Jack Fisk

Jack Fisk

I was there by myself at first. I had gone up to one of the battlegrounds and was walking back through the hills late at night. I heard people in the villages, children laughing. I was walking up the road and there were three huge Melanesians who looked very fierce approaching me. They all carry these three-foot machetes. I’m probably the only American on the island and I’m thinking – if I was in New York right now I’d be very scared. But they were so fierce-looking that when they smiled it was just like a thunderbolt. It was even better than a normal smile because you don’t expect it.

There was one cave that had some thousand-year-old drawings on the walls and I wanted to take Terry to show him. So we drove out in a little car and there were three Melanesians at the entrance. It was a Sunday and they were pretty drunk. I said I wanted to show Terry the cave and they said, That’ll be a million dollars. I said, I don’t have a million dollars. We negotiated and got down to us going in but we had to give them a six-pack of beer. From a million dollars to a six-pack of beer.

They were still discovering bodies from WWII when I was there. A couple of Japanese soldiers were revealed where the sand had washed away and the Japanese came to negotiate to get the bodies and build a little memorial. But the negotiations always started at a million dollars! In the end maybe they’d give them a wheelbarrow or something.

AS: How involved are Terrence Mallick, David Lynch and Paul Thomas Anderson in the production design?
JF: With Terrence you might think that he wasn’t involved but he knows everything. He’s been to all the locations before you start looking at locations. I always feel he’s guiding me towards the location but not saying he knows about it. With Terry the challenge is coming up with something he hasn’t found, something that he hasn’t thought about. He writes on some films for years. He’d written The New World before we did Badlands. He’d started Tree of Life back at that same time. For him looking at locations is part of the writing process. On most films Terry will give me a couple of books that have clues to what he is visually looking for in the film. But Terry doesn’t like to have shots and even locations planned out, he is looking for a natural spontaneity. He’ll often move the location of a scene just to destroy any predictability that comes from scenes being overthought. He works to create situations where the actors are not performing.

It’s easier to build for David because he’s got his own view of the world and he has most of the film in his head before we start filming. David understands construction and building because he started building sets in art school. He designed and constructed all the sets for Eraserhead and his earlier films. We can talk in short hand. He likes to build and paint on the sets. He has a great shop at his house and he’ll build sets in his yard and shoot little things for his web page. With David it’s like talking to another art director.

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About the Interviewer

Tom Lisowski is a production designer who has designed swamp mazes shot in China, crumbling cliffs in Utah, future arenas in South Central, dilapidated tenements and twisted laboratories under luxurious mansions... William Anthony is a Los Angeles-based commercial and editorial photographer specializing in portraiture, lifestyle and documentary imagery... Guest photographer Nelson Cragg is an award-winning cinematographer who shoots and directs television, feature films, and commercial projects. Contact ArtStars: tom@artstars.us