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in Filmmaking
on May 29, 2011

Last year Alicia Van Couvering sat down with Jack Fisk, Terrence Malick’s longtime production designer. Here’s a brief excerpt, and the full piece is at the link.

Terry and I have developed a relationship where we just go and look at locations together, for weeks, and that way we kind of get in sync on a picture. And then he says, “Whatever you do will be fine.” He’s so trusting, but I’ve worked so hard to fall in line with what he’s after. I think also over the years we’ve kind of developed similar tastes. Some of it came about because we never had any money, so we always had minimal set dressing and props, and we found out that we really like the way that looked. Even today, I spend most of my time taking stuff away rather than putting stuff onto a set. Just try to keep it simple, because if people aren’t confused by the background, they pay attention to what’s happening with the characters, I think. I try to create backgrounds that are easy to understand so they tell you in shorthand what you need to know about the place or the character and don’t distract you by giving you too much to look at. [The balance between simplicity and authenticity] is a hard one.

I’ve developed a real love of Edward Hopper. His paintings have a simplicity and an essence of location, so he’s probably who I reference the most – I think of him almost like an art director. You really feel the humans in those environments because there’s not a lot of distraction; he paints just what you need. The other artist I like is completely different and that’s Francis Bacon. The thing I really like about Francis Bacon is his passion. I look at his paintings and they’re like falling apart. He’ll put water-base paint on oils – whatever he does, he doesn’t worry about preserving it, but he worries about the moment. If he needs a dash of purple up there, he’ll put whatever purple he has. I appreciate that passion.

Read Michael Tully’s review of Malick’s The Tree of Life here.

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