In late ’98/early ‘99, on the eve of the release of “The Thin Red Line,” two major events were concurrently taking place, each threatening to consume one another but both feeding the anticipation around them (the film was given a limited release in December, followed by wide release in January). One was “The Thin Red Line” itself — Terrence Malick‘s first new film in 20 years, an approximately $52 million dollar war film backed by Fox 2000 (a shingle housed under 20th Century Fox) — and the other the hallowed return of Malick the director, believed to be lost in the wilderness, driving cabs in Paris, selling T-shirts on Les Champs-Élysées or whatever fictional rumor pleases you most.
Both were massive events in cinema; a sanctified resurrection of sorts met with feverish anticipation that drew in cinephiles and tourist pop-culture pundits who just had to weigh in. Adding appropriate noise to the latter point was a massive cinematic homecoming of sorts. 1999 would not only mark the return of Terry Malick, it would also mark the anticipated return of Stanley Kubrick (“Eyes Wide Shut“) and George Lucas (“The Phantom Menace“) to the world of filmmaking. Complicating things for Malick and, or maybe just the marketing team at Fox, was Steven Spielberg, who five months earlier would steal his thunder and release his more conventional WWII film, “Saving Private Ryan,” filled with moments of heartswelling American pride, heroism, patriotism and self-sacrifice. Malick’s take on the nature of war couldn’t be more polar opposite and abstract.
“What’s this war in the heart of nature?” is the first question quietly posed in narrative voice-over that opens the film laid over beautiful images of the Guadalcanal in the South Pacific. It would announce everything the viewer would need to know about the poetic, elusive and intangible anti-war film: the specific conflict at hand was just a side dish, the bigger concern was what madness lies in man that he feels the need to destroy himself and everything around it? What were the struggles and forces within humanity that compelled itself to act in such a savage manner? And finally, what seed, what root did evil grow from? As usual, Malick wasn’t fucking around with platitudes of heroism. His film was about the horrors of war, the fear and innocence lost that quaked through soldiers and the capacity for humanity that still existed amongst such insanity.
In the lead up to the wide release of Malick’s latest film, “The Tree of Life” (July 8 is the date), week by week, we’ve been getting reacquainted with his body of films and the behind-the-scenes making of each picture. We broached the filmmaker’s latest effort three weeks ago, tracked his debut “Badlands” after that and last week documented the making of 1978’s “Days of Heaven.” Now we’ve got plenty of nuggets on his comeback effort, “The Thin Red Line.”
1. In many ways Terrence Malick did not want to make “The Thin Red Line,” or at least not a war film.
What Terrence Malick truly wanted to make was what ended up on screen, another meditation on the human condition that happened to be set around the setting of WWII. But he had his doubts early on when he too thought he was making a war picture.
“I feel like I’m boarding a train I can’t get off,” Malick told actor Jim Caviezel when he first hired him over the phone according to the actor on the Criterion Collection’s “The Thin Red Line” edition. “And I said, ‘Don’t worry I’ll be there.’ So I knew before my agents even knew! I had to call them,” Caviezel said trying to assuage the director, but perhaps missing the director’s main concern in his understandable excitement.
The characteristically cautious and indecisive filmmaker was reluctant to even make the picture in the first place and according to a 1999 Vanity Fair profile, he left open “numerous doors through which he might make a hasty exit. “
These doubts even existed during production in Australia. “I remember him wondering why he was [making] this movie,” editor Leslie Jones said on the Editing portion of the Criterion DVD (she had spent some time on set). “He doesn’t like war, he’s not an action director, battles scenes, he would say, ‘I don’t know how to direct a battle scene, what am I doing?’ And you can see what he turned the movie into – that sequence in the movie where they’re on rest, was time for reflection and a time for him to get out of that war experience.”
