After focusing on the DeFeo family in The Amityville Murders, writer/director Daniel Farrands tells the story of Sharon Tate and her friends in the days leading up to their tragic murders in the Hollywood Hills in the new movie The Haunting of Sharon Tate. With the movie out now from Saban Films in theaters and on VOD platforms, we caught up with Farrands in our latest Q&A feature to discuss taking a sensitive and sincere approach to telling the story of those murdered by Charles Manson's followers, exploring themes of fate and destiny, and working with a dedicated cast that includes Hilary Duff and Jonathan Bennett.
Thanks for taking the time to catch up with us again, Daniel! Congratulations on the upcoming release of The Haunting of Sharon Tate. When did you first become interested in the tragic story of what happened to Sharon Tate and her friends on that fateful night in 1969?
Daniel Farrands: Thank you so much! I had been interested in the story of Sharon Tate since as long as I can remember. I grew up in the ’70s and was in fact born the same week that Sharon Tate’s son would have been born, so there was something very immediate and relatable to the subject matter. The early ’70s were, frankly, a scary time to come into the world; it seemed as a society that we were surrounded by murder and mayhem. As the “Latchkey Kid” generation, we probably were exposed to too many things too soon. But at least we had Mister Rogers, Saturday morning cartoons, and the Sid and Marty Krofft shows to counter all of that scariness.
When you were writing The Haunting of Sharon Tate, how much research did you do on Sharon Tate, Charles Manson, and Hollywood at that time?
Daniel Farrands: I was not at all interested in Charles Manson or his followers, so my research into the “Family” (other than facts that I was already familiar with and a few factual details I gleaned from the book Helter Skelter) was minimal. I was more interested in who Sharon Tate was as a person, and her relationships with her friends, so my focus was more on Sharon and what she was like as a person, and as a friend.
How did you decide to take the supernatural angle with this story, and how challenging was that to balance with real-life events in the film?
Daniel Farrands: Without giving away too much of the film’s secrets, I felt that I had more of an open berth to interpret the story through my own lens rather than being married to the events of the true story or a literal recreation of the actual crime. My version of the story is set in an alternate reality that asks questions about fate, destiny, and whether or not we have control over the “script” of our lives. I was actually inspired by a film that I loved in the ’80s called Peggy Sue Got Married, which explores very similar themes. It’s tonally completely different, obviously, but I think that theme is universal and the questions are ones that every person on the planet grapples with at some point in their lives. I never intended to make a “supernatural” movie, but more of a spiritual one that asks questions and portrays a very different version of the events that may have unfolded had different decisions been made along the way, resulting in a different outcome.
Did you do all of your filming in the Hollywood Hills? How many days did you have in your shooting schedule?
Daniel Farrands: We did shoot in the Hollywood Hills, at two different locations. One of the houses that provided our exterior of 10050 Cielo Drive (the actual house was demolished in the 1990s) was designed by architect Robert Byrd, the same man who designed the Tate/Polanski residence. There were so many similarities to the actual house, I knew I had to shoot there, and fortunately the home owners were willing to accommodate us. We were on an extremely tight schedule, due to Hilary Duff’s availability, and the film was shot over a period of 14 days, most of which were very long nights. It was quite a feat, and the pressure was on. There was very little downtime to sit around. It was very fast, and very stressful.
When you were making The Haunting of Sharon Tate, were you influenced by any other films about Hollywood in the ’60s or about Charles Manson and his followers?
Daniel Farrands: Not particularly, although I was interested in the films of Roman Polanski from that time period. Certainly there are very intentional homages to Rosemary’s Baby, The Tenant, and Repulsion scattered throughout the film, but given the fact that I was telling a story based more in the realm of fantasy than reality, I felt it made sense that Sharon Tate would experience these strange and escalating events of fear and paranoia through the prism of her husband’s films.
The horrific acts of the Manson Family happened nearly 50 years ago, but they seem to be remembered now more than ever before. Why do you think people continue to be fascinated with Manson and his followers?
Daniel Farrands: I think it's the sheer brutality and evil of the crime, done with so much malice, so little regard for human life, to a pregnant woman and her friends, followed the next night by the double murder of a middle-aged couple who had just come home from a camping trip. It represented the end of the ’60s counterculture, the “peace and love” generation had become symbols of terror and fear, and the world was never the same. I think some people on the fringes of society are captivated by the killers and the evil they perpetrated, but I found myself drawn to the victims, and although my film is certainly a scary movie filled with familiar horror tropes, it does something that no other movie about this topic, to my knowledge, has ever done: it empowers the victims.
Your cast in this film is great, including Hilary Duff and Jonathan Bennett, who really give emotional performances as Sharon Tate and Jay Sebring, respectively. What was it like collaborating with them to tell this story, and did you write those characters knowing that Hilary and Jonathan would be the ones to play them?
Daniel Farrands: I did not know Hilary or Jonathan would be playing the roles when I wrote the script, but I am tremendously appreciative of their commitment and bravery for taking on this project. The entire cast was terrific and all of them came in from day one with a great deal of concern and reverence for the people they were portraying. Lydia Hearst (who plays Abigail Folger), for example, has an aunt, I believe, who was friends with Sharon Tate in real life and I think it was incredibly important for her to try to be as honest in her portrayal as possible. That goes for all the actors. It wasn’t a project that any of us took lightly. We knew there would be judgment solely based on the topic, and we wanted to bring as much sensitivity to it as we could, while telling a fundamentally very different version of the story.
Looking back at your time on set, is there a favorite or memorable moment that stands out?
Daniel Farrands: I think when we called “that’s a wrap!” No, I really loved this project, not only because I was given the opportunity to direct a second feature based on my own screenplay, but because of the talent involved and the sincerity and sensitivity with which everyone approached the material. We had some very long, stressful days (and nights), but across the board we all dug our heels in and made it the best we could. It was certainly a challenge, but I feel we ultimately made the movie we set out to make.
What do you hope viewers take away from The Haunting of Sharon Tate?
Daniel Farrands: I hope they remember Sharon, Jay, Voytek, Gibby, and Steven, and Sharon’s baby, Paul Richard. I hope they remember them as human beings, as people whose lives were tragically cut short, rather than forgotten victims of an infamous, but senseless, crime.
With The Haunting of Sharon Tate out now in theaters and VOD from Saban Films, what other projects do you have coming up that you’re excited about?
Daniel Farrands: Next up is a film about the last days of Nicole Brown Simpson, as well as a television project based on an iconic horror franchise that I am very excited about.