In his commentary track on the DVD for O (Two-Disc Special Edition), a re-telling of Shakespeare’s Othello set in a modern high school, actor/director Tim Blake Nelson reveals some of the tricks he learned from Terrence Malick while working on The Thin Red Line.
The best of them, in my opinion, is to try doing takes where the actors don’t say their lines. Have them act it out completely with looks and identical blocking. This can be intercut with the dialogue version of the scenes, to use where a look can say as much as a line. Nelson reveals that he used this trick on the scene where Martin Sheen’s coach character loses his temper in front of Hugo, played by Josh Hartnett, and wrecks his desk.
The other trick Nelson said he used on the movie O was to have a basketball boot camp for all the actors who would play basketball in the movie, in the months leading up to the film. This was patterned directly after the military boot camp he and the other actors in The Thin Red Line were put through by Malick:
And the notion was that anyone who played basketball in the film would be able to seem like they were part of a team — whether an opponent team or our hero team — which had played for an entire season together. During the boot camp, director of photography Russell Fine and I designed all the shots.
The excellent basketball sequences in O remind me of those in another film directed by an actor: the Jack Nicholson opus Drive, He Said. That movie looks at college basketball as it was in the early 1970’s, and really strove to be accurate to the game. The guys playing basketball players, including the lead, were real basketball players. Plus it features a performance by Bruce Dern as the coach that rivals Martin Sheen’s in its intensity.