Veteran film producer discusses work with Kubrick
Jan Harlan is a German film producer who has been working in the film industry since the 1960s. Born into a cultured family that appreciated art, music and film, he took after his uncle and pursued a career in the film industry as a producer. Harlan has had a hand in producing many films in his lifetime, including “The Shining,” “A Clockwork Orange” and “2001: A Space Odyssey.”
Harlan worked very closely with the legendary late director Stanley Kubrick. Harlan was not only Kubrick’s executive producer on his most notable projects, but his brother-in-law as well. Kubrick married Harlan’s sister Christiane in 1958, and they stayed together until Kubrick passed away in 1999.
Kubrick, who also directed films including “Full Metal Jacket,” “Dr. Strangelove,” “Lolita” and “Eyes Wide Shut,” is revered as one of the greatest cinematic minds in the film industry, a title not easily earned. After he passed away from a heart attack at 70, Kubrick’s films continue to gain notoriety and are dissected, analyzed and studied for their use of realism, music, cinematography and dark storytelling in film programs throughout the country.
Since his retirement from the fast-paced career of film producing, Harlan now spends his time traveling to different film schools, museums and events around the world talking about Kubrick and his work. Harlan came to Hofstra this past weekend to teach a master class consisting of four different two-hour sessions on the basics of filmmaking and getting your start. In these master classes, he discussed writing and what makes a good story, using music to your full advantage, understanding your inner fantasy and the short film as a calling card: essentially, how to make a good first impression.
Current students, as well as faculty and alumni, gathered to hear the words of an established film professional. Each session consisted of a handful of screenings of clips and short films, rules compiled from Harlan’s own experience and other directors he’s worked with and the occasional behind the scenes tidbit from working with Kubrick on various films.
Harlan’s lessons on filmmaking were heavily integrated with classical music from Bach and Sondheim and art from painters like Picasso and Monet. His philosophy is that film is an art, and to make good art there has to be passion, appreciation and a higher level of thinking: “All artists are permanently and subconsciously engaged and never stop.”
“It is exciting for you to talk to me, but I really love talking to you young people,” Harlan said.
Harlan’s demeanor can be described as a loveable grandpa who also happens to be an art curator, music lover and, just like the stereotype, a very wise old man. Even as faculty gushed over him, he was humble and had an air of respectability, treating every person he met with the same positive attitude. Harlan even sat in the rows of Breslin 216 to chat with students after each session to hear their ideas and give them more specific advice for what they want to do in life.
The theme that truly carried throughout the sessions was the necessity of passion and interest in making the film. You cannot make a great film if you do not love the idea of it. “No artist, no art. No love, no quality,” Harlan said.
The final session, the highly anticipated short film crash course, was a screening of a selection of short films that are calling cards for different positions in the industry, from director to make-up artist.
Harlan’s favorite movie is “Children of Paradise,” and he recommended that everyone watch it. His advice for aspiring filmmakers was to fall in love with art because once you do, the ownership is transferred to you. Lastly, Harlan – half joking, half seriously – said that every writer should know Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, Mary Shelley and Thomas Hardy.
Harlan knows that filmmaking is not easy – like all art, it is all subjective – but he did want to leave everyone who attended with one piece of advice. Multiple times throughout the weekend, Harlan reiterated, “It doesn’t need to be realistic, but to be real is essential.”