I first met Paul at the Burbank airport to do a location scout in Texas and New Mexico and we got along instantly. He’s very enthusiastic about film and has a great sense of humor. We spent a lot of time walking around on ranches looking for locations for There Will Be Blood. I would put stakes in the ground and stick PVC pipes on them to show him the scale I was thinking in. Here’s the church, we’ll make it this big. He’ll say, Maybe you should move it over a little. So it was a real creative process. Paul had done extensive research on oil rigs and the oil business while creating the script and he passed all his research on to the art department.
The one thing Paul said to me about the look of the picture when we first started was, Let’s not use any signs. I thought that was a great idea and we didn’t have any signs in the film. I have so much respect for his understanding of character and I see how much he struggles with himself putting a script together – that’s one thing that makes him such a great filmmaker – it’s his writing.
At one point we’d been shooting There Will Be Blood for a while and he says, You’re getting to pick all the colors. So I gave him a Benjamin Moore color swatch book and he carried it around, but four days later he walked over and handed it back to me and said, Okay, you pick them! Paul’s favorite color is white. Terry won’t allow white on a set.
The only time that we had a disagreement on There Will Be Blood was on the direction of Daniel Plainview’s office. Daniel Day Lewis’ character had an office and I placed it so he could look at the well pumping, but that put the church directly behind him. And Paul said he would never let that preacher be behind him. We had the building on stilts and I figured out a way that we could just turn it without moving the piers. We had to bring a crew in on Sunday but we were able to just pull it around in a couple of hours and Paul got what he wanted.
AS: How about with DPs? Do they ever ask to see sketches?
JF: Usually I find DP’s and Gaffers want a floor plan of each set or location. With Chivo [Emmanuel Lubezki] we look at locations and talk about light. We look at paintings. On The Tree of Life he showed me a book he had on Vermeer. He loved that window light and dark backgrounds. I worked with him on color. I would paint a wall and he would take some pictures. Can you make it darker? I added windows for him. In the house in Tree of Life we added more windows because we were shooting only with natural light.
AS: Was it a Terrence Malick decision not to use any studio lighting?
JF: Yeah, he and Chivo set up a couple rules for themselves in the beginning and one of them was to use natural light. Let the blacks really be black. No underexposed film. As much depth of field as possible. To do that they used wider lenses. I think that the narrowest lens they would use was a 27. Anything between 8 and 27.