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Terrence Malick Made An Enemy Out Of James Horner & 7 More Things We Learned About 'The New World'

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by Gabe Toro
July 6, 2011 10:10 AM
24 Comments
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4. Once Again, Malick's Ever-Mercurial Shooting Process Was In Full Effect
Naturally, Malick did not make it easy on his charges and extras were warned beforehand it was going to be grueling shoot.

"It's going to be particularly difficult out here because it's going to be hot, it's going be nasty, you're going to be covered with mud,“ Vern Crofoot, the production’s Master Armorer advised the extras, as seen in footage from the BluRay. “The working conditions are not going to be pleasant, you're gonna be working real hard and the temperature is going to be up there."

However, Malick's well-documented unconventional shooting approach was a pleasure for Christian Bale who enjoyed being able to roam freely on the sets. "It's very funny at times because Terry liked Jack Fisk to create the houses and the locations so he could shoot three hundred and sixty degrees,” says Bale on the BluRay. “So the crew had to be ready for that as well, because unlike most movies where they absolutely know the camera is locked between these two positions and that's it, with Terry you never knew. It could be there, and then suddenly he's spinning around looking there. So you can't have a bunch of gaffers or craft service set up [nearby]."

“And I couldn't stop laughing on my very first day when he did do this thing to me, where he just suddenly turned the camera on me and said 'Christian just do whatever you feel like doing,'" Bale continues. "And so I did start doing that, and I realized, there was a bunch of crew [nearby] so if I walked over there, what were they going to do? In my bloody-minded nature I was like, 'I'm going to go take a look, see what they do.' So I did, I started walking over and they were running, they were diving behind bushes to get out the way, because they knew that this was just part of the deal of working with Terry."

5. "The New World" Had Three Different Cuts
Those seeking the total “The New World” experience found themselves with a challenge, including, not surprisingly, editor Richard Chew who is one of the four credited editors who had to wade through a million feet of film. "Terry shoots a lot because, I think, he's really trying to get into the subconscious of the actors who inhabit these characters,” says Chew on the BluRay. “And he's trying to find these unconscious kind of movements or postures, expressions that the actors can give.”

“The New World” was initially released in a 150-minute cut for Academy consideration, though later it would see wide release in an altered version that ran 16 minutes shorter and featured new scenes, but condensed others and severely truncated the narration to allow for a more straightforward reading. DVD allowed these theatrical presentations to exist in another medium, but most diehards would rally around the extended edition, which boasts a notable 172-minute runtime featuring the extensions of several key sequences. However, there was still much left on the cutting room floor and Kilcher detailed a surprising scene that she was bummed to see missing from the movie:

“....some of Pocahontas’ lowest points in life were taken out...You know the part where John Smith [Farrell] is chopping wood in the back and this is after Pocahontas is kidnapped and she’s brought back to the James Fort? She comes to Smith and he’s chopping the wood. Pocahontas actually... that day, I had a knife and I was going to stab him and that really showed that she was going to kill her heart," the actress explained to About. "Because in the beginning, Powhatan tells his daughter, ‘You need to put your people before your own heart,’ and he’s referring to Smith. And so that really showed Pocahontas was about to kill her own heart. And then she gets really confused and then you see her gradually start to fix herself until Smith leaves. It was also missing some of the more, happier times. More of the Indian village. Like we were once dancing around this huge bonfire—everyone. It was so gorgeous. They told me that a lot of the scenes that I was missing were going to be on the DVD so I’m excited. It’s going to be somewhere.”

As for Bale, he told Hollywood.com that much of his contribution came in post-production as Malick tried to wrangle his film down to size. " I think that was a product of Terry being required to bring the movie down to two and a half hours. A number of the dialogue scenes had to be taken out and many times it was almost like a silent movie, but we were accustomed to that on the set because many times he would say to us, 'Here's the scene. Here's the dialogue.' And we might change it at the last minute, or whatever, but he'd also say, 'If you don't like saying it, don't say it.' And he really meant it. He didn't say it just say to say it," Bale explained. "He really meant that we should do what felt right. 'I don't want you saying any of the lines that I've written if it doesn't feel right.' Then with the voiceover it was really quite fascinating. I mean, Terry would sometimes send me thirty pages of voiceover and it was fascinating. He's a wonderful writer. I stole a number of the pages because I thought that they were just some wonderful comments on life and love and relationships and things."

