Dear fans, friends, and family of Harold and Lillian,
2017 was an amazing year to watch Harold and Lillian: A Hollywood Love Story blossom, and I am excited to share the year’s journey!
As many of you know, Harold and Lillian was one of 170 documentary feature films eligible for an Oscar in 2018. Although Harold and Lillian did not make the shortlist, there is a lot to be grateful for because 2017 blessed this small film with a relatively huge theatrical release, a TCM broadcast premiere, and even saved a life!
The journey began with a bit of a shock:
On Thursday, April 27th, 2017, I arrived in New York City full of excitement (and dread), as H&L was about to have its US theatrical premiere at the QUAD cinema in NYC. At that time, there was a lot of buzz about the newly remodeled QUAD cinema, and little buzz about H&L. Apart from our Cannes Classics world premiere in May 2015 and our DOCNYC FEST U.S. premiere in November 2015, the film was under the radar in the U.S. While I was mentally prepared to accept negative reviews from major national publications, I let out a giant gasp when I fired up my iPhone on the JFK tarmac and discovered that H&L received a New York Times Critics’ Pick!
For the theatrical release, we were fortunate to partner with one of the very best and longest running arthouse distributors in the U.S.: Zeitgeist Films.
I loved working with Zeitgeist and deeply appreciate all their incredible efforts on behalf of H&L! Many thanks to the Zeitgeist team, including Zeitgeist Films visionary co-presidents Nancy Gerstman and Emily Russo and Zeitgeist Films design director extraordinaire, Adrian Curry. Also, big thank yous to our digital marketing guru, Sheri Candler, and our excellent publicist, Sasha Berman. And a very special thanks to H&L’s brilliant co-producer and co-editor Jennifer Raim (who I am proud to be married to for 11 years today!) for encouraging me to launch a theatrical release in the first place.
And of course, many thanks to the star of the film, Lillian Michelson, who cast aside her stage fright and attended over 12 post-screening Q & As! A big reason for the film’s success was Lillian’s willingness to bear her soul during on-camera interviews in a deeply engaging, truthful, philosophical, and often hilarious way. Lillian was charming, funny and dazzling during the Q&As, and audiences were delighted to meet her afterward. (I will close this letter with a powerful story Lillian shared.)
While we started with the dream of screening H&L in 12 cities, things changed quickly after our Los Angeles opening weekend netted the highest grossing film in all three Laemmle cinemas. Lillian, animator Patrick Mate, composer Dave Lebolt and I signed over two hundred posters that we gave away at screenings. (Our 24x36 original print movie posters are available for purchase on the H&L website.) Susan King wrote a fantastic piece about the film for the LA Times, and film critic Sheri Linden gave the film an LA Times Critics’ Pick. While most docs screen for one week in theaters, H&L was privileged to play in three Laemmle cinemas throughout Los Angeles County for five weeks. Ultimately, H&L screened in 68 cities in the U.S., and the film currently has a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes!
Thank you audiences and film critics alike!
And thanks to Anais Clanet at Widehouse, H&L was picked up for theatrical and television release in several countries, including Spain, Italy, Israel, Finland, India, Mexico, and Japan. H&L screened for seven months in Japan, and is still going! (I went to Japan for the press junket in April, and filmed a documentary about one of my favorite directors, Yasujiro Ozu. More on that next year!)
On September 13, after our five-month extended theatrical release came to a close, Turner Classic Movies (TCM) hosted the broadcast premiere, which was also a huge success! Ben Mankiewicz did a fabulous interview with Lillian at MPTF, and a fantastic live-tweet during the broadcast premiere was hosted by Raquel Stetcher from Out of the Past. And of course, many thanks to Charles Tabesh of TCM for sharing H&L with the TCM audience!
In October, Kino Lorber released H&L on DVD & Blu-ray, and on-demand on iTunes and Amazon. Again, many thanks to Adrian for designing the DVD & Blu-ray packages, and to our brilliant animator Patrick Mate for creating the cover illustration. The DVD & Blu-ray are region free, ship world-wide with over 2-hours of great extras, and currently on sale at 40% off retail on our Store.
So, what impact can a film have on audiences?
Lillian shared a story that shows how a film can literally change people’s lives: Lillian was meeting audience members after a post-screening Q&A, and there was a line out the door to meet her. A young woman approached Lillian and told her that she had decided to “do away” with herself, but after seeing the story of how Harold and Lillian overcame their life challenges, this young woman decided to keep going. (Of course, Lillian being Lillian, she lovingly made the young woman promise to take care of herself and to always remember that she is important.)
Movies can have a profound effect on people. I am deeply grateful to everyone who helped bring this story to life and made it possible to be seen by tens of thousands of people around the world in 2017.
Much love and gratitude to all of you that helped make this happen!
Best wishes, and may you all have a great 2018!
