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Swanson Harp in Quentin Tarantino’s new movie Django Unchained

Home Forums Coffee Break Swanson Harp in Quentin Tarantino’s new movie Django Unchained

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  • #112141
    carl-swanson
    Participant

    Last spring I got a call from Quentin Tarantino’s production company looking for a fully gilded Empire(Swanson) harp. It had to match one that they were renting from a harpist in New Orleans. They wanted it for a scene he was planning that would not involve the harp they were renting. I didn’t have one so they just used the one they rented. The movie just came out and a harpist plays Fur Elise(of all things!) on this harp in one of the scenes. A friend who went to see the movie today said you can clearly see the harp. I guess I’ll finally have to go see a Quentin Tarantino movie to see it for myself!

    #112142
    jessica-wolff
    Participant

    I like your partly gilded model best.

    #112143
    carl-swanson
    Participant

    I think the one they used was a fully gilded Empire with an ebony finish. It was the first harp we sold and it went to a woman in New Orleans. She died several years ago and that harp has changed hands at least once. The person from Tarantino’s production team that I talked to told me they were renting it from a man. I’m assuming a male harpist.

    #112144
    Charles
    Participant

    Congratulations Carl, I’ll keep both eyes out for your Empire when I see the movie.
    So was the harp actually being played or was it dubbed ?

    #112145
    carl-swanson
    Participant

    My understanding is that it was actually being played. They hired a harpist to play it.

    #112146
    ashley-toman
    Participant

    I was the harpist they hired in to play for the movie. Myself and my playing is both in the film. Tarantino chose Fur Elise, and I didn’t know what I was going to play until my first day on the set. I did record the song for them in its entirety off camera (twice in two different locations acoustically), but I also played on camera too. Both are in the movie. For the on camera parts, Quentin only wanted the most well known part of the song to be played, so I played it over and over. I’ve only seen the movie once, but from what I could hear, both my live playing, and bits from the recorded version are in the movie. I was only supposed to be on set for 2-3 days., but wound up being there for about 6 weeks, minus the weekends.
    The harp wasn’t mine. It was there on set for me.

    #112147
    carl-swanson
    Participant

    Ashley- Who is the owner of the harp?

    #112148
    ashley-toman
    Participant

    Carl- I’m not 100% sure who owns the harp. Before my first day on set, they had given me the name of a gentleman harpist in New Orleans named Jacques Weaver, in case I wanted to call him and ask questions about the harp. But I’m not sure if the harp is his own personal harp, or if he just helped them acquire it. At one point, one of the props people told me the harp I would be playing on was coming in from Natchez, Mississippi, and Jacques is in New Orleans, hence why I’m not 100% sure.

    Originally, they had had a harp brought in from a Universal Studios prop house, but one of the prop managers thought it wasn’t playable. She had me come in and take a look at it, and she was right. The harp was not in playable condition. It was an old, Erard antique harp. It was covered in corrosion, missing half of its strings, and the pedals didn’t move, and weren’t connected to the mechanism. So after that, they brought in the Swanson harp for me to play.

    When they contacted you in the spring looking for a harp to match, they were looking for a stunt harp. At one point, Quentin had wanted to do a scene where the harp gets smashed on top of me, and broken. I think they ended up building a replica harp that looked just like it to use as “stunt” harp, or maybe they bought a harp that looked similar enough to it. I was never clear on that. The stunt harp wasn’t a Swanson, though. It was smaller, and didn’t have working strings or pedals.

    They never did get around to filming the harp stunt. He ran out of time, and had so many other things he had to get to first. So fortunately, no harps were harmed during the making of the film. =)

    I do know that they sent the harp (the real harp used, not stunt harp) out to be totally restrung after filming, since fake blood had gotten on the strings. I thought it was very nice of them to have it restrung for whoever it actually belonged to.

    #112149
    carl-swanson
    Participant

    Ashley- Thank you so much for all the background information. If that’s the harp I think it is, it is the first or second harp we built, and it was ordered and sold to an older woman in New Orleans who has since died. The current owner could be the second or third person to own that harp.

    You’re right about the stunt harp. They contacted me because there was a similar harp for sale on my web site. But it was not black and it didn’t have any of the gold decoration that normally comes on it. So they asked me how long it would take to paint the harp black and put all of the decoration on! They were thinking in terms of hours or days, and I told them it would take weeks. So when I didn’t hear back, I assumed that they had the prop department make something that would pass. I haven’t seen the film yet, but now I’m anxious to see it.

    #112150
    kreig-kitts
    Member

    When I mentioned this to a friend (by the way, Ashley, do you know if this gives you a Bacon factor of 6 or less?), he said “It will probably be smashed to pieces or used as a torture device.” I guess his instincts weren’t off.

    #112151
    kreig-kitts
    Member

    FYI, Ashley, your Bacon Number is 3 at most (Quentin Tarantino, Matt Damon, and Jamie Foxx all have 2). Pretty good!

    #112152
    kimberly-rowe
    Keymaster

    Thanks for the inside scoop Ashley! We’d love to hear more about your experiences—how about a blog?? I’m sure people would love to know more about you and how you got this gig! Have you done any other movie/tv work?

    #112153
    ashley-toman
    Participant

    Kimberly- No, I haven’t really done any other TV/movie work. About a year before I did Django, I did do a harpist role in a small, low budget, independent film called Vipaka. I’m not even sure if it was ever released, or if I made it past the cutting room floor for that one. 🙂

    The two experiences were vastly different. For one thing, Django had a big budget, and I was on set everyday (minus weekends) for six weeks. The days were long, on average 12-14 hours, and there was even one 17 hour day. It was really like my summer project. When I got the role they told me I would be on set for 2-3 days. I never dreamed it would go on for so long.

    The good thing is it was a fun set to be on. The catering was absolutely amazing. Anything you could possibly want they had, and if they didn’t, they could get it for you. Everyone was laid back, and extremely nice. It was amazing to be part of a group that was so much fun, yet all fiercely dedicated to the project. Out of the principal actors, I probably talked the most to Christoph Waltz. He interacts in the scene with me, so he was standing next to the harp all day. He was awesome to work with. Super nice. He also asked nice questions about the harp and harp repertoire. 🙂

    I’m not sure if I’ll get the opportunity to do any TV/movie work again. Both movie parts I just kind of stumbled on randomly. When I answered the casting call for Django, I had no idea what I was getting into (fake blood, explosions, stunt harps). It was an amazing way to spend the summer. 🙂

    #112154
    kathy-chanik
    Participant

    Ashley, what a great story! I loved the part about Christoph Waltz-he was so great in Inglorious Basterds and Water for Elephants, and now he’s a big star. Nice to have an actual harpist actually playing in a movie, instead of just a fake harpist like we often get.

    #112155
    kimberly-rowe
    Keymaster

    Thanks so much Ashley! Very fascinating.

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