Jan Chapman is one of Australia’s best known and successful Film Producers. Her distinguished body of work includes The Piano, Holy Smoke, Bright Star (all with Jane Campion), Love Serenade, Lantana and the upcoming The Daughter.
Below is a conversation between Stephen Rae (Lee Mathews GM and film industry veteran) and Jan, discussing her vast and inspiring career.
SR: When you look at your career, would you say that there was anything particularly thematic that links most of the things that you’ve done?
JC: Well, I don’t really think of things like that myself…but, recently I saw a promotional clip that had been put together of all the films I had worked on, and what I noticed was that there was a preponderance of very strong, outlandish women as protagonists…quite daring women.
You look at Ada from The Piano who had a really stubborn will, and Kate Winslet in Holy Smoke…even Bright Star, the story about Keats, was told from Fanny’s point of view.
And this film that I’ve just finished has an ensemble cast, but it is called The Daughter.
And we’ve just found a fantastic young actress called Odessa Young who, again, has a very particular strong quality. So I’m interested in stories that illuminate the way human beings are and that can be anything.
SR: I would have said if I was doing a high school analysis, and I know its kind of irrelevant because we don’t necessarily premeditate these things, that so many of your films outline a particular struggle between men and women. Lantana, a myriad of stories, Holy Smoke, the struggle between Harvey Keitel and Kate in the outback, The Daughter…the whole premise is…
JC: Yes, how do you know about The Daughter…what have you seen of it?
SR: I haven’t seen anything…I know its based on Ibsen’s The Wild Duck.
JC: And it is about men and women. There’s a lot of beautiful things between men and women and there’s some struggles, some secrets….and there’s a young girl who gets affected by it…
SR: I’ve seen the Belvoir Theatre production, and come to think of it, quite a few of your productions have come from the theatre.
JC: Yes, I do like the theatre. Well Lantana did, and The Daughter. I also worked with Neil Armfield on Naked.
SR: And there’s poetry of course with Keats
JC: When I was at university, poetry was my big passion. I loved books and poetry and plays. I think that’s how I got into the whole business of film making and film producing.
SR: I’m interested in your business…with your workflow. If you compare it to the fashion business where the cycle is seasons and the whole process of inspiration to production to selling happens in a cycle of six months, max, it seems to me that in your business you need to have incredible patience over a long arc of time. How do you manage something like that? What holds that all together?
JC: Well it is very unpredictable. You don’t know how long its going to take. The Piano took 8 years from when Jane and I first started talking about it but we worked on other things as well. I think what holds it all together is a really passionate interest in that story…you have to be very careful what you commit to because if you commit to something then you’re going to have to try and get it made and that’s hard. You have to be really clear that something about the story and the people who you are working with is something you really want to be around for a long time. Its very much about relationships. The writer, the director, with everyone - the composer, the DOP, but particularly the writer and director. On The Daughter I loved working with Simon Stone and also another producer, Nicole O'Donohue and being able to share the load with someone I really trusted and liked.
SR: You’ve worked a lot with Jane Campion. So, the filmmaking process must also be about the friendship?
JC: Absolutely! It’s fantastic to work, especially with her together for so long, and to know each other very, very well. You also get to know someone much, much better when you’re working with them. Because you’re not just trying to talk about your life, you’re talking about a third thing…a piece of work…and we end up talking about a whole lot of stuff; sharing experiences. It’s very satisfying actually. I like to work with people who are open. You end up talking about your marriages, your children, your life (laughter), the nature of life and death. It’s a very deep and meaningful exploration via whatever you are doing, writing or trying to cast someone or working on the costumes, all of that.
SR: Ahhh…the costumes!
JC: Well, I do love clothes! I really enjoy clothes. I do have a feeling for them, I’ve got clothes I’ve had for years and years and years that I just have an (laughter) emotional relationship with. Colour. I really love colour. Its been a kind of a hobby, a kind of an artistic pursuit I suppose! I loved working with Janet Patterson who was the costume designer on Piano and Bright Star and Holy Smoke and a couple of others. Someone who has an intense relationship with fabrics, you know, I’d go down to the workroom on films where she was working and look at the colours and what she was thinking of putting together and get very excited!
SR: When you think of her work and the amount of films that you’ve used her in, she’s integral to the actual look and feel of the film…
JC: Absolutely, you can actually feel the characters through her fabric and she’s very interested in character. She’s very bright and very much designs clothes with a sense of who that character is. So, that’s been a great pleasure in my life, the fact that I’ve known her really for thirty years and been around that and been able to play and explore and watch her do it.
SR: Talking clothes then, how would you put an adjective to the way you dress? Classic? Simple? I notice you’re wearing a classic Hermes watch…
JC: I just like the colour! (laughter)
SR: Yeah! I looked for that as a present for Lee and they’d run out!! The double band…
JC: Yes, I do like the double band but I REALLY like the colour…colour is a big deal!
SR: But it is a classic watch…
JC: Yeah…Bit of classic. Clear shapes…fabrics, I love fabric. I love a lot of Lee’s fabrics like, for years I can remember things I’ve got of hers like; cotton, or net, or pin tucks but really, fabrics that you can really feel, that you enjoy wearing because they feel so great.
She’s like the perfect designer for creative people I think because they can enjoy wearing them and they are easy and comfortable. And Fun.
SR: Like this interview. Easy. Comfortable. And fun. Thanks Jan.
JC: Thank you!