Los Angeles, December 28, 2017
Daniel and Lillian signing posters at the Laemmle Playhouse 7 in Pasadena, May 2017
Special shout out to the following people who helped make our theatrical and television premiere extra special:
MPTF, Bob Beitcher, Jennifer Clymer, TCM, Chris Meledandri, Sarah Rothman, Danny DeVito, Graef Allen, Peter Davidson, Gérald Duchaussoy, Cannes Classics, Basil Tsiokos, DOC NYC, Eugene Suen, Sheila Benson, Paul Coyne, Justine Jacob, Mary Ann Grasso-Anderson, Josh Braun, Submarine Entertainment, Jim Hemphill, Filmmaker Magazine, Godfrey Cheshire, Tom Walsh, Debbie Patton, Rose Knopka, Chuck Parker, ADG & ADG Archives, Emma Griffiths, Rene Ridinger, Patrizia von Brandenstein and Stuart Wurtzel, Nancy Buirski, Anne Coco, AMPAS, Teri D'ovidio, Hilary Helstein, LAJFF, Karen Stetler, Kim Hendrickson, Hillary Weston, Andrew Chan, Criterion, Amy Halpin, IDA, Dave Lebolt, Angela Lepito, Richard Lorber, everyone at Kino Lorber, Sharon Lee, Scott Liggett, Leonard Maltin, Alan Michelson, Dennis Michelson, Eric Michelson, Anahid Nazarian, Jerome Raim, Raja Ramadurai, Jay Rosenblatt, SFJFF, Orly Ravid, TFC, Igor Shteyrenberg, Wynn Thomas, Judy Thomason, Anath White, Chris Welles, Emma Myers, QUAD cinema, Orly Yadin, Elise Cochin, Océane Mailharrin, Morgane Delay, Patrizia Mancini, Kohsuke Sunny Arita, Shunsuke Hirai, Lance Sticksel, Emily Swan, Susan Zech, The American Academy of Dramatic Arts, Anastasia Plazzotta, Isaac Zablocki, JCC Manhattan, and so many more!
Harold and Lillian’s work influenced hundreds of Hollywood’s most acclaimed classic films, many of which we have highlighted on this blog. They loved their work, they supported each other, and they never sought out the spotlight.
Below, read an excerpt written by director Daniel Raim and his producing partner wife, Jennifer Raim, about what drew them to these two special people.
"We frequently hear the adage that cinema is a collaborative art form. However, when the film is finished and the time comes to attribute praise, much of that collaboration is lost. Although Lillian’s research career spanned almost 50 years and hundreds of movies, and she was revered for being the best at finding information that 'you weren’t allowed to see.' Lillian received just seven on-screen 'Research' credits. In Lillian’s opinion, research is 'lost in the mist of memory': “We’re the first ones who are asked to do anything on a picture when it’s really ‘in utero,’ so to speak, and there are so many fits and starts in getting any project off the ground—in fact, to me it’s a miracle that any movie is ever made—that by the time the completion comes around, we’re totally lost from view… It just seems that we do a rather useful thing, and we should be remembered.”
Similarly, Harold’s storyboarding was very often uncredited. Like research, storyboarding also happens toward the beginning of a film, creating a conception of how the film will be shot. Unlike research, however, storyboarding is (as production designer Jim Bissell describes it) 'an awkward position.' Storyboard artist Gabriel Hardman (Inception (2010), Logan (2017)), describes one of the difficulties of the position: “You’re in a very strange place where you are working with the director, basically, on the highest level of the film, yet you’re also below the line. You’re not one of the key players…as far as everybody else is concerned.”
Illustration by Patrick Mate: Harold working on Spartacus for Stanley Kubrick
Perhaps it does not really matter who came up with which shot. What does matter is that we recognize and appreciate the contributions of hard-working behind-the-scenes masters that lend their lives and their genius to help create the movies. Harold and Lillian: A Hollywood Love Story highlights two of them.
To read more about Harold and Lillian from the people who worked with them, go to eatdrinkfilms.comContinue reading
As our film opens TONIGHT at 3 Laemmle's locations in Los Angeles, the Monica Film Center in Santa Monica, Town Center 5 in Encino and Playhouse 7 in Pasadena (get tickets here: https://www.laemmle.com/films/42098 and use promo code: lovestory for a discount), our #ClassicFilmFriday story is something uniquely Hollywood.
In 2004, the long-awaited sequel to the Dreamworks' animated hit Shrek was due to be released. Directed by Andrew Adamson, Kelly Asbury and Conrad Vernon, Shrek 2 went on to be the highest grossing film of the year.
While the original film did not feature parents-in-law for Shrek and Princess Fiona, this family component would be incorporated into the storyline for Shrek 2. At the time, Lillian was working on the Dreamworks lot in the research library and Harold, though retired, often accompanied her to work. "They got to this point where they were the center of knowledge and friendship and family. They treated everyone like they were their kids and everyone felt like they were their kids. The group that was doing "Shrek," they had characters in their story that were the king and queen of this land that they were from. They decided that they ought to be named Harold and Lillian, so they actually talked to their director and the writer and they got that changed, so in the movie, when you see "Shrek 2," you're seeing King Harold and Queen Lillian, and that's the Harold and Lillian who are known so well from the research library. One of the artists who was working over there even did a painting of the two of them so that you can recognize them. You could see that it was Harold's face and you could see it was Lillian's face," said Norm Newberry.
