The producer sits down with Great Social Club on his late mother’s legacy, the exhibition he dedicated to her eternal status and the SAG-AFTRA/ WGA Strikes.
Written by Cyan Leigh Dacasin
August 1 2023, Manila, Philippines – Intimate Audrey, a bespoke exhibition presented by Sean Hepburn Ferrer on Hollywood’s most viral icon, Audrey Hepburn, made its debut for the first time in Southeast Asia, surprisingly, in the heart of Metro Manila.
The late actress is known worldwide for films such as Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Sabrina, Charade, and more. But to her dearest loved ones, especially her eldest son, Sean, she is known as mom.
Sean Hepburn Ferrer and his creative team of 30 years have come together to create an exhibition that is a more intimate look at the actress and philanthropist that people know as the silver screen’s sweetheart. In celebrating her 90th birthday anniversary, the exhibition includes over 800 pictures, memorabilia, dresses and accessories.
Including never-before-seen fashion drawings and humanitarian writings, and a series of poignant videos bringing each chapter of her life up close.
In its fourth iteration, the exhibition has an exclusive homage by Filipino designers such as Puey Quiñones, Rajo Laurel and more who created a series of couture pieces re-interpreted from a bevvy of archival footage on Audrey Hepburn’s on-screen costumes as the fresh-faced gamine who took the world by storm.
Read the exclusive interview below.
I have been here in Manila for a month with my team, working hard and getting my hands and knees dirty together with Giovanni and Celia for this exhibit because this is what happens when you do this kind of work, you just go back to the hotel, sleep and get into a grab and start the day again with getting things ready. I have seen some parts of Manila, and the hotel I am staying at, The Henry, which I love, is like a home away from home.
Well, it’s not writer’s block, per se. Here’s what happened: after she passed away, I wrote these 30 pages as a letter to my children because one day they would grow up. And you know, I didn’t have any children then. But I thought, at some point, I would one day, and I started doing this because they’re going to grow up and see this larger-than-life grandmother and wonder what she was like.
And, of course, a dear friend who inherited the Swifty Lazar agency called. Swifty was a little bald man with big glasses. You may have seen pictures of him in classic Hollywood cinema. He was THE literary agent in Hollywood, who made all the deals for the Humphrey Bogart pictures and books, he read the text I wrote and said, ‘Oh my God! you have to turn this into a book,’ I eventually relented.
Truthfully, taking this mediocre Vanity Fair article and turning it into a book is not an easy task. It’s like taking a cooler and making it into an evening dress. So it took some time. And, of course, going back to what you were, she never wrote a biography, even though she was offered millions and millions of dollars. In those days, you still had those big advances. Because she felt that her life was flat and uninteresting. She got up, went to work, and was on time. There were no real skeletons in the closet; it was all straightforward. And then she was worried that after they gave her 3 million dollars, they’d say, ‘Well, why did we pay you for this boring stuff? tell us about these other people.’
And she said I’m never going to talk about others. I’m never going to tell tall tales. And so, here I was, years later, faced with the content and fact that I would write about her, the intimate stories, and she was a deeply private woman. And, of course, I was also going to talk about her life which involved other people.
I came to terms with the fact that you can write about anything; if you go to the truth, it’s deeper than the surface knowledge blurbs you will get.
When the relationship between two people breaks, it hurts, and those are the important things. So you can really talk about anything, but how you talk about it matters, and I ultimately did so. It worked well; the book has sold over 2 million copies worldwide. It’s still selling and I am very happy I did it.
We came to Manila because of one Filipino woman’s passion. She saw the exhibition in Amsterdam on the second round of installation, and she called me during the pandemic. Her name is Carmina Sanchez- Jacobs; she said, ‘Look, I think I can make it happen. Let me have an exclusive stab at it.’
There was no production; most of the exhibition was built, except for the walls we built here. But all the other structures were made for the first and the second installation and put into a container later shipped by sea.
The personal items, photographs, the dresses, and the rest of the exhibition were put into four crates that came by plane. The problem we encountered at the time was that the ATA Carnet system hasn’t been approved yet in the Philippines. In the rest of the world, there is a system for the ATA Carnet, which many countries subscribe to. It is you’re saying to the customs; I’m going to bring this in for an exhibition or a film, or a temporary import, no duty and guarantee that whatever is on that list, you will take it back out,
Only recently, the Philippines has signed on to the ATA Carnet System, but it’s never actually done it. So we became the pilot project, but it became kind of a hybrid because we still had to give a bond, which has a cost, and it took forever.
