04  October  2018

Kubrick-producer Jan Harlan at European Film College: filmmaking must be a love-affair

Last week, Jan Harlan paid his first of two visits during the 2018-19 film foundation programme at European Film College. Harlan, longtime-friend of European Film College, was Stanley Kubrick’s Executive Producer for more than 25 years and is now a renowned speaker and guest lecturer at numerous film schools all over the world. A current student at European Film College met him for an interview after his lecture.

By Karen Bech, film student at the 2018-19 film foundation programme at European Film College

How did you start your career as a producer?
By co-incidence, since I lived in New York in 1964 when my brother-in-law Stanley Kubrick with his wife and 3 children returned from England. I got to know him very well then and we became friends. It was only 5 years later when he asked me to join him for NAPOLEON, a film-project that was later abandoned. In New York I worked for a data processing company.

What do you enjoy most about your job/career?
To work with an interesting, careful and self-critical artist like Stanley Kubrick who took risks and aimed for the best he could possibly deliver.

How is it to be the executive producer?
The title is meaningless. It depends with whom you work. In my case, and working with Kubrick, it was being a member of the crew, trying to help the filmmaker, identifying with his aims, making deals for items to be hired or purchased, getting rights and permissions, suggesting music.

Why will someone invest in a film? How do you make them invest in your film?
I only know working with Warner Bros. – a major studio, ready to take reasonable risks by investing in a film made by a promising filmmaker with a great track record. Yes, it is a business with successes and failures. There is no such thing as a safe investment in a film since it is impossible to predict how it will be received.

What has been the most important lesson you’ve learned during your years with filmmaking?
From my narrow perspective it is to be very orderly with deadlines, small-print, dates etc. To miss the renewal of an option, for example, can have most serious consequences. For the filmmaker it is clearly the need to passionately. To love the story and all elements. As I said in my lecture: No love - no quality, and no artist - no art.

Do you think the field of producing can be taught in school or is it better to go out and experience it?
I think the basics like breaking down a script, scheduling, location issues, studio issues, and budgeting can be taught. Also, the willingness to identify with the aims of a filmmaker and become part of the team is an essential prerequisite.

What role have film festivals played in your life so far? Why are they necessary?
They played no role as such. But being often in a jury forced me to objective analysis of what I see. And I enjoy watching films made by young people, particularly short films. They are a tool for budding filmmakers to show that they have talent.

What advice would you give to new filmmakers and someone who wants to have a life with creating film?
To only approach such an undertaking if you are in love with an idea, with a project, a story, a book. I always stress: The desire to make a film must be like falling in love, like a love-affair, releasing all the energy and focus that is required - this is true for all artists, painters, writers, composers or filmmakers.
Kubrick-producer Jan Harlan visits European Film College