Martin Scorsese is tackling one of his most ambitious film projects yet with “Killers of the Flower Moon.” The filmmaker’s follow-up to his 10-time Oscar nominee “The Irishman” and his first collaboration with Apple Films, “Flower Moon” brings Scorsese into the Western genre for the first time and reunites him with some of his most prolific actors and crafts collaborators (yes, of course Thelma Schoonmaker is editing).
“We are thrilled to finally start production on ‘Killers of the Flower Moon’ in Oklahoma,” Scorsese said in a statement announcing the official start of production April 19, 2021. “To be able to tell this story on the land where these events took place is incredibly important and critical to allowing us to portray an accurate depiction of the time and people. We’re grateful to Apple, the Oklahoma Film and Music Office and The Osage Nation, especially all our Osage consultants and cultural advisors, as we prepare for this shoot. We’re excited to start working with our local cast and crew to bring this story to life on screen and immortalize a time in American history that should not be forgotten.”
With “Killers of the Flower Moon” now in production, IndieWire rounds up all the details Scorsese fans need to know about his latest endeavor.
Leonardo DiCaprio Thinks the Film Is a ‘Masterpiece’
Oscar winner Leonardo DiCaprio believes “Killers of the Flower Moon” is his best work yet, according to the film’s costume designer Jacqueline West.
“We had lunch before I came here. He said, ‘Jackie, I think we worked on a masterpiece.’ I thought for Leo to say that, was something. He doesn’t say that lightly,” West told Deadline. “He has been in the business since he was a little boy.”
West previously collaborated with DiCaprio on “The Revenant,” which landed the actor his first Academy Award. Yet working with director Martin Scorsese led to West contemplating retirement.
“I had the most incredible experience of my film career [on ‘Killers of the Flower Moon’],” she continued. “I can’t talk about that film yet because nothing has been released but I just have to say it’s the combination of someone I always wanted to work with and my absolute dream project…It was brilliantly done not just on my part but by everybody.”
West continued, “My husband said after I worked with Scorsese, ‘OK, now you can quit. That’s the pinnacle.'”
As for the film itself, West teased, “It follows the book, and the book was totally captivating. The native cast was incredible and the acting, Lily Gladstone is incredible. The images were thrilling. It looks amazing. I watched it all being shot but I haven’t seen any of it.”
The Film Is Eyeing a 2023 Cannes Premiere
The Apple Original film may be making its world premiere at the 2023 Cannes Film Festival, as Cannes director Thierry Fremaux traveled to Los Angeles allegedly to screen the film, along with other potential programming titles per Variety. According to sources, the running time potentially could be a factor in whether or not “Killers of the Flower Moon” blossoms at Cannes, but lead star DiCaprio is reportedly eager to return to the festival since attending for Quentin Tarantino’s 2019 Oscar winner “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.”
If “Killers of the Flower Moon” does debut at Cannes, it will be Scorsese’s first return to the festival since winning the Best Director title for 1985’s “After Hours.”
The Rumored Running Time Is More Than Three Hours
According to Showbiz 411, the rumored runtime for “Killers of the Flower Moon” is almost as expansive as its budget: The epic period piece is expected to clock in at three hours and 20 minutes.
Brendan Fraser Is a Last-Minute Cast Addition
Brendan Fraser was a last-minute cast addition for “Killers of the Flower Moon.” Fraser’s casting was confirmed by Deadline on August 3, 2021. Production on the movie was already underway in Oklahoma at this point. Deadline reported that Fraser is starring in “Flower Moon” as lawyer WS Hamilton.
The First Look Photo
Apple debuted the first official photo from “Killers of the Flower Moon” on May 10, 2021. The image depicts Leonardo DiCaprio as Ernest Burkhart and Lily Gladstone as Mollie Burkhart. The characters are married in the film. Also on display in the first look image is Jack Fisk’s production design. “Flower Moon” marks a first-time collaboration between Martin Scorsese and Fisk (read more about the production designer below).
Prior to production, DiCaprio met in person with members and leaders of the Osage Nation in order to ensure the film and his character would fairly represent the time period depicted. A press release from Osage News in February 2021 confirmed one meeting took place that month in which “several members of the community spoke, sharing their concerns, stories and thoughts with the film team. DiCaprio asked several questions which sparked thoughtful conversation that will inform the script and his character.”
The Osage Nation Reaction
With production on “Killers of the Flower Moon” now underway, several Osage Nation members spoke to The Oklahoman about what it means for such a huge production to be resurrecting painful memories from the past. The production has taken over entire streets in Pawhuska, Oklahoma and transformed them into 1920s Fairfax.