Co-editor Saar Klein echoed these same sentiments. “The logistics of it were so overwhelming. Having to direct like a huge army, running up the hill with all these cameras and tanks and walkie [talkies], he just kind of felt that wasn’t directing,” Klein said on the same DVD extra. “In fact, I think at one point he said it would be great to just get like Renny Harlin or some other director to direct those parts of it, so he could actually spend some time directing the actors. I don’t think [the war sequences] were his favorite part.”
Actor Ben Chaplin suggested the director just didn’t know what he was in for. “He never expected it to be this big thing with loads of men and machines,” the actor said in an extensive EW interview from 1999. ”He had written this film about people and nature, and he got here and there was this war going on.”
2. Like all Terrence Malick films, the script and the final film were eons apart.
”Terry’s wildly intuitive and impressionistic,” John Cusack said in the same 1999 interview with EW from the set of the film. “He wrote a script based on the novel, and he’s making a film based on the script, but he’s not shooting the script. He’s shooting the essence of the script, and he’s also shooting the movie that’s up there on the hill. He’s trying to transcend the book and the script and himself. He’s just out there. He’s a wild cat.” This might be the best description of what generally goes on during the filming of one of Terrence Malick’s movies.
“He has a script, but the script is not necessarily what he shoots,” Klein said on the DVD. “Once he gets on the set whatever inspires him is what he goes with. And then the way that you edit has to be completely reinvented because you don’t have any traditional coverage of anything.”
3. While “The Thin Red Line” is notorious for all the actors that were allegedly “cut” from the film, like most legends, most of this information is inaccurate or overstated
Yes, several very well-known actors and stars read for “The Thin Red Line” and/or actively sought parts or had conversations with Terrence Malick, but around only three “major” or well-known stars were cut from the film.
They include Mickey Rourke – as seen on the Criterion DVD extras (watch a clip from one of his scenes below), Bill Pullman (see photos in this article) and Lukas Haas (photos exist on the Criterion DVD). According to that very thorough and extensive 1999 EW article, a part was written for Gary Oldman, but then he was told not to show up before shooting began. Billy Bob Thornton (who is not in the film) recorded a voice-over (reportedly three hours of it) for the film that was never used. Actors like Martin Sheen, Jason Patric and Viggo Mortensen are also part of the actors allegedly cut from the film, and while thanked in the credits, Mortensen and Sheen apparently only participated in customary read-throughs (as did many other actors).
However, actors that met with Malick range up into the dozens with folks like Brad Pitt, Leonardo DiCaprio, Nicolas Cage, Kevin Costner, Peter Berg, Ethan Hawke, Dermot Mulroney. Matthew McConaughey, William Baldwin and many, many more (Cage evidently insulted Malick by having a disconnected phone when the director called him back after a lunch sealing the deal for his exclusion from the picture according to Rachel Abramowitz’s excellent January 1999 piece “Welcome To The Jungle,” for Premiere magazine). According to the herculean Vanity Fair article by Peter Biskind (“Easy Riders & Raging Bulls“), Johnny Depp said to the director, “Let’s sign this napkin; you tell me where to show up, when, what to play” Depp, Pitt and McConaughey all wanted the Witt role that went to Jim Caviezel according to the same 1999 Premiere article — Leonardo DiCaprio flew from the Mexico set of “Romeo + Juliet” to meet with Malick for what was a “strained” meeting in the Austin Airport.
Tom Hanks declined an invitation due to his involvement in Steven Spielberg’s “Saving Private Ryan.” Tom Sizemore was also offered a role in both ‘Private Ryan’ and “The Thin Red Line,” but after waiting too long to hear back from the elusive Malick, chose Spielberg’s WWII film instead. Malick saw the maneuver as treason. According to Premiere’s 1999 article, Malick went “ballistic” and an insider negotiating the deal before it went sour said, “[Malick] as if the covenant had been broken.”
4. Actors had to adjust to Malick’s challenging directing style which could be abrupt, spur-of-the-moment and/or far too abstract without little coaching. Communication was also an issue.
Actors had to be alert and malleable because Malick demanded a lot and might call on you to shoot an emotionally difficult scene with a moment’s notice.
