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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'

Features
by Rodrigo Perez
June 17, 2011 8:54 AM
25 Comments
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13. Billy Weber gave Malick an inspired piece of advice that he’s employed to this day.
Malick’s always wanted a near-silent film and his close collaborators know this all too well. “Days of Heaven” took two years because Weber and Malick were constantly “whittling away” at the dialogue scenes and those difficulties gave Weber an idea 20 years later. On the “Days of Heaven” Criterion DVD commentary, Weber recalled some sage advice he gave him that most Malick-philes knows he uses now constantly: shoot the scene once with dialogue and then the same once again without dialogue. "And so we did a lot of takes like that on [‘Thin Red Line’]. Because he and I both knew he would want the shot like that,” he said, but unfortunately, it does not speed up the editing process one bit. “No it doesn’t speed up the editing at all. As a matter of fact it slows it down, but it does allow for actors that aren’t very good to come off a lot better than they really are.”

14. The bootcamp for actors was was the real deal and tough.
"It was physical, it was dirty – no shower in a week in the bush, digging our own trenches and staying up half the night on lookout, it was the real thing,” actor Dash Mihok said on the Criterion extras. “But when you're sleeping eight guys in a tent with each other and it's freezing at night and and you had to cuddle up, you become pretty close."

Jim Caviezel even admitted that in a confused moment at night in the middle of a thundershower, he snuggled a bit too close to Adrien Brody. "He was like, ‘Jim, Jim, I'm not your wife!’,” he recalled on the DVD. “And I was like, ‘Sorry I think I kissed his ear or something, maybe I even bit it, I dunno."

The production itself was also punishing. The actors had to run uphill several times a day in disgusting hot temperatures as close to the camera as possible (to stay in focus) carrying 40 pounds of gear plus real machine guns that weighed 10 to 15 pounds. By the end of the day most of the actors were left exhausted and battered and bruised.

“Because of the [tall grass] you had no idea where your footing was, plus you had to dodge bodies or explosives,” Acevedo said on the DVD of the daily difficulties of just running around on set.

"You're constantly falling and your weapon is bumping into you. You have to match your distance in these shots and you cannot let up, you have to stay two feet from the lens otherwise focus goes out,” Mihok said. Plus there were other rather revolting obstacles.

“My uniform on this movie was never washed,” Mihok recalled on the DVD. “Every morning, you'd wake up at 4:30, it'd be freezing out, you'd drive an hour to set, get into the trailer and put on this gross tank top on. And they disinfected it, but they couldn't wash it for continuity reasons. It weighed about 20 lbs and it was [freezing] out and in this cold rotten ham thing and then you put the dirt all over your face and then it would all of a sudden turn to be 120 degrees out and you sweated all day and literally it became another weapon; you’re wearing 40 pounds of stank, greasy hot ham.”

15. Sean Penn had a say in the final editing of the film and perhaps it’s because he had Malick’s back.
“I can't speak to what secrets Terry has in his head, but when he would share certain things with me he would often end them with, 'loose lips sinks ships,'" Penn said vaguely on the Criterion DVD extras about the mysterious Malick. “Terry has a lot of secrets and if you're supportive of the director at some point you must be willing to support those secrets.”

Perhaps this is why the trusted ally had a special insight to the film that no other actor received. According to that informative 1999 EW article, Penn went through the movie frame by frame and suggested cuts to Malick and the director then trimmed about five minutes from the final picture.

“I went to that movie and saw something as surprising to me as it would have been to you or anybody seeing it who was not directly involved,” he said.

16. If you thought the production was difficult, wait til you hear about the behind-the-scenes drama that unfolded with producers
The tale of "The Thin Red Line" producers Bobby Geisler and John Roberdeau is epic, ugly and well-documented. Chronicled deeply by both the Vanity Fair and Entertainment Weekly pieces (both are must-reads frankly), they tell an alleged (mostly one-sided) story of betrayal and deceit on the part of Terrence Malick (though do note: Malick doesn’t speak in interviews anymore so it’s only so balanced). The facts are this: Geisler and Roberdeau were banned from the set of “The Thin Red Line” and were banned from the Oscar ceremony; the EW writer was sent a damaging unsigned letter on ‘Thin Red Line’ stationery that called the producers “imposters and confidence men who have no connection with Mr. Malick…journalists should beware of letting these tricksters promote their own careers.” From all accounts they do seem to be the two people directly responsible for Terrence Malick’s return to filmmaking, but their patience and endurance may have come at a heavy price (financially, spiritually and emotionally). "I didn't think he was capable of betrayal of this magnitude," they told EW. More facts: producer Mike Medavoy's attorneys declared them in breach of contract and threatened to remove their names from the film unless they agreed to do no future interviews until after the Academy Awards according to the Vanity Fair article. As the author of the article says, “we’ll probably never know the entire truth about this relationship.” One thing is certain: ugly is an understatement.

Here’s Mickey Rourke’s deleted scene and one with John C. Reilly.



“The Thin Red Line” by the numbers.
- It cost $52 million to make, grossed $36 million domestically and another $61 million internationally for a worldwide gross of $98.1 million.
- The film garnered seven Academy Award nominations: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing, Best Original Score and Best in Sound Mixing. It won none.
- It won the top prize Golden Bear at the 1999 Berlin International Film Festival. Martin Scorsese ranked it as his second favorite film of the 1990s.
- Shooting began on June 23, 1997 for 100 days in Australia, 24 in the Solomon Islands, and 3 in the U.S.
- The editing team, starting with Leslie Jones, then Billy Weber and then Saar Klein, worked for 13 months in post, and the mix lasted four months.

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25 Comments

  • 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

    @CC

    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 saying...how 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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