Terrence Malick’s “The Tree of Life” sparks polarized love or hate responses. (See the comments on the NYTimes review.) That doesn’t help build consensus within critics’ groups (the New York Film Critics Circle gave Brad Pitt Best Actor for “Moneyball” as well as “Tree of Life,” and Jessica Chastain supporting actress for three of her films, inluding “Tree of Life”), but it will make it easier for the film to land in the Best Picture race. That’s because Oscar voters who feel passionately will give it their number one slot.
Production designer Jack Fisk talked to TOH here, and shares his process with Malick in the video below, along with costume designer Jacqueline West, who I met last week at Fox Searchlight’s wiindblown holiday party at Ceccino’s, crammed with the teams behind their awards contenders. Knowing how Malick works, West decided to give each character a closet full of their own clothes at the Texas location where they filmed for months, she said. Back in the 50s, they’d have a limited wardrobe, for one thing, but also Malick would come to the set in the morning and then decide what he was going to shoot that day. “Terry doesn’t follow a call sheet,” she said. Smart.
West has worked on many Malick films, including his next untitled film starring Ben Affleck, who she said learned a lot from Malick, and is now using her–and that new knowledge– on his new film, “Argo.” “He turns on a dime,” she said, and has learned to shoot much faster.
Originally “The Tree of Life” script was bracketed by Sean Penn telling the story, and moved chronologically from the beginnings of life through the end of the film, without cutting back and forth, which emerged as Malick needed to cut down the film in the editing room. (Much of Penn’s role got cut out, to his chagrin.) Original screenplay is one of the less likely nominations “The Tree of Life” could score, which include best picture, supporting actress (Chastain–Dreamworks is pushing Octavia Spencer for “The Help”), cinematography (Emanuel Lubezki, who won the NYFCC), art direction (Fisk), costume designer (West, they like period), and possibly director (Malick), although that’s a tough category. But sometimes the directors go their own way. Malick is both envied and respected for his status as an independent artist who aims high and answers to no one.