The extraordinary cost of the production of this film would lead to director Francis Ford Coppola's declaring bankruptcy. Originally intended as a small film after the enormous cost, pressures and production problems of Apocalypse Now (1979), One from the Heart rapidly ballooned from a projected budget of $2 million to over $25 million. Coppola has stated that the films he made during the rest of the 1980s and most of the 1990s, such as The Outsiders (1983), The Cotton Club (1984), The Godfather: Part III (1990), Jack (1996) and The Rainmaker (1997), were done to pay off the debts incurred by the production of One from the Heart.
Francis Ford Coppola would direct a lot of the film from The Silver Fish, a mobile HQ, fully equipped with a kitchenette, espresso machine and onboard Jacuzzi. Coppola would issue his directions via a loudspeaker system.
Ever the pioneer, with this film Francis Ford Coppola was one of the first directors to use a live, from-the-camera video feed, instant playback, and, ultimately, using that video to enable rough cuts made of each scene shot by the next morning making this movie less of a film than a grand experiment and continuous, collaborative work-in-progress.
Actress Rebecca De Mornay's first movie. The film was also the first film score composed by singer, songwriter, and composer Tom Waits. Also, the picture was the first film as a producer (a co-producer) for writer-producer Armyan Bernstein.
Rather than shooting on location, director Francis Ford Coppola insisted on building sets, to add to the artificiality of the proscenium. Set construction proceeded to such an extent that a replica of Las Vegas' McCarran Airport - complete with a jetway and jet airliner (built from the nose section of a crashed plane) - was built and used for the penultimate scene. The sets for the film consumed the entirety of sound stage space at Coppola's recently-acquired American Zoetrope studio. Because of the maze of wiring and flammable scrims, backdrops and other materials, production designer Dean Tavoularis half-jokingly referred to the Vegas Strip set - the centerpiece of the film - as a "firetrap", saying it caused him to have "nightmares about fires" during the film's production.
In order to make the signs for the miniature Las Vegas scenes work, neon artists Larry Albright and Bill Concannon needed to develop a process for making neon signs where the tubing was 2mm in diameter. (By comparison, most neon signage is between 10mm and 18mm, where most of the tubing on the Las Vegas strip is 15mm.) Custom glassblowing burners, electrodes, and other hardware needed to be fabricated from scratch. Amazingly enough, many of the pieces produced still work today.
Director Francis Ford Coppola has said that this movie was inspired by a variety of things, "The influences were really more the filmed musicals of the 1940s and 50s, and even the stage musicals I directed in college and the Broadway shows I saw growing up. Also very influential were the live television dramas of the 50s and 60s, especially those directed by John Frankenheimer."
Regarding the poor critical reception, in a later interview Francis Ford Coppola has said that the film was still a "work in progress" when screened for blind bidding. He said the unfinished version was "a mess". He went on to say that "it was clear that it wasn't going to get a fair shot."