“There was one part where it was a 45 second crane shot over two days – the most you could do was one set-up per day because you had to have all these explosive set ups and 500 guys and the camera had to swoop down everywhere and then zoom in on the character crying,” actor Kirk Acevedo recalled of his memorable death sequence. “So Terry goes, ‘ok Kirk, go ahead and start crying.’ And I’m like cracking jokes and playing chess with Woody Harrelson! So for some people, it was difficult. You had to focus rightaway because on any given day or any given hour you didn’t know what you were going to shoot, he’s very spontaneous, so you had to be on your toes.”
“When it came time to be one-on one with the actors and get inside people’s heads on the set and create the intimacy, it was like he just expected that stuff to come, “John C. Reilly said in the 1999 Premiere article.
“It took me a little bit of time to adjust to it, it took me a couple of weeks and some heart to heart conversations with Terry about what contribution I could make because I had never been involved in something [so big],” Sean Penn said in the 2002 Terrence Malick documentary “Rosy-Fingered Dawn,” much of that interview footage appropriated for Criterion’s DVD extras on the actors’ experience.
“Now Kirk, you’re on the ship and the beach is right there and you’re calling out into the abyss. And that’s what your motivation is,” actor Kirk Acevedo recalled, laughing at Malick’s abstract form of direction on the DVD extras. “But the funny thing is I did understand. His directing is very poetic and very, sort of, catching for fairies and butterflies, so to speak.”
The difficulties in communicating would extend even over to long-time collaborators. “I find working with Terry kind of exhausting,” production designer Jack Fisk, who has worked on every Malick film from the beginning, admitted in the 1999 Premiere article. “Because he’s the most difficult man to understand. Sometimes he’ll talk in metaphors. Sometimes he’ll show me a photograph or a painting. Sometimes he’ll just make a literary reference or talk about a piece of music.”
5. In particular, Elias Koteas had a very difficult time and a near-miserable experience.
At the last minute, Koteas’ character was changed from Jewish to Greek and he wasn’t aware until he arrived on set – weeks after the principal cast had already bonded. The experience left him disoriented and off to a bad start. ”It added to my angst, to my sense of not belonging, my sense of not knowing who I was and why am I here,” he said in a 1999 EW interview.
Part of this was because he didn’t even really want the difficult role at first and had to be convinced by his agents to take it. “[The character’s] men weren’t behind him, they didn’t believe in him, so I felt it was a thankless role,” Koteas admitted on the Criterion DVD extras.” [The character and I] get beat up, gets fired and then is sent home. So I thought, ‘Where’s the joy in that?’”
Exacerbating his anxiety was Malick’s directorial style which did not correspond with his acting approach. “I would say, ‘we need rehearsal,’ it was a bit of a running joke,” he said on the DVD. “For me personally it was tough because you come in with a bit of an ego, you have some idea of how to play it and when you’re told, ‘look to your left, now turn around, turn to your right, look up there, listen to the distant bird’ so you have this kind of hands on direction, it feels a little humbling. But ultimately you have to realize you’re part of a bigger vision and you have to surrender yourself to it.”
6. Malick is the master of either evasive answers, assuaging fears or both.
In a 2003 interview with Time Out, Nick Nolte recalled being amazed at an outcome of a a meeting that the actors had called. “So I watched all the actors talk about why they felt so discombobulated,” he said. “One complaint was that [Terry] didn’t finish scenes. Terry listened to everything, and at the end said: ‘Thank you, this has been a wonderful meeting, you’re absolutely right, and we must do what we’ve talked about.’ They’re all looking at Terry like, ‘We do it? What can we do?’ I’ve never seen a guy defuse a situation like that.”
Sean Penn notes that he too was concerned with his role. “There was a time where I was having a bit of a crisis with [the picture and my role] where I felt that, my understanding of it was that it was getting a little too black and white for me,” he said on the Criterion DVD extras.
