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

Photo of Kevin Jagernauth By Kevin Jagernauth | The Playlist June 3, 2011 at 4:46AM

It has been almost four decades since Terrence Malick's debut feature film "Badlands" and if you haven't seen the film in a little while, it's just as good you remembered it. Starring Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek, "Badlands" sounds about as un-Malick-esque as you can get. Loosely based on the true story of Charlie Starkweather and his 14-year old girlfriend Caril Ann Fugate who went on a two-month road trip through Nebraska and Wyoming in 1958 and stacked up eleven murders, Malick re-imagines them as Kit and Holly, but this isn't your standard "Bonnie & Clyde" styled flick. Lyrical, enigmatic and pastoral, frame-by-frame the style and tone that Malick would become famous for makes its presence known. In fact, revisiting the film, one can almost see thematic parallels between "Badlands" and "The Tree of Life." Arguably, Kit and Holly represent "nature and grace" in their own way; Malick's penchant for nature as an unspoken force is definitely felt and more superficially, Jessica Chastain looks disarmingly like a young Sissy Spacek.
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06. Terrence Malick went at least $35,000 over budget due to the ever expanding shoot (and was probably not helped by the massive fire on set).
"Badlands" had the tiny budget and difficulties most independent productions face -- it was budgeted at $300,000 with producer Edward R. Pressman who put in half, with Malick putting in $25,000 of his own money and raising the rest -- but Malick's organic shooting approach eventually caused the production to go over budget.
But according to Billy Weber on the Criterion edition of “Days Of Heaven,” “Badlands” was made for $350,000 and was bought by Warner Bros. for $900. It was actually shot for $700,000, but $350,000 in costs was deferred until later. "Everyone got paid, but it never made money, it never turned a profit," Weber said on the disc.
"We were shooting tons of film, which we were not budgeted to shoot. And our schedule was getting extended, which we were not budgeted for," assistant director Bill Scott told GQ. But it wasn't just Malick's own habits that caused costs to rise as a fire on the set likely didn't help matters. During the scene in which Charlie burns down Holly's home, three cameras were destroyed and sent at least one person to the hospital.

"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.

This article is related to: Films, Feature, Terrence Malick, '70s Films, Badlands


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