Lillian Michelson remembers:
"When Shrek 2 came around and Harold was too sick to go to the company screening, the next day all the young people filed into my office and said, 'You and Harold are Shrek's mother- and father-in-law in the movie.' I said, 'What? They said, 'Yes. They named King Harold after Harold, and they named Queen Lillian after you.' I said, 'That couldn't be. Who did this?' And they said, 'We don't know. Maybe the director.' So I called the director Kelly Asbury and I said, 'Did you do this? Did you name the king and queen after Harold and me?' He said, 'Yes. We wanted to make you two immortal. Forever. You're going to live forever.' I said, 'Thank you so much. What a lovely honor.' They sent me a beautiful note from the publicity department. I still have it. It was really lovely.That was the story of how we became Shrek’s in-laws."
Here is a clip from our film:
Though reviews on this film are mixed (some say it is a potty-mouthed dud, others say it contains a belly full of laughs), Harold remembers working on History of the World Part I with Mel Brooks very fondly and one of the film's where being an "illusionist" came in handy. "It's what we have to be: illusionists. Of course, this is just the flickering shadow on a screen," said Harold.
Harold remembers one particular scene where he had to create an illusion to overcome a logistical set problem:
"An example of what we used to do before the computers and the special effects people found out that they can do anything, there was a Mel Brooks picture called History of the World, Part I. We had two stages at MGM, and one of the stages had a pool or a tank, as we call it. This was great because the script called for an Esther Williams type number."
"But, it turns out that we couldn’t get those two stages, so we went over to Paramount and looked around and found out that there was a stage but the pool was beneath it, underneath. It was a problem because we wanted to reveal these nuns. I said, “We can do a hanging miniature,” which is something that we’ve been doing for years. On this miniature platform, a five-by-eight platform in front of the camera that covered the pool, we painted the flagstone on it, and underneath we put the green moss and drippings and everything like that. Now on the big set, before we took the floor away, I had four tremendous chains. We replaced them with small chains to match the chains which we had on the real set. We placed this platform in front of the camera and raised it and had the girls dive into the water, and it came off. It was just, you might say, a primitive way of doing things, but it worked. We did that many times, for many pictures, with the foreground and a hanging miniature."
"When we cut to this shot, as Torquemada says, 'Send in the nuns,' this miniature started to rise and rose right out of the frame, and there were the nuns in habits aligned along the pool. When they took off their habits and had their white bathing suits, they all dove into the water and did an Esther Williams number. The thing was fairly well convincing. He [Mel Brooks] appreciated it, and he went along. But they don’t seem to do these things anymore, which are cheap. They go to real expensive digital stuff."
Here's a look at the finished scene with Harold's miniature:
Mel Brooks remembers working with Harold on this film and on Spaceballs. "Harold Michelson could see what you were doing, and he knew, without interfering too much and costing you any money, how you could improve it, how you could make it a little better. That was the genius of Harold Michelson. 'Let's make this a little better.' He always did."
Tonight, our film opens at the Brattle Theatre in Boston while continuing its run at the Quad Cinema in New York City and next week, starting May 12, three Laemmle's Theaters will debut the film in Los Angeles. See our Screenings tab for details about all of the upcoming opportunities to see the film on the big screen. #HaroldandLillian #ClassicFilmFriday
This weekend, our film opens in New York's newly refurbished Quad Cinema, Greenwich Village's first ever multiplex originally opened in 1972. In addition to playing our movie, the programmer also has added screenings of some of the films that Harold and Lillian worked on, such as Fiddler on the Roof, Full Metal Jacket, and The Cotton Club. The film has received stellar reviews from The New York Times (Critic's Pick), Village Voice, and NPR. We're really excited to get the film out to theaters. Tickets for the Quad are here: https://goo.gl/UZbojz . The film will also screen in Boston on May 5, and several Los Angeles venues starting May 12. See our Screenings tab above for all screening dates so far.
For today's #ClassicFilmFriday, let's look at the New York-centered film, 1984 Francis Ford Coppola, jazz extravaganza The Cotton Club. Set in and around the historic 1920s-30s Harlem jazz club of the same name, where terrific black performers entertained a whites-only audience, the film suffered from a confusion of storylines, an overlong run time (2 hours, 8 minutes), and a mixing of genres between a gangster film and a musical. Despite a poor reception at the box office, the film was nominated for Best Art Direction (Richard Sylbert and George Gaines) and Best Film Editing. Since its initial run, The Cotton Club has appeared on many Best Of lists, including those by Siskel and Ebert.
Lillian Michelson was brought on by Richard Sylbert to provide research on The Cotton Club. Lillian remembers:
"Dick Sylbert, for whom I had worked in the past on really challenging films, came to me and says, 'We’re doing ‘Cotton Club’—and Harold was a sketch artist on that— and he said, 'What kind of research do you have?' Well, my library was started in 1932 at Goldwyn, and somebody had loved New York night clubs. Somebody went and photographed everything in the Cotton Club. I went to this folder with these amazing photographs. There wasn’t a person in them because they were taken for research purposes, even a measuring stick—every detail that you could possibly think of from the ‘30s, which, of course, was the time that the picture took place: Harlem in the ‘30s."
"But it was a challenge for other things in the movie. The one wonderful thing about researchers is that we all try to help one another. I called the museum of the City of New-York Historical Society. This wonderful lady remembered seeing pictures of something I needed exactly. She ran up to their attic and she brought it down and she says, 'I found it, I found it.' I knew from the tone in her voice that wonderful feeling when you discover something that you need exactly and you put your finger on it. It’s like no other feeling in the world really, and she shared it and she helped me. That’s what researchers do."