We finally got the crates from the plane with the contents about a week and a couple of days before the opening date. So what would have normally taken two weeks to install on a full-time schedule we had to do in six-seven days with a crew of 30 working through the day and night. The space is 600+ square meters; it’s like building and decorating a house.
Not really an item? I’m very proud that I was put into this world and was sleeping in a wicker bassinet. But I think what mother left us with is a beautiful culture of compassion, which has become a family culture I’m now passing on to my children, and I’m hoping it will continue.
Initially, our first exhibit was more fashion based, while the second one focused on memorabilia. I realised in Berlin that it wasn’t about things; it was about concepts. And that’s when we knew. Giovanni and I created this one to make it a more personal and elevated intimate experience.
I’m a member of the Screen Actors – Directors Guild, and I’m totally on the side of the workers. The big problem on why they’re striking, and, again, they are correct, is because even if AI can pump out ideas and create content in a few minutes, it’s not a good writer.
But what producers would do, I’m gonna tell you practically how this would work. The producer would drive to his house in Malibu, and tell the AI, write me a story about two guys that go to Afghanistan to save a soldier, and it takes place over a 24-hour period. There’s a script by the time he gets to his house 15 minutes later. It’s terrible. Yeah, the script and dialogue are awful. He gives that to a writer and says rewrite this; the rewrite will cause a third of the price. Instead of paying the full amount and exerting effort go to the writer and give him instructions to write the script from the beginning.
AI will be extraordinary for research, translating antique languages, solving computational issues, which would take a million years to do, especially if it is about Quantum Physics. But AI is never going to be able to replace human creativity; controversial as this may sound, but I think that in the years to come, artists, painters, writers, actors, and musicians are going to have the safest jobs because human creativity can never be replaced by artificial intelligence.
So I think the idea here is to contain the much bigger problem, which is the streamers have killed the industry we knew before. So you made a film, you got your money back. It went on to run a few more weeks in the theater, and then the DVDs are being brought by airlines and the hotels along with the foreign sales, all of that created profits, naturally.
Those profits then went to the actors and the directors, so that it was a business with an upside, no more upside, they pay you a fee to do it, and it’s over. So it’s killed the dream to be part of what it could be. Another thing is because of the fast-paced need to crunch out images, we’re filming now in a studio with a green screen. Then you don’t have to fly people around, and while I can understand that for some TV series, it can work. But, can you believe that if Emily had been shot in Los Angeles with the green screen, it would have had the same quality as being in Paris with the real baguette, the Frenchman and smelly cheese?
So, in the end, people are always afraid of things that never happen. I think it’s important that we get some clarity, I don’t think the producers themselves know how it will work, and it would be kind of foolhardy for this to continue, but that’s what makes this strike complicated.
I don’t think you can do that. We can’t; she’s gone. I’ve had to go on for the past 30 years, and it was not like I didn’t have the chance to talk to her when she was around. My mother and I had a great friendship; even as a child, I learned a lot from her. All of the decisions I made have always been with her best interest and the legacy she left behind. If she was alive right now, she would go and hide under the table and say, Are you crazy? this is so embarrassing, all this attention, please stop it immediately!
Truthfully, she would have difficulty accepting that she’s become this globally permanent viral symbol.
Somebody asked me a similar question a while back and said, What do you do to keep her image alive? And I said absolutely nothing because she’s permanently viral. So I should do nothing but hide under the table, cover my ears and close my eyes. Because, in effect, all I can do is ruin it. Yeah, so I can do things like this, which are fun for people and lovely and we have different programs for the charities we manage and all of that. But no, I don’t do anything about making her more famous; you don’t go beyond that, in fact, there is nowhere to go.
Yes, I’m moving to Madrid, where I’m going to be working with an excellent writer, he’s sort of the Mel Brooks of Spain, on a wonderful musical that takes inspiration from her life. But I’m not saying much more than that because it’s coming up, and it is another complicated long-term project, but it’s probably the best thing I have done.
For more on Sean and The Intimate Audrey exhibition click here for more information.
Sean Hepburn Ferrer: seanhepburnferrer
To get a copy of Audrey Hepburn: An Elegant Spirit click here
VIETNAM / ASIA
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