“I explained this with a lot of energy and emotion to Terry and his answer — after I’d been up all night worrying about this two weeks into shooting – he just said, ‘Oh, I think we’re just fine.’ He didn’t really address those things, but that seemed ok with me [at the time],” Penn recalled with a chuckle. Ultimately, he realized questions weren’t going to be answered; one had to just surrender to the director’s opaque vision.
“If you love his work, you jump on board his train and you don’t ask where it’s going. If you do ask he’ll answer you, but it doesn’t help,” Penn laughed. “It’s not a destination you’ve been before.”
“He would say, ‘Your whole life has prepared you for this moment.’ And I’d be like, “ok, what does he mean by this?’,” Koteas said on the Criterion DVD articulating his frustration and confusion.
7. Adrien Brody was fairly devastated that his lead role was reduced to a small side character. John C. Reilly was also a major character who was reduced to a few lines and moments.
Adrien Brody’s character, Cpl. Geoffrey Fife, was the lead role in James Jones‘ original book and the 198-page screenplay that Malick wrote, but come editing time (and earlier) that was all changed when Brody’s role was decimated down to a glorified extra with two lines and about five minutes of screentime. It was humiliating for the actor who was already doing press for the film and was being touted as one of its leads. Of course, he had yet to see the film.
“I was so focused and professional, I gave everything to it, and then to not receive everything … in terms of witnessing my own work. It was extremely unpleasant because I’d already begun the press for a film that I wasn’t really in,” Brody said candidly in an April 2011 interview with the Independent.
“Terry obviously changed the entire concept of the film. I had never experienced anything like that.” He said he learnt a valuable, if painful, Hollywood lesson. “You know the expression ‘Don’t believe the hype’? Well, you shouldn’t.” Maybe he should have just called Richard Gere in advance and prepared himself considering that actor’s experience on “Days of Heaven.”
“I am anxious,” Brody said in the 1999 Premiere piece, “Welcome To The Jungle.” In the script his character would make a huge transformation from cowardly to courageous. “I can’t wait to get to into the more aggressive, confident stage. It will be easier for me as a person,” he said. Sadly, if that moment ever came, it never ended up on screen.
However, Malick knew while he was shooting the film was about to change drastically. “The first cut of the film was about Whit. He shifted everything while he was shooting,” longtime Malick editor and collaborator Billy Weber said on the Criterion DVD. There was a good, understandable reason for this. Malick was becoming enamored with an actor whose performance was blowing everyone away.
“He just had a really strong connection with that character and Jim Caviezel,” co-editor Leslie Jones said on the DVD extras. “You could see it; new footage coming in with Jim and it was much more focused and powerful. He found Whit’s voice during production and elaborated on it later.”
John C. Reilly had a much bigger role in the original script as well, but he seemed more at peace with his major excision from the film (he barely has any lines in the finished product). “I was lucky, I [at least] got to work fairly often. There were really great actors there that spent a whole month just waiting. Coming in every day, getting ready and then waiting and waiting and waiting and waiting,” he said in an interview that took place at the University of California Davis. “It was an amazing, amazing confusing delightful experience.”
In a very recent interview with The Playlist about his upcoming film “Terri,” Reilly told us that, “Terry was a fascinating guy – of all the kind of legendary directors I’ve worked with, he seemed the least like a filmmaker.”
“The way I saw it, [he felt], ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah, nevermind about all that,” Reilly said meaning the screenplay and the book. “ ‘I’ve got you all here now, and now I’m just going to see what’s happening for real. Like, what’s really happening today.’ Which is a crazy way to work for a producer, so he’s like ‘Okay, well we’re going to do the script so that I don’t get in trouble with the producer, but what I’m really doing is waiting for something real to happen. Then I’m going to collect it all, I go back and turn it into the story that it needs to be. Not what I planned on doing, not what the script said, not what the book said, not what I promised the producer; what I really had, and what seems like a really personal statement about what I experience when I was making this thing.’ ” Ballsy and far out.
8. There is no “legendary” five-hour cut. It was just the first assembly cut of all the footage.
Still even unmixed, without score and bare bones, “That five-hour version was very powerful, and you could see it was a very moving story back then,” Billy Weber said in an 1999 interview with the Motion Picture Editors Guild Newsletter.