Lillian in her library stacks
Meanwhile, Harold Michelson was hired to create the storyboards that would be used in the montage sequences that explained the setting of movie, both the physical location and the cultural tone. Harold remembers:
"I had to do a montage explaining the life of these people, and it started off with Harlem and how Harlem was in the beginning and how racism crept into their lives. And their soldiers who went to France in WWI came back, a bunch of heroes, and also showing how the neighborhood was changing. There’s a whole bunch of white kids standing here and a moving van, and the moving van moves away revealing three little black girls and then the montage of dancing and the police. It was not in the script of what happens to a neighborhood that's changing."
"Then there was a murder sequence that somebody was supposed—somebody, a waiter, was slicing ham here for a party. I show him slicing the ham, and there's somebody with a knife coming up and slashing somebody and stabbing him. It was a murder. Then we had an alternate one, inserts, just continuing—alternate 2, alternate 3, of the same thing: how he would go about slicing up somebody. And so we went to alternate 4 and alternate 5, and we just did all these. The director would look at these and make his choice if he wanted any of them, but that's the contribution that you give: 'Here are all the choices. Take your best shot."
Lillian tried to identify what Coppola liked about working with Harold. "What Francis liked about Harold, what any director would like about Harold—that he was extremely, extremely talented. He had the mind, the cinematic mind, to go into any director’s mind and visualize how they would visualize a scene and draw it that way. There was very little mechanical worry for a director—mechanical: I mean, where to place the camera, where to have the wild wall. Harold was one of the most affable, genial, congenial people, very funny, and could relax a whole set."
If you like the recollections about the making of classic movies on our site, please share them. #haroldandlillian
This weekend, TCM will mark the 50th anniversary of Mike Nichols' iconic drama, The Graduate, by screening an ultra-high-definition 4K restoration of the film in 700 theaters nationwide on April 23 and 26. The film is regarded as the quintessential 1960s story, with its defiance of societal mores and a young, middle class protagonist who just can't bring himself to fit into adulthood, preferring to drift in life for a while.
When Harold Michelson first read the book upon which the film is based, he wasn't impressed. "I got a call from Mike Nichols - 'Come on over to Paramount, we want to talk.' He had this book, this soft-cover book, and he said, 'I want you to read this. Funniest damn thing I ever read.' So I took it home and I read it. I didn't think it was funny. It was a soap opera, if there ever was one. I gave it to Lillian to read, and I said, 'Did you think it was funny?' She said no.” Nevertheless, he signed on to work on the film.
Illustration by Patrick Mate.
"Nichols did rehearsing on the stage. They all sat around a table and read the script. I was there, and we had a mock-up of the bedroom, with tape, and there was the bed there. As they were talking and going through the motions with Anne Bancroft, I would be walking around to see what would be good shots for this so I can draw it up. I'm trying to get as many different compositions as I can without making it a dull two-headed monster or a two-headed screen of just two people talking and cutting back and forth, which makes it absolutely deadly. I don’t care how good the dialog is."
"There was this scene, and I decided to have in the foreground the angle of her leg, which created a triangle, and put Dustin Hoffman in between. We saw him immediately, and you also got the feeling of a sexual escapade. It worked. They did it that way."
Another sequence that Harold pre-visualized was the scene known as April Come She Will after the Simon and Garfunkel song that plays over it. "When they were in the hotel room and they were finished with their lovemaking, I took a shot from the TV set to Dustin. And I had her walking back and forth. He is watching TV. You just see him. You see her, you don't see her head. It's from her neck down to knees. And she walks past in front of the screen, getting dressed. She goes from left to right and she puts on her underwear. As she goes by, she has more clothes on. Then from right to left she puts on something else. And finally the door slams. I just did it. I thought it was a hell of a shot, and I'm proud of it."
"As we went through the picture and as they were shooting,
Mike Nichols had this sense of timing and of comedy that's fantastic. I found
myself laughing like hell at the dailies. It was really funny. I mean, what he saw in it and what I
saw in it were two different things. And he made it - that's strictly a director's thing with the
Thanks for reading this #ClassicFilmFriday post. In one week, we open Harold and Lillian: A Hollywood Love Story at the newly refurbished Quad Cinema in Manhattan. Tickets are on sale here: https://goo.gl/NWifI6. This will be followed by runs at 3 Los Angeles Laemmle's Cinemas (Santa Monica, Pasadena and Encino) starting May 12; The State Theater in Modesto, CA May 12-18, The Grand Illusion Theater in Seattle, WA May 19-25; Indiana University Theater, Bloomington, IN May 25-27; Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, TX May 26-28; Gene Siskel Film Center, Chicago, IL May 26, 28 & 30; Cleveland Cinematheque, Cleveland, OH June 3-4; Wexner Center for the Arts, Columbus, OH June 8-9; and Desert Film Society, Palm Springs, CA July 22. We're still booking theaters so check back on our Screenings page: https://goo.gl/sqYlda or sign up for our newsletter to see when the film might be in your city. #haroldandlillianContinue reading
Norman Jewison's 1971 musical film Fiddler on the Roof was based on the 1964 Broadway musical of the same name and shows the life of Tevye, the father of five daughters, and his village's attempts to maintain Jewish religious and cultural traditions when 20th century ideas are starting to take hold on personal lives. The film won the 1972 Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture-Musical or Comedy.
