Ruth De Jong
Jack would do a film every one or two years. I got the bug and I said that if I’m going to do this, I need to learn more. I need to get involved. I started pursuing smaller projects in Jack’s off-time. One of those was an independent in Los Angeles which was a million dollar film that flipped and I was able to get into the union. Then I started working with Jack as an actual union art director. Jack often said, I see the younger version of me in you. We operated the same—we always went to research, we went to the real thing. We didn’t study movies to design movies. Our inspiration always has been nature-driven. We were just aligned. If I’d come into film in any other way I don’t know if I’d be as enthralled with it as I am today. Because of who Jack is, and the way he designs, and the way he sees the world as an artist/designer/maker. So much of my inspiration and passion for film came from his passion for it and how he saw it. He’s a very positive person too. With our positivity combined we could tackle anything. Grumpy producers, budgets, you name it.
AS: What exactly did you do for Jack as an art director? Is what did you did back then similar to what you do today?
RDJ: It’s very similar. Every single job that he and I did we approached completely organically. Primarily, Jack and myself have worked with writer/directors. So you’re dealing with one person whose singular vision you’re executing, which makes it nice and comprehensive. I was often tasked with a lot of research and scouting, ranging from the periods we were in, the picture cars, the picture wagons, the animals, all the things needed in the set.
Obviously you had a set decorator who’s dealing with the furniture, and you had Jack who’s designing the overall looks, but I’m supporting him in whatever he needs. For instance on Tree of Life he tasked me with the mission to go find the “tree of life” tree. Meaning literally, we have to find the perfect live oak tree that we are going to purchase, dig up, and transfer to the hero house. We tracked down this crazy tree guru. The tree was an eighty-year-old live oak and we transferred it to the hero house, implanted it, and fed it water. It’s still alive today. You can go to Smithville, Texas, and see that tree. That was my assignment. You have to find this tree, you have to line this up, figure this out. Then I had to get the entire city of Smithville to remove all of the power lines to truck this tree in. I convinced the town mayor and we did it.
AS: You had to remove the power lines to bring the tree in?
RDJ: To be able to get it through town on the semi—it was massive and would have taken out every power line it tried to cross. The town agreed to cut off the electricity and cut off the internet. So art direction is many things, really. It’s the logistics, combined with the creative, combined with the execution. On There Will Be Blood he had me go find this house. Our budget was tight and Jack said, Why don’t you just find a little period shack that we could hire a trucking company to put on a truck and crane into this ravine. I had to figure all that out. Find the perfect house. Then suddenly you come back and, Here’s the house, here’s the trucking company! I didn’t bother him with the details. I just executed it. And that translates to what I do now. And I look for the same sort of people. I look for the “me” in who I’m hiring. Who’s going to look at that without going, Well, now what do I do? Just do it.