Production designer Jack Fisk has more than a nodding appreciation for Terrence Malick’s working methods, having been a part of all his films going back to Badlands in 1973. However, it’s more than a professional association: Fisk met his wife Sissy Spacek during the production of the seminal film.“Terry’s someone who’s remarkably unchanged over time,” observes Fisk. “Well, he might be even more passionate now. He loves to shoot and he’ll go out with the second unit on Sunday. I just wish he’d take a break and let everyone else catch up to him.”For Malick’s latest film, The New World, Fisk had to not simply build the Jamestown colony but do the construction employing techniques of the period. So, the fort is constructed without nails, with joints and natural resources based on available research and what the designer describes as military common sense. It replicates the size and shape of the original, which allowed the filmmaker to shoot in any direction.The use of real materials provided sets that Fisk describes as “ravaged and moldy” and he admits to a bias that things look better in mud and rain. As for Malick, he pegs him as a reality junkie who loves the effects of weather and is bothered by anything manufactured that uses contemporary short cuts. It’s something Fisk has simply gotten used to; it’s become part of his personal philosophy going back to Badlands and Days of Heaven. On the latter film he had to build a turn-of-the-century mansion from scratch in four weeks.During Malick’s two-decade hiatus between Days of Heaven and The Thin Red Line, Fisk began to direct for movies and television. However, when buzz began to circulate of a new project, he dropped Malick a note stating that he’d finally recovered from the last collaboration and was about ready to tackle something new.“Nothing is done in half measures,” he notes. “That applies to everything. I spent four years doing location scouting on various projects leading up to The New World. I’ve just grown to expect his calls saying let’s go to Turkey next week. It’s exciting and reminds me of the early days with (Roger) Corman when there was more energy than money.”Fisk began as a visual artist but admits that he wasn’t very good about self-motivation. Film provided him with direction and deadlines, and the time pressures were an enormous energizer. Ironically, he feels that the directors he’s worked for such as Brian DePalma and David Lynch are better able to do storyboards and he’s opted to do models and, more recently, 3-D computer renderings of sets. The latter was especially helpful on the new film. He notes that not everyone can read blueprints whereas most people can look at a model and adapt for scale.
Written by Len Klady