Lillian Michelson did some unusual research to provide intimate details to the costume directors working on the film:
"When I was working on Fiddler on the Roof, I found that it was a fascinating, fascinating movie to work on. Bob Boyle was the production designer, and Harold was a sketch artist. Bob did a tremendous amount of wonderful research, going over to Europe and photographing the old synagogues and the old streets and the old shtetls."
"I went to the Jewish library and I picked up a book about it, an autobiography written by a man for his grandchildren. It described
living in shtetl at that time, turn of the century, and how he went to get eggs
for his mother, through the dark, dark forest. He was
so afraid of bears. He was only seven or eight years old. I read this book, and
I was entranced."
"I could give them the costumes. That was very easy because I had a lot about European costumes in that period and what the Russian peasants would wear. I don't know whether you remember, there was this song, Matchmaker, Matchmaker, and there's a line of laundry and the daughters of Tevye are hanging their underpants, their bloomers, on it. The costume designers said to me, 'We don't know how to make these underpants.' I said, 'Well, I don't have any pictures of that. Nobody took pictures of Jewish girls' underwear in 1890s or '90s. They said, 'Well, what are we going to put on there? It has to be right.' Of course, everything has to be right."
Illustration by Patrick Mate
"So, I decide to go down and sit on a bench at Fairfax and Beverly, which is a Jewish section of Los Angeles.I sit there, and little old ladies are sitting right by me. I start talking about this and that, getting pictures of this for a certain project—I didn't mention the movie—and does anybody remember what you wore in those days? Theywere of that age."
"They got so excited about helping me. The people were so wonderful, just
wonderful. One little old lady—and she couldn't run very fast—walked as
fast as she could to her apartment. She says, 'You stay here. I'm going to
my apartment and I'm going to cut you out a pattern because we had to sew all
our underwear.' She brings me back a pattern with little scallops on the
edges of the knee-length bloomers. I didn't do
anything. This lady did it all. But this is how things happen. It was just a
most marvelous experience, really. These ladies are responsible. I thank you,
wherever you are."
Thanks for reading today's #ClassicFilmFriday post. If you enjoyed it, please share. Harold and Lillian: A Hollywood Love Story opens on April 28 at the newly refurbished Quad Cinema in New York. Sign up to our email list to find out when the film is available in your area: http://haroldandlillian.com/ #haroldandlillian
In April 1989, production began on the principal photography of the film The Hunt for Red October, an adaptation of Tom Clancy's first book of the same name. But before production started, Lillian Michelson had lent her contacts and expertise to make sure that the audience for the film would believe that the story took place in American and Russian submarines during the Cold War. It wasn't an easy task since much of the technology and infrastructure was considered top secret at the time.
Lillian Michelson remembers:
"For The Hunt for Red October, I knew people from the Tass News Agency in New York, because they had
helped me on White Nights, but they weren't exactly ready to give
me up-to-date information on Russian atomic submarines."
"My friend’s babysitter's father was a U.S. Navy submarine captain, and for some unknown reason—I haven't figured this out yet, and I hope he doesn't see this— he was allowed to go in and out of Russia the way I go in and out of my office. I asked this kind captain the next time he went into Russia to get what he could on Russian Navy bases and Russian admirals’ offices, and since he was there under Russia's invitation, he had access to all of these places. It was easier for him to get the information than for me, so he helped greatly."
Production Designer Norman Newberry knows how valuable it is for a film's research to be exact and he laments that film research libraries are now largely gone.
"Everybody used to use the research library, and it's really an important place, especially to designers because it's the rock that they base their foundations on for their sets. Everybody was familiar with the research libraries that were in their studios, and everybody was familiar with Lillian Michelson because she had one of the better research libraries."
"She was like a bulldog holding on to your pants leg with her teeth. She would never give up on finding something. No one was better than Lillian at finding something that you weren't allowed to see. If you needed to see the inside of the CIA, Lillian got photographs of the inside of the CIA from an Army general who had a friend who was a doctor in Washington DC who knew a doctor here in Los Angeles that Lillian knew. She had this charm and this ability to get to the context that you needed to find the information. Not only that, she hung on until she got it. You were pretty well guaranteed at getting whatever you wanted if you went to Lillian and said, 'There's one thing I can't find. Do you think you could find it?' That was the big challenge for her. Of course, she can find it."
"Unfortunately, slowly but surely, all of the research departments started folding up and going away because they weren't economically sound. You couldn't make money with a research library. A large studio making a lot of movies could write the cost off on several movies. But they started changing the way they did movies, and each individual film was its own production, with its own need to show a profit and to keep track of its costs. No single film could support a research library, and so they started shutting down. Lillian kept hers alive by magic. She kept moving it around in different places where she didn't have to pay rent and getting volunteers to help her out and making it work, but the most important thing about her library was Lillian herself because she made it happen."
