Coppola's Notes on Godfather

I always liked Minghella's opposite method to adaptation. He would read the book and then begin his adaptation without looking at the original material. He felt that you would include the best parts from memory. His adaptions would take on a form of a dream. As Woody Allen says, 'whatever works'.


Haunting Cavner

Here is one of my student films. As a filmmaker it's fun to remember the things going on behind the scenes.

There is an improv by Jeremiah where he grabs the pizza and asks Cavner if he can eat it.  I am on the stairs off camera blowing take after take because I am laughing so hard. Or when Jeremiah (Jason) was in the shower, and being the excellent acting student he was, told me that he left his underwear on the floor for the sake of continuity and me telling him that the floor wasn't going to be in the shot (actors love to get naked for some reason). It was very hard finding a 'Bully' that could act so I opted for an actor that could act like a bully. Jeremiah was a really sweet guy and nothing like the neanderthal I wanted him to play.

Brad (Cavner) was great for letting us use his town house for the shoot after we couldn't get a location. His speech at the end is what got him the part... so sad and perfectly melancholy. I think Brad had a day job working for revenue Canada. It must have been odd going between one job and the other. Brad and Mark were true champions for my concept of the 'end credits'. I thought that it would be very Canadian to have them golfing in the middle of winter. Being ghosts they wouldn't be subject to drastic temperatures. In truth, it was freezing cold and Brad and Mark embraced their parts and went hunting for the golf ball with bravado. If they don't seem to be that cold... that's acting. They froze their asses off.

Mark Piper (Wally) disappeared after the shoot and didn't make the premiere (or see the film as far as I knew). He emailed me for a copy which I sent recently - I hope he got it. I stole Mark from my friend Vince's student film 'Notes on the Apocalypse'. He took the cigar very seriously in the film. My regret was that I should have had him in an old tweed suit. Made him a throwback to the old days. He is great in the last scene when Cavner gives his maudlin speech about what he 'could have done.'. He is all reaction and the reaction is caring and cynical at the same time. He knows Cavner needs to 'get over it'. The good laugh in the early part of the film where they exchange 'That's it? That's it? That's all.' was improvised by Brad and Mark.

Carol showed up and acted in a goofy Gillette commercial for us. I thought she was great and a good sport so I cast her as Jason's level headed girlfriend. I always thought it was funny that everything Cavner did in his attempts to haunt just got blamed on her. A girl can only take so much.

The Ouija board was made for me by my cousin Dave and the scene took hours to shoot. Poor Jeremiah had to perform the whole thing three ways from three different angles. One angle with Brad in the shot and the other without (and just between you and me, I don't think he learned his lines). He had to act the overhead with Brad guiding the piece and without.  He also had to hit all the marks to spell the letters. It was important that the audience was ahead of him in spelling out the words.

I was also a big fan of 'Wrath of Khan' so I snuck it into the film for some inside fun.

I stole the composer Chad Desrochers from Vince's film 'Notes on the Apocalypse' as well. We listened to a few variations of themes he came up with and I really liked the quirky bit he came up with that became the score. It's playful and fun and riffs well on horror conventions when it needs to. I think tone is key to a film and I thought Chad did a great job juggling it. His sad piano cue near the end worked perfectly. I also asked him to come up with an arrangement for the end credits that encompassed all the themes and he pulled it off effortlessly.

On the whole we shot all the Wally and Cavner scenes over two days in February of '98.  We only had six hours in the hockey arena on day 2. It was a crew of three, Laureen, Vince and I. Vince lit the scenes, Laureen shot it and Vince worked the boom. I directed and the actors acted.

We shot three more days at Brad's house. We had a bigger crew with Lee and Derek doing the sound. Josy wore a producer hat with a smattering of set dressing on the side. I think the entire twenty minute film cost me $1500 dollars.


Haunting Cavner from M Achtenberg on Vimeo.

Things do get lost in the world of 'independent' productions. At the beginning of the film I wrote that a very large woman and a very small boy are watching as Cavner lays dead under the car. The boy was going to tug on her coat and say 'He should have looked both ways'. The large woman is impressed by the boy's reading of the situation and is delighted that he had learned something from Cavner's unfortunate situation. Cavner protests. I couldn't get a large woman and a little boy so I settled for myself and Vince. Not quite Laurel and Hardy but what can you do? I'm not sure you can see it but the entire crowd was the crew and a few friends. Josy is the one walking by in the background. Laureen is the only one not in the initial shot as she's working the jib and camera.

I also wrote a scene where Cavner 'wanders' back home to find his mother packing away his belongings. It's a touching scene until she discovers his stash of porn and condoms. He is mortified - she just laughs. His father joins in the sad laughter. Cavner flees and it confronted by Wally who says that he doesn't need to be ashamed or embarassed, he's dead after all. 'Live a little'.

By the way Vince, they fired up those colliders and nothing catastrophic happened.


I am always excited at the prospect of a Coppola film. This isn't some kind of hope that he will execute another masterpiece but a curiosity to see what he is dreaming up (literally in this case as it's based on a dream). So many people react with expectations from a film giant like Coppola.  I expect the unexpected.  I want the unexpected.  There are few filmmakers with as diverse filmography as Coppola and I welcome less of the same.