But Malick had difficulty watching any assembly of the picture and had to be forced at near gunpoint to watch it by the editors who were about to revolt.
“We forced him to watch the first assembly cut of the movie which was five hours,” editor Billy Weber said on the Criterion DVD. “And we sat him down and I said to him, ‘I’m not going to work anymore. I’m stopping until you watch everything.’ So he did, we sat one day and we watched the five hour cut and I think he only watched the movie once from beginning to end and that was the first cut. I don’t think he ever watched it again from beginning to end.”
9. Hans Zimmer, by his own admission, may have gone a little nuts composing the music for “The Thin Red Line.”
Malick wanted Hans Zimmer to write the music before the movie was actually shot which is a highly unorthodox way of scoring films. Traditionally, composers watch the footage and score to picture, but this is Terrence Malick we’re talking about. He also wrote six hours of music, a fraction of which is used in the final film.
“I threw all my previous knowledge out the window and started again,” he said in an Inside Film interview from the late ‘90s. “I wrote for nine months without a day off. It was incredible pressure in the cutting room.” On the Criterion DVD he said that Malick moved into his studio for “a year, year and half before he even started on ‘Thin Red Line.’ ”
Zimmer never mentioned the mammoth script after he read it, feeling it was like the elephant in the room Malick didn’t want to discuss. “We spent an inordinate amount of time talking about colors, and these sorts of things,” he said. “Most of the time we having impractical, unpragmatic, philosophical conversations about films heading towards this monumental beast of a film [in] sideways and obtuse ways”
Zimmer became so neurotic about the experience that Billy Weber banned him from the dub stage. “I sound flippant about it [now], but it was six hours of music and it was hard work and I thought it was going to kill me,” he recalled on the Criterion DVD. “I remember going home, clutching my chest and going, ‘I don’t think I’m going to see Christmas’ and meaning it. I wasn’t joking.”
Zimmer and Malick then began to have heated conversations about absurd musical minutia that boiled over into huge arguments (according to the composer, Malick said the two men fought “like brothers”.). “It was so complicated, especially once we set upon this course of removing more and more dialogue,” he said. “I kept feeling the weight of the lack of words on my shoulders trying to keep the river running. After a while it became a mine field of my own neurosis.”
10. Casting the picture took over a year.
“The Thin Red Line” had a long-gestating period. Word got out in 1995 that Malick was working on a new film, but casting didn’t even take place until 1996 and 1997. Part of the reason why people like Johnny Depp, Brad Pitt and others didn’t appear in the film is simple. “Terry’s idea was; he didn’t want to work with stars, he wanted people you would just believe in the characters,” longtime Malick casting director Dianne Crittenden said on the Criterion DVD extras. “His way was to make it just as real as possible and to do that was to use people you didn’t recognize.”
On said DVD, there’s a litany of brief glimpses of people who auditioned including Philip Seymour Hoffman, Josh Hartnett, Neil Patrick Harris, Brendan Sexton III (“This Boy’s Life”), Luke Perry, Crispin Glover and many others. While he eventually didn’t get a part, Stephen Dorff, “Had to audition, he just had to,” Crittenden said. “He worked on it and worked on it and he was like, ‘please, can I wait for him?’ and he’d wait and wait and wait and he’d come in and we’d [audition] until 11pm.”
According to producer Bobby Geisler in the 1999 Vanity Fair profile, Malick became starstruck by all the A-list actors that were at bowing at his feet. According to Geisler he told Malick, “You’re going to compromise the movie” (this sentiment of Malick being initially enamored by Depp and Pitt is corroborated in 1999’s Premiere article “Welcome To The Jungle”).
Truth or fiction, regardless, Malick seemed to be of that thinking anyhow. A source in the VF article said he said he too was reluctant to include stars. “The audience will know that Pitt’s going to wake up after his death scene and collect his $1 million.”
