It's All in the Writing
A conversation with Film Producer Jan Harlan during a visit
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The 70mm Newsletter
Interviewed and photographed by: Thomas
Hauerslev. Retyped from audio files by Margaret Weedon, London.
Edited for in70mm.com by Mark Lyndon, London
Harlan during a visit at the "Bio Mors" in Nykřbing Mors, Denmark 23. January
2016 to give a 2-day Producer Work Shop / lecture for young Danish film students.
Thomas Hauerslev: I would like to ask you how you came into the
business, a little bit about Stanley Kubrick, a little bit about what
efforts went into film presentation, and about your professional background
which led you to the motion picture industry and ultimately to become
Stanley Kubrick’s executive producer.
Jan Harlan: Until 1969 I worked in business organisation in Zurich,
Vienna and in New York. While I was in New York working for a data
processing company I got to know Stanley very well – he was already married
to my sister since 1957. This was in 1963/64. After that I continued with my
work in Germany and Switzerland.
Stanley worked with Arthur C. Clarke in New York while I was there to prepare
but the family later moved to England to film “2OO1” at the MGM
studios in Borehamwood. I lived in Zurich then doing my job but visited
Stanley and the family from time to time in England.
We talked a lot. Music was the one area where we were on an even keel. Later
in 1969 he asked me whether I wanted to join him for a year and go to Romania
for “Napoleon”. My company said it was a very good idea "you should
do that, get more experience". My role would have been the same as always;
talking to people, getting rights, negotiating, organizing things. Film
production itself is a manufacturing process. It has, as such, nothing to do
with art. The art comes through an artist, the filmmaker. But other members
of the crew are needed for rather mundane jobs – in my case things to get,
permissions, location research, police protection, etc.
So we moved to England, believing it would be for a short time since the
plan was to go to Romania very soon. Then MGM pulled out of "Napoleon",
and Stanley was very sad for two weeks. I was ready to go back to Zurich but
he suggested I should stay with him; he liked me and I liked him, my wife
had fallen in love with England and so we decided “to give this a shot”. One
of the first things I did was to get the rights to “Traumnovelle”, a novel
by Arthur Schnitzler. In fact, this would have been our first film for
Warner Bros. We had a signed agreement with budget and schedule but then
Stanley decided to pull out. Instead he made “A Clockwork Orange”
which was much easier as far as the script is concerned since the book is
written in the first person. It was not difficult to turn this into a
screenplay – it was basically a scissor job - today you would say “cut and
paste” - and so this film was my first practical experience as an assistant.
“Napoleon” did not happen. “Traumnovelle” did not happen
either - and what I did was learning, suggesting music, getting rights, (for
the performance of Beethoven’s “Ninth” for example) and things like this.
My role has nothing to do with the art of filmmaking. It is purely
organizing – getting stuff. I did not question what was wanted, my job was
to try to get it. If you cannot get what is needed, an alternative must be
found, this might be another person or permission to close another street
for filming, or arranging for a specific location the director wanted for a
day or two, whatever it might be. Then there was a big gap and Stanley
decided to do "Barry Lyndon". First filming was supposed to be in
England but the idea was soon abandoned and the decision was made to move to
Ireland. Stanley did not like to travel, but he had to in this case. Barry
Lyndon was my first film as an Executive Producer – a title that means
absolutely nothing - it depends with whom you work. There were executive
producers on "Clockwork" we never met. I enjoyed very much working
with Stanley. I loved the man, he was so demanding on himself – he was
always questioning his own decisions and ready to change his mind.
On “Barry Lyndon” I suggested music, but that was a side job – we had
Leonard Rosenman to write the arrangements. And so it went on and I did the
same for other films. We also prepared many projects, which were never made.
“Aryan Papers” was a massive job. Then there was “A.I. Artificial
Intelligence”, a film Stanley offered to Stephen Spielberg, but this was
years later. Before that Stanley made “The Shining” and “Full
Metal Jacket”. Finally, after abandoning “Aryan Papers” and
offering “A.I.” to Steven Spielberg he focused on Traumnovelle again,
a story he never forgot and this became his last film “Eyes Wide Shut”
30 years after his first battle with this complex story.