6. Unfortunately, Malick's Less Than Traditional Editing Approach Made Him An Enemy Of Composer James Horner
Terrence Malick's intuitive, freewheeling approach to shooting and his disregard for sticking with the script made scoring the film a nightmare for James Horner. Writing and then rewriting pieces for scenes that changed from page to camera, were cut, re-ordered or abandoned, most of Horner's music was eventually axed and the experience severely embittered the composer. In a radio interview with "On The Score" conducted by Daniel Schweiger for Film Music Radio, Horner laid into Malick hard. It was a lengthy diatribe -- which you can read in full here -- but we've condensed it a bit to give an overall impression of Horner's experience working with Malick:

So he went out shooting the movie, went over time, and got beautiful images and everybody [said] "Oh god, this is so beautiful." There were a couple of things that were pasted together by a couple of the experienced editors of the love scenes: "Oh, this gonna be great, absolutely great". OK.

He had eight editors working for him -- two prestigious, the rest out of the woodwork, and some assistants. There was so much film he was working on night on night, [that] there was a crew... When I first saw it, it was a mishmash of unrelated scenes, complete mishmash. I said, "Well Terry, you need to..." He asked me what I thought. "You need to cohere this. I mean this scene should be there" ... all kinds of editing things were wrong. It was the first assembly.

It was April and he was supposed to have a cut ready by May to look at, and that we missed. He missed his deadline and it was in the middle of June when we saw it. The studio saw it, and it was the same thing I saw two days after he finished shooting. It has gone through two and a half month's work and it was in just the same state. This was when I first saw it and red lights started to go up everywhere because I’m getting close to my recording dates and this is unscoreable like this.

I played him scenes, I played him everything on the piano and I had the feeling he did not really know what movie music was. He didn’t have any experience with real film music being presented to him. Even in 'Thin Red Line' it was all cut up. Here I was writing music for him, which he would say was "beautiful and great" and sounded "great" on the piano. Whatever. But I knew - and I warned everybody - this man does not have a clue what to do with movie music or how it works, not a clue. He is gonna to hear his first cue and not know what to do with it and I warned everybody.

I begged him to watch several movies that have music in them [used] very effectively. Be it 'One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,' I mean I showed him all kinds of films or asked him to see all kinds of films that had scores in them. He said he would, but he never did.

Slowly the editorial team started to disintegrate. The good editors left and they brought in more asisstants and it was cut by a bunch of incompetents. There was no real editor. He continued on in that way asking for opinions and we were approaching recording and there were no scenes to record, there were no scenes to time. I had my music editors assemble sequences as I thought they should be or as they normally [would] be, and we scored some of that and it was lovely, just what everybody had hoped would be intended by the film.

Terry saw it and immediately took it back to his editing room and cut it apart and we were still recording and I realized that it was just a waste of everybody’s money to keep recording, though we were commited because we had hired the orchestra. So Terry was making this movie that was incomprehensible.

Everybody told him it was unwatchable. Everybody! Everybody! And he had Final Cut, and when a director has final cut, everbody can scream and shout, but unless you’re willing to really go head-to-head in combat, you basically have to throw up your hands and say, "I have no control over this man." The editor who had worked on "The Thin Red Line" begged Terry to fix the fim. It was a love story, and Terry doesn’t feel those feelings. All I can say is that Terry is on the surface a stone and he does not know how to tell love stories to save his life. When we scored the movie he completely disassembled everything. The score made no sense anymore and he started to stick in Wagner over scenes, and a Mozart piano concerto over an Indian attack. Everybody thought he was insane. By this time I was no longer on, I basically said, 'futz you. So I just did say a four letter word. I’m out of here. I’ve done my score.'