“You don’t want egos and people who want attention,’’ Crittenden said of the casting process which meant no time for kid-gloves with actors who wanted special treatment. “He wanted a
certain transparency, that the actor was willing to put their own ego aside and just inhabit the character. The kind of actor who works best with Terry is someone who is someone who is extremely flexible that doesn’t get hung up on lines and words,” she said delicately, knowing all too well many of those lines and words don’t actually make the final picture.
11. Caviezel and Penn’s relationship in the film mirrored their real-life ones. Caviezel the sincere and earnest man, Penn the cynic.
In a New York Daily News profile, the writer described Caviezel as someone who “doesn’t seem to have an insincere bone in his body,” which doesn’t sound far apart from his gentle, earnest and compassionate Pvt. Witt character, the heart and soul of the innocence lost amongst the madness of war in Malick’s film.
“He can be cynical and brutal and hysterical. He’s all those things, he can turn on a dime and be mean, and then he’s the sweetest guy in the world,” Dash Mihok said in an Inside Film interview about Penn, again not far off the mark from his 1st Sgt. Edward Welsh character.
One day Terry asked me, ‘What do you think of Sean Penn?’ ” Caviezel recalled in the “Rosy-Fingered Dawn” documentary. “I said, he’s a rock, one day you can go and talk him the next day you go up to him and he doesn’t even know who you are – that’s Sean Penn. When we were shooting that scene Terry said, ‘Tell him that. Tell him what you told me.’ ”
Watch parts of “Rosy-Fingered Dawn” where the two actors discuss working with one another.
12. Malick has insane memory retention.
“He shoots a lot of film and he’ll remember specific moments and six people will run out screaming trying to find the shot that Terry remembers and no one has logged in,” Malick’s production designer Jack Fisk said on the Criterion Commentary track.
Producer Grant Hill elaborated on this story in hilarious detail. “There was a sequence that Terry had not been able to crack, he had been working on it for six or eight weeks, different editors, and one day he walks into the lead editor Billy Weber and said, ‘Billy, I know that somewhere after cut had been called — so it must have been early in the film – there are about 10 or 12 frames’ and he described what they were,” Hill said. “And of course Billy – who had 1.2 million of feet in front of him – said, ‘You’re crazy.’ But it took 10 days or so, he found the frames, put them in the sequence and I was in the room, and the sequence did just come alive. It was some weird sense of what it took to complete it.”
13. Billy Weber gave Malick an inspired piece of advice that he’s employed to this day.
Malick’s always wanted a near-silent film and his close collaborators know this all too well. “Days of Heaven” took two years because Weber and Malick were constantly “whittling away” at the dialogue scenes and those difficulties gave Weber an idea 20 years later. On the “Days of Heaven” Criterion DVD commentary, Weber recalled some sage advice he gave him that most Malick-philes knows he uses now constantly: shoot the scene once with dialogue and then the same once again without dialogue. “And so we did a lot of takes like that on [‘Thin Red Line’]. Because he and I both knew he would want the shot like that,” he said, but unfortunately, it does not speed up the editing process one bit. “No it doesn’t speed up the editing at all. As a matter of fact it slows it down, but it does allow for actors that aren’t very good to come off a lot better than they really are.”
14. The bootcamp for actors was was the real deal and tough.
“It was physical, it was dirty – no shower in a week in the bush, digging our own trenches and staying up half the night on lookout, it was the real thing,” actor Dash Mihok said on the Criterion extras. “But when you’re sleeping eight guys in a tent with each other and it’s freezing at night and and you had to cuddle up, you become pretty close.”
Jim Caviezel even admitted that in a confused moment at night in the middle of a thundershower, he snuggled a bit too close to Adrien Brody. “He was like, ‘Jim, Jim, I’m not your wife!’,” he recalled on the DVD. “And I was like, ‘Sorry I think I kissed his ear or something, maybe I even bit it, I dunno.”
