Jack Fisk: the genius behind Hollywood’s most indelible sets | ET REALITY


Much of this history Fisk learned recently, when Scorsese gave him a copy of Menzies’ biography, “The Shape of Films to Come.” Unlike many of his contemporaries, who rose in the art department, Fisk does not describe himself as a film obsessive and is careful not to watch movies while he designs. “I always thought of a movie as an original piece,” he says. In the same way that an actor metabolizes dialogue and stage directions, Fisk aspires to turn a director’s vision into what he considers an enormous environmental sculpture. What draws him to a project, he says, is a terrifying sense of scale, the possibility of getting lost in the impossible.

Fisk’s extreme commitment has endeared him to both the directors and the team. Almost every filmmaker I spoke to emphasized the wide range of his physical talents: landscape architecture, finish carpentry, and portraiture, often executed on the same set. But equally important are the imaginative depths of it. “There is something spiritual in the essence of Jack,” says Iñárritu. Part of his job is to serve as an intermediary between what a director can’t fully articulate and what a team needs to build, a gap he often bridges by simply doing it himself. As Lynch told me: “He’ll do all the research and make sure it’s this and this and this and then he’ll build the thing. And if they cut the wood this way, he was going to cut the wood that way.” Jacqueline West, an Oscar-nominated costume designer who has worked with Fisk on nine films, including “Killers of the Flower Moon,” remembers that when she met him, he was alone hammering square nails into a set over a weekend. “It’s very methodological,” she says.

When Scorsese began developing “The Flower Moon Killers,” he had long admired Fisk’s work from afar. But he initially hired another designer, Dante Ferretti, with whom he made “Gangs of New York,” “The Aviator” and several other films. Then Covid shut down production and Scorsese began ruminating about the film’s direction. In early drafts, he followed Tom White, an FBI agent who would later be played by DiCaprio, but Scorsese and DiCaprio were concerned that the framing privileged the wrong perspective. So Scorsese rewrote the script, moving the film to the perspective of the Osage, but also that of their killers, with DiCaprio switching to play a key conspirator. It was a change that transformed the film from a murder mystery to something less familiar, a narrative that tracks the victims’ deepening pain alongside the overt deceptions of their supposed friends and family, forming an agonizing portrait of complicity, greed and white supremacy. .

For Scorsese, Fisk now seemed the natural choice to guide the film toward its historical reality. “Jack has a deep sense of the American past, of how things looked and felt,” he told me. “In a way, he was the only possible choice for this film.” But when the two men met, Fisk stopped short of proposing any ideas. He prefers that his vision for the film emerge from the director’s, he says, which in this case turned out to be relatively easy. “Marty wanted it to be historically correct,” Fisk says. “That’s how we connect.” With both men approaching 80, the film represented the most rigorous project they had ever taken on. For Fisk, it meant not only excavating a historical period but also the most minute details of the lives of real people. “I didn’t want to reinvent the Osage,” he told me.

fisk grew up moving between worlds. His father, a pilot in the Pacific theater during World War II, died in an accident when he was 3, and after that, his mother married an engineer who ran foundries around the world. The family moved almost every year: Illinois, Michigan, Virginia, Pakistan. Often isolated in a new location, he channeled his curious energies into art projects and the construction of elaborate multi-story forts. In Alexandria, Virginia, Fisk met another artistic student from his high school, a boy named David Lynch. Like Fisk, Lynch had moved around a lot and the young people bonded. “Jack and I ended up being really the only two kids in that whole school who were interested in being painters,” Lynch told me. They enrolled together at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, but were happy to paint all day and avoid Vietnam, renting a dilapidated house across from the city morgue. “I had a flat; “David had an apartment,” Fisk said. “We took an old coffee maker and made a water heater with it so we could wash our hands and face.”

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