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It Was A War For Cast & Crew: 16 Things You Need To Know About Terrence Malick's 'The Thin Red Line'

by Rodrigo Perez
June 17, 2011 8:54 AM
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10. Casting the picture took over a year.
“The Thin Red Line” had a long-gestating period. Word got out in 1995 that Malick was working on a new film, but casting didn’t even take place until 1996 and 1997. Part of the reason why people like Johnny Depp, Brad Pitt and others didn’t appear in the film is simple. “Terry's idea was; he didn't want to work with stars, he wanted people you would just believe in the characters,” longtime Malick casting director Dianne Crittenden said on the Criterion DVD extras. “His way was to make it just as real as possible and to do that was to use people you didn't recognize.”

On said DVD, there’s a litany of brief glimpses of people who auditioned including Philip Seymour Hoffman, Josh Hartnett, Neil Patrick Harris, Brendan Sexton III (“This Boy’s Life”), Luke Perry, Crispin Glover and many others. While he eventually didn’t get a part, Stephen Dorff, “Had to audition, he just had to,” Crittenden said. “He worked on it and worked on it and he was like, 'please, can I wait for him?' and he'd wait and wait and wait and he'd come in and we'd [audition] until 11pm."

According to producer Bobby Geisler in the 1999 Vanity Fair profile, Malick became starstruck by all the A-list actors that were at bowing at his feet. According to Geisler he told Malick, “You’re going to compromise the movie” (this sentiment of Malick being initially enamored by Depp and Pitt is corroborated in 1999's Premiere article "Welcome To The Jungle").

Truth or fiction, regardless, Malick seemed to be of that thinking anyhow. A source in the VF article said he said he too was reluctant to include stars. “The audience will know that Pitt’s going to wake up after his death scene and collect his $1 million.”

"You don't want egos and people who want attention,’’ Crittenden said of the casting process which meant no time for kid-gloves with actors who wanted special treatment. “He wanted a
certain transparency, that the actor was willing to put their own ego aside and just inhabit the character. The kind of actor who works best with Terry is someone who is someone who is extremely flexible that doesn't get hung up on lines and words,” she said delicately, knowing all too well many of those lines and words don’t actually make the final picture.

11. Caviezel and Penn’s relationship in the film mirrored their real-life ones. Caviezel the sincere and earnest man, Penn the cynic.
In a New York Daily News profile, the writer described Caviezel as someone who “doesn't seem to have an insincere bone in his body,” which doesn’t sound far apart from his gentle, earnest and compassionate Pvt. Witt character, the heart and soul of the innocence lost amongst the madness of war in Malick’s film.

“He can be cynical and brutal and hysterical. He's all those things, he can turn on a dime and be mean, and then he's the sweetest guy in the world,” Dash Mihok said in an Inside Film interview about Penn, again not far off the mark from his 1st Sgt. Edward Welsh character.

One day Terry asked me, ‘What do you think of Sean Penn?’ ” Caviezel recalled in the “Rosy-Fingered Dawn” documentary. “I said, he’s a rock, one day you can go and talk him the next day you go up to him and he doesn’t even know who you are – that’s Sean Penn. When we were shooting that scene Terry said, ‘Tell him that. Tell him what you told me.’ ”

Watch parts of "Rosy-Fingered Dawn" where the two actors discuss working with one another.

12. Malick has insane memory retention.
"He shoots a lot of film and he'll remember specific moments and six people will run out screaming trying to find the shot that Terry remembers and no one has logged in," Malick’s production designer Jack Fisk said on the Criterion Commentary track.

Producer Grant Hill elaborated on this story in hilarious detail. "There was a sequence that Terry had not been able to crack, he had been working on it for six or eight weeks, different editors, and one day he walks into the lead editor Billy Weber and said, ‘Billy, I know that somewhere after cut had been called -- so it must have been early in the film – there are about 10 or 12 frames' and he described what they were,” Hill said. “And of course Billy – who had 1.2 million of feet in front of him – said, 'You're crazy.' But it took 10 days or so, he found the frames, put them in the sequence and I was in the room, and the sequence did just come alive. It was some weird sense of what it took to complete it."

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  • GERARD KENNELLY | April 21, 2013 9:34 AMReply

    makes me mad when people compare TTRL to saving private ryan

    the thin red line is in another league

    much better picture

  • Daniel | January 10, 2013 9:22 PMReply

    Terrence Malick is pretentious and by the sounds of it, a C**t!

  • joeyjojo | June 27, 2011 11:43 AMReply

    You would think that, with all that research, you would've found a source with the correct spelling of Kirk Acevedo.

  • Anuar | June 20, 2011 3:41 AMReply

    Such a cool article. Great job!

  • Alonso | June 19, 2011 2:10 AMReply

    Fascinating read. Thank you so much for this. I realize most of this is old, but I would have never come across ALL of this info without hunting the webs for days.

    Great stuff.

  • hmm | June 18, 2011 12:19 PMReply

    "His film was about the horrors of war, the fear and innocence lost that quaked through soldiers and the capacity for humanity that still existed amongst such insanity."

