We recently spoke with the director of The Haunting of Sharon Tate, Daniel Farrands, about his new film coming out this Friday. The story addresses the final days of Sharon Tate and the others that became victim of the Manson family murders on August 9, 1969. Here’s what he had to say.
Andrew Hawkins: Give us a quick explanation of the film and talk to us a little bit about it, but also what your intent for making this film was.
Daniel Farrands: Sure. Well, the film is called The Haunting of Sharon Tate as you know. It explores, more or less from Sharon Tate’s point of view, her last few days leading up to the tragic murders of August 9th, 1969. It’s also about her relationships with her friends Jay Sebring, Abigail Folger, Wojciech Frykowski and a young man named Steven Parent; all whom sadly lost their lives in that unbelievable massacre that occurred in the house at the hands of the Manson clan.
It’s a crime that’s lived in infamy for fifty years and shows no signs of going away. I think it’s the crime that certainly ended the free-loving 1960s as they were at the time. It was a benchmark because I think it changed the way people related to each other and I think people no longer felt safe in their homes after that occurred. Definitely it was a watershed moment when that occurred.
In terms of my intention, certainly number one my intention was not to make an exploitation movie out of those murders. In fact it was just the opposite, the intention was to creatively find a way to empower Sharon Tate and her friends by telling the story on a different landscape if you will. Without giving away what the secret of the story is or the plot as it were, I wanted to approach this as something more fantastic in the realm of if Sharon Tate, and I think this question holds true for any tragedy that we’ve read about or had happen to us in our lives, had we known what we were in for could we have changed it? And I thought that was an interesting way to tell the story from an entirely new perspective.
The genesis for this was an interview that Sharon Tate gave about a year before she was killed to a reporter named Dick Kleiner. She was on the set of one of her films and he interviewed her in her trailer, and he asked her if she thought she’d ever had any psychic experiences and she said she thought she had. She explained to him this vision or this nightmare that she had where she had woken up in the middle of the night, she saw a strange man in the house, she followed him into the living room, and there she found either herself or her friend Jay Sebring tied up and their throats cut open.
Some people thought that was a premonition of her death, and I thought not necessarily that it was but as a story device it was an interesting way into this to say to the audience, “What if she had known and could she have turned the tables or shifted the tide?” And I think that’s a question we all have about our mortality and about destiny. I think those are some of the questions that drive us as human beings on this planet. Is our book written for us? Do we have a soul that lives apart separately from us after we pass on? And if there is such a thing as destiny, is there a way that we can rewrite the story?
For me that was the interesting question I wanted to pose and in fact the origin of that was there was a movie from the 80s that was actually ironically filmed at my own high school when I was a student there called Peggy Sue Got Married directed by Francis Ford Coppola. And it asked a very similar question. It was a fate movie. It was challenging that question of whether or not our fate is set in stone or if we have some hand in its evolution if you will.
So, that was actually a jumping off point for me creatively. Again, I think looking at the story from less of a specific true crime re-creation point of view; I wasn’t interested in that at all. I didn’t want to make another movie about Charles Manson or his family. I really don’t make them characters in this story, they’re really more like phantoms.
AH: Yeah, they’re very spectral-like. They do act in sort of that regard.
DF: My approach was certainly something less remained to the facts of the case that you could read in Helter Skelter or you could see in any documentary or if you dig up all the history of this.
AH: Right, and you have the Bugliosi writings or any of that.
DF: Absolutely. Yeah, y’know all of that’s been said and done and I just wanted to find my own way into the story. And the real crux of it is I wanted there to be a moment where Sharon’s knowledge of her fate would empower her to shift things so that she and her friends could fight back against these horrifying murderers and that’s in fact what this movie’s about.
I think also in this age of MeToo and this movement we have about victims sort of standing up for themselves, I think there’s something very potent in that message. Even though this movie takes place in reality fifty years ago, I think that message holds true even more today y’know. And I think it makes it relatable to an audience today that she had the foresight of her fate. I would love to have the outcome be something else.
