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Terrence Malick on ‘The Tree of Life’

Eye on the Oscars: The Director - Terrence Malick

With “The Tree of Life,” filmmaker Terrence Malick realized a long-held dream. Collaborators recall discussions about the project dating back some 30 years to the set of “Badlands,” the American director’s 1973 seminal feature debut about a pair of criminal lovers on the run.

Since then, the famously reclusive director, who does not grant interviews, has completed four feature films — “Days of Heaven,” “The Thin Red Line,” “The New World” and “Life” — each suffused with Malick’s now-trademark fascination with the natural world, and Man’s place within it.

If Malick has a singular and commanding authorial presence — with “The Tree of Life” feeling more like an example of a personal poem than a collaborative artform — those who work with the Texas-based maverick suggest he’s inclusive and very much open to others’ ideas.

“He does have a very strong vision of what he wants to do and what he wants to accomplish,” says producer Bill Pohlad. “But there’s nothing demanding about his demeanor. He’s very inclusive and collaborative. Even when we were in post and discussing the cuts” — a lengthy period that straddled one Cannes deadline and then reached another — “there was never an argument. We had a very family-like atmosphere.”

But Pohlad and others say Malick’s method was also unique, constantly deviating from any set schedule and moving the crew around the small Texas town of Smithville at whim to grab shots because the light happened to be right. As actress Jessica Chastain explained after the film’s Cannes premiere, “It’s all about capturing an accident,” she said. “He would be shooting, and Brad would be wonderful, and then there’d be a woodpecker nearby and he’d turn to that. You can’t plan any moment.”

“But it isn’t as random as that,” Pohlad says. “Terry’s got a plan. But he executes it in an easygoing way.”

EYE ON THE OSCARS: THE DIRECTOR
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