Sunday, October 23, 2016
  • Thursday, Mar. 3, 2016
Production Designer Jack Fisk Reflects On His Collaborations With Terrence Malick
In this Thursday, Feb. 25, 2016 photo, production designer Jack Fisk poses for a portrait to promote the film, "Knight of Cups," in Santa Monica, Calif. (Photo by Rich Fury/Invision/AP)
Their latest teaming yields expressionistic L.A. odyssey "Knight of Cups"
  • SANTA MONICA, Calif. (AP)
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You might not know the name Jack Fisk, but you definitely know his work. Whether it's the private bowling alley where Daniel Plainview torments Eli Sunday in Paul Thomas Anderson's "There Will Be Blood," the disarmingly simple Silencio theater in David Lynch's "Mulholland Dr.," or a single Victorian home perched on a hill of wheat in Terrence Malick's "Days of Heaven," Fisk has created some of the most iconic spaces seen on screen in the past 40 years.

Fisk, 69, is a production designer. It's perhaps the next moviemaking craft to get the glow of celebrity recognition, like the greats of cinematography did a few years ago. He has been twice-nominated for an Academy Award, most recently for recreating the world of 1820s fur trappers in "The Revenant." And like cinematographer Emmanuel "Chivo" Lubezki, who he's worked with on six films, Fisk is one of the most respected in the field.

His latest, "Knight of Cups" (out Friday in limited release), reunites him with Malick once more. Fisk has worked on every one of Malick's films. They first collaborated on the 1973 masterpiece "Badlands" and they haven't let up, despite both taking nearly two-decade breaks. "Badlands" is also where Fisk met his wife, actress Sissy Spacek, with whom he shares two daughters.

Fisk describes his job as being a second set of eyes for the director. He's is that rare kind of low-key artist who is a Jack of all trades.

"I got a lot of work because I was a one-man band. I could design it, build it, dress it and prop it," he said.

We're sitting at a cafe table on the sand at the Annenberg Community Beach House in Santa Monica, where he set a scene with Cate Blanchett and Christian Bale in "Knight of Cups." He's pointing out the Marion Davies Guest House on the public property while picking on his steak and eggs.

He liked the location because of its simplicity and minimalism.

The film is an expressionistic Los Angeles odyssey, following a screenwriter (Bale) who has lost his words through a series of relationships with the likes of Blanchett, Natalie Portman, and Freida Pinto. It takes the audience from the fake streets of the Warner Bros. lot to the very real skid row area of Downtown and beyond - to the Santa Monica canyons, the Malibu beaches, the uninviting steps of the powerful Century City talent agency CAA, the grotesquely opulent mansions of Coldwater Canyon, the modernist houses of the Hollywood Hills, and even out to the desert, whether it be the serene periphery of Palm Springs or the bacchanalia of Las Vegas.

"It's difficult making a Los Angeles movie. So many different things have shot here," Fisk said. He's responsible for some of them, including Lynch's "Mulholland Dr."

"I was trying to do things completely different," said Fisk. "David (Lynch) loves Los Angeles but his entry is more 'Sunset Boulevard' and it's a moodier, darker city. ('Knight of Cups') was not. This was more advertising."

Fisk knows the city but he doesn't live there permanently. He lived in Los Angeles for 12 years, having moved to the coast in a U-Haul with his friend David Lynch in 1970. They shared an apartment for a time near the Sunset Strip night club Whisky a Go Go, and then he moved to a small home in Santa Monica with goats, chickens, and a goose. The goose would join him for his morning walks to the pier for coffee.

The Los Angeles that Bale's character inhabits isn't quite that quaint. It's full of excess - money and beautiful people and distractions.

"It's not a real world. You're driving down the street and it's a Bentley and a Mercedes, a Ferrari. You go to stores and a pair of shoes is like $1000. I was down on Rodeo Drive today and it's crazy, but it's wonderful. For me, coming here is almost like an amusement park," said Fisk, who's called a Virginia farm home for the past three decades.

Temptation is a major theme for Bale's character in the film and Fisk found himself having to scout not just locations of serene luxury, but raucous Hollywood nightclubs, too.

There was no script for "Knight of Cups" either and all Fisk had to work with were identifiers like "Cate's house" and "doctor's office."

"The thing with Terry is if I say, 'which do you like better, this one, that one or that one?' He'll say 'let's shoot them all,'" Fisk laughed.

But Fisk and Malick don't have to spend much time discussing and often times Malick prefers to be surprised.

"In 10 to 15 words Terry and Jack can accomplish what it would take anyone else an hour to figure out," said producer Nicolas Gonda.

Fisk didn't win the Academy Award on Sunday. He laughed that he just wanted one to match his wife's. "The books are falling down!" he said with a smile.

He's talking to Malick about future projects and still has one more Malick film in post-production, but for now, he's mostly thinking about basements, having just bought a house in Austin, Texas, in between his daughters' homes.

"Knight of Cups," he said was reaffirming to his life and his family.

"It just makes me want to hug them more," Fisk said. "I appreciate everything that was real in my life."