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Posted 19.02.16

Jan Harlan on Kubrick, Spielberg and composing in student talk

By Maxine Aylett

Jan Harlan gives an inspiring guest lecture to students from across the college.

Longtime producer to Stanley Kubrick, Jan Harlan recently returned to talk to our students about the relationship between film and music, and how the two inform and inspire each other.

From his work on A Clockwork Orange (1971) and The Shining (1980), to collaborating with Spielberg on A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001) Harlan, who helped shape some of the most influential cinema in recent years, imparted more of his industry expertise.

"Love your material, love all the elements with a passion." — Jan Harlan

His opening question, "What’s the price of art?" was pitched to a packed theatre full of students from across the college. Jan’s answer? "The price of art is to fall in love with it; no more, no less."

Exploring the links between script writing and musical composition, he went on to assure students that "Most people are musical". 

Showcasing some of the finest scores from classic cinema, Jan picked apart arrangements from The English Patient (1996) and Titanic (1997) to focus on each musical nuance, and how these small details combine to make a lasting impact on the audience.

"The price of art is to fall in love with it; no more, no less." — Jan Harlan

Likening Titanic’s popularity to that of Harry Potter, he zeroed in on the need to understand commercial successes: "It doesn’t matter whether you love it or not – you need to know why 400 million people love it."

"It’s incredibly easy to make a film, as you know, but it’s difficult to make a good film that people want to see. A great film is almost a miracle like any great work of art, be it a painting, novel, symphony or a film."

During a quick break, we caught up with Jan to hear his thoughts on how graduates can make themselves stand out in an industry as competitive as film:   

"A great film is almost a miracle, like any great work of art." — Jan Harlan

"In this visual age you need to have a portfolio. It’s good to have something to show, a good short film is ideal. It’s not enough to just say ‘I’m actually great’, you have to prove it – you need a calling card."

"It’s essential that you’re self critical – if you’re satisfied with yourself too soon, you just won’t make it."

Jan during his first visit, where he spoke to students about the importance of writing and producing good ideas.

After the talk students filed out of the theatre inspired and invigorated by Jan’s resounding piece of advice, crucial for any practising artist:

"Love your material, love all the elements with a passion. If you don’t love it, don’t touch it – you’re likely to ruin it."

Didn’t catch Jan’s talk? BA (Hons) Film Programme Leader Lucy Leake is planning to arrange another visit with Harlan, so keep your eyes peeled for further updates.