Monday, February 11, 2013

Interview: Making ‘The Master' with Production Designers Jack Fisk & David Crank

Welcome to the fourth installment of "Making The Master," our series of in-depth interviews with some of the minds behind "The Master." We've spoken to many of the production's principal players (including writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson, producer JoAnne Sellar and costume designer Mark Bridges) that helped bring the film to life and today we have an interview with production designers Jack Fisk & David Crank. Responsible for creating the world that the characters inhabit, Jack & David previously worked together on "There Will Be Blood" and have also collaborated on a trio of Terrence Malick films ("The Tree Of Life," "The New World" and "To The Wonder") among other projects. The pair spoke to us about watching the film come to life, the differences in working with David Lynch, Terrence Malick and PTA and also shed some light on an unfilmed sequences set in outer space. Enjoy.

Cigarettes & Red Vines: How did you each first come to work with PTA?
Jack Fisk: I started to work with Paul because I got a phone call from [Producer] Daniel Lupi. I was in England finishing up “The New World” and he said that Paul wanted me to work on this film “There Will Be Blood.” So I got really excited and watched all of Paul’s films. My wife [Sissy Spacek] was doing a film in Romania so I went there for a couple weeks and about a month later I first met Paul. When we went to scout locations for “There Will Be Blood,” we had an instant rapport. I liked him instantly, he’s a funny guy and we had a great time looking for locations. Although we didn’t shoot the film until a year later, the locations we found on that first trip actually were the ones we ended up using, at a ranch in Marfa [Texas].

David Crank: And I met him because Jack met him. [laughs]

JF: David and I were working together on “The New World.”

DC: You went and scouted all that [for “There Will Be Blood”] and then I guess when it went down that first time I went off and did “John Adams” and you went off and did “The Visiting” [later retitled “The Invasion”].

JF: The film with Oliver Hirschbiegel. Daniel Day Lewis wanted to shoot in the summer so his kids could come from Ireland and we couldn’t get ready that quickly so we decided to meet here in a year. Paul did the same thing with “The Master.” We were going to go with “The Master” and then there was some slow down and he says, “Well, we’ll meet in a year.”

David Crank & Jack Fisk
Wow, that is patience!
JF: But well worth the wait.

After you got along really well on “There Will Be Blood,” was there any expectation that you were going to be working together again on the next one? When did Paul first come to you with The Master?
JF: I was counting on it. [laughs]

DC: You’re always counting on it.

JF: Paul called me over at one point and invited me over to read 20 pages of the story in his studio. I read it and I didn’t really understand it. I didn’t even know it was about Scientology when I went there. But then he started sharing all of his research and trying to get me up to speed. David also got involved around the same time. As it turned out, luckily I was committed to doing another film a year later and I thought it was going to go during the middle of Paul’s shoot. So David and I shared responsibilities as a production designer because that way if I had to leave, everything was in good shape for Paul. Working with Crank is so much fun that I wanted to stay there.

DC: Well it was interesting because when you went and looked with him the first time, I was involved with a film but then that went down the same time that "The Master" went down. I can’t remember what we did together then, we did another thing together. It kind of worked out that we were available again the next time.

I think we did “To The Wonder,” the Terrence Malick film.

Ah, that’s right.

Do you remember what was in those first 20 pages you read around the time he showed them to you?
JF: It was a lot of stuff about the life of Dodd, the Master character. I don’t really remember the pages. I have a hard time reading if someone is sitting and watching me. It’s my least favorite way to read a script. But Paul only had pages. He didn’t really have a script yet but Paul gets so excited, he just wants everybody to read it, to come onboard and be involved. I love Paul’s passion and he’s so generous. He shares everything with you, he never holds back.

DC: He’s never closed off, that’s for sure.

JF: You really feel like a part of a close-knit team. He works with the same people a lot.

