Tony Mark, who lives in Santa Fe, produced the film “Georgia O’Keeffe,” which debuted Sept. 19 on Lifetime Television. The film focuses on the artistic and romantic relationship between artist O’Keeffe and photographer Alfred Stieglitz. Stieglitz was showing O’Keeffe’s work without her permission at a gallery in New York when she confronted him and then fell for him.
Daily Lobo: What is the movie “Georgia O’Keeffe” about, and how did this movie come into existence?
Tony Mark: It’s about O’Keeffe and her relationship with Alfred Stieglitz. It’s a project that had been in development for quite some time with the executive producer Joshua Maurer over at Home Box Office, and when HBO decided not to make the movie, we took it over to Lifetime.
DL: What were some of the prominent aspects of O’Keeffe’s life that you felt needed to be represented in this movie?
TM: One of the things that was most important for us in making the film was to communicate the feeling of New Mexico, because New Mexico had a huge impact on Georgia when she came here. Because of that, it became very important to us as filmmakers to find a way to shoot the movie in New Mexico. We felt that it would be possible to find ways to suggest New York City or suggest upstate New York, but very, very difficult to find another location that could really effectively suggest the landscape of New Mexico.
DL: How did you decide on the casting of O’Keeffe and Stieglitz?
TM: Joan Allen was involved in this project from the very start. She had been involved as a producer from the beginning. As for the role of Stieglitz, as we thought about it, it turned out that Jeremy Irons was going to do a part on Broadway with Joan Allen in the beginning of 2009, and since they were already prepared to work together, when we proposed that they might want to work together on film before they work together on stage, Jeremy was very receptive to that. He is an extraordinary actor, and what is quite remarkable is that he bears an astonishing resemblance to Alfred Stieglitz.
DL: How has the film been received so far after its debut on Lifetime?
TM: It’s been received quite wonderfully. We had a premiere here at the Lensic (Performing Arts Center) as a benefit for the museum. You are playing to a built-in audience, since O’Keeffe is particularly popular in this part of the world.
DL: Did you coordinate with the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in the making of the movie?
TM: We would never have been able to make the film without the cooperation of the museum. We consider ourselves very, very fortunate to have had the O’Keeffe Museum and its curator, Barbara Buhler Lynes, as allies when we were trying to convince the city and the state and the museum itself to allow us to tell this story.
DL: Why did this movie have so much support from the museum?
TM: In general, I would say that we had a very good script by a Pulitzer-Prize-winning author named Michael Christopher. The film was a very intelligently told story. It did not pander to the lowest common denominator. It gave a lot of respect to Georgia as a person as well as an artist. It also gave a lot of respect to the complicated relationship she had with Stieglitz. I think, in the end, the fact that Joan Allen, who is an extremely accomplished actress and who was a champion of the movie, put her energy and the force of her personality behind the project, and spoke very eloquently on behalf of the project to the museum, really helped the museum to be convinced that we were going to be the right people to tell this story.
DL: When I was watching the film I could feel O’Keeffe’s emotions seeping out of the movie and the story. How did you capture the raw emotion in the movie?
TM: The key to that was in our choice of director, Bob Balaban. He is a director who is known as an actor’s director. He himself is an actor and has appeared in hundreds of movies. As an actor’s director, his focus has always been on giving the actors in front of the camera the kind of creative environment that will allow them to feel very comfortable in exploring their characters. As a result, the tone he sets on the set, the way he speaks to the actors, the kind of respect he has for performance, as opposed to special effects and stunts, all create an atmosphere in which the actors are able to explore the nuances of their characters. And because that’s what he’s looking for, when he goes into the editing room, he sees that as a perk.