By any measure, Francis Ford Coppola is one of the most influential and respected filmmakers of our time. A winner of six Academy Awards, his work has always bucked conventional thought, while retaining a personal creative stamp that comes from Coppola's position as one of Hollywood's most talented and innovative auteurs.
It started in the 1960's when Coppola enrolled in the University of California, Los Angeles’ (UCLA's) Master of Fine Arts program for film. There he cut his teeth going to classes while also working as an assistant to schlock producer Roger Corman. As a graduate student, Coppola directed his first feature film (Dementia 13) in just nine feverish days. His talent as a writer was also recognized when he won UCLA's Samuel Goldwyn Award for the best screenplay written by a student. By 1966, Coppola had not only completed his Master of Fine Arts degree at UCLA but was all ready to direct his second film (You're a Big Boy Now) which would eventually bring him both financial reward and critical acclaim.
It was the 1970's though when Coppola enjoyed his greatest success and influence, as he attempted to create an alternative to the Hollywood system of film production and distribution. The Godfather, which he made while in his early 30s, is often praised as one of the greatest films of all time. While directing Apocalypse Now, the maverick director risked financial ruin to provide us with one of the most profoundly haunting visions of war, simultaneously capturing the sentiment of an entire nation.
Even with all of his fame and success, Coppola, remains strongly tied to his alma mater. In 2016, for instance, the distinguished alumni returned home to launch his ambitious "distant vision project." Simply put, Coppola believed that a new kind of movie making was possible. For five weeks Coppola ran an experimental workshop that tested his concept of "Live Cinema," i.e., a hybrid of theater, film, and television. More than 100 UCLA students, faculty, and staff were involved. Considered a success by most, Coppola explained that ultimately, the goal was to combine the lush aesthetics and feeling of cinema, with "in-the-moment" energy of a live event.
Notably, Coppola has already been the recipient of the prestigious UCLA medal award. This is the highest honor bestowed upon an individual by the university, thus lumping him in with an elite group that includes Toni Morrison and Bill Clinton. Meanwhile, years later, the famed director was honored at the UCLA TFT 25th Annual Film Festival. And according to UCLA's website, the admiration goes both ways, since Coppola continues to give annual financial donations for undisclosed amounts. Suffice it to say that Coppola has ensured his position in the pantheon of great American filmmakers and as an outstanding UCLA alum.