Photography by Jeff Hunt
Christopher Coppola wants to tell you about his dad.
In this episode, the filmmaker from the very famous filmmaking family shares his life story with us. Born and raised in Long Beach, he and his brother, Nicolas, spent a lot of time in San Francisco with their uncle, Francis.
Christopher starts things off with his dad, August Coppola. According to him, August carried an old family tradition of creativity and "stick-to-it-iveness" into the modern era. His long career in education brought him to SF State, where he was the dean of Creative Arts for many years.
He takes us on a sidetrack into some of the possible reasons that there's so much creativity and passion running throughout his relatives as well as his ancestors who date back to southern Italy.
Then we head into another sidetrack, this time about Christopher growing up in Long Beach with an ill mother and a younger brother who later became a household name. The story involves the two youngsters misidentifying their own Chinese zodiac signs.
The next sidetrack involves stories of Christopher riding with motorcycle gangs. This leads to one of his movie ideas—Biker McBeth.
We talk about the origins of Coppolas in Northern California. It all started with "Uncle" Francis. Following the success of The Godfather, he moved to San Francisco. His brother (Christopher's dad), August, soon followed suit. Because their mother was ill, when Christopher and his brother, Nicolas, were around 8 or 9, they were often sent up to The City to spend time with their aunt and uncle.
Christopher speaks fondly of his Aunt Eleanor. They called her "mother aunt." During their stays in San Francisco, she would give the kids allowances and send them on their way around town. People would ask if they were "those" Coppolas, which of course they weren't. It bothered both brothers when they were young, but Christopher let it go.
We end Part 1 with Christopher's tales of his and his brother's mischievous, creative lives in Long Beach and how San Francisco served as a sanctuary for them.
Christopher tried college up north for a couple years, but that ended when he lost his scholarship. His dad knew a guy at the San Francisco Art Institute and encouraged Christopher to come see the school. The idea was that he would finish his education learning how to make movies.
On that visit, Christopher met George Kuchar, who would later become Christopher's mentor. He went on to get a BFA from SFAI. We chat about the various neighborhoods he lived in back in those days and the stories that came with them. Then Christopher tells us all about some of the fights he was in here in The City when he was a kid, one on a moving 22-Fillmore.
Christopher ended up graduating from SFAI, and the only person he had at the ceremony was his brother Nicolas (Cage). Afterward, the two went out on the town to celebrate.
We back up a bit to hear the story of how Christopher's parents ended up in Southern California. His mom's family came from Illinois. And his dad's ancestors came from southern Italy to the U.S. August came to UCLA, where he met Christopher's mom. Her family had an in-law house, and soon, August's brother Francis lived in it.
After graduating, Christopher made some films that he describes as "maybe pretentious," but Nicolas's agent liked them. They wanted him to come back to SoCal, but he wasn't interested. He got involved with producer Dino De Laurentis, and shares some of those stories with us. Christopher was able to navigate pressures from outside and get some of his more arty cinematic techniques into his early movies.
Next Christopher contrasts his lives in San Francisco and Los Angeles/Long Beach. Today, he lives mostly in the Bay Area and teaches at SFAI, which he talks about. Then he shares the story of how he and his sons made Sammy & Quinn, his most recent short.
We end this episode with Christopher's thoughts on what it means to still be in San Francisco.
We recorded this episode at the San Francisco Art Institute in April 2022.