Q & A with Writer-Director Henry Jaglom

“Irene in Time’s” Writer-Director Henry Jaglom

“Irene in Time’s” Writer-Director Henry Jaglom.

As part of ZAMM.com’s continuing conversations with independent filmmakers Martin Grove talks to writer-director Henry Jaglom (“Hollywood Dreams”, “Déjà Vu”, “Eating”) about “Irene in Time”, which opened June 19 in Los Angeles via Rainbow Releasing and expands nationally in July and August.

Written and directed by Jaglom, “Irene” stars Tanna Frederick (“Hollywood Dreams”) and was produced by Rosemary Marks. Also starring are Lanre Idewu, Andrea Marcovicci, Victoria Tennant, Jack Maxwell, David Proval, Kelly De Sarla, Karen Black and Sabrina Jaglom.

In “Irene” Jaglom explores the complex relationship between fathers and daughters and the potential consequences years later on these grown women’s relationships with the men in their lives.

After enjoying an early look at “Irene”, I was happy to have an opportunity recently to ask Jaglom about the making of the film.

Q: In the Golden Age of Hollywood the studios developed stars and benefited because those stars were there for many years of contract work. You’ve done essentially the same thing now with Tanna Frederick.
A: I’ve said that I’m in my David O. Selznick phase. When I discovered this particular talent I thought, okay, I’ve been directing films for quite a while. I’ve never wanted to do this before, but she has something magical — but it’s so unique it needs a real push. It needs to be supported and given the kinds of parts to play that I know she can do. She has a huge range. And I know she’s not going to get in the regular studio system because she doesn’t look like the regular girl next door and the conventional people that they sign for a TV series or something. But she’s got this magic. She can cry and laugh at the same moment and both are true.

She brings such emotional reality and such big talent that she can get lost in this town where people are looking for people who fit into fairly conventional molds. It’s given me tremendous pleasure to be building a career. That’s something I never tried to do before and I’m unabashedly admitting that that’s what I want to do with her. We’ve done three plays together. We’ve done three movies. The third one is coming out the end of this year or the beginning of next year.
Q: What film is that?
A: It’s kind of a sequel to “Hollywood Dreams”. It’s called Queen of the Lot”. It’s with her and Noah Wylie (“E.R.”), who make great magic together on the screen.
Q: Do you have Tanna under contract?
A: I have her under contract. Of course.
Q: That’s the old studio system that worked so well for so many years.
A: I’ve read all the old books. I’m steeped in our history and I thought I’m not going to let this girl go. She’s just too magical and I want to put my energy and my sense of things on this career. It’s incredibly fruitful for me and valuable.
Q: How many years has she been under contract to you?
A: We renewed the three year contract for another three years. We’re in our fourth year. In those four years she’s done three plays, two movies that have come out and the third that we’ve also shot. One of the plays was shot and will be released on cable. I’m just trying to find roles that excite what I think is her talent. She can be very, very big, which can scare people because she’s willing to commit to some very big moments. She has that capacity. She knocks me out. I feel the Selznick thing. I feel what he must have felt with Jennifer Jones or Ingrid Bergman. I’d never been interested in that before.
Q: In creating a project is it helpful to know at the starting point who’s going to play the lead role?
A: Exactly. It actually determines now what I want to do. I want to build a project around that person’s gift. And then I have other stories I’ve been wanting to tell. For instance, with this film. I’ve been fascinated all my life by the relationships that the women I’ve known have had with their fathers and how those relationships affect them for the rest of their lives — sometimes very positively and sometimes very negatively — in terms of the men that they choose to be with. Women have said things to me like, “I married my father” or, “God, I wouldn’t marry that guy because he reminds me of my father.” It’s such a big part of life. Again, I’m always interested in exploring different aspects of women’s lives that I just don’t feel have been given the attention (they deserve) on the mainstream.
Q: Hollywood has done many father-son movies, but not much in the way of father-daughter movies.
A: It’s still a boys’ thing. It’s still to some degree made by men who are thinking about the things that are interesting to them. I had a very strong, very powerful and very loving father and he’s still around in my brain 15 years after his death. I’m still affected totally by things and I understand when women tell me about that. But the other connection as a woman that they have with those fathers is growing up with the fantasy of the man they’re going to find in life being somehow reflected either negatively or positively (in their father). Their father is their male image.
Q: How did the idea for “Irene” come about?
A: Since my childhood the films that have affected me the most at some visceral level and that I find myself still wanting to watch are those movies where there is some magical element of love beating time. Movies like (the 1948 romantic fantasy drama) “Portrait of Jennie”, speaking of Selznick (the legendary independent producer of such classics as “Gone With the Wind”, “Rebecca” and “The Third Man”) and Jennifer Jones (who starred opposite Joseph Cotton). It’s a movie in which two people meet at very different ages and he waits for her to grow up. They meet across time. It’s about the impossibility of a certain kind of love and the limitations being defeated. (The 1943 romantic fantasy drama) “A Guy Named Joe”, with Spencer Tracy and Irene Dunne, is another one. And there’s a great one called “Stairway to Heaven” (the 1946 romantic fantasy drama starring David Niven). I just love these movies.

