On Location in Australia:
Because Guadalcanal – the setting for the film - could not sustain a movie crew,
as well as other logistical considerations, The Thin Red Line was filmed primarily in the
Daintree Rainforest in Queensland, Australia. A critical four weeks of filming in
Guadalcanal followed the Queensland shoot.
"We continually had to hide the cows and try and keep
them from eating the sets,"production designer Jack Fisk
In Australia, over 200 actors and extras, in combat gear, were put through their paces
by two production units running simultaneously. The Queensland locale was ideal for at
least two reasons. According to Executive Producer George Stevens, Jr., a noted filmmaker
in his own right, "We had Australian crew members who were talented, resourceful and
who wouldn’t rest until the work was done right."
In addition, the Australian locale’s grassy fields and the adjoining sea was a
close match to the topography of Guadalcanal. But those grasses – and a nearby cattle
farm – also presented some special challenges. "We continually had to hide the
cows and try and keep them from eating the sets," remembers Production Designer Jack Fisk. Since much of the battle was fought on these grassy fields, the filmmakers had to be
able to rejuvenate the grass and keep it growing for almost five months. "We also
fluffed and transplanted the grass," says Fisk. "We learned some great tricks to
make it last as long as possible."
Landscaping challenges, of course, were only a small part of Fisk’s
responsibilities in Australia. Since period wardrobe and props were in short supply, Fisk
and the production’s other artists had to build virtually everything from scratch,
including seven aircraft, two thousand uniforms to their original military specifications,
rifles, tents…even an airstrip and a plantation.
"His perspective is extraordinary" Fisk
on director Terry Malick
But perhaps the most challenging aspect for Fisk was anticipating Malick’s next
move. "Terry is not easy to predict, but that’s why I love working with
him," Fisk enthuses. "His perspective is extraordinary – he sees things
differently than most people. "Terry’s work really begins when he arrives at the
set and sees it populated with actors and extras," Fisk continues. "We’d
then start to change things around and mold them to what he saw. It was a very organic and
unpredictable process, and much of it was dependent on light." To that end director
of photography John Toll, a two-time Academy Award winner (for
Legends of the Fall and Braveheart), and winner of the New York Critics Circle Best
Cinematography for The Thin Red Line, made significant contributions to the film’s
look. Comments Stevens: "John is an incredibly imaginative and resourceful
"He’s very intuitive" John
Cusack on Terry Malick
Early on Terry and John decided to film primarily in natural light to give the picture
a distinctive look; John executed that with remarkable skill, under the most arduous
conditions." Malick’s unique methods also impressed the actors, among them John
Cusack, who plays Captain John Gaff. "It was certainly never boring with Terry,"
Cusack offers. "He’s very intuitive – sometimes we’d be in the middle
of a shot and he’d suddenly see something interesting elsewhere and he’d go
right over and shoot it."
How it began:
In 1988 Terrence Malick suggested adapting James Jones’ novel of The Thin Red Line to
producers Robert Michael Geisler and John Roberdeau, who in turn approached the
author’s widow, Gloria Jones, and acquired the rights. Geisler and Roberdeau then
went to Malick’s friend and former agent, Phoenix Pictures chairman Mike Medavoy, to
help develop, produce and raise the money for the film. Malick had originally intended
only to write the screenplay.
In September, 1996, Malick and Medavoy of Phoenix approached (Australian) producer
Grant Hill, who was working on Titanic in Rosarito Beach, Mexico. "Terrence and I
developed a strong telephone relationship," comments Hill, "and I was delighted
when he invited me to join him."
"Before we knew it, we were in Australia, shooting the
Fox 2000 Pictures, under President Laura Ziskin, came on board, and the film was given
a green light. "Before we knew it," add Medavoy and Stevens, "we were in
Australia, shooting the movie."
One of the first priorities for Malick at this stage was to assemble a close group of
old friends and collaborators; production designer Jack Fisk, first assistant director
Skip Cosper, casting director Dianne Crittenden and editor Billy Weber had all worked
on Malick’s previous films. Added to this team were two Academy Award winners –
cinematographer John Toll and composer Hans Zimmer. Fisk, who designed both Badlands and
Days of Heaven, found the opportunity to reunite with Malick irresistible. "When I
heard that Terry was going make another film, I became jealous about even the possibility
that somebody else would be designing it. So I sent him a fax, saying that I’d
finally recovered from Days of Heaven (on which they had collaborated twenty years
earlier), and that I’d love to work with him again."
The Thin Red Line also brings together an extraordinary cast of actors who play the men of
C-for-Charlie Company and the officers who send them into battle. Among them are Sean
Penn, Jim Caviezel, Ben Chaplin, George Clooney, John Cusack, Woody Harrelson, Elias
Koteas and Nick Nolte.
"They wanted to be participants in Terry’s
Says George Stevens, Jr.: "I don’t recall a picture like this where so many
gifted performers were willing to accept whatever role was offered. It presented a
tremendous opportunity to Terry. "I think there are two reasons for this,"
Stevens continues. "One is that they admired the story and the script. Then, of
course, each of these men had a very strong desire to work with Terry Malick."
Malick’s appreciation of actors and their work was also a significant factor in
assembling the cast. "Terry knows many actors personally and enjoys a tremendous
rapport with them," comments Hill. The director’s vision of the story and
characters were further enticements. "I would guess that they wanted to be
participants in Terry’s vision," adds Hill, "and have the opportunity to
experience a different and rewarding directorial approach."
"He never compromised" Nick
Cast members were pleased to take on any role, large or small, for the chance to work
on The Thin Red Line. Says Nick Nolte, who plays Colonel Tall: "It was a great
pleasure working with Terry. He’s done very few films, so when he does direct, it
seems like his last time. So he never compromised."
Adds Ben Chaplin, "I took the role of Private Bell without hesitation.
Terrence’s first two films were classics, and I knew The Thin Red Line would be a
once in a lifetime opportunity." Echoes Woody Harrelson, who plays Sergeant Keck:
"Terry was wonderful to work with. I’ve always thought that if a movie is going
to work, the people involved need to become something of a family. That’s exactly the
type of environment Terry created."
"I count myself very fortunate" Jim
While pleased at the list of star talent that was coming aboard the project, the
filmmakers were determined to find some relatively new faces to take on key roles. With
more than fifty speaking parts, the casting process was long and exhaustive. Among the new
"recruits" was Jim Caviezel, who takes on the role of Private Witt, from
Kentucky. The opportunity was certainly not lost on the young actor. "I count myself
very fortunate not only to be in this movie, but to have the role of Witt; he’s a
real hero, and a wonderful character to have played."
NOTE: The Thin Red Line won a special Golden Satellite Award for
'Outstanding Motion Picture Ensemble' as well as for 'Best Picture - Drama'.