The future, according to Francis Ford Coppola: ‘We will have to educate artificial intelligence like another child’

The American filmmaker defends the arts and humanities as a pillar of human development in an increasingly technologically driven world

Filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola at his lecture in Madrid, Spain, last Tuesday.
Filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola at his lecture in Madrid, Spain, last Tuesday.IE UNIVERSITY
Selina Bárcena

At the IE University auditorium in Madrid, Spain, this week, American film director Francis Ford Coppola discussed reading Don Quixote in Spanish, innovating, taking risks and not wasting time looking for matching socks (he wore one blue sock and one green sock to the lecture). In a report entitled Trends for the Next 50 Years, the business school asked 8,000 citizens of G20 countries to make a prediction: 80% of respondents anticipate that artificial intelligence will play an essential role in society by 2073. Over a third believe that it will dominate all aspects of life (healthcare, education, work, etc.). The filmmaker spoke of “a revolution toward something that is not completely flesh and blood but is still human.”

Coppola, 84, envisions a future shaped by artificial intelligence but in which the humanities must play an important role. “There is a tendency to focus on practical and technical skills, […] but I believe that the arts and humanities are also essential for human development and for the formation of informed and reflective citizens.”

He made these statements at an event to announce the creation of IE University’s School of Humanities, which will launch its first degree in this area and offer a double degree in Business Administration and Humanities by the end of 2024. Led by the school’s CEO Diego del Alcázar Benjumea, the gathering — called The Next 50 — focused on the changes that await us in coming decades. Artificial intelligence received almost all the attention.

The American filmmaker, who has won five Oscars as a screenwriter, director and producer, spoke optimistically about the tremendously transformative capacity of technological tools that are just beginning to show their potential. “I would say that the stories and films that my great-grandchildren will see will be so far beyond what I am able to imagine [that] I can’t anticipate anything.” He also referred to the debate on regulating artificial intelligence: “We will have to educate it like another child,” Coppola said. That is especially true if there are virtual classrooms equipped with artificial intelligence and individualized education governs teaching in the future, as 47% of those surveyed predicted.

But man does not live by art alone. In the business school setting, Coppola also spoke about his role as an entrepreneur outside the film industry. He owns several hotels in different parts of the world and also manages a large vineyard in California, where he sells wine under the Francis Ford Coppola Winery brand. “Both wine and cinema have three moments: harvesting, preparation and then finishing,” he explained.

Coppola has bridged the gap between the creativity required to write scripts and produce films and the business side’s demand for innovation. He also recognizes the importance of having a good team of workers and a good cast. “Casting is important in all aspects of life. Even in marriage,” he quipped.

The director of the Godfather spoke about Al Pacino’s brilliance, his close relationship with Michael Cimino and his work with George Lucas, but he also mentioned his companies’ workers who “are no longer just employees, but colleagues.” Coppola indirectly alluded to the dreaded issue of staff turnover and listed the advantages of having long-term workers. “In my companies, I have had the good fortune to have employees who have been there for 30 years.”

Box-office flops

So much for the businessman. When it comes to his craft, Coppola continues to rely on his own professional judgment, as he did in the past with films like One From the Heart (1981) and Apocalypse Now (1979), not business logic. The former movie was a box-office flop that almost ruined him; commercial studios were not impressed by the latter, and the filmmaker had to personally guarantee the loans he took out to finance the movie, although in the end it did earn five times its budget.

Coppola’s next work is called Megalopolis. He wrote and again self-financed the film, which aims to show a “modern history of America” with classic overtones. “Maybe today’s America is suffering the same hardships as Rome 2,500 years ago [...]. So, I thought of doing a Roman epic,” he said.

The freedom to create such a personal project comes from Coppola’s ability to finance his work himself, although he also mentioned his not-so-prosperous beginnings: “When I started I didn’t know anyone in the film industry, I had no money at all.” Between the start of his career when he ate 50-cent macaroni and cheese for lunch, to his investment of $120 million in Megalopolis, there have been so many legendary works that the filmmaker even jokingly predicted the demise of money: “It didn’t exist before and there will also come a time in the future when it will stop mattering.”

Those surveyed by IE University’s Center for the Governance of Change disagree; almost half the respondents (48%) believe that economic inequalities will continue to grow over the next five decades.

French film critic and director Alain Bergala used to say that you had to be a “potential filmmaker” to see a film’s depth. You had to scrutinize its creator’s reasons and arguments, pry into the author’s criteria, try to look where s/he looked. And while the American filmmaker did not give more clues about his upcoming film, he did say more about his method. “If the script I’ve written is terrible, I’ll revise it a hundred times if necessary, even if I only improve it by 1% every year.” There’s work left to be done for the next fifty years.

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