Interview: The Producers of 'Knight of Cups' Including Emerson Alumni Sarah Green

Jake Bridgman ‘19 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer

Nicolas Gonda, Sarah Green and Ken Kao. Photo Credit:
It’s not up for debate that Terrence Malick has grown both more proactive and more experimental in recent years. His newest films The Tree of Life and To The Wonder have provoked very mixed reactions from critics and audiences alike citing lack of narrative and overly abstract visuals. Malick’s newest films, Knight of Cups is no different. Check out Emertainment Monthly’s review here.
Emertainment Monthly had the chance to sit down with Knight of Cups‘ producers, Nicolas Gonda, Ken Kao and Emerson Alumni Sarah Green in a round table interview with schools from all over the country. We talked about Knight of Cups and all the mystery and wonder than goes into a Terrence Malick production.
What is the really significant impact of Malick’s films?
Sarah Green: The thing with Terry is that, with his films, I can’t help but relate it to my own life. I start looking at where the meaning in my life is, and what I tend to focus on. I can’t help but get emotionally involved, and that’s one of the exciting things about Terry’s films.
Ken Kao: He can reach out to people no matter where they are in their lives. His films encourage that you look inside yourself, and I find that very exciting.
EM: How do you produce a Malick film?
Green: What we do when we work with a director like Terry, and what I do with many directors, is learn their process, how they tell their stories, and what their priorities are, because everyone is different. Some directors need plenty of time and freedom for light setups, and with Malick, it’s about time as we tend to shoot, most of the time, with natural light so we move very quickly. We’re very light on our feet, but we’re shooting all of the time. The camera department never gets a chance to stop. So we have to learn that process and respond to it when we are putting our plan together. Our job is to raise the money, but also oversee the business side, and work with Terry on all parts of it. What’s essential is that we have to be aligned, in terms of what his vision is, and how we can best support it. It’s different working with Terry because his priorities are fundamentally different that most directors.
Sarah Green. Photo Credit:
What is the total amount of hours that you filmed for Knight of Cups?
Nicholas Gonda: I can’t give you an exact number, but I remember Chivo (Lubezki) saying it was in the millions of feet, though I don’t know how many second that is. But we also shot on a variety on cameras. We shot on a go-pro, we shot on phantom, an Alexa, A phantom, a film camera. It’s new ground for Terry, as he really embraced a variety of new digital technology, experimenting with it in very innovative ways.
Because you had a large cast of pretty busy actors, how were you able to accommodate filming for everyone’s schedule?
Kao: We planned everything so far in advance so that we able to give each actor a heads up of when we’ll need them, so that they’re able to put it in their schedule ahead of time. If we do that, Actors are usually willing to say no to other projects because we got to them much earlier, allowing them to keep their scheduled much less cluttered.
Is there anything you regret not being able to do for the film?
Gonda: Nope. That’s one of the marvelous thing about working with Terry, actually. It’s the incredible crew that he attracts. By the end of each day, and each week, we have an enormous amount of material, and then the real process is being able to chip away at this massive mound of content to create a theatrical experience. So far, it’s always been much more rather than too little.
Actor Christian Bale and Nathalie Portman and director Terrence Malick promotes his film Kings of Cups during the LXV Berlin film festival, Berlinale at Potsdamer Straße in Berlin on February 8, 2015. Samuel de Roman / Photocall3000 / Dyd fotografos-DYDPPA./PHOTOCALL3000_162304/Credit:SAMUEL DE ROMAN/PHOTOCALL/SIPA/1502081628
Ken Kao, Nicolas Gonda, Sarah Green, Christian Bale and Natalie Portman. Photo Credit:
How much did the script, or Malick’s creative process, change throughout the film, if it did at all?
Kao: Nope. It was very consistent throughout. The interesting thing about how he works is that the idea. Terry is telling a story with a very particular theme. So when all of us going into production we know it’s not going to change. How every moment exists can very, but it will always remain part of the theme. The characters, the relations, the story, all remains the same.
Nearly all of the film is shot in Los Angeles. Do you think it represents LA in an accurate way?
Green: I don’t think there is one right way to portray any city or place. Everything is open to interpretation. I think it portray’s one person’s experiences of Los Angeles, and it might be Terry’s but it also is more likely the protagonist’s experience based on how Terry has constructed him. As I see it, it’s represented as a place of infinite possibilities, but also infinite distractions. So it’s accurate for that character, but not necessarily for you or me.
EM: What is inherently unique about Malick’s production style?
Green: What really distinguishes Terry is that, whether you are a first-time PA to Jack Fisk, Terry’s longtime production designer, each film is a singular experience that delivers such memorable experiences, and that is by Terry and the extraordinary director that he is, and the crew he attracts, and that they approach every day and every shot with each ounce of vigor that they have. Compared to a lot of films, Terry’s productions are like watching a ballet, because you see a group of talented people work together and becoming something like a living organism that is operating so well together, and so ready to approach every day with such agility.
Nicolas Gonda and Ken Kao. Photo Credit:
Malick’s film are big on visuals and interpretations. What do you hope audience will take away from Knight of Cups?
Green: Like all of Terry’s films, I hope each audience will take away something different. I don’t want to invalidate other people’s experiences by saying what they should or should not be seeing. What we hope is that each person will take away something different and be able to talk about with different people.
Gonda: What’s remarkable about Terry’s film is that it’s exploring new ground. There is a devotion to modernity here. And with a lot of Terry’s films, there is an idea about searching for enchantment, and through that the audience can apply their own life stories and relate closely with the film. That is what makes Malick fundamentally different: Audiences become participants, not just spectators.
Can you talk about the symbolism and mythological archetypes that exist in the film?
Kao : I think you have to watch the film and look for the clues Terry gives us. There are quotes from The Pilgrim’s Progress, he pulls somethings from an old Persian story called the Tale of the Western Exile. There are plenty of other things in there too, and we’re listening, we’ll pick it up and it will inform our experience of the movie. Again, we try not to tell anyone what to think or feel. I don’t like to analyze them too deeply, I simply like to experience them. In a way, that’s up to you to analyze if you wish, because you’ll definitely find something. There is such a tangle of symbolism and allegory that decades from now, people will come up to us and tell us their interpretation of the film that we would never have thought of, because Terry really gives us so much to work with.
This interview has been condensed from its original form. Knight of Cups is now playing in select theaters everywhere.

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