Then after his death I was asked by Warner Brothers to make a documentary
about Stanley. This was a very good experience for me and very therapeutic
after this terrible loss. I was astonished that everybody I asked was very
happy to join in. I asked Tom Cruise to do the narration – of course, who
would be better? He agreed. Even people who are normally difficult like
Woody Allen or Jack Nicolson agreed to be part of this film. This pleased me
very much and it showed how much Stanley was respected. Even people who had
a hard time like his trusted focus puller who sometimes had a very hard job.
Doug refused to talk about the hardship and said he would look like a fool
if he did. He knew that Stanley furthered his career considerably. He also
was our DOP on “Full Metal Jacket”.
I later made a documentary about brilliant Malcolm McDowell, also for Warner
Brothers: “O Lucky Malcolm”.
And then a film about the Dvorak Cello Concerto with the International Youth
Orchestra with the brilliant cellist Alexander Baillie and the conductor
Andreas Mildner. I made two films with students at the EFC in Ćbeltoft [The
European Film College, Denmark]– and of course parallel to that, I was lucky
to work a bit with Stephen Spielberg on the preparation to “A.I.”
Working and teaching at different film-schools I developed a new profession
and I am now regularly working as a guest teacher at film-schools all over
|More in 70mm reading:|
Gallery: Jan Harlan, Producer Work Shop,
Bio Mors, Denmark
2012 Gallery: Stanley Kubrick Exhibition
Stanley Kubrick's "2OO1: A
Space Odyssey" in Super Panavision 70
There Were Giants
in the Land: Stanley Kubrick
Visit to Mors: Producer
workshop med Jan Harlan
Stanley Kubrick Exhibition Tour
need to learn how to separate with open lenses, to be a painter with light –
and you need to know how to make a ‘calling card’".
Harlan and the students at the "Bio Mors", 23. January 2016
TH: Coming from the Executive Producer back ground, you now teach and
lecture. Tell me about that.
Jan: Well it was a fluke – it just happened; I was asked by film-schools to
talk about Kubrick. So I did and this was widening; at the beginning I was
not particularly good at it; I am not shy, I can tell stories, that was
fine, but to be systematic and pass on what students need to hear I had to
learn myself. It took a few years to get really secure and I now know what
is needed – after all, I learned from a great teacher. The most important
part is to be self-critical.
Today, with modern equipment, everything is sharp; it is easy, it is
automatic and could become boring, dull – so you need to do something
special. You need to learn how to separate with open lenses, to be a painter
with light – and you need to know how to make a ‘calling card’. In today’s
world, which is a visual world, you have to present a portfolio, you need to
present a short film, whether as a filmmaker, or actor, cinematographer,
designer or make-up artist. You have to say "Look here, I can do it. I am
a cinematographer, this is what I did". You saw this film “The Light
and the Little Girl”. This is a perfect “calling card”. It has no other
purpose; as a film it means little, as a proof that the filmmaker is an
excellent cinematographer, it means a lot. Or the film I showed you from
Israel: This woman made another film after that, and now she makes a big
budget film in America. Well, that is what you need to get across. Never
tell students it is easy – since it is not. It is terribly difficult to do
something really well so that your “calling card” will be watched and has
the desired effect. If it is not good instantly it will be stopped after a
minute. That is the brutal truth. Get accepted at film-festivals or impress
an executive at a TV station or agency for TV advertising etc – not easy.
The good side is that good people are needed. So much “product” is produced,
so many commercials are made, so many films and documentaries. We have many
more television stations than ever before and much talent is needed to feed
them - but the competition has become global and is great. So if you want to
get into this business, you have to convince somebody “I am good” –
be it the director of a film festival you need to convince or an agent or TV
boss – whoever it is, you have to convince and prove your talent by handing
in your CV in form of a DVD.
