Francis Ford Coppola brings 'Distant Vision' to life at UCLA TFT

More than 100 students, faculty and staff were involved in the innovative five-week project

A number of years ago, alumnus filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola began experimenting with the concept of "Live Cinema," a unique hybrid of live theater, film and television performed and viewed in real time. On Friday, he brought the idea to vivid life on the stage of the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television (UCLA TFT)'s Freud Playhouse in a 25-minute student broadcast that was seen in a select number of screening rooms around the world.

The broadcast was the culmination of a workshop project five weeks in the making at UCLA TFT, with a team of more than 100 students, faculty and staff serving as active crew members in all areas of production, including acting, sound, set design and construction, costume, props, editing, stage management and producing. Shot with more than 40 cameras, the project is a labor of love for the five-time Academy Award-winning Coppola, who returned to his alma mater, where he received an M.F.A. in Theater Arts in 1967, to direct a portion of his impressive 500-page screenplay Distant Vision. Saturday's workshop served as his Live Cinema "proof of concept."

Distant Vision (a 19th century term for television) is the story of three generations of an Italian-American family whose history spans the development of television. UCLA TFT co-sponsored the workshop with American Zoetrope, Coppola's production company.

The concept of Live Cinema envisions that by utilizing feeds from a multitude of cameras, instant replay servers, and other sources, all of which the director can switch live with the most technologically advanced broadcast equipment, a new kind of moviemaking is possible — performed live and viewed by an audience in real time. The look and feel is more cinematic in nature than what is typically employed for live dramatic and musical broadcasts, and has the in-the-moment energy of a live event. Live Cinema depends on a definitive script, extensive planning, rehearsal, and coordination of a variety of sources enabling the real-time selection of views, music and effects to be combined into the desired expression of ideas and moods. Although the audience experiences the production in real time, it has many choices of where and what type of viewing medium is used. Live Cinema can simultaneously be performed in multiple cinema theaters, configured auditoriums, on network television, cable television or Internet streaming to home theaters or personal devices.

Explains Coppola: "I felt the need to experiment in order to learn the actual methodology of live cinema, which is a hybrid of theater, film and television. The shot is the basic element, as in film; the live performance is from theater; and the advanced television technology to enable it is borrowed from TV sports. It is very exciting to work in."

"Francis has amazed and enthralled all of us — students, faculty and staff — with his fearless and bold mastery of visual storytelling at its deepest and most transformational state," says UCLA TFT Dean Teri Schwartz. "We thank Francis for this magnificent opportunity for our students to work alongside him as he takes cinema into an utterly exciting and inspiring future."

Posted: July 25, 2016