Harold and Lillian: A Hollywood Love Story

  • Shrek's King Harold and Queen Lillian

    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:

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  • Celebrating Fifty Years of The Graduate

    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 dialogue."

    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. #haroldandlillian

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  • Adding Believability to The Hunt For Red October

    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

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  • Creating A Digital World in 1979 for "Winter Kills"

    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. #haroldandlillian

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