Doing shots with Harold and Maude’s producer

Harold and Maude. Courtesy of the Virginia Film Festival Harold and Maude. Courtesy of the Virginia Film Festival

Harold and Maude producer Chuck Mulvehill and director Hal Ashby met during post-production work on The Landlord (1970), and eventually became partners in the company DF Films (Dumb Fuck). Mulvehill says when the story of Harold and Maude came his way, “My first reaction to the script was ‘It’s weird.’ Hal’s take was that there was humor and humanity and that’s what we went for.”

Mulvehill is joined at the film festival by Ashby biographer Nick Dawson for a discussion of Harold and Maude in a shot-by-shot breakdown of the filmmaking. Here’s a peek at what to expect, according to Mulvehill:

1. Shot: High POV of Harold and Maude sitting among a multitude of white tombstones in the National Cemetery.

Comment: As filmmakers, this shot signified to us the sadness and futility of war (one of the film’s themes). Sadly, if filmed today, 46 years later, it would have to be a higher, wider shot.

2. Shot: Morning-after scene with Harold blowing bubbles and Maude asleep (with a contented look on her face?).

Comment: Oddly, while this was pitched as a love story, the studio never thought it was a love story. They were not down with the idea that the relationship might actually be consummated.

3. Shot: At the burial site at the cemetery. The last shot of Maude exiting with her bright raincoat and yellow umbrella in contrast to the somber funeral garb of the other mourners.

Comment: It was by design to wardrobe Maude in bright colors in contrast to the drabness around her. Maude’s yellow umbrella stands out as a splash of color in comparison to the somber tones and dress of the other mourners. There is a continuing theme of color contrasts that permeate the film emphasizing Maude’s zest for life and disregard for convention.

4. Shot: Harold hanging.

Comment: This (contrasting) color palette theme was used for Harold’s makeup as well. When we first meet Harold his makeup is very pale and as the film and the relationship with Maude progresses his color (makeup) becomes more normal in tone. These choices created quite a bit of consternation with the studio who when watching dailies panicked as they were sure we didn’t know what we were doing. It was at this time that Hal stopped taking their phone calls, which only added to their angst.

5. Shot: Freeze frame of the Jaguar/hearse as it goes over the cliff.

Comment: This was the worst cut of the film. It was a compromise as the high-speed camera, that would have given us a slow motion shot, broke down midway through the shot and we didn’t have the money to recreate the moment. This was filmed on the last day of shooting and we were over schedule. The compromise is the cheesy freeze-frame that was ultimately used.