Thanks for reading today's #ClassicFilmFriday post. If you enjoyed it, please share. Harold and Lillian: A Hollywood Love Story opens on April 28 in New York's Quad Cinema. Sign up to our email list to find out when the film is available in your area: http://haroldandlillian.com/ #haroldandlillian
"Chinatown was a fascinating movie to make. It really was. I learned a lot about water, the power of water and the power of people who think that they own water."-Lillian Michelson
"People don’t understand the story, Chinatown—what does this mean? Well, it’s about water; it’s about these different things, but why is it titled 'Chinatown?' It has to do with Los Angeles. It has to do with the cultural differences that went on in Los Angeles at this time. Chinatown was a place where the people who lived there could not be understood. In other words, they kept to themselves. There’s a certain way of doing things in Chinatown and if you went there, you felt like an outsider within Los Angeles itself. It’s like another country. It’s like being in China."-Marc Wanamaker, renown historian, archivist, and lecturer in film history.
In 1973, acclaimed director Roman Polanski was asked to return to Hollywood by Paramount Pictures production chief Robert Evans, who had decided that Chinatown would be his first personally produced film, to direct an original and unusual screenplay by renowned script doctor, Robert Towne. Chinatown is considered to be a revival of the film noir genre and resembles the classic private eye novels of Raymond Chandler in which a hard-boiled ex-cop, turned private investigator (Jack Nicholson) meets a femme fatale (Faye Dunaway) to solve a multi-layered mystery. The film is set in 1930s Los Angeles and uses the water wars of Southern California in the early 20th century as its source of inspiration.
Lillian Michelson did research on the period to aid art director Richard Sylbert and costume designer Anthea Sylbert in their work on the film. Both of the Sylberts were nominated for Academy Awards for Chinatown.
Lillian Michelson remembers:
"I had to visit an old folks' home, a yacht club, a modest home in the south of L.A., besides the mansion, and the offices were very interesting to do. For the offices of the private eye—that was fascinating. There was a lot of research I did on that, books and clippings. I knew an old placement when I had to do a lot of research on police, and we became friends. There was a police library, and there were a couple of pictures that he let me look at. I couldn't do anything with them, just look at it, so I tried to memorize everything in the picture of what a private eye's office would look like and what the police department looked like in those days. They had a lot of crime pictures."
"I remember, I never got letters of complaint in my research, which is a good thing because if a researcher makes a mistake, she doesn’t stay a researcher very long. If you make many mistakes, you don’t get many movies to work on. But somebody wrote when I did Chinatown and they said, 'Don’t you remember that there weren’t any bifocals invented in 1930s?' I took a great deal of pleasure in writing back, 'Benjamin Franklin invented the bifocals in his time,' so there. It was a great feeling. When they honed in on the spectacles in the fountain in Chinatown, that was factually correct."
Marc Wanamaker comments on Lillian as a researcher:
"What makes Lillian Michelson a superb researcher—let’s use the example of Chinatown. She worked with Dick Sylbert, the art director on this, but it’s also not just Dick Sylbert. It relates to the whole production values of the film being in a certain place. Say, Dick Sylbert or his subordinates would come in. They need certain pictures, information about a certain set, a certain feel, a certain location, something like this, and Lillian would show them the practical things, pictures and this and that, but it’s not enough. You need to have a feel for it. You need to have a feel for the background of the period and the times and the characters. She would then give them further materials on what life was like in Los Angeles at that time."
"Lillian is one of the prime researchers because she has not only the materials to show people, but the know-how and the knowledge behind what she’s showing them. See, this is what makes a great researcher. Yes, you can have a library of clippings and photos, and then an art director, a writer, or somebody comes in who doesn’t know the subject, and you put pictures in front of them—but that’s not enough. Lillian would say to them, 'What are you looking for? What do you need to see or feel from all this?' And they would then, of course, look at these objects on the pieces of paper, and then Lillian would show them some more and they say, 'Well, I really would like this feel of the 1930s,' or whatever. Lillian would give them a little background on what the ‘30s were like at this particular location."
"The story of Chinatown is about the water, without water there is no Los Angeles, and the corruption around the water, and the municipality, the police, and all kinds of intrigues. Most people don’t know about the history of water of Los Angeles, and she would do her own research, on digging up the history of Mulholland, for example. Lillian would help them with the bigger picture, not just showing them an aqueduct or something, but get into the background of the corruption. It’s a complicated script and a lot of undertones relating to it. Lillian was one of the facilitators to the people trying to put a production together to make it believable. She is one of these people that helped make a film believable."
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When shooting began on Alfred Hitchcock's 1963 film, The Birds, a horror/thriller loosely based on the story by Daphne du Mauriere and influenced by an incident that happened in 1961 in the town of Capitola, California, there was much anticipation about this follow up to Psycho. The film celebrates its 54th anniversary next week and was well received by critics upon its release.
"His relationship with Hitchcock was very, very special because Hitchcock deliberately asked for him to come up to where the crew was on location. It was his big break, the first time that a director ever asked to work with him directly."-Lillian Michelson
Harold Michelson remembers:
"I got to meet Hitchcock and I learned a hell of a lot. I learned a tremendous amount from this man who, to me, is cinema. I worked on The Birds at Universal and then Marnie."
“What I learned through Bob [Boyle, art director and production designer], from Hitch, was the objective-subjective way of shooting a picture. Hitchcock's been noted for suspense, but this is one of his weapons that helped create this suspense in his films. For example in The Birds, when Melanie was sitting on a bench and the jungle gym was behind her and the birds started forming, the angle was from the point of view of the birds and then back to her but closer, the point of view of the birds and closer until...smack! We had the shock of the terror that was behind her. I learned this, and I tried to use it in other times that I did a storyboard. I started looking at other pictures that he did and saw how he would do a lot of his picture without dialogue, cutting from image to image, and building up in the audience a tremendous amount of suspense.”
