A fiercely guarded private life and a small but arguably brilliant body of work have made Terrence Malick something of an enigma within an industry that usually demands exhaustive dissection. The existential meditation that is his latest film, “The Tree of Life,” has only served to exaggerate the notoriously interview-shy director’s mystique.

Yet the film’s star and producer, Brad Pitt, says Malick’s aversion to the public eye has nothing to do with cultivating a reputation.

“He is just a very, very humble craftsman. In a sense, he’s like a sculptor working alone in his studio,” Pitt says.

Any perceived secrecy surrounding his sets is about protecting a carefully crafted environment designed to capture what Pitt describes as the “truthful missteps” that unintentionally diverge from his dense scripts.

“He is kind of like a guy standing there with a butterfly net, waiting and waiting and waiting for a monarch to fly by. And then he catches it,” Pitt says. “We had no generators, none of the normal movie equipment and clutter and cacophony we have grown accustomed to. We just had Chivo (d.p. Emmanuel Lubezki) with a camera on his back.”

All the scenes were shot in two takes, where the first featured the actors reacting to what is written on the page. But for the second, Malick would add a twist, which he calls “torpedoing” the scene.

“It’s written that Mr. and Mrs. O’Brien are having an argument, and we would do one take and if you want to walk out the door you walk out the door. Then the second take, it’s not written at all, he would send in Tye (Sheridan) to sit down. He called Tye the torpedo. Suddenly, the whole tenor of the scene changes and gets quiet because the boy is there,” Pitt says. “It was a really interesting and fresh way to work. Exhausting, I will tell you that.”

Eye on the Oscars: The Director
It’s a matter of ‘life’ and mirth
And the nominees are:
Woody Allen | Michel Hazanavicius | Terrence Malick | Alexander Payne | Martin Scorsese