    Have you even seen Saving Private Ryan? Did you miss the chapel scene? Most of the conversations walking? The movie was a lot more than the D day. The entire movie was about the search for decency within war.

  • Thomas | June 18, 2011 7:33 AMReply

    Fantastic post about an incredible film guys, cheers.

  • Rufus | June 18, 2011 6:41 AMReply

    What a great way to start off the weekend. Thank you for this great article. :)

  • Matt | June 18, 2011 6:08 AMReply

    I LOVE this article and enjoy reading it tremendously. Thank you so much. Great work!

  • rodie | June 18, 2011 4:44 AMReply

    I thought this was a great read and look forward to more posts like this by other directors. I would consider myself a Malick fan, but by no means an obsessive one. And I don't own any Malick films on Criterion, so I was new to a lot of this information. I still haven't been able to see Tree of Life because it's not playing in my town, but this post gave me just the right Malick fix.

  • Nik Grape | June 17, 2011 11:02 AMReply

    Yeah I knew most of this stuff too...but not all of it. And it was nicely written.

    The New World one is definitely the one I'm most anticipating though.

  • K. Bowen | June 17, 2011 11:02 AMReply

    I saw this recently as part of the Malick retrospectives, and while it has a few dips and Days of Heaven is smoother, The Thin Red Line has so many passages of sustained excellence it's freakish. I mean, like the whole first hour.

  • Castor | June 17, 2011 10:44 AMReply

    Absolutely fascinating read. Don't let the naysayers convince you otherwise.

  • The Playlist | June 17, 2011 10:38 AMReply


    I read that back in the day and even emailed Rachel recent, but no luck. I can't find a copy of it online.

    You don't happen to have, do you?

  • Hanka | June 17, 2011 10:36 AMReply

    As someone who's trying to make their way through the film production world, I really find all of these sort of posts to be absolutely fascinating. Behind the scenes production stories never cease to entertain me.

  • CC | June 17, 2011 10:32 AMReply

    Great work. Especially for clarifying exactly which actors were cut out and that there weren't 125 famous actors edited out of the final film. That rumor has been getting more and more elaborate over the years, and with Tree Of Life's release reached absurd proportions.

    Another superb Thin Red Line article fans of the film should seek out was in the January 1999 issue of "Premiere", titled "Welcome to The Jungle", by Rachel Abramowitz. She seems to have been one of the few journalists allowed to visit the set and actually be present during filming, and she qoutes Malick's directions to the actors several times.

  • Ryan | June 17, 2011 10:23 AMReply

    I enjoy reading these articles quite a bit so thank you Playlist. Looking forward to the New World's piece.

  • The Playlist | June 17, 2011 10:15 AMReply

    Well, we set out to do this: things you may or may not know about the MAKING of the film.

    That was the idea. So that's what we did. I collected tons of stuff for this piece and then filtered what I personally found interesting.

    Maybe on the frantisk blog you can discuss what you think is interesting?

    Personally, i just find this stuff much more interesting than my take on "movie itself" which would amount to the same review that's been written 4,0000 times.

    You sound like someone who knows this story well, so its probably dull for you, c'est la vie?

  • frantisk | June 17, 2011 10:10 AMReply

    I'm just saying, Thin Red Line is a pretty interesting movie, you guys could probably do something cool exploring the actual movie, rather than just rehashing the same "Terrence Malick is so eccentric...he shoots birds instead of actors!" type stuff.

    don't you think movie itself is a whole lot more interesting than casting gossip from 1999?

  • Edward Davis | June 17, 2011 10:03 AMReply

    There will be 12 more posts like this. Get ready.

  • frantisk | June 17, 2011 9:59 AMReply

    Just many more "Terrance Malick has unorthodox shooting methods and can be difficult to work with!" posts do you guys really need?

    that's literally the gist of every single Malick post you put up, why not try exploring something other than that?

  • Edward Davis | June 17, 2011 9:47 AMReply

    "what is this?" uhh, we're celebrating the release of Terrence Malick films -- as stated in the intro you dummy. Put some fruitjuice in your milk.

    "In the lead up to the wide release of Malick’s latest film, “The Tree of Life” (July 8 is the date), week by week, we’ve been getting reacquainted with his body of films and the behind-the-scenes making of each picture."

  • Kevin Jagernauth | June 17, 2011 9:44 AMReply

    Are you guys really so dense? Not everyone has time or even knows about this info. Congratulations, you guys are obsessive Malick nerds and you can now crow about it. But there are lots of people who haven't dug into the film or may not know some of this stuff (certainly some of this info was new to me). And we explain why we did the feature in the first place in the article.

    So if you already know, don't read and stop getting your panties in a twist each week.

  • frantisk | June 17, 2011 9:39 AMReply

    this would be a really interesting article, if it were 10 years ago, we didn't already have the criterion DVD, and the articles where you took all of your info hadn't already been published.

    seriously, what is this?

  • Jason | June 17, 2011 9:31 AMReply

    Thank u criterion for all this info.

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