"When I was given the script to The Birds, and I had read it, I couldn't quite make up my mind whether it was good or not, but I felt that the script itself, the words themselves, had to be enhanced by a lot of images. I did little compositions and many of my sketches were accepted by Hitchcock and actually were shot that way. There was one time I did a series and I brought them to Hitch. He looked at it, and he said, ‘This is really very good, but I can't use it here.’ And I said, ‘Why?’ I was boiling inside because it really was terrific. He said that this is not the right place to put these sketches, and to me it was a rejection, until I woke up to the fact that he was absolutely right. It was in the wrong place because it would have been anticlimactic, and Hitchcock's pictures aren't anticlimactic. A picture is like a symphony, is like music. It builds up. It goes down. If you’re the composer, you have complete control over the music and the emotions that it gives forth. In this case, he was absolutely right.”
"When I read about the scene when the attendant was hit by a bird......and gasoline started to flow down the street. I just drew it that way. Cut back to Melanie who sees the stream coming down, and a whip pan to where it was coming from. As she turns back to the car park to see where it's going to, there's a man standing by this car, ready to light his cigar. It was very obvious to me that these were the scenes; there was no talking. And it worked."
“Hitchcock would put them [storyboard scenes] up in slides and he would show them on a screen and the editor, George Tomasini, and Hitch and myself were in this room, and he would see these individual shots of terror, like quick cuts of absolute terror, with blood running down and her screaming and everything. He would say to the editor, ‘Twelve frames,’ and the editor would take it down a foot of film or whatever, and he actually sat there in the screening room and edited this whole sequence. It was quite amazing to watch this because timing is another area that I know nothing about. I do make a good composition, but as far as how long to keep it on the screen is way beyond me.”
Bill Krohn, Hollywood correspondent for Cahiers du Cinéma:
"A lot of the indications for how an action scene would be done would appear in the storyboards, not in the script. The Hitchcock script was a pretty simple thing, and because it was him, he didn't have to have every shot described and so on. It was just important for Hitchcock to have a group of totally copacetic people that he could talk to, spitball with, play jokes on, infuriate. But they loved him. They understood his eccentricities, and they were just totally the ideal team for him to have had. The ones they did together were Marnie and The Birds, and there are no two more beautiful films than that, and these are the guys that did it."
Harold and Lillian: A Hollywood Love Story opens on April 28, 2017 at the Quad Cinema in New York City and on May 12, 2017 at the Laemmle's in Los Angeles with more cities planned. Sign up for our email newsletter to learn when the film is available in your area.Continue reading
"I was in Alabama working on a picture when I got this call. Everybody looked at me as though I was an important person, because I mean, Star Trek: The Motion Picture was really big. I wasn't a Trekkie. I hadn't seen hardly any of the series."-Harold Michelson
"Robert Wise wanted him very badly. I was a Trekkie. I love science fiction. Harold said, 'I don’t like science fiction, all this make-believe up in space. It's all real fake stuff.' I did want him to work on this picture because I thought it would be really fantastic. He could use his inventive mind to build a universe out there."-Lillian Michelson
Paramount Pictures released Star Trek: The Motion Picture in 1979, but it was a long process from the end of the first series, which ran from 1966-69, to the first feature film. A feature film script had been in the works starting in 1975, but with the release and massive success of Star Wars in 1977, Paramount believed that another space-themed movie would not be successful. They turned their attention to making another TV series, Star Trek: Phase II instead. With the subsequent success of Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Paramount again changed course and scrapped the work done to create the TV series and went full steam into reworking scripts into a feature film.
Harold Michelson shares his memories of working on the film:
"When I came back to LA, they told me that this was once going to be a TV series. They had already done some work on it, so when I got there, the first thing I had to do was look around the scene and see what I could use because we evidently had enough money to start from scratch, but I wasn't used to that."
"I designed a clear plastic or Plexiglas engine. It wasn't based on any scientific fact. I designed the engine, and they put this lighting in it. It had a long tube going back towards the tail of the ship. I went ahead and made it in forced perspective, which means smaller and smaller and smaller."
"There was a ramp on the side, where we had a five-foot man and four foot, and a young boy. They had to make special costumes for them. They were working on the engine and this was all forced so it looked much bigger than it was.
A constant problem for the production designer and art department was script revisions. "A lot of things that were going to happen were written and then un-written, until finally I was supposed to design the final ship, where a Voyager of V'Ger sitting in the middle of it, and I was at a loss. Nobody would tell me what the picture's all about, so it was kind of difficult. I knew whatever this thing was, it had to be the grandest-looking in scale that you could have. After a while, you’re kind of numb to what you want to do. What you want to do is get it out. They were working 24 hours a day.They had a Christmas release date."-Harold Michelson
Paramount released the film on December 7, 1979, and it was met with mixed reviews from critics. The film's original production budget was $15 million, but had ballooned to over $40 million before completion. Though it fell short of the studio's revenue expectations, it was the fifth-highest-grossing film of 1979. Harold Michelson's work earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Art Direction, though he didn't win. "It's funny, when somebody would say, 'What have you done?' and I'd say, 'I've done the Star Trek movie,' all of a sudden you're elevated. Those are the things that get you jobs. I worked on an awful lot of bombs that I wouldn't even mention, and I did some of my best work on them so, it's political."
