"Everyone could smell the fumes and we were getting light-headed. Roger [George, special effects]'s assistant lit the torch and said, 'Are you ready?' The next thing I remember hearing was a WHOOSH! And I just turned the camera on. I thought this was planned," recalls Best Boy Doug Knapp. "I bailed out the door. Roger was completely surrounded by flames."
"I remember seeing Roger on the ground outside later, wrapped. He was a real mess. The local hospital wasn't equipped to handle him, and there was concern about the great expense of getting him a medical helicopter, but they realized there was no choice. They flew him back to the Sherman Oaks Hospital," Knapp continues. "All the cameras were engulfed and destroyed. The fire strained relationships, and there were lawsuits afterwards. People were wondering if they were gonna get paid, and they started leaving," said Tony Palmieri who worked the Assistant Camera. "We were down to maybe five crew members."
The film wound up going $35,000 over budget, forcing Malick to take writing assignments to help pay for the editing of the film. Yet despite the complications, production plowed on and even now as Malick gets more money and resources to work with, great efforts are taken to keep an intimate feel on set. "The movies and the budgets have gotten bigger, and we take pains to hide stuff from him, so he doesn't see how many trucks are parked around the corner. Because it doesn't help him," says Jack Fisk. But that doesn't really matter. Malick would be happy shooting film all by himself.
"I don't think Terry ever finished. I think we all left him in the desert alone," Palmieri says. Fisk adds, "I think when he left it was snowing. He stayed after everybody else, still shooting. He doesn't like to stop."
07. Terrence Malick and producer Lou Stroller got into a fist-fight on the set of the movie.
While Terrence Malick's faithful actors and crew members stayed with the film through thick and thin, producer Lou Stroller was feeling the effects of Malick's unorthodox methods.
"Lou realized more than anyone how dangerous circumstances were, given our budget," Assistant Director Bill Scott told GQ and eventually Stroller and Malick literally came to blows.
"Lou Stroller made some comment about Mrs. Malick, and Terry was not having it, and beat the hell out of him. In true Texas style—he was so Texas. Didn't even hesitate, just started swinging," Martin Sheen recalls. "They were down like two buffalo—they were big guys—and they were on the ground, rolling around, and Terry just whupped him. Oh, I acted outraged—'What a breakdown of discipline, this fighting on the set!'—but I couldn't have been prouder of him. Can you imagine? If more directors would beat up their producers, we'd have a lot more artistic freedom.