‘Dracula’ Director Francis Ford Coppola On The Nightmare Of Adapting Bram Stoker’s Novel

Dracula has been adapted for film and reinvented countless times, but Francis Ford Coppola may have given us one of the most faithful adaptations ever to be filmed, and now the Dracula director is revealing what it was like to bring Bram Stoker’s renowned classic to the silver screen. According to Bloody Disgusting, the interview with Coppola doesn’t just reveal more about Dracula or Francis’ experiences with author Bram Stoker, but even goes so far as to give more insight into Coppola’s decision to bring Keanu Reeves in as Jonathon Harker.

Francis Ford Coppola Was Inspired To Adapt Bram Stoker’s Dracula at a Young Age

Sadie Frost takes a bite out of Francis Ford Coppola on the set of Bram Stoker's 'Dracula.' Image courtesy of Columbia Pictures.

Francis says his earliest memory of reading Dracula took place when the famous director was 17-years-old and, along with his girlfriend of the time, a drama camp counselor. Coppola recalls wanting the 9-year-old boys under his care to fall asleep quickly, so he could be free to go visit his girlfriend, who was working at a nearby camp. At the time, reading the entire Bram Stoker novel Dracula to the boys seemed like a good idea, but while many emotions were stirred in the boys by the story, sleepiness wasn’t one of them.

Mr. Coppola looks back on that incident fondly because it placed within him the inspiration to direct the Dracula film years later.

“Oh, there’s no question that I rose to take the opportunity to direct it because I had actually read the book in such detail to those kids in camp. I was a drama major in school, so I was already thinking of this as a career. And I loved as a kid to go with my older brother to see the Dracula movies, including Abbott and Costello Meets Dracula. Our favorite Dracula, believe it or not, was John Carradine. But those movies didn’t really adapt the book.”

Interestingly, when Winona Ryder convinced Coppola to take on the Dracula project, the first thing Francis did was to fire the video effects crew. Francis came onto the project with the idea that effects wouldn’t be done in post-production. Instead, Mr. Coppola wanted to create the effects on camera, as an illusionist might perform on a stage in full view of the audience. Instead of hiring another effects team, Entertainment Weekly reports that Dracula‘s Francis Ford Coppola brought in his son, Roman, who held a deep interest in magic.

“You photograph a scene and then you make good notes and you put it in the refrigerator and a week later you take the film out and then put it in the camera, and re-photograph the next element,” Mr. Coppola says about the process of filming the effects. “In some cases we passed the film through the camera three or four times before it was developed. It’s very difficult, but the photography you get is very beautiful.”

Francis Ford Coppola Talks About the Most Loved and Most Hated Dracula Actors

Dracula (Gary Oldman) bids Jonathon Harker (Keanu Reeves, not pictured) welcome. Image courtesy of Columbia Pictures.

Coppola reports that Gary Oldman proved his dedication to the role of Dracula by being on set three weeks before filming began, working with the costume designers and make-up crews. Francis says that Oldman was instrumental in the creation of many of Dracula’s personas seen on film.

“He loves cooking up ideas. He’s a very intelligent person. It’s a pity that he gets cast as villains too much of the time.”

Mr. Coppola still defends Keanu Reeves to all of the actor’s critics, emphasizing Keanu’s acting talents as well as his warm, compassionate personality. Francis says that while so many seemed overly critical of Reeves’ Dracula accent, they can never know just how hard Keanu worked on sounding British.

“He tried so hard. That was the problem, actually — he wanted to do it perfectly and in trying to do it perfectly it came off as stilted. I tried to get him to just relax with it and not do it so fastidiously. So maybe I wasn’t as critical of him, but that’s because I like him personally so much. To this day he’s a prince in my eyes.”

[Featured image: Francis Ford Coppola courtesy of Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images for AFI]