It’s a fair chance. I meet a lot of brilliant young people, men and women
far more talented than I am. They show what they have done in the form of
short films, and the best will succeed. I showed you a Slovakian film as an
example – it was shot in three days. The filmmaker directed 20 people,
directed and choreographed brilliantly; he used great music and he got it
for free. All this is a sign of determination and focus. It is amazing what
you can get for free, if you have the right personality asking for it!
Something else I am much involved with is a travelling exhibition on Stanley
Kubrick. Have you seen it?
TH: – I have seen it in
a few years ago. I want to ask you how much you are travelling now – how
busy are you?
JH: I always go for the first week where the Exhibition opens. I was in
Korea last, but at the moment we are preparing for San Francisco where we’ll
open on 30th June 2016. Next stop will be Mexico City on 1st December 2016.
And so it goes on. We will come to Denmark next year and I look forward to
meeting you again in Copenhagen. We also have plans for Hong Kong and
possibly Japan. We have been in Melbourne, Sao Paulo, Los Angeles, Toronto,
Rome and Paris and other places. This will go on for some time. We had well
over one million visitors so far.
TH: Well I think it is extraordinary to make an Exhibition this size about a
filmmaker. I have never seen anything like that before.
JH: You are right it is quite unique. Stanley threw nothing away and he kept
his professional material for a purpose. He had, for example, three big
trunks labelled “Dr. Strangelove”. They had not been opened for forty
years or longer. And his wife concluded quite correctly that the purpose of
keeping all this was not so that she should throw it all away. With her
authority she approved the plan for the exhibition.
JH: He was not particularly orderly, but he kept the development material
for the films. We have no indiscretions or private stuff in the Exhibition;
but we have lots of correspondence with colleagues, actors, also budgets,
schedules, photographs, designs and script drafts, models and equipment –
all this to show a visitor how much effort goes into making a good film. It
is not easy. It is very, very difficult to make a work of art that others
want to see or read or listen to. To make a GREAT film is almost a miracle,
like any great novel, painting, symphony or any truly great work of art.
TH: Is it the same Exhibition from city to city, or is it tailor made for
JH: Yes, but it has to be tailor made for each place because we have to take
the local venues into account . In
Amsterdam, for example, we used big
screens; it was all screens and clips. In other cities less was shown on
large screens and the emphasis as been on showing documents and other
material; but in all cases there would be large monitors where clips are
screened. It was very different at the Cinematheque in Paris where we used
three floors. In Sao Paulo, it was again very, very different since we had
less room; it was a museum for sound and image: Truly creative artists came
up with new ideas. They did for example something which impressed me no end
– for “Eyes Wide Shut”: The visitor put his face into a masque and
saw through the masque into the room and what was going on. It was lovely.
Or they had built for “Paths of Glory” trenches with sandbags left
and right as you walked through the claustrophobic space you felt almost
uncomfortable. It was very real. In Los Angeles the display was huge,
gigantic, but they had more space and we had 240,000 visitors at LACMA in
TH: What was the duration of these Exhibitions?
JH: Typically three or four months.
TH: When do you expect it to be in Denmark?
JH: At the earliest, it will be 2017. I cannot tell you the exact date, but
I will let you know in good time once we have that date. I love Copenhagen.
is the latest art form that will allow us, and a future generation, to look
into the past. Jan
Harlan at the "Bio Mors", 23. January 2016
TH: Tell me about what you said this morning, about films, movies being the
youngest of the arts. What did you mean by that?