I never felt so letdown by a filmmaker in my life....It was the most disappointing experience I’ve ever had with a man because not only did he throw out my score, he loved my score, he didn’t have a clue what to do with it. He didn’t have a clue how to use music. So what he started to do was, as I said, to take classical pieces, but not even pieces that would be transparent and lovely, he was taking Wagner like a thick blanket and putting it in his movie. I swear to god, on the dubbing stage everybody thought he was joking and he would bring up these musical solutions and take out the score and put in Wagner, or take out the score and put in Mozart.

It’s not like he fired me and I’m bitter. What happened was I’m bitter because he did not make the movie he promised everybody he would make. Everybody felt betrayed, from the film company down to the editors. Everybody felt betrayed, and this was the man who took the story that could have been one of the great love stories and was one of the great love stories in history, and turned it into crap, and it’s because he doesn’t believe in those things. He doesn’t understand them. And most importantly, he has not an emotion in his body. He’s emotionless.

James Horner's complete score for the film was released on CD.

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24 Comments

  • Savanna | July 12, 2011 4:39 AMReply

    James Horner has talent but he recycles so much of his music that there are unintentional references to other movies in many of his scores, very distracting and in a movie like this unforgivable. Better to have left all his music out than to have a quote from Braveheart in the middle of the movie.

  • K. Bowen | July 8, 2011 9:01 AMReply

    Oh, and the finale of this movie is one of the great five to ten minutes ever shot .... and scored.

  • K. Bowen | July 8, 2011 8:59 AMReply

    Horner is an idiot.

    It doesn't surprise me at all that he was replaced by Wagner, et al.

    Malick has always moved around the score. He did it with Morricone's score on Days of Heaven. How'd that work out?

  • Pah shu akah o wah | July 8, 2011 5:18 AMReply

    Viewing from the point of perspective of one of Dakota blood, one sees how Europeans could have learned so much from us, and chose to consider us inferior, it's no wonder we now suffer from global warming, and are tied to foreign oil. We lived with nature, wasted nothing, and spoiled nothing. This film shows how beautiful our lives were, John Smith's actual writings echo this.

  • Perra Hosney | February 20, 2012 11:01 PM

    Yes so beautiful but almost unbearably sad.

  • MDL | July 7, 2011 5:41 AMReply

    It's so interesting to read about all these egos working with Malick. He goes his own way but a few people who work with him never figure that out. So naturally they complain. But, man, the results are often great. Wong kar-wai is the same.

  • carrie | July 7, 2011 5:13 AMReply

    i dislike Farrell in this movie,his acting may be good but he has a "rock&roll; " vibe who doesn't work with his character
    the story with Plummer and Horner is interesting

  • cirkusfolk | July 7, 2011 4:10 AMReply

    Am I the only one that agrees with Horner? If you are gonna hire a composer and actually want his/her music to be integral to the film, they should have as much access to your vision as possible. You shouldn't change the film and scenes around and not tell them, and then cut up the music which was composed specific to the scenes and throw it anywhere you want including the cutting room floor. This will most definately not make for a good patnership. Imagine if Chris Nolan did this with Hans Zimmer. No, they work together to achieve the perfect synthesis. If I recall, Hans Zimmer had a similar problem with The Thin Red Line. He composed over three times the amount of music that was actually used. And what he did score wasn't even put to the same images he scored the music to. Sure the director has final creative say, but comon, let them do the job you hired them for.

    And I wouldn't knock Horner if I were you. He made the best score of all time in my opinion with Legends of the Fall. Then has done outstanding work like Glory, Braveheart, Apollo 13, Field of Dreams, Enemy at the Gates, Titanic etc.

  • actionman | July 7, 2011 2:16 AMReply

    the financial backers of The Tree of Life have all already been paid.