So cut to a year or so later and now you’re reading the finished script, what are your first impressions of that compared to what you had seen before?
JF: You know it went from those 20 pages and he may have sent a script. Then we met in Baltimore. We looked at locations in Baltimore and Philadelphia because part of the script was written for Philadelphia and we needed a boat. Paul heard about 1896 Navy boat up in the docks in Philadelphia. We looked at that and he fell in love with the interior but then the production shut down for a year. During that year he kept piddling around with Daniel Lupi, trying to figure out where we could shoot with the budget. I know during that time he checked out New York.

Then when he called and said they were ready to go, which was about 6 months later. We decided to go and look at this boat in Philadelphia he’d found by accident. He went to look at a fireman’s boat up there and he found The Potomac, which was FDR’s old ship, docked right next to it. He looked at that and thought that it might work. So David and Paul and I went up and looked at that first thing and I thought it was great. Then that led to us investigating all around San Francisco and what we could shoot there. There were just so many possibilities. We ended up going out to Mare Island which is an old submarine base where they used to work on all the submarines and the ships. We found so many buildings there and other ships that were right for the period and houses. We even found a house that would work for Philadelphia.

DC: You were asking about the initial reaction to reading it -- and I don’t know about you Jack -- but it’s like you read it, and then you jump into it so quickly that there’s almost no time to sit and ruminate. You’re all of a sudden going into specifics but I do remember when I first saw it when it was put together. There were so many parts that were nothing like I thought they were going to be when I read it. There were scenes that just flew by in the movie that felt like 18 pages long when you’re reading it. To me, I remember more of my reaction when I saw the finished product. Not that it was better than the script, but it was just so much more than you could’ve imagined, in a way.

JF: If you could imagine that processing scene on the boat between The Master and Freddie, it was 20 pages long. Just them sitting at the desk. But when they got in there and performed it, it was pretty amazing.

DC: That was the scene that I remember when I read it it was hard to imagine because it’s so repetitive but when you saw it, it went to another level. It was pretty magical.

JF: And Paul is so into character and into the actors that it’s really exciting.

DC: It’s interesting because the script -- mostly when you first read them -- it doesn’t always make a whole lot of sense. You can see Paul thinking constantly while you’re working on it. To me, it’s like you’re all figuring out a big problem and that magic happens somewhere in between there and when it comes out and it’s like, “Oh my God!” [laughs] Jack, you said it earlier that you didn’t really understand it all but it really took on a life.

JF: [The processing scene] was 20 pages of script and we built a room for the scene to play on a stage so they would have no distractions. They shot 20 pages in one day and it came out great. Normally films are shooting 3-4 pages a day, max. But they just got into it and worked nonstop.

I think anybody who saw that scene in particular just knew it was going on an all-time acting reel.
JF: The other scene that was pretty remarkable and it was almost in one take was the cell scene, when Joaquin broke the toilet banging. We just sorta get the set ready and get out of the way.

Nobody expected that to come out, did they?
JF: You don’t know what to expect but I know with Paul we always try to give him as much set as possible. I don’t even think Paul knows sometimes how well it’s going to work or not with the actors. He’s giving them some free reign and he loves it when they get excited and take something to new heights. I think that’s one of the things that makes it fun working with Paul on one of his films. It’s because of his relationship with the actors and how he gives everybody in the crew [that freedom], I feel like we have free reign in a way to contribute, he’s just open to so many ideas. He’s able to keep them contained so that everything works well together. It’s just an ideal working situation.

DC: When he was doing the [window-to-the-wall] processing scene in the house and Joaquin broke that panel, I remember getting the phone call saying “Joaquin’s accidentally broken that piece of paneling.” But then it was followed by, “Can he do it again?” [laughs]

JF: The toilet was actually a museum piece in San Pedro so it wasn’t rigged to break or anything. It was a real toilet, kinda irreplaceable.

David Crank's sketch of the hiring hall in "The Master" (via Flicking Myth).

Can you describe your working relationship with Paul? How you get to work? Do you read the script and come back with some ideas? Do you talk to him for a while and develop a dialogue?
JF: I think we do all of that stuff. We all have ideas and we talk. Paul goes with us a lot looking at locations. He loves that process, I think it helps him thinking about the scenes. Then we design stuff and show it to him. He just sorta trusts that it’s going to be there and be right. That’s the way I feel about him, he’s never really questioned very much.

