PRODUCTION DESIGN PORN: Terrence Malick, Jack Fisk and the Art of Minimalism

Filmmaker, Terrence Malick

Production Designer, Jack Fisk

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Definition of Minimalism: A design or style in which the simplest and fewest elements are used to create the maximum effect. A technique that is characterized by extreme spareness and simplicity.

I’ve been a big fan of Terrence Malick and Jack Fisk since I saw The Thin Red Line. Imagine my shock and awe when I saw the rest of their work. I often think of Andrew Wyeth’s Christina’s World when I think of Days of Heaven and that is a tribute to the way they painted their story with simple landscape and light during magic hour. Terrence clearly has a highly attuned eye for painterly composition and Fisk is not only able to realize Terry’s vision but catapult it to new heights in such a way that makes them the power team that they are. The Tree of Life this year has been a testament to the magic they share with their audience. The Tree of Life is a delightfully visual poem which enables the audience to ponder the nature of existence through the use of visual imagery and story minimalism. With this film I do believe Terrence and Jack have reached new heights in the search for beauty in cinema. Through their work I believe we can all learn that less really is more.

Jack Fisk Discusses his Work with Terrence and his Aesthetic:

“Terry and I have developed a relationship where we just go and look at locations together, for weeks, and that way we kind of get in sync on a picture. And then he says, “Whatever you do will be fine.” He’s so trusting, but I’ve worked so hard to fall in line with what he’s after. I think also over the years we’ve kind of developed similar tastes. Some of it came about because we never had any money, so we always had minimal set dressing and props, and we found out that we really like the way that looked. Even today, I spend most of my time taking stuff away rather than putting stuff onto a set. Just try to keep it simple, because if people aren’t confused by the background, they pay attention to what’s happening with the characters, I think. I try to create backgrounds that are easy to understand so they tell you in shorthand what you need to know about the place or the character and don’t distract you by giving you too much to look at. [The balance between simplicity and authenticity] is a hard one.

I’ve developed a real love of Edward Hopper. His paintings have a simplicity and an essence of location, so he’s probably who I reference the most – I think of him almost like an art director. You really feel the humans in those environments because there’s not a lot of distraction; he paints just what you need. The other artist I like is completely different and that’s Francis Bacon. The thing I really like about Francis Bacon is his passion. I look at his paintings and they’re like falling apart. He’ll put water-base paint on oils – whatever he does, he doesn’t worry about preserving it, but he worries about the moment. If he needs a dash of purple up there, he’ll put whatever purple he has. I appreciate that passion.”

~ Jack Fisk, from Filmmaker Magazine | Spring 2010

Terrence Malick and Jack Fisk’s Collaborations

Badlands (1973)

Badlands (1973)

Days of Heaven (1978)

Days of Heaven (1978)

Days of Heaven (1978)

The Thin Red Line (1998)

The New World (2005)

The Tree of Life (2011)

The Tree of Life (2011)

The Tree of Life (2011)

The Tree of Life (2011)

Jack Fisk’s Other Collaborations

Here is more smouldering examples of Jack Fisk’s production designs, this time with other lauded filmmakers. You’ll see below that his love for minimalism follows him on each project but his designs remain classic, beautiful and appropriate to the characters, time period, story and genre. He has a knack for choosing projects that suit his unique visual aesthetic. He also seems to love anything with fire.

Carrie (1976)

Carrie (1976)

Carrie (1976)

Carrie (1976)

Phantom of the Paradise (1974)

The Straight Story (1999)

Mulholland Dr. (2001)

The Invasion (2007)

There Will Be Blood (2007)

There Will Be Blood (2007)

There Will Be Blood (2007)

There Will Be Blood (2007)

There Will Be Blood (2007)

Water For Elephants (2011)

Water For Elephants (2011)

Water For Elephants (2011)

Water For Elephants (2011)

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Are you a fan of Terrence Malick or Jack Fisk? What is your favourite film designed by Jack Fisk and why?

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Rose XO.

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2 Comments

Filed under Art Direction, Design LOVE, Production DESIGN, Production Design Porn

2 responses to “PRODUCTION DESIGN PORN: Terrence Malick, Jack Fisk and the Art of Minimalism

  1. I am totally in love with the house in The Tree of Life. I think my favourite film designed by Jack Fisk is There Will Be Blood.

  2. slojo

    There Will be Blood is my favorite film designed by Jack Fisk. He creates a visual atmosphere that perfectly matches the genius of P.T. Anderson.

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