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 The World of Film in Australia - on the Internet Updated Monday June 15, 2020 

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Terrence Malick’s powerful and moving World War II drama, The Thin Red Line, was shot – as it were – in Australia, where the filmmakers found a terrific talent pool of cast and crew, as they reveal in this background briefing.

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 cinematographer."

"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 movie."

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 vision,"

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 Nolte

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 Caviezel

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'.

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On the eve of its Australian release, The Thin Red Line received Oscar nominations in several categories, including best film, director and original screenplay.


About the filmmaker:
Terrence Malick (writer & director)

was born in Ottawa, Illinois and grew up in Oklahoma and Texas, and still lives in Austin, Texas. The Thin Red Line marks the much anticipated return to the director’s chair for Malick, whose two previous pictures were Badlands and Days of Heaven. For the latter, Malick received the New York Film Critics Award, the National Society Of Film Critics Award and the Cannes Film Festival Award, all for Best Director. Malick attended the Center for Advanced Film Studies at the American Film Institute, where he first met AFI founder and The Thin Red Line executive producer George Stevens, Jr. and Phoenix Pictures chairman Mike Medavoy, who became his first agent. Upon graduating from AFI, Malick made his first feature, Badlands, followed in 1978 by Days of Heaven. Malick won the New York Critics Circle Best Director and the Golden Satellite Awards Best Director for The Thin Red Line.

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