Ruth De Jong
AS: How did you happen to get your start with Jack Fisk?
RDJ: The first film he hired me for was There Will Be Blood. This was at a time when I was fresh out of college and planning to get my masters in painting at Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. It happened to be the same place that Jack himself went and his dearest friend and long-time collaborator David Lynch (both painters!) I was dear friends with Jack’s daughter Schuyler and Jack and Sissy [Spacek, Jack’s wife] were very involved with their kids’ lives. They knew what we were all up to. The summer after my senior year of college my plans were to head to grad school and pursue my painting–get my masters, and then enter that whole fine arts world, with my heart set on New York City. But that summer Jack said to me, I really think you should consider doing art direction. I knew he and Sissy were involved in movies but I was not a cinefile. Film was not something I had studied in college or had much interest in, honestly. I was really dedicated to photography. At one point in college I was set on being a war photographer. My dad was a photojournalist so I was really interested in the medium of photography to tell stories, but to tell stories of what was going on around the world. I also played soccer and I was traveling in the summers, playing internationally around the world. I was very used to seeing different cultures and places from a very young age.
But Jack said, Are you sure you want to get your masters and are you sure you want to go that route? I said, Well, what else am I going to do?
He said, Let me tell you about my career and what I do. He sold it to me, from the Jack Fisk perspective. He said, You’ll be using all the mediums you’ve learned, from sculpture, drawing, photography, to the study of light. You understand light so well–I’ve seen it in your photographs, in your paintings, and I really think it will translate beautifully. I myself am a fine artist.
I found that I could defer for up to two years and then go to graduate school. And I said to Jack, You’re actually going to give me a job, you’re going to employ me, and I’ll get to make art and get paid and not have to pay for grad school? And he said, Exactly!
I said, Okay, I’ll go do this film with you. And I deferred, at least for the first year. Daniel Lupi called me and, like Jack Fisk, he’s been a through-line in my career. He continues to be an incredible producer. Daniel technically gave me my first paid gig and I set out for Marfa, Texas.
But I knew nothing about film. Jack said, Don’t study it. Honestly, don’t learn about the way a set works, it’s not important for the work we’re going to do. I want you involved in the creation of this world. I want you involved in the research. I am not hiring you to do my paperwork and get my coffee.
From the get-go we had to make up a title because I wasn’t in the union. My title could have been “art department PA” but Jack said, I want you to be “The Assistant to the Production Designer.” Sounded like a mouthful. I was like, Sure. It meant nothing to me. And then I went on to work with Jack for the next seven years straight.