DC: We don’t have meetings where we sit down and say, “OK, there’s going to be three doors to the left, 1 door to the right and five pieces of furniture. Those kinds of conversations don’t ever happen. You kinda sit and go and talk about a lot of things and somehow this comes out in the end in the wash. Sometimes he’s specific but those kinds of nitpicky things don’t tend to happen so much.

JF: Like the department store, did he come the night before? No I don’t think he did. He was out in the desert and he was going to come but he was so exhausted from shooting the motorcycle scene, he just came the next morning.

DC: He kinda wanders around it and kinda finds it and then shoots it.

JF: I think he had an idea of what it was going to be but he’d never physically been on the set until that morning.

DC: I don’t think there was any shot set before we did it. It was kind of a general idea.

JF: We gave him much more set than he ended up needing.

So did that long take develop on the day? That wasn’t something that had been planned out beforehand?
JF: I think it came in the day. Paul loves long takes so he’s always looking for those. I remember the first time that Freddie goes to the boat, we had about 400 feet of dolly track there. He was walking at night and we must have shot the scene about 25 times. He played the music [“Get Thee Behind Me Satan”] at night and we were out there and he knew exactly what he wanted. And I’m thinking to myself, “This is a very long take, I can’t imagine he’ll leave the whole thing in the film,” but he put the whole thing in! And it was great. Paul does that a lot, he’ll play music during dailies, he’s one of the few directors that still watches dailies on film. He plays music at dailies, he’ll play music in rehearsal, he always has his little iPod full of tunes that he’s gotten either from the composer or things that he’s collected that he likes for the period. He’s always reminding all of us what the sense of the music is going to be.

DC: I remember that morning in the department store, he just kinda wandered around for a long time and found that whole thing. He went through all the different departments so I think he knew where things were going to be but I think he really developed it that morning.

How would you describe Paul’s ethos for production design?
DC: I just remember him telling us at one time, looking at the two of us and saying, “I don’t know what it is but one of you always tells me ‘It’s going to be okay’ and one of you says ‘I’m going to like it.’” [laughs] So we said, “Well it’s true!”

JF: Paul seems so relaxed about it that he trusts us and he also has a picture of it in his mind of what it might be from writing. Because when you write stuff you always visualize it. I think he hopes it’s going to be as good as he imagines it. If it’s different, sometimes it excites new ideas in him. You know? He’s not bored. I worked with Brian DePalma way back in the 70s [on “Phantom Of The Paradise”] and he had every shot planned. He’d show up on set and it would seem oh so boring waiting for everybody to do his shot. Paul’s not like that, he’s much more organic and things are growing by the moment. He’s reacting to what the actors are doing, to the lights, to the environment, to music, everything. It’s like a balancing act where you’re continually readjusting to take advantage of all the elements of the day. It’s an exciting way to work. David and I have done that a lot with Terry Malick and Paul.

DC: Paul wants it to be real. If you had to say, “What does he want?” He wants it to feel like a real thing.

Well it’s interesting because earlier in Paul’s career he made movies more like Brian DePalma did where they were much more structured but I think since “Punch-Drunk Love” he’s allowed himself more room to find the film as he’s making it. It’s been great to see him evolve that way.
JF: A funny thing, when I was in Hawaii getting stuff ready there, David was in LA with Paul and they were shooting that last scene in the film where he meets that girl at the bar. When he first described it to us he just needed a table and a piece of wall? It ended up on the day being a 4 wall set with mirrors reflecting back. He walked in that morning and started thinking about the shot and he wanted more and he wanted more set. So David was taking parts from other sets and building a new set.

DC: We had another shot like that too, that close up of the liquor, he needed an extreme closeup of liquor being poured into a pitcher on the boat. We had the tabletop and all of a sudden I went onto the set and the camera was pulled back and we didn’t have all the other parts!

JF: This was an insert for a shot we had done earlier in the filming.

