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Producer/Alumna Sarah Green ’81 Talks Malick, Moviemaking

Producer and Emerson College alumna Sarah Green '81 talks to moderator Tim Jackson following an advance screening of Knight of Cups, her latest collaboration with writer/director Terrence Malick, in the Bright Family Screening Room on March 3. Photo/Anna Feder

Academy Award–nominated producer Sarah Green ’81 talked to a crowd of more than 100 Emerson College students, faculty, and alumni via Skype about her most recent collaboration with writer/director Terrence Malick following an advance screening of their film, Knight of Cups, on March 3.

Green kicked off the conversation—held in the Paramount Center’s Bright Family Screening Room and moderated by local faculty, critic, and filmmaker Tim Jackson—by noting the complexity and relatability of Malick’s work.

She has been working with him for 15 years, and praised his ability to create films that resonate with people based on their individual life experiences. The Tree of Life, also written and directed by Malick and produced by Green, was nominated for a 2011 Academy Award for Best Motion Picture and has won prizes from the Gotham Awards and the Dallas International Film Festival in recent years.

“[Malick’s films] don’t say any one thing,” she said. “Everyone in this room, I’m sure, saw a different movie.”

Knight of Cups premieres in theaters on March 4 and stars Christian Bale, Cate Blanchett, and Natalie Portman. The film follows a middle-aged screenwriter, Rick (Bale), through a montage of his relationships with several women, intoxicated encounters with friends and strangers at parties and strip clubs, and his acquisition of a heightened understanding of his own emotions along the way. The story is divided into eight chapters, seven of which are named after tarot cards, like the title: The Moon, The Hanged Man, The Hermit, Judgment, The Tower, The High Priestess, and Death. The eighth chapter is titled Freedom.

Rick narrates his story in voiceovers as he indulges in the lavish lifestyle of Hollywood and Los Angeles to cope with his brother’s suicide and his deteriorated relationship with the love of his life. Although Rick’s thoughts dominate the narrative, the viewer hears the thoughts of all the major characters in the film, making for a uniquely intimate experience of each character’s emotional reaction to Rick’s coping mechanisms.

“Like [Green] said, it’s a personal film,” said audience member Jared Yerger ’19 after the discussion. “I definitely think for me, it was important to think, what does success mean? What am I doing with my life right now?” He continued, “It made me think about what we value and what fills us up.”

In his introduction of Green, Jackson described the film as “cinema of poetry.” He described the themes in Knight of Cups as a series of contrasts: love and hate, pain and pleasure, water and desert.

Green said while Malick had these ideas in mind, he gave his team the creative control.

“There’s a very specific theme, a very specific story…the characters all have a very specific role to play in the story, but the way it plays out is very loose,” she said. Noting the freedom given to the cast and crew to improvise, she added, ”He really trusts in the team around him.”

Green said that Bale received no script pages before shooting and that his understanding of his character came entirely from conversations with Malick.

An audience member asked Green about the decision to shoot the film in so many different locations. Green described Malick’s and Academy Award–winning cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki’s decision to choose the most honest footage from each location, even if that meant scenes would start and end in different places.

“It’s a very loose form of filmmaking,” Green said. “I don’t recommend it for the faint of heart.”

In an interview following the screening and discussion, Visual and Media Arts Director of Programming Anna Feder expressed her gratitude to Green for Skyping with the College for the event, considering Knight of Cups was premiering in theaters the next day; plus, she is preparing for the South by Southwest Festival next week in Austin, Texas.

“She’s one of our most accomplished alums, and it’s amazing that she is willing to give her time,” she said. “She’s incredibly busy and so gracious with her time. She’s had an extraordinary career and has so much to share.”

Knight of Cups premieres in Boston on March 11.

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