No production designer has created more iconic and beautiful outdoor images than Jack Fisk, whose 50-year filmography is full of classics – Days of Heaven, The Tree of Life, Mulholland Drive, There Will Be Blood. and “The Revenant” represent only a fraction of his work. But according to Fisk, a “well-crafted” film is not his goal. “I’m leaning more and more towards the documentary style,” he told IndieWire. “I love the idea of telling a story that not only sells popcorn but also gives you information.”
Fisk’s latest project, Killers of the Flower Moon, offered just that opportunity. Director Martin Scorsese told the true story behind a series of murders in the Osage Nation in the 1920s after oil was discovered on tribal land. “Marty really wanted to tell it from the Osage perspective,” Fisk said. “He wanted it to be truthful and fair, and that’s what excited me to make the film. I feel a great responsibility because as filmmakers, the vision we present is the way most people think about the subject until someone has a better vision. If we make it unreal, they in Oklahoma will have an unreal idea of that time.”
Fisk has long been one of the great field production designers – his use of location to express characters in films like “The Straight Story” and “The Master” is unparalleled – so it’s no surprise that Scorsese hired him for “Killers of the ” Flower Moon,” the director’s first Western. Part of the fun for Fisk was the fact that the film is based on the iconography of the Westerns he grew up with, television series like “Gunsmoke” and “The Rifleman,” but also tells the story of a changing West. “The Osage people have integrated into the white world, and we’re showing a new West where people drive cars,” Fisk said, adding that Oklahoma’s vastness lent itself to a sweeping vision that was both epic and The latter really inspired the production designer.
“The city was pretty easy because I had photos of the real city at the time,” Fisk said. “I also had a lot of written material and was able to see what businesses were there from newspaper advertisements, and I had great city maps made for fire insurance companies.” The bigger challenge was locating the home of Mollie Burkhart (Lily Gladstone), the Osage resident. Woman who marries Leonardo DiCaprio’s Ernest for love And Greed. “This house was key for me to put the entire film together. It was important for me to understand where Mollie lived.”
The source material on which the film was based (a 2017 non-fiction bestseller by David Grann) didn’t offer many clues, and when Fisk visited the area where the story was set, he felt a disconnect between the way how to accept Mollie and her family life and the reality of the situation. “People just assumed they lived in mansions because of their wealth,” he said, “but I didn’t see any mansions around.” Fisk began researching county records and eventually found that Mollie had many lived in her mother’s house for years before briefly living on a farm with Ernest and then moving five blocks away to a small house that would allow her to be closer to the doctors when she got sick.
Fisk built Mollie’s house based on written descriptions he found in the records, but made minor adjustments to accommodate Scorsese’s camera. “We enlarged it because the real house was too small to film in,” Fisk said. “And I wanted to build a second floor so that she and Ernest could be up there and not have everything feel like a dorm room.” Fisk also added porches for people to sleep outside, noting visitors who came , tended to stay for a while. “If you go somewhere in the country, you stay for about a week.”
Fisk’s research revealed that many of the rooms in Osage houses had multiple beds, a result of the customary communal way of life. “Before Oklahoma, they all lived on the same land and no one owned anything,” Fisk said. “I had heard that they didn’t even have a word for ‘mine.’ They didn’t need anyone because everything belonged to everyone.”
The tragedy of “Killers of the Flower Moon” lies partly in its depiction of the loss of that way of life, a story told through both Fisk’s designs and the script – the juxtaposition of Osage traditions with the invading, largely corrupt one depicted The world of Ernest and his uncle William King Hale (Robert De Niro) permeates the entire film and benefits from the thorough research of Fisk, Scorsese and Scorsese’s archivist and co-producer Marianne Bower. The result, as Fisk intended, is a film so rich in detail that it combines the qualities of a documentary with the emotional satisfactions of a great narrative film.
“The key to it is always character,” said Fisk, noting that the relationship between Mollie and Ernest intersects all of the film’s thematic, historical, emotional and political concerns. The ambition and complexity that Scorsese – with whom Fisk had never worked – and co-screenwriter Eric Roth brought to the project were key to Fisk’s commitment to the project. “I’m as passionate about filmmaking as ever, but now that I have two grandchildren it’s harder to take me away from the farm. As you get older you realize you don’t have as many movies in you anymore, so I make sure there’s nowhere I’d rather go when I drive to work in the morning. That’s what I’m looking for.”