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Terrence Malick Punched Out A Producer & 10 Other Things We Learned About 'Badlands'

by Kevin Jagernauth
June 3, 2011 4:46 AM
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04. Martin Sheen was initially considered to be too old for the role of Charlie Starkweather.
Casting director Diane Crittenden recalls to GQ, "We were looking for a James Dean character, basically. Somebody confident and a bit narcissistic, and Marty Sheen came to mind, but Terry didn't think that would fly. He thought he was too old." But not only that, he nearly didn't even bother reading for the part.

"I went to this hotel on Sunset Boulevard one day to read for a commercial for a haberdashery. Afterwards, as I headed toward my car, this woman is pounding on the window of the first floor of the hotel, trying to get my attention," Sheen said to GQ. Crittenden adds, "I ran up to him and said, 'I'm doing this great script. You should come in and read for it.' He said, 'Look, if it's an independent film with no money, I'm not interested.' And I said, 'But it's so good!'"

At a recent screening of "Badlands" at the LACMA, Sissy Spacek confirmed that Sheen was not the first choice. "I was cast first, and I got to do scenes with every good looking actor in Hollywood, and Terry said, ‘we have to meet with this guy as a favor, but he’s too old.’ That was Martin Sheen, and it was obvious immediately. From the moment we met him he was Kit, he had the boots and everything,” reports ScreenCrave.

But Sheen loved the material and nailed the audition with Spacek telling GQ, "Here I was ready to be nice, and Martin came in, and he just blew us away. I'd been doing the scene over and over with different actors, and it just changed everything. I felt like a thirteen-year-old schoolgirl twirling a baton in my front yard. We were giddy."

05. Malick’s style was not everyone’s cup of tea and the lengthy and difficult shoot saw three cinematographers, numerous editors and sound men come and go on "Badlands."
Terrence Malick's unorthodox, intuitive and open-ended shooting schedule and production style is now the stuff of legend and it was evident from his very first film. "The shoot went on forever because the crew kept quitting," Spacek told The Guardian. "They were completely brutalized. They'd be setting up one shot over here, then Terry would look over in the other direction where the moon was rising up and he'd go, 'Let's shoot over there!' I have these memories of everyone tearing off across the desert in pursuit of one sunset or another."

The Best Boy on the film Doug Knapp recalls to GQ, "The first unit must have run three and a half months, and then they did another month to two months of second-unit work with a completely different crew. For a small film, that's a long time. And the amount of film that was shot—I heard over a million feet on the first unit. More typical for a smaller film would be 250,000 to maybe 500,000 feet. I know they shot a lot on the second unit as well. Terry didn't seem to know very much about running the camera other than 'It's time to reload again, isn't it?' He would reload a lot."

"It just went on and on. Terry just kept shooting. He was about ready to lose his whole shooting crew. It was almost like Mutiny on the Bounty," actress Janit Baldwin recalls to GQ (her scenes were cut from the final film much to her shock). "He probably shot enough film to make five pictures," said actor Gary Littlejohn with Assistant Director Bill Scott noting, "There were days that we were knocking down 10,000 feet [of film]." So no surprise, the editing on the film took another ten months, but that's the process Malick appears to love the most.

"We were in the editing room on 'Badlands' for ten months. It was a long time,” Associate Editor and now longtime Malick associate Billy Weber recalled to GQ.” Terry loves editing. More than shooting. In the editing room, you feel like you're not being rushed into decisions. We put in twelve to fourteen hours a day." And despite all the people that had their hands in the pot, the final result is pure Malick.

"There were three cinematographers [Brian Probyn, Tak Fujimoto and finally Stevan Larner], lots of editors, sound men," Art Director and another longtime Malick collaborator Jack Fisk told the Guardian. "Except for the actors, the art department was the only one that completed the film. If the picture survived all those problems, it's because one thing was consistent: Terry Malick's vision."

And on Malick's subsequent films, his penchant for cycling through numerous members of technical staff would continue. "The Tree of Life" has five credited editors, "The Thin Red Line" has three and "The New World" comes in at four.

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  • Brian | June 14, 2013 5:15 AMReply

    'Lanton Mills' was his second short film; his first was 'Loose Change'. But neither of those are in remotely wide availability, and you will have noticed that, in such context, people customarily use the terms 'film' or 'movie' to refer to a director's feature films, not every little thing that director's ever put on camera.

  • Hassard | July 15, 2011 9:28 AMReply

    LOL, people love to bitch about your sources.

    The only thing about this article worthy of derision is the suggestion that Chastain looks anything like Sissy Spacek (even young).

  • Oliver Lyttelton | June 6, 2011 3:50 AMReply

    The number of times the word 'GQ' appears in this article = 14. If you don't read it closely enough, that's not our problem.

  • Kevin Jagernauth | June 6, 2011 3:49 AMReply

    It's irresponsible to link in each point of the article where we got the info? Does not compute.

  • Terry | June 6, 2011 3:46 AMReply

    Maybe you guys should, you know, highlight your source at the beginning of the article or say something so it doesn't sound like you discovered this information yourself, independent of GQ's posting. It's irresponsible to provide links and assume that that's enough. Hacks.

  • Fred | June 4, 2011 7:39 AMReply

    Deadhead Miles can also be seen on Netflix as one of their streaming-only older features.

  • Kevin Jagernauth | June 4, 2011 1:45 AMReply

    Are you guys seriously blind? We link to GQ multiple times in the feature. No one is hiding anything. And for the record Sight And Sound, Vanity Fair and Guardian among others were also cited/linked.

  • hank | June 4, 2011 1:43 AMReply

    this is all from a much more factual GQ article entitled Badlands: an Oral History. You might want to cite your sources.

  • alish | June 4, 2011 1:40 AMReply

    Wow, I wish Tree of Life was plot-driven, or that Malick would decide to one day make another plot driven movie like his first two, that'd be cool.

  • styles | June 3, 2011 10:35 AMReply

    uh...this guy just reiterated everything that was in this GQ article called the "Oral History of Badlands"

  • Ken | June 3, 2011 10:29 AMReply

    I made a no budget independent film last year and almost punched out my co-producer... it's not that unheard of

  • Glass | June 3, 2011 9:50 AMReply

    Awesome article. A Badlands blu-ray with Lanton Mills included from Criterion is such a no-brainer.

  • g | June 3, 2011 8:04 AMReply

    It's also worth noting (I don't think it's mentioned here) that Sissy Spacek has been married to Jack Fisk for over 35 years after meeting him on this picture.

  • jon | June 3, 2011 5:29 AMReply

    Great article, but a few minor facts you may want to check: Badlands was purchased by WB, not Paramount, and you refer to Jake Brackman as "Edward" Brackman.

  • Castor | June 3, 2011 5:15 AMReply

    Wonderful research and article Kevin! I enjoyed reading this and look forward to the next installment.

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