Inside The Hellish Production Of Apocalypse Now

Hollywood has produced countless war films over the decades, yet none are quite like Apocalypse Now. A fever dream that quickly descends into a surreal nightmare, Francis Ford Coppola’s vision of the Vietnam conflict is both bold and brilliant: a masterful movie. But the fact it was even made is a minor miracle. Few productions in the history of the business have ever faced a shoot as crazy as this one; we’re about to guide you through the madness. Or perhaps should that read, “The horror! The horror!”

Coppola’s unorthodox approach to scripting

After winning the Best Director gong at the Oscars for The Godfather Part II, everyone waited with bated breath to see what Francis Ford Coppola did next. He was arguably the hottest filmmaker in Tinseltown at the time. Within a year, we got our answer.

Yep, in 1976 Coppola started work on a movie adaptation of the famous 1899 book Heart of Darkness, by Joseph Conrad. John Milius thrashed out a script for it back in the 1960s, which he titled Apocalypse Now.

Penning new sequences

In this version of the story, the events would take place during the Vietnam War, as opposed to the African jungle in the 19th century. The production was set to be filmed in the Philippines, with Coppola and company heading out there at the beginning of 1976. 

He had a $12 million budget to play with, but it didn’t take long until things started to go awry. For one thing, the director opted to move away from the script for large stretches and pen new sequences on the day of the shoot. It was unorthodox and caused real headaches for the actors!

Typhoon Olga

There were bigger issues on the horizon for Coppola and company, though. Due to the timing of the shoot, the crew faced an almighty battle against Mother Nature. Yes, Apocalypse Now was being filmed slap-bang in the middle of the Philippines’ monsoon season.

Just weeks after the cameras began rolling, heavy showers doused the sets and everyone on them. And it got worse. Much worse. If the rain wasn’t enough, a terrifying storm smashed into the country during that spell, too.

Obliterating the sets

It was Typhoon Olga, and it obliterated much of the film’s staging areas. As a result of the weather system, the production had to be halted for a couple of months. Now, that would’ve been unfortunate enough under any circumstances, but Coppola was already feeling the pinch.

Even before Typhoon Olga had wreaked its havoc, the previous weather issues had cost the director three weeks of shooting time. On top of that, the budget had also ballooned by $2 million at that stage: a sign of things to come.