The production itself was also punishing. The actors had to run uphill several times a day in disgusting hot temperatures as close to the camera as possible (to stay in focus) carrying 40 pounds of gear plus real machine guns that weighed 10 to 15 pounds. By the end of the day most of the actors were left exhausted and battered and bruised.
“Because of the [tall grass] you had no idea where your footing was, plus you had to dodge bodies or explosives,” Acevedo said on the DVD of the daily difficulties of just running around on set.
“You’re constantly falling and your weapon is bumping into you. You have to match your distance in these shots and you cannot let up, you have to stay two feet from the lens otherwise focus goes out,” Mihok said. Plus there were other rather revolting obstacles.
“My uniform on this movie was never washed,” Mihok recalled on the DVD. “Every morning, you’d wake up at 4:30, it’d be freezing out, you’d drive an hour to set, get into the trailer and put on this gross tank top on. And they disinfected it, but they couldn’t wash it for continuity reasons. It weighed about 20 lbs and it was [freezing] out and in this cold rotten ham thing and then you put the dirt all over your face and then it would all of a sudden turn to be 120 degrees out and you sweated all day and literally it became another weapon; you’re wearing 40 pounds of stank, greasy hot ham.”
15. Sean Penn had a say in the final editing of the film and perhaps it’s because he had Malick’s back.
“I can’t speak to what secrets Terry has in his head, but when he would share certain things with me he would often end them with, ‘loose lips sinks ships,'” Penn said vaguely on the Criterion DVD extras about the mysterious Malick. “Terry has a lot of secrets and if you’re supportive of the director at some point you must be willing to support those secrets.”
Perhaps this is why the trusted ally had a special insight to the film that no other actor received. According to that informative 1999 EW article, Penn went through the movie frame by frame and suggested cuts to Malick and the director then trimmed about five minutes from the final picture.
“I went to that movie and saw something as surprising to me as it would have been to you or anybody seeing it who was not directly involved,” he said.
16. If you thought the production was difficult, wait til you hear about the behind-the-scenes drama that unfolded with producers
The tale of “The Thin Red Line” producers Bobby Geisler and John Roberdeau is epic, ugly and well-documented. Chronicled deeply by both the Vanity Fair and Entertainment Weekly pieces (both are must-reads frankly), they tell an alleged (mostly one-sided) story of betrayal and deceit on the part of Terrence Malick (though do note: Malick doesn’t speak in interviews anymore so it’s only so balanced). The facts are this: Geisler and Roberdeau were banned from the set of “The Thin Red Line” and were banned from the Oscar ceremony; the EW writer was sent a damaging unsigned letter on ‘Thin Red Line’ stationery that called the producers “imposters and confidence men who have no connection with Mr. Malick…journalists should beware of letting these tricksters promote their own careers.” From all accounts they do seem to be the two people directly responsible for Terrence Malick’s return to filmmaking, but their patience and endurance may have come at a heavy price (financially, spiritually and emotionally). “I didn’t think he was capable of betrayal of this magnitude,” they told EW. More facts: producer Mike Medavoy‘s attorneys declared them in breach of contract and threatened to remove their names from the film unless they agreed to do no future interviews until after the Academy Awards according to the Vanity Fair article. As the author of the article says, “we’ll probably never know the entire truth about this relationship.” One thing is certain: ugly is an understatement.
Here’s Mickey Rourke’s deleted scene and one with John C. Reilly.
“The Thin Red Line” by the numbers.
– It cost $52 million to make, grossed $36 million domestically and another $61 million internationally for a worldwide gross of $98.1 million.
– The film garnered seven Academy Award nominations: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing, Best Original Score and Best in Sound Mixing. It won none.
– It won the top prize Golden Bear at the 1999 Berlin International Film Festival. Martin Scorsese ranked it as his second favorite film of the 1990s.
– Shooting began on June 23, 1997 for 100 days in Australia, 24 in the Solomon Islands, and 3 in the U.S.
– The editing team, starting with Leslie Jones, then Billy Weber and then Saar Klein, worked for 13 months in post, and the mix lasted four months.