  • BuntyHoven | July 7, 2011 2:14 AMReply

    Malick fans will appreciate this: http://www.theshiznit.co.uk/feature/trivia-50-things-you-never-knew-about-terrence-malick.php

    I laughed out loud several times.

  • Edward Davis | July 7, 2011 2:05 AMReply

    Annoying is Malick-ites assuming Horner, Plummer and anyone around this genius is wrong. I adore his films, but from all the evidence around he sounds like a bit of a nightmare to work for. But maybe if you know what you're getting into it's not so bad.

  • Kelly | July 7, 2011 2:01 AMReply

    It is an incredible film...Not like anything else and it kind of creeps up on you...Horner was wrong, the Mozart and Wagner belong to that picture much more than his score.

  • Glass | July 7, 2011 1:46 AMReply

    A good movie, but WTF is with that 1990s-History Channel opening credit sequence? That put the audience right to sleep when I first saw it.

    I don't mean that in a sort of "blow something up in the first five minutes or you'll lose your audience" kind of way. I mean, what a bland and distracting choice that was. Didn't fit the rest of the picture at all. Again, a good movie, but my least favorite of his.

  • James | July 7, 2011 1:42 AMReply

    It would appear Horner simply didn't understand Malick's use of music because it's unconventional. Alexandre Desplat had no such problems working with Malick, or with having much of his score left unused. He realized what an honor it was to have any of his music in a film by such an artist. An infinitely more intelligent man than Horner, it would seem.

  • James | July 7, 2011 1:40 AMReply

    I think the 150 min cut is far and away the best. I saw it in theaters twice. A shame it's the most difficult to see now. The only commercial releases of it were as a bonus Digital Copy download with the theatrical cut DVD in the US and as part of an OOP Italian DVD set including both the 150 min and 135 min cuts.

    To me the 135 min cut takes all the bad reviews to heart and makes the film overly literal and simplistic. The altered voiceover is a mistake, and one of the key shots of the film - the Inuit girl dancing on the beach in Greenland towards the end, who looks just like Pocahontas - is deleted. The loss of that one shot ruins the whole movie for me. The look on Farrell's face as he watches her, realizing everything he left behind and can never recapture, was the soul of the film. Malick at least restored that shot for the final version.

    The 172 min cut, on the other hand, rambles all over the place and introduces bizarre jump cuts in many scenes that weren't there in either earlier cut. It's the closest to the 150 min version though, so definitely better than the 135 min cut.

  • The Playlist | July 7, 2011 1:26 AMReply

    Thanks to @ rotch for giving us the head's up about Plummer. Had read that before, but had totally forgotten about it. We added it to this piece just after it published. Thanks again.

  • BuntyHoven | July 7, 2011 1:10 AMReply

    Horner's comments are bizarre. Malick is among the best users of music in film. And the Wagner piece that he badmouths plays over some of the most memorable sequences.

    I've listened to a fair amount of Horner's score, and aside from quite a nice love theme, it's not particularly good. It wouldn't surprise me if Malick just didn't like Horner's score and that's why he didn't use much of it.

  • starway2001 | July 6, 2011 12:20 PMReply

    Trust me. Tree of Life's financial backers aren't skipping and whistling over that $27M haul.

  • Erik | July 6, 2011 12:03 PMReply

    James Horner sounds like a dick and someone with a very narrow view on what a movie should be.

  • actionman | July 6, 2011 11:37 AMReply

    James Horner sounds like a MEGA-TOOL.

  • rotch | July 6, 2011 11:15 AMReply

    @ Daniel

    He unleashed 'my heart will go on' to the world.

    I kid, I like many of Horner's scores.

  • Daniel | July 6, 2011 11:09 AMReply

    Rotch - what did James Horner do to you?

  • dudu | July 6, 2011 10:46 AMReply

    I've re-evaluated the film a great deal after watching the extended cut. It's an excellent film, and a wonderful portrait of a woman.

  • rotch | July 6, 2011 10:26 AMReply

    Any enemy of James Horner is a friend of mine.

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