When I spoke to Roman Coppola last week, in addition to talking about Moonrise Kingdom and A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III he also spoke about his involvement with On The Road, the long delayed film adaptation of Jack Kerouac’s seminal Beat novel.
With On the Road about to première at Cannes it seemed like the perfect opportunity to share some of what he had to say about its difficult journey to the screen.
“The quick version of that story is that my dad, his company American Zoetrope – that I’m very involved with – bought the rights to that book in 1979 so for thirty some odd years it’s been there with the intention to make a movie. It’s one of those famous projects that’s been famously difficult to get the right script, to get the right actors. And even in Kerouac’s day there was talk of Monty Cliff, of Brando. It’s one of those books that’s just been very hard to turn into a movie.
My role over the many years has been different things. I tried to suggest Gus van Sant, he was interested for some time. I even wanted to direct it briefly, at one point. I had my version of the script.
Anyway different chapters and years went by and finally Walter Salles was suggested. And after seeing Motorcycle Diaries and his others, he seemed like such a natural fit. I had a lot of regard and admiration for Walter so my job as a producer, once it was decided that he would be the director, is just to make sure he gets what it he wants. Whatever he wants as a director I do what I can to make sure he’s happy. So my function as a producer was less creative, more – I don’t want to say difficult because there were no difficulties – but it was just like, ‘what does Walter want?’ That’s what I want, I’d just push to have that.
It was literally thirty years. The contract, the rights were very complicated. People had become involved and owned the TV rights. And then the daughter of Jack Kerouac thought she had certain rights. Just legally it was very very complex.
Also the climate for more artistic minded independent film…. It is a very tough period right now. So that was cause for hair pulling but luckily MK2, a French production company, felt that they were really committed to making the movie happen and they did. They put the finance in and they’re distributing it. They made great partners to realise it.
I haven’t seen it totally completed, I saw it on a video and I had the opportunity to see it but I said I wanted to see it at the festival.
[Based on what he has seen] It’s very beautiful and Walter does not disappoint in his sensitivity and his eye. It’s a great cast.”