I’ve always been very affected emotionally by movies where love is so strong. Usually it’s just male-female love, but they’re born into the wrong eras or they can’t possibly meet till something happens and they’re able to cross time. The romance of love beating time had a huge influence on me. In all those movies it was about a man and a woman. I decided to do this — because I wanted to do a story about fathers and daughters — about a father and daughter. A father who died early in the daughter’s life and a daughter who is not able to ever find somebody who fulfills the kind of love she felt from her father and has to do something in her mind to transcend time when the men in her life screw up.


So the ending is fairly open that way. Last night (at the premiere) there were people who thought she walked into the water like James Mason at the end of “A Star Is Born” and committed suicide. Others accept a little more poetic version of her reentering her time with her father and somehow emerging in this neutral non-time zone where she can be with him again. But for me it’s really about two things. One, the father-daughter pull and how incredibly strong that is and how that affects women all their lives. And then the dream of being able to beat time with somebody you love missing. Like I’d love to visit my parents.

“Irene in Time” star Tanna Frederick with Henry Jaglom.

“Irene in Time” star Tanna Frederick with Henry Jaglom.

Q: Tell me a little about how you work when you’re developing a film.
A: I write it first very thoroughly. This particular (film) was 127 very worked out pages. But I’m writing now with Tanna in mind and her special qualities that I find both in terms of comedy and (that) she just can give you whatever you want. I’ve got this whole great stable of people who have been working with me for a long time. I try to create a story that will resonate the issue that I’m looking at. I know it sounds a little pretentious, but the honest reason I make these films is in the hope of making people feel somehow less alone, less isolated, less like they’re the only ones going through whatever their particular thing is and not recognizing this is something that other people share and (they’re) not the only one in this particular kind of pain. Especially women, who I feel have a harder time (with this).

So when I wanted to examine this theme I got together the group of women (we see talking about their fathers in “Irene”). Now when they sat around a table and talked about their individual fathers I did not say to them, “You make up a story about this.” I said to them, “I want real answers about your own relationships.” Two of them came up with very happy love feelings for their fathers and four of them were very damaged by fathers who had been gone or unavailable or distant. They all acknowledged that it had affected them in their relationships. Those were the kind of echoes that I kept using throughout the film.
Q: When you’re starting to write a film do you give any thought to how you’re going to finance it?
A: The financing has worked out for years from a very simple formula. I went to Cannes (in 1973), the year that Francis Coppola was there (selling the rights to) “The Conversation” (which won the 1974 Golden Palm and Ecumenical Jury special prize). I was watching Francis Coppola. He was going around and pre-selling films. He was selling a film that didn’t exist yet. I was there with “A Safe Place” my first film. It was my first visit to Cannes. I had made this film that was a very difficult poetic film that Columbia didn’t know what to do with and they said, “Look, if you want to go to Cannes, go to Cannes.”

“A Safe Place” had gotten some very good responses in Europe and had been a disaster over here. (The film opened in the U.S. in 1971, but wasn’t released in France until 1974.) There was a long lag and nobody was picking it up. I took a 16mm print of the film and showed it at Cannes (a few) years after the film had failed in America. I met Francis, who I knew a little bit, and he was there selling “The Conversation”. What he was doing was getting a million dollars from this country and a half-million dollars from that country.

I said to Zack Norman (the actor who’s appeared ever since in Jaglom’s movies), who had raised the money for my first three films, “Why can’t we just do this on a smaller level? If Francis is getting $300,000 from Germany, maybe we can get $60,000 from Germany and so on.” And I put together a million dollars for my next film, which was “Tracks” (his 1976 drama starring Dennis Hopper). My films started getting awards and doing well at art cinemas in Europe even (though) at the time I couldn’t get anybody to come in America — until “Sitting Ducks” (his 1980 crime comedy starring Michael Emil and Zack Norman), which was for me a bit of a breakthrough because it did nicely. But my films started developing a reputation in Europe and these different distributors started paying me money in advance.

I remember one contract was called “Jaglom’s Number 6, 7 & 8.” (The films had to be) not less than 85 minutes and not more than 130 minutes, in color and “signed by you,” meaning a Jaglom film. That was very nice because I was having a hell of a hard time getting audiences here. I was getting great reviews, but nonetheless they had bigger art house audiences over there and they’re much more willing to see experimental unusual films. And that’s basically the pattern I’ve been following ever since. So when I want to do a film like this, I just put together the (money). The budget of this film is just a little bit over $2 million.
Q: So you have the pattern worked out to finance movies that are made on budgets that are affordable to do this way. This sounds like the same sort of thing that Woody Allen’s done over the years.
A: I think it’s something similar, but his films cost quite a bit more.
“Irene in Time” opened June 19 in Los Angeles via Rainbow Releasing and expands nationally in July and August.