DC: Somebody said, “Well that ladder’s missing that had writing up the side.” Paul looked at me and I said, “Well I thought it was supposed to be an extreme closeup of the pitcher.” And he said, “Well, it was until I started to improvise.” [laughs] So I said, “Give me 20 minutes and I’ll have the ladder.”

JF: I think Paul really appreciates being able to perform almost like a jazz musician, to be able to change things a little bit. For us if we can do it, we’re going to do it.

DC: I read a thing about an English director and he said when he was young he did Shakespeare at the Royal Shakespeare Company and he said, “I had planned the whole thing the night before. The first scene, I had the blocking, I had a paper for who was where and where they were going, this that and the other. I gave everybody their instructions and the first time I said go I had 30 bodies coming at me that all walked at different speeds and I threw everything out.” Because he said he couldn't do it. You have to pay attention to all that stuff that is in front of you and I think that’s what Paul does now. I think he comes in paying attention to the way people walk and that’s what you have to incorporate.

JF: One of the most difficult scenes to shoot was a short scene in an elevator after they have the conflict in the rich woman's house in New York. They were leaving and Joaquin and the whole family are in the elevator. He wanted somebody to fart and I don’t know if you know Paul but he loves fart jokes. We had to keep shooting it because every time the sound effects would make the fart sound, Paul would start laughing! [laughs] And everybody in the elevator, which was just a 3 walled set, would start laughing. We shot that thing for like an hour and a half and it’s one shot in the film. He’s like a kid sometimes.

In the script during the processing scene he had written that when Lancaster asks Freddie if he’s unpredictable, Freddie is supposed to scream at that point. But it was Joaquin who said that he didn’t feel that was right for the character and asked if he could fart there instead. So it’s funny that this fart wasn’t Paul’s idea in that case but at least one of them made it into the movie.
DC: I’ll bet he loved it. The elevator scene was in there but the fart isn’t.

JF: I’m not sure if they were able to get it without everyone laughing.

Every location in the film is so striking, exteriors like the desert and the ship, interiors like the department store and Mildred Drummond's house. How did you go about creating some of these environments and how much of the movie was shot on sets versus locations that you had to dress?
JF: Most of it was locations.

DC: The hotel suite in New York was a set. But then we built in existing places.

JF: Sometimes we would build sets in existing places. Sometimes we wouldn't get everything shot there so we would recreate it, it wasn’t actually a stage, we had a warehouse where we were building everything back there. We shot for a couple of days, we shot the recording studio [where Freddie tapes his radio commercial], we shot the English girls’ apartment, we shot a little piece of the Philadelphia house, a little bit of the hospital and the pub. The hotel was a big thing, it had 100 foot hallway and the elevator but that only made it to the trailer.

DC: We also did a changing room shooting for Mildred Drummond’s apartment. We shot another whole apartment but it didn’t work so we found another place and dressed it very quickly.

JF: It was funny, David and I had found a location that we liked but Paul just didn’t see it. Then we found another location which he liked so we shot at the location that he preferred. He didn’t like the way the scene turned out so we get a call at night going, “Paul wants to reshoot that scene somewhere else.” So the next morning I go in and say, “Paul, what about that place that David and I liked that you didn’t like?” And he goes, “That’d be great.” [laughs] So we go running back to the location and the woman is in Paris so we say, “We’d love to use your house.” And we shot it 2 days later so we painted it and dressed it, got it ready. So Paul shows up and the woman says to Paul, “I thought you didn’t like my house?” And he points over at me and said, “He didn’t.” [laughs] He was blaming us for not choosing it. But the woman was gracious and loved us being there and the scene turned out well.

I know in “There Will Be Blood” we shot things several times during scenes, it was like we were making a prototype, it’d never been done before. But he keeps on schedule. “There Will Be Blood” he switched actors after 6 weeks and kept on schedule. We had to reshoot everything they’d shot with the first preacher. He works well under pressure.

How long was the shoot for “The Master”?
JF: I think it was about 45 days.

DC: 45 or 52 days, something like that.

