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Francis Ford Coppola On Mediation And Negotiation

From the Mediation Matters Blog of Steve Mehta.

I recently saw an interview with Francis Ford Coppola that talked about collaboration, his career, choices, and other topics. I thought the interview was fascinating and had some appeal to mediation. Here are some excerpts. The interview is in italics.

Why did you choose not to teach a master class?

For me in cinema there are few masters. I have met some masters – Kurosawa, Polanski – but I am a student.

I just finished a film a few days ago, and I came home and said I learned so much today. So if I can come home from working on a little film after doing it for 45 years and say, “I learned so much today,” that shows something about the cinema. Because the cinema is very young. It’s only 100 years old.

As a mediator, Coppola’s words ring true. Despite the fact that we may have done thousands of mediations, we are still studying this art. In addition, unlike cinema, the commercial concept of mediation is still very young. Indeed, commercial mediation was not commonly accepted 15-20 years ago. It is important to understand that as a young field, there is a lot to learn.

The cinema language happened by experimentation – by people not knowing what to do. But unfortunately, after 15-20 years, it became a commercial industry. People made money in the cinema, and then they began to say to the pioneers, “Don’t experiment. We want to make money. We don’t want to take chances.”

An essential element of any art is risk. If you don’t take a risk then how are you going to make something really beautiful, that hasn’t been seen before? I always like to say that cinema without risk is like having no sex and expecting to have a baby. You have to take a risk.

The tools used in mediation also happened by experiment. Each time I do a mediation, I think after the mediation, what worked and what didn’t. One time, I tried an entire mediation without the exchange of a single number between the parties. The case required it because had numbers been exchanged, the parties would have left. The case settled. Without that experimentation, I would not have been able to resolve the case. Mediation, just like cinema, is experimentation.

What’s the greatest challenge of a screenwriter?
A screenplay has to be like a haiku. It has to be very concise and very clear, minimal. When you go to make it as a film, you have the suggestions of the actors, which are going to be available to you, right? You’re going to listen to the actors because they have great ideas. You’re going to listen to the photographer because he will have a great idea.

You must never be the kind of director, I think maybe I was when I was 18, “No, no, no, I know best.” That’s not good. You can make the decision that you feel is best, but listen to everyone, because cinema is collaboration. I always like to say that collaboration is the sex of art because you take from everyone you’re working with.

As a former litigator, I attended mediations where the mediator (name will not be mentioned) said, “this is my mediation, and we will do it my way.” I always thought to myself. “Hey, this is my mediation, not the mediator’s.” The mediator is simply the collaborator, but this is my case. As a mediator, I have honored that thought process by allowing myself to be completely open to the parties, their suggestions, their requests, and their suggestions. I often hear the comment, “I don’t want to tell you how to do you job…” This statement is intended out of deference to the mediator’s ego and skill. But I usually answer back, “Actually, I appreciate when you make suggestions. I don’t have the monopoly on creative ideas to settle the case; and you know the case a lot better than I do.” As a negotiator and mediator, you have to listen to everyone and their suggestions. You never know where the next great idea will come from.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve given to your children, inside and outside of the industry?

Always make your work be personal.

And, you never have to lie. If you lie, you will only trip yourself up. You will always get caught in a lie. It is very important for an artist not to lie, and most important is not to lie to yourself. There are some questions that are inappropriate to ask, and rather than lie, I will not answer them because it’s not a question I accept. So many times we are asked things in our work or in life that you want to lie, and all you have to do is say, “No, that is an improper question.”

So when you get into a habit of not lying when you are writing, directing, or making a film, that will carry your personal conviction into your work. And, in a society where you say you are very free but you’re not entirely free, you have to try. There is something we know that’s connected with beauty and truth. There is something ancient. We know that art is about beauty, and therefore it has to be about truth.

Wow. Coppola knew about mediation. There are many mediators that will lie to get ahead or to have a short cut in a single mediation. That lie will only catch up with you. As a mediator, tell the truth, the same truth, to both sides. If causation is going to be hard to prove, tell both sides. Don’t try to tell one side it is hard, and the other that there is no problem with causation. You will just caught in a lie, and the lie will be you.

You now have all the resources to do your own production, writing, directing. What’s the biggest barrier to being an artist?
Self-confidence always. The artist always battles his own/her own feeling of inadequacy.

Mediation is a tough business. You have to have the self confidence to know that you are doing it right. Too many good people didn’t have the confidence in themselves to give up what they do, go into mediation full time, and simply know that it will work.

The interview with Coppola was found at the 99 percent solution.


Steve Mehta

Steven G. Mehta is an attorney and mediator providing unique mediation services in a variety of types of civil litigation. His ability to understand the human process and complex emotional issues involved in legal negotiations enables him to effectively assist the parties in obtaining the best possible results during mediation.… MORE >

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