JH: Film, moving pictures, is a form barely a hundred years old; as an “art”
it is very new and it is always the art that gives us the first entry into
the past. It is not the wars and battles, the kings and conquerors that come
to mind first – that comes a bit later – first, it is the art. It is the
plays, the music, the fashion, the buildings. “What do you know of old
Egypt?” – the first thing you think of are the pyramids, with the
hieroglyphics on the walls – and Babylon – you think of the fantastic
architecture; and of Baroque you think of Bach and Handel and Vivaldi or the
beautiful Baroque churches; it is always the art first. The Paintings, of
course. I would not know much about the 18th Century, if it were not for the
painters, architects and novelists. It is banal what I am saying, because it
is so obvious; anybody who thinks about it for two minutes comes to the same
Film is the latest art form that will allow us, and a future generation, to
look into the past. There is no doubt that looking at American films of the
forties you get a real impression of America at that time. And there is no
doubt that future generations will watch films by Ingmar Bergman or Kubrick
and many others to learn about the twentieth century. If you want to know
specifically about Sweden in that period around 1900 see “Fanny and
Alexander”. Again, what I am saying is so obvious.
TH: It is a long process making movies and in Stanley Kubrick’s case, how
did he decide which films to make? You talked about projects that never came
and how was this process decided.
JH: I always use the term, which everybody understands – he had to fall in
love with the book or with an idea. He absolutely fell in love with making
“Napoleon”. He was terribly disappointed that it did not happen – not
because he was just fascinated by the topic, it was this mixture of
brilliant talent and utter vanity and foolishness that captivated him. This
everlasting plague is what makes this man so relevant for us today. Look
around the world: Vanity no end. Jealousy no end. That interested Kubrick.
Yes, he admired Napoleon and his huge charisma and talent, which is so
clearly documented by so many witnesses of that period. And at the same time
he feared the foolishness and vanity of power.
When Tsar Alexander broke the contract, the so called “continental blockade”
to which he had agreed in a treaty in 1807 – a wise statesman would have
looked away, but a wise statesman Napoleon was not. He wanted to force
Russia not to deal with England, as he already had forced Austria and
Prussia. But Russia needed to deal with England; it was a commercial
necessity. Napoleon’s revenge was war and the Russian campaign of 1812 then
turned out to be the beginning of Napoleon’s end.
It may be a big jump to say that America’s reaction to the attack by a few
madmen on “9/11” and the disaster that followed might be a fair comparison.
Much more important, I have seven grandchildren, talking about first things
first, three sons who are doing very well and great daughters-in-law. We now
have three girls amongst the grand children – a new experience for us.
TH: I think “A Clockwork Orange” was the first Kubrick film I saw
before I knew who he was. I think I gave it six stars when I recorded my
cinema visits as a teenager in the seventies. Why do you think Kubrick’s
films are still so fresh? They are like brand new films; they are not dated
in any way.
JH: Because they are carefully made by an artist. Because you can see a
Vermeer, a Rembrandt and a Picasso or a Van Gogh, for the same reason. These
paintings were done by artists. Carefully done, clearly conceived, that’s
the reason. The fact that most buildings disappear does not matter, some of
the great buildings are artistic “stars” – look at the American architect
Lloyd Wright, for example, or Le Corbusier or Hundertwasser, these are some
of the famous artists; 95 per cent of all buildings mean nothing, they fall
apart after 100 years and they are replaced, but great architects set a
trend, like the great painters, the great composer, playwrights or novelists
– even if you do not like them: interesting example is Richard Wagner. Many
people do not like him but all other composers after him had to take note -
they changed. Whether Mahler, Bruckner or Strauss, to name just a few - they
It is interesting that even if you do not like Picasso, he changed the
scene, he was like a switch – you know like a switch on a railway track –
the train goes in another direction whether you like it or not, that’s the
mark of a great artist. And Kubrick changed with “2OO1” once and for
all the genre of science fiction - it is a philosophical film - Kubrick
takes a bow to the unknowable creator of the Universe. And the more
intelligent a person the clearer it is that there is so much more that we
Kubrick expressed great respect in “2OO1” and what is so interesting
is that when the film came out, people over forty could not deal with it,
generally speaking. Whilst young men made the film into a success. Pauline
Kale – famous film critic for the New Yorker said it was the most boring
film she had ever seen. There is nothing an artist can do about this.