Was there additional shooting later on or had everything been shot during that time?
JF: We were going to do additional shooting. He had a scene that took place in outer space and he had a couple dream sequences that the followers of The Master were visualizing. But he ended up realizing he didn’t need them so we never shot them. So we were on the mark ready to go and do some additional photography but after he put the film together he realized he didn’t need it. He pretty much gets anything he needs or wants to do a film. Working with JoAnne and Daniel Lupi, they find a way to give him what he needs if it’s shooting days or locations. When we shot in Marfa, nobody wanted to shoot there because Texas doesn’t give any rebates, and they said “No, let’s shoot in Mexico!” But Paul said, “No, we like Marfa.”

What was the outer space scene about?
JF: That was one of the guys that was going into past lives. He was an astronaut and he got disconnected from his spaceship and flew out into space. We were trying to figure out how to do it because it had to be from a 50s sensibility. It was before we really had people in space so you couldn’t really use that as a reference even if he was making it up in his subconscious, it had to relate to stuff he knew from the period. It was a fun shot to plan but he ultimately didn’t need it.

I read an earlier draft of the screenplay that had a few other dream sequences in it, like Freddie cutting off The Master’s head while he’s giving the speech in Arizona, but I’m not sure if they survived to the final shooting script or not.
JF: Cutting off his head? I never even saw that one.

DC: I don’t remember that scene. There was a scene in Ireland that we didn’t do, another one of the flashback scenes. It was a woman being killed by soldiers in a barn. But that was back in the 1740’s.

JF: It was a barnyard in Ireland.

DC: Those were going to be the two main ones I remember: Ireland and the spaceship.

JF: I think what happened was that the chemistry between Joaquin and Philip Seymour Hoffman was so great that Paul just wanted to stay with them and it minimized the other members of the organization.

He’s said that he realized it was more of a love story after he’d shot it but I was wondering if you could feel that change in direction while it was happening?
JF: I think when you work on a film, everybody goes in knowing what the film is going to be. Then they start seeing dailies and they see a completely different film because it has everyone’s contributions to it. Then when you see an edited version it’s a third film, different from the one you saw in dailies and different from what you were reading. So I think David and myself, we’ve gotten used to this evolution so you don’t really expect the films to look anything like your ideas from reading the script.

DC: What it was actually turning into, unless you’re standing there at the camera, [you don't really know]. The fact that Paul was seeing it as more of a love story, I wouldn’t have seen it.

JF: Joaquin was so unknown to me. I didn’t know what to expect and Paul probably didn’t know exactly either and that was what excited him so much about Joaquin playing Freddie. A lot of times the unknown is more exciting than the known. If you can predict exactly what it’s going to be... [it gets boring]. And Paul’s films are completely unpredictable.

I know “Let There Be Light” and that WWII book about soldiers on leave were big references for Paul. Was there anything else you guys looked at for inspiration in designing the film?
JF: I’d been through a lot of that on “The Thin Red Line” so I was pretty familiar with WWII. “Let There Be Light” was interesting, but boring. [laughs] But I like looking at documentaries. The book was very strange, it was a lot of beautiful sailors and stuff but it’s a very famous book. Paul gave us copies of all that stuff and we were getting stuff on our own too. Everybody is looking at research, Joaquin is looking at research, Paul is looking at research, we’re looking at research and a lot of times it’s the same research. So when stuff comes together it’s not as foreign as you would think. Everybody is pretty familiar with the imagery.

Speaking of working with Terrence Malick, I know you’ve both worked on a few of his films and Jack you’ve worked with David Lynch as well. How is working with Paul different from working with some of these other auteurs? Or what things would people be surprised to find that they have in common?
JF: David’s a completely different animal than either of them because David’s more like a painter. David has the film in his head and he creates his own world. When you work with him you simulate David Lynch, you’re not bringing a lot of your own self to it. You’re trying to help David create the stuff he wants. With Paul, he’s almost like a jazz musician. He’s so musically tuned, he’s so passionate and so unpredictable. Terry is unpredictable in a different way. Terry’s a philosopher and he has something he wants to say. I always think that with Terry it doesn’t even matter which character says it, as long as it gets said.

