The Lowdown on Terrence Malick's Three New Films

Knight of Cups Exclusive H 2013

Will 'Knight of Cups' premiere this year?

Between 1973's Badlands and 2011's Tree of Life, Terrence Malick directed only five films before quickly releasing his sixth film, To The Wonder, in 2012. Now, at 70, Malick looks to increase his career output considerably with three new films: two narrative features, both in postproduction, and a documentary that's been in the works for years. As Christian Bale recently told Indiewire, "Terry is on fire."

As with all Malick projects, the new films are shrouded in secrecy. That's possible because his inner circle and crew are small and extremely loyal, while his cast doesn't know what footage the improvisational director will put into the final film. The films are reportedly nearing completion, two of them jam-packed with Hollywood's biggest stars and the third soon to be set free after being held hostage by a contentious legal battle.

Inside Indie has combed through interviews, movie and music blogs and unauthorized set photos to determine what we actually do know about the next wave of Malick's output.

1. Knight of Cups and The Untitled Austin Film are not part of the same story

When it was first announced in November 2011 that Malick would shoot his two narrative projects back-to-back with significant cast crossover — including Bale, Natalie Portman and Cate Blanchett — there was speculation that the films were companion pieces.

One of the strongest connections between the two films was thought to be Bale, who is the lead in Knight and was the first to be seen shooting with Malick, in Austin during the 2011 City Limits Music Festival. These concert scenes were later reported to only be part of preproduction, and Bale told Indiewire he didn't think he'd be in the Untitled Austin Film: "With Knight of Cups I was there the whole time. The other one I unfortunately wasn't able to do everything I was meant to do, so I ended up doing like three, four days on that. Which in Terry's world means you're never going to see me in it."

2. What we know about Knight of Cups

According to its backers Film Nation, "Knight of Cups is a story of a man, temptations, celebrity and excess." Producer Sarah Green confirmed that the film was about the modern-day L.A. movie business with Bale set as the lead, reportedly (not confirmed) playing a depressed screenwriter. Portman, Blanchett, Isabel Lucas, Joe Manganiello, Wes Bentley, Joel Kinnaman, Antonio Banderas and Freida Pinto round out the cast.

3. Will Knight screen this year?

It has been two years since production wrapped on Knight, which is not an especially long postproduction for Malick. Yet protege and member of the Malick inner circle A.J. Edwards revealed during the Berlin Film Festival that both films would premiere this year. Then earlier this summer, the film's Italian distributor Ernesto Grassi stated that Knight would come out in limited release in the U.S. later this year.

Possibly the biggest sign that Knight is nearing the finish line has come from the cast.

As Martin Sheen, Rachel Weisz, Mickey Rourke, Gary Oldman and Billy Bob Thornton can all testify, there is no shame in ending up on the freewheeling Malick's cutting room floor, but no one wants the embarrassment Adrien Brody experienced of promoting a role (The Thin Red Line) only to later discover that role has been cut or greatly reduced by Malick.

So it was very revealing that in spring 2014, Knight of Cups' supporting actors Manganiello, Banderas and Lucas giddily reported they had made Knight's final cut. Banderas was even given set photos to approve, while Lucas said she was called in for an ADR session. Feeding the flame, Film Nation gave THR the first official photos from the film and revealed footage to foreign investors during Cannes.

4. The Untitled Austin Film is about love triangles and music

The logline for the film originally known as Lawless (Malick gave that title to director John Hillcoat) is, "Two intersecting love triangles and a story of sexual obsession and betrayal set against Austin's vibrant and colorful music scene."

Starting with the intersecting love triangles, we know based on unauthorized set photos that Ryan Gosling gets intimate with both Blanchett and Rooney Mara, while Michael Fassbender has onscreen relations with Mara and marries Portman's character.

On the music front, Malick's obsession with classical music is well known, but with this Untitled Austin Film it would appear he is trading in the violins for guitars. The film is not merely set against the backdrop of the Austin music scene but was largely shot on stage, backstage and in the crowds of the indie rock world. The music website Pitchfork has an exhaustive list of sightings of Malick and his stars at concerts, with highlights including Patti Smith serenading Mara, Bale playing the bongos with The Fleet Foxes and Val Kilmer singing with The Black Lips, while also taking a chainsaw to an amp and cutting his hair with a knife.

Here's a clip of Kilmer rechanneling his best Jim Morrison. You also might recognize Mara pretending to play guitar and sneaking off to the side for an intimate moment with someone who looks remarkably like Fassbender.

5. Is the Untitled Austin Film almost done?

It was originally announced that both narrative projects would be cut simultaneously, and Edwards did indicate both films would be ready this year; beyond that there are no other indicators the Untitled Austin Film is near completion.

6. Malick works without a net (or a script)

Dating all the way back to Badlands, Malick has been known to abandon the script and shooting schedule to chase a perfect sunbeam or the wind blowing through a field. What's interesting about the new films is Malick is sometimes no longer working off a script. Production designer Jack Fisk, a longtime trusted collaborator, saw signs of this coming back in 2011 when he told fans, "Terry's found a way of working that's much more spontaneous, and I've never seen him so happy making films."

Banderas, in an interview with Collider, has possibly the best and fullest description of Malick's new way of working:

"I remember when I got to the set in the morning, [Terrence] called me and said, 'Antonio, I'm sorry I didn't send you the script. You know why I didn't send you the script?' I said, 'No.' He said, 'Well, there is no script. We are just working as we go. I am creating the movie as I go. I have a central character and I have certain ideas, and I put him in different situations of life. The guy just tries to be a sponge and suck up everything he sees because he's an artist. So, I'm shooting a lot of things, and I don't know what I'm going to edit because I have a movie where, if I put together the whole entire thing, it might be as long as a week. But, I invite you to play. Feel free. You have this [9-page] monologue. You can start the monologue in the middle, if you want. I'm going to shoot it in different locations, in this party that we have over here. We're going to shoot it in the pool, in the hall, in this dancing scene, in the garden. So, you just relax and enjoy acting. If you even have any idea, please just throw it out.' "

Banderas also describes Malick interrupting his free-wheeling performance with "torpedoes" — or unannounced appearances by actors breaking into the middle of a scene, forcing Banderas to improvise mid-monologue.

Banderas' experience was not unique. Kinnaman, who did one day on Knight of Cups, was forced to play off an improvising Bale, who completely changed the direction of Kinnaman's 17-page monologue.

7. Oh yeah, and there's a documentary too

If you've seen Tree of Life, you will no doubt remember the stunning origins-of-life footage interweaved throughout the narrative. To create those visual effects, Malick, who is not a fan of CGI, brought special effects guru Douglas Trumbull (2001: A Space Odyssey, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Blade Runner) out of retirement to work with visual effects supervisor Dan Glass (The Matrix trilogy) to bring his old-school magic to Malick's creation of the universe. Malick was so happy with the results he decided to expand on the footage to create an Imax documentary, Voyage of Time, which is described as "a celebration of the Earth, displaying the whole of time, from the birth of the universe to its final collapse."

The Brad Pitt-narrated doc was always described as a multiyear project and Malick had been toying with the idea of making a cosmic history film since the 1970s. Investor Seven Seas felt the project was taking too long and sued Malick's production company, claiming the director had become too distracted and had wasted millions without being near completion. Malick's company countersued and an undisclosed deal was cut freeing the project from Seven Seas.

Footage from the doc screened for investors at Cannes and world sales rights were picked up by The Wild Bunch, who has targeted a 2016 release date.