“I think about it both ways. It was a bad time — a real bad time — for the Osage…and I think this movie is going to bring back a lot of old, bad memories,” Osage Nation member Harrison Shackelford said. “But it’s going to bring back some stuff that needed to be talked about, that needs to be said, that some people know and some people don’t know. And I think it’s going to be good.”
Brandy Lemon, a longtime member of the Osage Nation Congress who is working as a liaison on the movie, added, “It’s definitely something that is delicate…It’s a delicate balance that, no matter what, it’s going to hurt some. And others are going to cheer it on. If anybody knows anything about Martin Scorsese, they’re going to get everything in this film. They’re going to get drama, they’re going to get violence in some form, they’re going to get anguish, they’re going to get happiness, all the big feelings.
The Source Material
Scorsese’s film is based on David Grann’s non-fiction book “Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI.” It’s the third book published by the American journalist and was released on April 18, 2017. The book investigates a series of murders that plagued the Osage people in Osage County, Oklahoma during the 1920s after valuable oil was discovered on their land. The Osage people were granted in court the right to profit from oil found on their land, which made them the target of greedy ranch owners. The murders attracted the attention of the newly-formed FBI. Scorsese’s film adaptation is expected to include the perspective of the FBI as they investigate the murders and the Osage Nation as its people deal with the battle for their land.
Scorsese Considers the Film to Be His First Western
In an interview in February 2020, Scorsese touted “Killers of the Flower Moon” as his first movie set in the Western genre. “We think it’s a Western,” Scorsese told Premiere of the film. “It happened in 1921-1922 in Oklahoma. There are certainly cowboys, but they have cars and also horses. The film is mainly about the Osage, an Indian tribe that was given horrible territory, which they loved because they said to themselves that Whites would never be interested in it. Then we discovered oil there and, for about 10 years, the Osage became the richest people in the world, per capita. Then, as with the Yukon and the Colorado mining regions, the vultures disembark, the White man, the European arrives, and all was lost. There, the underworld had such control over everything that you were more likely to go to jail for killing a dog than for killing an Indian.”
Scorsese continued, “It’s so interesting to think about the mentality that leads us to this. The history of civilization goes back to Mesopotamia. The Hittites are invaded by another people, they disappear, and later it is said that they have been assimilated or, rather, absorbed. It is fascinating to see this mentality which is reproduced in other cultures, through two world wars. And which is therefore timeless, I think. This is the film that we are going to try to make.”
Bringing Together Two of His Greatest Muses
Scorsese is bringing together his two greatest muses for “Killers of the Flower Moon,” Robert De Niro and Leonardo DiCaprio. The two Oscar winners previously acted together in Michael Caton-Jones’ 1993 drama “This Boy’s Life” and appeared as fictionalized versions of themselves in Scorsese’s short film “The Audition.” De Niro’s Scorsese films include “Mean Streets,” “Taxi Driver,” “Raging Bull,” “Casino,” “The King of Comedy,” “Cape Fear,” and “The Irishman,” while DiCaprio appeared in Scorsese’s “The Aviator,” “Gangs of New York,” “Shutter Island,” “The Departed,” and “The Wolf of Wall Street.” De Niro was Oscar nominated for Best Actor with “Taxi Driver,” “Cape Fear,” and “Raging Bull,” winning for the latter. DiCaprio was Oscar nominated for “The Aviator” and “The Wolf of Wall Street.”
De Niro stars in “Killers of the Flower Moon” as William Hale, a powerful rancher who becomes the lead suspect in the FBI’s investigation into the Osage murders. DiCaprio plays Ernest Burkhart, William’s morally conflicted nephew. Ernest is married to an Osage woman named Mollie, played by Lily Gladstone.
The Supporting Cast
“Certain Women” and “First Cow” actress Lily Gladstone has a major supporting role in “Killers of the Flower Moon” as Mollie Burkart. Jesse Plemons, who had a supporting role in “The Irishman,” reunites with Scorsese here in a larger role as lead FBI agent Tom White. The supporting cast also includes Scott Shepherd, Pat Healy, Tantoo Cardinal, Cara Jade Myers, JaNae Collins, Jillian Dion, William Belleau, Louis Cancelmi, Tatanka Means, Michael Abbott Jr., Gary Basaraba, and Grammy Award-winning musicians Jason Isbell and Sturghill Simpson. Scorsese was adamant about casting indigenous actors as members of the Osage Nation in his film.