This week, La-La Land Records released a vinyl edition of the 2012 re recordings of the expanded Star Trek: The Motion Picture score. Find the recordings here: http://www.lalalandrecords.com/Site/STM.html
Learn more about Harold and Lillian Michelson's work by seeing the documentary Harold and Lillian: A Hollywood Love Story when it hits theaters starting April 28, 2017 at the Quad Cinema in New York City. Sign up for our email newsletter to find out when the film may be in your city: http://haroldandlillian.com/
In 1979, novice director William Richert assembled an all star cast to bring to life a political black comedy, based on the book by Richard Condon [The Manchurian Candidate], that fictionalized the conspiracy theories that surrounded the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. With cinematography by Vilmos Zsigmond and production design by Robert Boyle, Winter Kills received positive reviews upon its release, but did not initially find financial success. The production was plagued by financial trouble and had to be shut down three times for going over budget. However, many who worked on the film found it to be some of the best creative work they ever did.
Harold Michelson created the storyboards and designs for miniatures to be used by the production on some of its most challenging scenes.
Norm Newberry was the Art Director on the film and he remembers Harold's contributions. "Put Harold's work out in front and we all followed it to the tee. It was like the second document for the movie that we all planned on and all used to put the shots together. The first document was the script. The second document was Harold's storyboards."
"He [Harold] was working as one of the illustrators on the film [ Winter Kills], and Bob Boyle was the production designer. In the story, there is a man named Cerruti [Anthony Perkins], who collects all the information in the world there is on everybody, so the richest man in the world, his boss [John Huston], can have whatever he needs to know about everybody in the world. One of the concepts that Harold came up with is the idea that all this [data] storage was put into a silo that is mechanically retrieved by mechanical arms and things like that. This was way before the cloud and any other kind of digital memory thing existed."
"The way Harold saw that this
set could be built and the scene could be done, was this top part was
actually a miniature that would be hanging close to the camera. The
camera was to be up in the rafters of the soundstage, looking straight down. And then there was the pathway that they walked that was a ramp and a bridge that went
across the middle. That was actual full-sized, and it was on a platform about
ten feet above the stage floor. The actors could walk on that and look up into the
miniature, and it'll look like they were looking up the silo. The lower part of
the silo, Harold conceived, would be a painting. It's a backing
painted on canvas. The perspective has to be exactly right. It all lined up so that it looked like it was a tremendous
long tube with the actors down here performing. We put it all together, and it
ends up looking like this in the movie, which is just like the painting, which
is part of the magic of Harold, that he can conceive this and tell us exactly
what to do to get exactly this shot."
Below is an image of how the miniature worked on set and a video of clip of the scene from the film where you can see how Harold's idea worked.
Thanks for reading today's #ClassicFilmFriday post. Harold and Lillian: A Hollywood Love Story opens on April 28 in New York's Quad Cinema. #haroldandlillianContinue reading
We're going to start something new today and we hope you will like it. Every Friday, we'll be looking at a film that Harold and/or Lillian worked on and providing their recollections of how the project came together. Join us every #ClassicFilmFriday for their perspectives on the making of an iconic American film. Today, we share Harold's remembrances of The Ten Commandments.
The Ten Commandments is a 1956 biblical epic film produced and directed by Cecil B. DeMille with cinematography by Loyal Griggs, A.S.C. and starring Charlton Heston in the role of Moses.
As Harold remembers:
"Studios used to trade people like baseball teams do.
One day they got a call, they wanted somebody to work on "he Ten Commandments. So they sent me over there. I was interviewed at Paramount, and I got the job. I have hundreds of storyboards of the film and sketches that I worked on. That was a big break for me.
I know we did almost every setup and scene in The Ten Commandments, Bill Major and I. Hundreds and hundreds, maybe thousands of drawings, and they were all used."
Storyboards are mostly unseen records of how scenes in the film will be created. While sketch artists frequently worked behind the scenes to help directors or cinematographers map out angles and shot set-ups, they were often the secret weapon that above the line talent did not acknowledge.
"William Dieterle called Ken Reed, who was sketching at that time, to meet in the men's room to talk about a certain sequence. That's how strict it was. He didn't want anybody to know that he was using storyboard, and we weren't allowed to contact these people. There was a terrific caste system then.
I never had contact with DeMille. And I don't know who his cameraman was, but I never had a contact with him. But I know when I see the movie, I'd see my sketches."
From there, because now I've been doing something Biblical, I got a call from MGM to work on Ben Hur, I was good with people with sheets. From there, I went up to Spartacus.
From the film Harold and Lillian: A Hollywood Love Story, opening theatrically on April 28,2017 at the Quad Cinema New York City and May 12, 2017 at the Laemmle's in Los Angeles.
See the trailer here: http://haroldandlillian.comContinue reading
Storyboard Artist Harold Michelson talks about pre-visualizing THE GRADUATE:
"I'm trying to get as many different compositions as I can without making it a dull two-headed monster or a two-headed screen of just two people talking and cutting back and forth, which makes it absolutely deadly. I don’t care how good the dialog is.”