“Irene in Time” opened June 19 in Los Angeles via Rainbow Releasing and expands nationally in July and August.

Q: Yes. Woody’s budgets have escalated in recent years.
A: My haven’t. The last one was $2.5 million. My father was a very serious business man and didn’t understand why I was doing all of this. The one thing he understood was that I made a film called “Always” (the 1985 romantic drama starring Jaglom and Patrice Townsend) about the end of my marriage for $350,000 and sold it to the Samuel Goldwyn Company for a check for a million dollars. “That’s a business that I understand. Why you make these crazy films, I don’t know, but at least this is a good business” (is how his father put it).

It turned out that in Europe I could get money in advance that would cover the complete expenses of any film I wanted to make — because I do like to make films that don’t cost a lot of money — and at the same time give me the freedom to own the negative for the United States and the English speaking world. So I own all those films. I have my own library now of all those films. So, in turn, I get to sell those. That keeps financing our organization — plus we distribute (films).

We distribute the Monty Python films in America. I formed Rainbow Film Company, in order to distribute my movies and stay in control this way and get the money from Europe. We started acquiring other films. Max Schell made a wonderful film, “My Sister Maria”, a beautiful documentary which I distributed (in 2002). Bobby De Niro came to me when he had a film called “Mistress” (his 1992 comedy drama starring Robert Wuhl and Martin Landau and De Niro) that he was particularly fond of and didn’t want to give to the regular distribution network. We distributed that. We distributed “Hearts and Minds”, the Vietnam War documentary (directed by Peter Davis), which got the Academy Award for 1975 as best documentary.
Q: It’s a perfect system you’ve constructed for yourself.
A: There’s a fairly reliable stream (of financing) that is always enough to support the kind of budgets that I insist on staying within because that gives me the freedom to creatively control the film and do it the way I want. The way I want isn’t the way studios would like it. This keeps me in business because I don’t have to go to anybody. As Orson (Jaglom’s close friend and mentor Orson Welles) said, “The best thing about this is you have nobody looking over your shoulder.” That is a rarity. He tried to do it (in 1974) with “F for Fake”, that wonderful documentary film (about fraud and fakery) he made. It’s just a brilliant piece of work. He thought he’d found a way to beat the system and then nobody went to see it. It’s a beautiful film about the fact that basically we’re all frauds — artists, filmmakers.

I think it was because I watched Orson and I saw the way they made it impossible for him to make films in this town (that) I decided I’m never going to be dependent. One of Orson’s most important lines to me one day at lunch was, “Never depend upon Hollywood to be your source of financing. You do a couple of films that they’re not going to like and you’re going to be in trouble for the rest of your career.” And that was simultaneous with my going (to Cannes) and seeing Francis do that (pre-selling) with “The Conversation” and discovering that we could do that in a smaller way with our films. And we’ve been cooking ever since. I’m on my 16th or 17th film as a writer-director (actually IMDb lists 18 films directed by Jaglom from 1971’s “A Safe Place” to the upcoming “Queen of the Lot”).
Q: So it’s working and “Irene” is the latest example.
A: It works beautifully. I’m just knocked out by the talent (Tanna exhibits in the film). All of this doesn’t exist without the actor. I just feel that I make films that are actors’ films, that center around the capacity of actors.
Q: What happens now that Tanna’s getting more recognition as an actress and filmmakers are becoming more aware of her? Does she reach a point where she wants to be in a $90 million movie?
A: She wants to be in all of it. She’s got all those Hollywood dreams.
Q: Can you do what the studios used to do and loan her out?
A: That’s exactly what I would do. I expect to be making money off of Tanna.
Q: So this is a business!
A: My contract with her is exactly that. I won’t be quite as bad as those guys were (in Hollywood’s Golden Age) and loan her out for $400,000 and only pay her $4,000. But, yeah, she should work for many directors and do all kinds of work because she’s got that terrific range of talent. I’m hoping I’m building a star that they’re going to come along and offer good stuff. I’m all for it. I love building that career. It must be from reading books about old Hollywood. I’m in love with the whole history of Hollywood. That’s all I like to read about.
Q: So the studio system is still alive through you.
A: In a mini-way. Selznick’s book of notes (is a favorite book). His son, Danny Selznick, was at my screening last night. He was saying something very nice about the film afterwards and about Tanna, specifically, and I said, “You know, if it wasn’t for your father it wouldn’t be occurring to me (to be doing) what I’m doing here.”