops her and thinks he’s onto a hot number.
Coppola put all the money he had into this film and his friend George Lucas tagged along and shot a 16mm documentary of the entire project. That’s what I found this week, the Lucas film, but still no trace of The Rainpeople. I knew Coppola back then, he invited me to see his workprint roughcut and I was very impressed, I also saw the Lucas film and when both were released a year or so later I had copies which I used annually in a film production class that I was teaching. The Lucas film above is not quite what I remember, it’s been drastically edited and large chunks removed but it’s still an interesting window into the creative process and a view of a very young Coppola. An interesting detail, both Caan and Duvall played major roles in The Godfather just a few years later, nominated for 10 academy awards, it won three. Japanther’s epic below has 90 youtube segments, this has only 4; both are worthy of your attention.

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