Terry works with visual poetry and Paul is much stronger with character. With Paul it’s about character and it’s easy to work that way because everybody starts thinking about the character. I don’t know if you’re talking to Mark [Bridges], Paul’s longtime costume designer but it’s amazing how in sync how all our stuff is without conscious dialogue. We spend time together and the stuff really seems to be in sync. I have so much respect for Mark as a costume designer and he has a great relationship with Paul.

From “There Will Be Blood” to “The Master” did the process of working with Paul change at all? Were there different challenges on this one that you hadn’t anticipated?
JF: It seemed like a continuation to me. I think we worked pretty much the same way. We built pretty much everything on “There Will Be Blood” and in this we mostly dressed locations. We built replicas of locations. But the process of working with Paul was the same.

DC: I thought the process of looking for places was very much the same as it was on “There Will Be Blood” even though we only needed one place on that film.

JF: David, remember the Philadelphia house? There were about five houses to choose from and Paul liked one that we didn’t really like and we liked one that he was really unsure of. That’s when David told him, “You’ll love it.”

DC: He wanted one with a lot of red carpet in it and we were like “ehhh.”

JF: Paul grew up in California and we grew up on the east coast so we were more familiar with Philadelphia than he was, so he deferred to us. Plus we outnumbered him. [laughs]

DC: Plus, we’re taller. [laughs]

Did you end up picking up any shots on the east coast or was it all in the Bay Area?
JF: It was all in San Francisco and LA. We shot Massachusetts in Crockett, California, where the C&H Sugar plant is. That’s where Freddie’s girlfriend is when he went back to her house. We found a great little town there.

And London was also California?
DC: Yep, Berkeley.

JF: A great trick that Paul had for that school was that huge window behind The Master was to put a white sheet up there basically so you didn’t see any of Berkeley or California. It was just stylized with light. But I thought it really worked well for the scene so I didn’t really question it when I saw it. I thought if you’d seen that [backdrop] with trees and things it would’ve taken you out of the scene, but it seems sort of surreal just having white out the windows.

It seems almost like stained glass, very church-like.
JF: The scale was so great. We struggled to find a location from that school and we were 2 days away from leaving San Francisco there when we found it. We knew instantly that it would work.

DC: It had to work, we didn’t have any choice! [laughs] So we said, “You’re going to love it, Paul.” [everybody laughs]

JF: And he responded instantly.

“Inherent Vice” seems like it’s gearing up now. Is that something you guys are already starting to think about?
JF: I’m involved with a film that my wife [Sissy Spacek] is directing so I think David is going to take on “Inherent Vice.”

DC: Yes, I’m starting.

It’ll be great to see Paul take on the 60s which is a decade he hasn’t touched yet. Just curious to see if you have anything you’re looking at stylistically for what that might be?
DC: I’d have to kill you if I told you. [laughs] No, I don’t really have any yet.

JF: The year of the story is the year I moved to California so it’s hard for me to think of it as a period film.

Was that 1968?

JF: 69/70. It really takes place in March/April of 1970.

[editors note: Jack followed up with a text the next evening to clarify his thoughts on how to describe the work of 3 very different filmmakers.]

“David is a painter that creates his unique world in films. Terry is a philosopher that visualizes thoughts, and Paul is a jazz musician that plays characters.”

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  1. Russian GQ loves Paul's style.

  2. fantastic. can't wait to see what the rest of this series brings!

  3. Great job. Keep up the good work.

  4. 18th century Ireland and an astronaut disconnected from his spaceship. That sounds an awful lot like Barry Lyndon and 2001, both Kubrick films.

  5. Good stuff, thanks

  6. What a utterly fascinating read by two legends,been a long time fan and follower of Cigarettes and Red vines for well over 8 0r 9 years and these interviews and all the new updates just warm my heart as a die hard P.T.A fan since I saw my first film of his at 15 years old, thanks so much for carrying the legacy of this amazing site and all the grand work you all put into it.

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