That’s what I, in a weird way, as storytellers we can sometimes right the wrongs of history y’know at least in our own fictional universe that we create. And maybe in some small way this is my attempt to do that.
AH: Sure. Well, I did want to ask you about that because this is a film that will obviously be controversial. A lot of the film does honor and empower and sort of enlighten us as the audience as to who Sharon Tate was and what her philosophies were along with the dramatizations that propel the narrative.
I do want to ask you what the audience reactions have been so far. How are people responding to the alternate reality plot as it develops, especially in that third act?
DF: Yeah, I have to say we screened it about a week-and-a-half ago for a really big audience and I was very nervous here in Los Angeles. And it got cheers. It got accepted. It got massive applause at the end.
And I think people loved that. I think they loved that Sharon Tate was given her moment. I think the audience were shocked and surprised by that turn of events in this film, but I think it was something that was earned over the course of the story and certainly earned over the fifty years that we’ve known the terrible tragic end of these victims. To see them rise up again is something I think is very powerful and unexpected.
AH: How do your actors feel about the film overall and what were they feeling when they were actually doing the movie with you because you’ve got a very core cast of people who were involved in this as characters, but also people who were trying to represent them. Like Hillary Duff being Sharon Tate and everyone who’s part of the family when you’re talking about the actors who played Charles Manson, Tex Watson, Sadie Mae Glutz, Patty Krenwinkel; what are their thoughts and how did they approach this?
DF: Well, I will tell you the thoughts were across the board nothing but treating all of this with very much kid gloves. We were, and especially the cast were all very conscious of the fact that they were playing these very real people and they were careful about it. They didn’t want to go too far into one way or the other.
Even though it’s a more fantastical version of the story, they still wanted to remain true to their hopes and their dreams and who they were as people and what their relationships might have been like with each other as a group of friends. I think that the cast had that kind of interesting chemistry and it was nice. Hillary Duff had known Jonathan Bennett from before, so there was an ease with them and I thought that was great.
AH: Well you even bring in conflict when we’re talking about the relationship between Sharon Tate and Abigail Folger played by Lydia Hearst. Does that actually ring true? Was there actually them wanting them out of the house?
DF: Y’know not necessarily but again because this movie is sort of set in an alternate universe, I wasn’t beholden to the rules of how it really went. So I think people are mistaken when they’re like, “Well that’s not how that was.” That’s not what this movie’s about. It’s just not. Never was intended to be.
So that’s great if somebody wants to y’know make the true crime version again, I think that’s interesting. We’ll see what Quentin Tarantino does with his. But it’s almost like the events can play out any way that they can play out when people are making different decisions.
So, this is an alternate reality version. Whether or not they were in her view the “house guests from Hell” or they were just friends who (laughs) overstayed their welcome, there was talk I do remember in one of the books that there was a concern they were bringing the wrong element over to the house.
AH: Letting people in and the parties, yeah.
DF: All of the things in the movie have some grounding in the reality of what we know to be true. Unfortunately most of it is lost in history because most of these people aren’t around to really confirm anything. But y’know on the day Sharon really died she had lunch with her friends who’d come over to the house and they had gone to El Coyote.
The events in reality played out very differently from the way they do in my film but it was all very deliberate.
AH: Well I did want to tell you that this film is fascinating. I think there’s going to be a lot of buzz around it and I’m with you that the representation of Sharon Tate in this movie does definitely honor her. Is there anything you’d like to end on?
DF: I hope that people when they come to see the film, they come in with an open mind. I mean it’s very easy to write something off as being exploitative when you haven’t seen it.
I’m not saying that people will love it or hate it, but I think it has to be seen before it can be judged. And listen, I know judgement will come with it. That’s the nature of the beast and when you put a creation out into the world it’s going to be judged. That’s fine.
But I do hope that people come to it with an open mind, and I hope that when they come out my most sincere hope is that they see is that I looked at Sharon Tate as a real person who was deserving of a fighting chance.