It was only after I picked up my copy of Francis Ford Coppola’s spectacular collection of best stories 2000’s Zoetrope All Story, named after the literary magazine that Coppola launched in 1997, that I was able to truly grasp the significant role short stories play within the whole dynamics of movies and the entertainment industry overall.
Francis Ford Coppola, whose innovative ideas went on to challenge the façade of filmmaking conventions, distinguishes himself with famous projects like The Godfather (1972), The Godfather Part II (1972), and Apocalypse Now (1979), among other works. The American film director, producer and screenwriter, is also a renowned innovator when it comes to curating new ideas and projects. In the truest sense, he is like the Renaissance man of our times – his vision doesn’t just encapsulate the mere scaling of a project, instead it encompasses the future fate of yet to be realized works from great artists. In the introduction to Coppola’s best short story compilation, he explains how deeply ensconced the story is in our cultural makeup. He uses the metaphor of ‘a dream-studio in the clouds’, where every artistic discipline would have a department. The Story Department will be at the heart of this greatly intertwined network – inevitably where everything else in Coppola’s dream studio hinges upon.
Yet it seems like the majority of us have forgotten our indebtedness to the story, especially to the short story in general. In a society where readers would forego the chance to peruse a collection of newly released short stories, Coppola makes a good point when he declares his amazement for film studios’ seeming lack of investments in literary works. He goes on to explain that no other industries ignore its most fundamentally vital resource like Hollywood does. Oil companies spend millions each year on exploration expeditions and technology companies undergo rigorous research-and-development regimes in order to elicit the results they need. Instead Hollywood executives pander their interests straight to the screenplay, neglecting the cultivation of literary merits that is at the core to any film.
Coppola gauges that the substance of a film equals to that of the short story. A novel has way too much fodder, while the plot of a film from start to finish is that of an all-inclusive short story. Even more interestingly, there appears to be a strong correlation between the heydays of the short story era and that of Hollywood. Coppola mentions successful films like All About Eve, High Noon, Psycho, Blow-Up, The Fly, and It’s a Wonderful Life with short stories as predecessors. He writes that authors like John O’Hara, Dorothy Parker, Ring Lardner, and F. Scott Fitzgerald were among some of the storytelling innovators who were among the privileged few who helped spur the whole movie making momentum during the twenties and thirties, also known as the Golden Era of Hollywood. This is mainly why Coppola has decided to invest so much of his energies attempting to cultivate the storytelling tradition.
Coppola’s dream of creating a virtual studio in the clouds came to being in the form of his magazine, Zoetrope: All-Story. Each edition of the prestigious American literary magazine is presented with a Classic Reprint, where a previously published piece of short-fiction or drama that has been adapted to film or inspired by a movie gets reprinted in the magazine. The Classic Reprint is a series that attempts to illustrate the narrative relationship between the two art forms. For Zoetrope’s 2012 Summer issue, the magazine republished Phillip K. Dick’s short story, “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale” – otherwise known as the short that director Paul Verhoeven adapted into his film 1990 sci-fi action film, Total Recall, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sharon Stone. Total Recall was recently adapted in a 2012 remake, which starred Colin Farrell released just this past summer. Zoetrope’s reprint of the 1966 short story intentionally coincides with the film’s remade release.
Previous examples of All-Story’s Classic Reprint include, Steven Millhauser’s story “Eishenheim the Illusionist,” which inspired Neil Burgers 2006 film The Illusionist, Alice Munro’s story “The Bear Came Over the Mountain,” which Sarah Polley adapted into the film Away From Her in 2006, and Wes Anderson’s screenplay for the short film Hotel Chevalier in Winter 2007. Similarly each reprint, too, coincides with the release of the film to the adapted story. It should be by now obvious that the juxtaposition between the story reprints and the films’ release dates are of no sheer coincidence.
A couple years ago, I stumbled across Zoetrope’s Virtual Studios, which according to information on the website “is a submission destination and collaboration tool for filmmakers-a community where artists can submit and workshop original work. It’s also the best e-resource for information about the Coppola family and American Zoetrope.” I was looking for and found in Virtual Studios a great platform where I could workshop my fiction, get constructive feedback for my work as well as being given the opportunity to reciprocate comments for other workshoppers. VS continues to be today a vital engine in curating and cultivating the story. Although the dynamics of the destination has changed – forum discussions within the site have recently described the low number of reviewers and the lack of significant feedback. Since the inception of Virtual Studios in 1998, the number of social networking and critiquing sites has grown, throwing VS into the vast majority instead of one of the few. Yet Virtual Studios remains one of the best free resources for writers everywhere. And we have its creator, Coppola to thank for that. His faith in something that the majority of us would prefer not to invest too much of ourselves in, shows that where we lack in vision endures in innovative thinkers like him.