The Switch From Paramount to Apple
Just as Paramount sold Scorsese’s “The Irishman” to Netflix because of the ballooning production budget, Paramount also sold “Killers of the Flower Moon” to Apple. But it wasn’t just the rumored $200 million “Flower Moon” budget that gave Paramount pause. When the film was set up at Paramount, DiCaprio was attached to star in the FBI agent role of Tom White. The character is a protagonist in the film, but DiCaprio was more interested in playing the more ambiguously-defined Ernest Buckhart, who reportedly oscillates between hero and villain during the film. Moving DiCaprio into a more seedy role allegedly made Paramount concerned “Flower Moon” would be less commercially viable, thus the decision to sell the film to streaming giant Apple was made. Apple is the creative studio and financer of the film, while Paramount remains attached as the worldwide distributor of the movie.
Script Changes Over Characters
Moving DiCaprio into the role of Ernest Buckhart opened the door for Scorsese to bring in Jesse Plemons as FBI agent Tom White. Back in November 2020, screenwriter Roth confirmed the character changes weren’t without tension, saying, “Leonardo [DiCaprio] wanted some things changed [in the script] that we argued about. He won half of [the arguments]. I won half of them.” As for what the character changes mean for the film, Roth said fans can expect to see DiCaprio and Plemons in equal measure.
“I wouldn’t say [Plemons is] the lead,” Roth said. “I would say that he was the designated hero…I think the parts are pretty equal and they were always equal to a certain extent, and Leo’s part is very complicated and very interesting. It’s a smart part for a smart actor to play. I mean, if Montgomery Clift was alive, I think he might think of playing him.”
Roth continued, “There were some changes that came about that were interesting about what Leonardo was going to play in it. I think in the long run — we all had our moments of trying to figure out how best to portray things because the story is so impactful — and I think we ended up with exactly the right material and that Marty made the right decisions.”
Plemons called being cast in the film feeling like “every sort of Christmas holiday rolled into one” in February 2022. Plemons’ FBI agent is akin to a “superhero of morality” and a true “beacon of justice,” according to the “Power of the Dog” Oscar nominee.
“Obviously, he had his flaws like everyone, but I had built this character up so massively,” Plemons said. “As for working with Scorsese, he really gives you a lot of space, likes playing around, and is open to any ideas. He’s got an infectious excitement, even after all this time. It just seems like he can’t believe that this is what he gets to do with his life.”
Cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto Is Onboard
“Killers of the Flower Moon” will mark the fourth collaboration between Martin Scorsese and cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto. The two artists first joined forces on “The Wolf of Wall Street” and reteamed on “Silence” and “The Irishman.” The latter two movies earned Prieto Oscar nominations for Best Cinematography, as did his work on Ang Lee’s “Brokeback Mountain.” Considering Prieto shot the Western romance “Brokeback Mountain” and the Western drama “The Homesman,” he should be an extra asset to Scorsese as the director embarks on his first Western drama. Prieto has also shot films for Spike Lee (“25th Hour”), Julie Taymor (“Frida”), Oliver Stone (“Alexander”), Alejandro González Iñárritu (“Amores Perros,” “21 Grams,” “Babel,” etc.), Pedro Almodóvar (“Broken Embraces”), and Ben Affleck (“The Town”), among others.
It’s Not a Martin Scorsese Film Without Robbie Robertson
Robbie Robertson, best known for being the lead guitarist and songwriter for The Band, has been working with Scorsese since the director’s 1978 The Band concert documentary “The Last Waltz.” Since then, Robertson has worked on Scorsese’s films “Raging Bull” (music producer), “The King of Comedy” (music producer), “The Color of Money” (composer), “Casino” (music consultant), “Gangs of New York” (executive music producer), “The Departed” (music producer), “Shutter Island” (music supervisor”), “The World of Wall Street” (executive music producer), “Silence” (executive music producer), and “The Irishman” (executive music producer, musical director, musician). He’s back for “Killers of the Flower Moon,” telling Rolling Stone in 2020 that he was spending most of the pandemic thinking about music for the Western drama.
A New Craft Member in Jack Fisk
Apple confirmed to IndieWire that legendary production designer Jack Fisk is on board for “Killers of the Flower Moon,” which will mark the first collaboration between Scorsese and Fisk. The pairing is notable, given that the production designer is a frequent collaborator of David Lynch, Terrence Malick, and Paul Thomas Anderson. Fisk has earned two Oscar nominations for Best Production Design, the first for Anderson’s “There Will Be Blood” and the second for Alejandro González Iñárritu’s “The Revenant.” Other Fisk projects include “Badlands,” “The Thin Red Line,” “Mulholland Drive,” “The New World,” “The Tree of Life,” “The Master,” and “To the Wonder,” among other titles. “Flower Moon” will mark Fisk’s first feature film job since Malick’s 2017 drama “Song to Song.”
