How have your working methods with Malick evolved since your first collaboration?
Lubezki: When we did The New World, we were still shooting like most movies are shot, with scheduled scenes and coverage in a film that had a fair amount of plot. In Tree of Life, we tried to do less of that and open ourselves to trying new things; we failed all the time, but in the moments when we got lucky and shot good stuff, that stuff was far more powerful than anything we had done together before. In To the Wonder we wanted to take that approach to a greater extreme.
Aside from a scene with some buffalo that we shot in 65mm because we couldn’t get too close to the animals, we didn’t use cumbersome equipment. For the buffalo sequence, we used a crane because we wanted the 65mm material to feel a little more steady and different from the rest of the movie, but other than that we used a combination of Steadicam and handheld. And when I say handheld I don’t necessarily mean a moving camera — sometimes we use sandbags and just prop the camera on the floor or another part of our location.
We want to show things that happen and then capture them before they disappear. Again, this is a form of filmmaking that directly connects to the content of the story. The movie has very little plot; it’s more of a contemplation, and we’re always looking for the moments that editors normally throw out. In many cases they’re the moments before and after the dramatic scenes that make up most movies. I don’t want to say that those moments feel more real, but they affect me and I relate to them as an audience member. By leaving out the conventional scenes that explain things, the film invites the audience to create some of the story themselves, and I like that.