Nothing against Pauline Kale, she is brilliant, I have her books, she is
really an intelligent writer – but what does that mean?
TH: I remember Jack Nicholson in your documentary. He was smiling and saying
"Well I think there was 187 walk outs, and I am sure Stanley counted
them"; that was at the first screening.
JH: Well yes, that was a disaster. It was an invited audience – it was a
charity performance or something like that – the tickets were expensive. It
was the wrong audience; MGM should have invited teenagers. They would have
gone crazy. I always respect the reaction of young people – they are so
all in the writing". Jan Harlan at the "Bio Mors", 23. January 2016
TH: Have other Kubrick films experienced another audience than expected?
JH: "Barry Lyndon" was a total flop in America and England and very,
very successful in the Latin countries, and in Japan. “Eyes Wide Shut”
was very successful in Portugal, Spain and France, Italy and Japan. Why is
that? Well I am not totally sure but a journalist in Rome thought it has to
do with Catholicism. Catholicism? But there is nothing in that film about
Catholicism and neither Schnitzler nor Kubrick intended such a reference. He
explained that catholics were educated to deal with sex and lust and that
this topic was on the table; “you make dirty jokes about it”, he said. Now
this may be an over simplification. Probably very, very over simplified but
maybe there is also a grain of truth there. I don’t know, I cannot judge
this – I am not an expert or a psychoanalyst. But one thing is quite clear:
The film was a huge hit in Italy and not in England.
TH: I like the film [EWS] a lot. I saw it with my wife when it came
out; she found it boring. Orla and I have talked about it and we agreed, it
was like some sort of a dream – you really do not know what was going on;
you tried to figure out the plot – I am still lost, which is why I still see
it with great enjoyment to figure out; is there a plot? Is it a dream? –
because suddenly there is a Venetian mask on the pillow. Where did it come
from? That is what I find refreshing.
JH. I still think it is a brilliant film – Kubrick himself considered it his
greatest contribution to the art of filmmaking. But is he objective?
Objectivity belongs into a science laboratory not into art or anything based
on love and passion. I would love to know which piece of music Mozart
considers his greatest. I would not know – and maybe it does not matter
really. But it is certainly good to know that different territories react
We had a fax from the Tokyo office of Warner Bros. after the premier of
“Eyes Wide Shut” saying that the film is just doing colossally well and
“that couples are leaving the cinema holding hands.” This obviously means a
lot in Japan. I cannot judge it, but these different reactions are so very
TH: When you see his films it is often the same actors who appear in
different roles. Can you elaborate on this?
JH: Philip Stone – he was a wonderful actor – he was the father in
“Clockwork Orange”; he was Grady in “The Shining”; he was the
lawyer or the accountant in “Barry Lyndon”. Joe Turkel was in
“Paths of Glory” and "The Shining". Not just actors: He also used
repeatedly certain composers like Ligeti – he had his music in “2OO1”,
again in “The Shining” and once more in “Eyes Wide Shut”.
Kubrick’s films can easily be watched a few times and in fact the biggest
problem with “Eyes Wide Shut” is that you have to see it twice, but
if you do not like it the first time as a member of the audience, you are
not likely to see it a second time, which is a great shame.
TH: “The Shining” as a ghost story is very confusing. Can you explain
a bit about Kubrick’s idea to make it like it was?
JH: Well, as far as it goes, nothing makes very much sense, so it is all
right. It’s a ghost film! Remember Kubrick knew that the inside rooms would
never match the hotel we see outside - but it’s a ghost story. Nothing needs
“to fit”. Did you see a film called “Room 237”? The maker elaborates
and proves that these windows, this architecture, could never…… well
spotted, I’d say. So what? There is no maze either as we see the hotel in
the beginning from above - it is a ghost movie!