Eric Roth’s Script Has Been in the Works for Years
Eric Roth worked on the screenplay for “Killers of the Flower Moon” for nearly half a decade before the film finally went into production. The writer won the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay with “Forrest Gump” before landing four more nominations in the category thanks to “The Insider,” “Munich,” “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” and “A Star Is Born.” Roth most recently earned an Oscar nomination for Best Picture as a producer on David Fincher’s “Mank” and he also has a writing credit on Denis Villeneuve’s “Dune” adaptation.
Roth said last month about “Flower Moon,” “I just think [Scorsese] is going to make — and obviously I would say this — but I think [of] all my work, this one could be one of the great movies. I really mean that. I think it has all the ingredients, which I don’t want to jinx it, but the story is so important.”
Working Closely with Osage Nation
Scorsese spent the year leading up to filming “Killers of the Flower Moon” visiting the Osage Nation in Oklahoma in order to better learn about their culture and to work with their leaders in order to accurately depict the Osage people in the film. Chief of the Osage Nation Geoffrey Standing Bear is one of the leading consultants on “Killers of the Flower Moon.” Scorsese also worked closely with the Osage Nation’s film ambassador Chad Renfro. DiCaprio joined Scorsese in February 2021 for a meeting with Standing Bear and Renfro in which they made a presentation of the overall intention of the film, particularly highlighting the themes of trust and betrayal, how ultimately the story of Mollie Kyle and Ernest Burkhart is a microcosm of the wider betrayal of the Osage people.
Standing Bear issued the following statement to mark the start of production in April 2021: “In recent meetings with Oklahoma Senators and House of Representative Members I made the point of how much their support for the movie industry has made a difference. This is a very strong, lucrative business which directly benefits many Oklahomans, including the Sovereign Nations. It promotes financial opportunities and cultural recognition for all. The funding from the State of Oklahoma along with the efforts of the Osage Nation have proven to be a big draw for this film in particular. We are now seeing the fruits of all of our efforts to bring this great movie production here and now!”
Recovering from “The Irishman”
The coronavirus pandemic delayed production on “Killers of the Flower Moon” for over a year, and Scorsese was honest with fans in December 2020 by saying the crisis resulted in a loss of his creative spark. “I have to find a way to get back to a singular creative impulse for my new film the way I had for ‘Irishman,’” the director told Empire Magazine. “Cut away all the award ceremonies, all that stuff, and get back to being in a room alone with a project and wondering if I can do something again.”
“With ‘Irishman,’ we achieved what I wanted to do,” Scorsese continued. “Whether it’s great or good or not, I don’t know. I know I could watch it. What I mean is I have to go back and find that spark. I don’t know if I can. But the pandemic has made it almost obligatory to go and find it. Because everything else is gone, normal life is not there anymore. So what do you have? You have people you love, family, and you hope, a creative spark, and maybe that can be rekindled for a new film. But I keep going back to ‘Irishman.’ Thinking on ‘Irishman.’ I use ‘Irishman’ as…I used that experience as the lesson.”
Now that production is underway, something tells us Scorsese got his spark back.
The Long Delay to Starting Filming
Cameras were supposed to begin rolling on “Killers of the Flower Moon” in March 2020, but the coronavirus pandemic delayed production indefinitely. By August, the Osage Nation was readying for the start of filming to take place in February or March 2021. Pandemic delays extended the pre-production process, as large crews were needed to begin building sets on location in Oklahoma. Apple confirmed to IndieWire that production officially started April 19, 2021.
Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert DeNiro Offered a Walk-On Role
DiCaprio and De Niro helped raise funds for charity organizations Meals on Wheels America, No Kid Hungry, and America’s Food Fund during the pandemic by launching a campaign in which the highest donor received a walk-on role in “Killers of the Flower Moon.” America’s Food Fund was created in part by DiCaprio during the height of the pandemic and aims to help make sure every family in need gets access to food during the epidemic. “If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to be able to work with the great Martin Scorsese, Robert De Niro, and myself, this is your chance,” DiCaprio announced on social media at the time. The winner got to spend one whole day on set and also has an invitation to the film’s world premiere.
Is There a Release Date?
Apple has not assigned an official release date for “Killers of the Flower Moon” yet. Production kicked off in late April 2021 but the release has been delayed mutliple times.
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