Stanley was wonderful! He was incredibly pedantic and very exacting when he
wanted to be, but very generous otherwise. In “Barry Lyndon” the
Schubert Trio was composed 30 years to late. It is not “correct” for the
Seven Years War period. But Stanley loved it and felt that the romanticism
in this piece was just right and better than some Haydn or Mozart.
hope the European Union will not fall apart; it was and still is the
greatest project of my generation." Jan
Harlan & Thomas Hauerslev. "Eyes Wide Shut" mask by "La Bottega Dei
Mascareri", Venice, Italy. Image by Orla Nielsen.
All the actors in “Full Metal Jacket” are all too old. We could not
get 19 year olds – we could have had one, but we needed seven good actors,
so what do you do? Where do you make the compromise? We needed really good
actors. But the Marines want them at age 19. Once 25 or older the Marines
don’t want them – probably because they are too smart by then. They want
boys. Take Sparta 2000 years ago, they had 16 year olds in the Spartan army.
It is an old story.
TH: How did Stanley Kubrick reflect on how his films were presented in the
JH: He was very concerned because they had to be presented properly. He
checked out premiere cinemas in the 70s and 80s. Today the standard is much
higher; today with digital projection the picture is sharp and the light is
even. The audience today is spoiled by wonderful TV sets and a brilliant
image. A cinema could not get away with what it was often like twenty-five
years ago, sloppy all over with hot spots in the middle, bad sound etc. and
we were fighting this for first runs in premiere houses on first runs.
TH: How did you address it?
JH: We went and checked out the big cinemas in the big cities where the film
opened. That was all you could do – you cannot do it on the next level.
TH: Was it something that you did?
JH: In many cases, I checked cinemas in many cities in Germany, France and
England. And colleagues did he same. I spent maybe four weeks doing that
before "Barry Lyndon" opened.
TH: This was a high priority?
JH: Perhaps high priority is not quite the right word but if it was possible
to do and when you know your film comes out in Manchester – go to
Manchester, talk to the projectionist. It can be difficult, because they may
feel patronised- like “who are you tell me how to project a movie – of
course it is perfect”. And you say "Well, but look! The centre is so
much brighter than the edges, and the sound crackles; may be the mirror on
the carbon lamp should be replaced", and similar. It is very tricky; you
have to be very careful. Because the cinema is an independent enterprise,
you cannot tell them what to do.
TH: Tell me about your favourite movie moment in your career.
JH: I think it was when we got stuck for not having the correct Vietnam
period tanks for “Full Metal Jacket”. I talked to this officer in
Antwerp [Belgium] and pleaded with him to give me these three tanks he had - these
Vietnamese period tanks that were useless to him – they were useless to
anybody and completely outdated and he was in full agreement - but he said
that he can’t hire out tanks. It is just not done. And he finally said,
"Look, just bring them back!" It did not cost anything! We had to pay
for transport, of course, but that’s nothing; that is just organising it.
That was a very good moment.
TH: What is your favourite film? Not particularly a Stanley Kubrick film –
but do you have a favourite film?
JH: Indeed, I have many favourites. “Les Infants du Paradis” do you
know it? "Fanny and Alexander", it is beautiful. I also absolutely
adore “Dr Strangelove” I must say; “Casablanca” who doesn’t?
“Eyes Wide Shut”, I think is a brilliant film, but I am not
objective. I am too close.
TH: You told us that there is no such thing as objectivity –
JH: Absolutely. Of course not. You love your children more than you love
mine! So, this just shows how subjective you are, since - objectively
speaking - my children are the best! [laugh]
TH: Finally, is there anything that you want to add – anything at all?
JH: Not really – although – I hope that we overcome the current mess in
politics and the world at large. I hope for greater statesmen in the world
and I hope the European Union will not fall apart; it was and still is the
greatest project of my generation and I hope it will grow out of its infancy
and mature - I hope the people of the Middle East finally get their act
together since they and we all may be dancing closer and closer at the edge
of a cliff. I am very concerned about my grand children. For me it doesn't
make much difference, I have only a few years left, and then "That's it.
Goodbye". But I have seven grand children. I want them to be happy, and
it is my generation that screwed up this world, they haven’t.
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