The Malick comeback express was, however, about to lose two of its primary engineers. A few weeks before production, Malick called Geisler and Roberdeau from Australia and told them it would be best if they stayed away. Instead, George Stevens Jr., who had admitted Malick to AFI, would be on location, supporting line producer Grant Hill. Malick told Geisler and Roberdeau that they had ruffled Fox's feathers by refusing to surrender their above-the-title production credit to Stevens, who settled for exec producer. What Malick neglected to mention was that he'd had a clause inserted in his contract in the fall of '96 barring the producers from the set. (For his part, Medavoy was concerned about Geisler and Roberdeau's history of profligacy.) Around the same time, Geisler says, Malick threatened to stop work on the film unless the producers extended his exclusive right to direct The English-Speaker, a script he'd written, in perpetuity. (They extended it for eight and a half years.) ''Terry is the only guy who can make a circle where the ends don't connect,'' Geisler says.
Geisler and Roberdeau had gone into debt putting Malick behind the camera, and up until the last minute, Malick was calling them daily for casting advice. But by the middle of the shoot, their relationship had disintegrated so completely that EW received an unsigned fax on Thin Red Line letterhead calling Geisler and Roberdeau ''imposters [sic] and confidence men who have no connection with Mr. Malick.... Journalists should beware of...these tricksters.'' Only Malick truly knows why he pushed the producers out of his life. ''I wish I could say there was one fight, but there wasn't,'' Roberdeau says. ''I didn't think he was capable of betrayal of this magnitude. From what I've heard about the shoot, maybe Terry just didn't want someone like Bobby on the set, [someone] who had such a true understanding and love of the novel.'' The producers still had the right to thank four individuals on screen. The day filming began, June 23, 1997, they decided that one of them would be Malick's ex-wife Michele.
When Medavoy is asked to characterize the change in Malick's relationship with his producers, he says, ''[The situation is] not exactly the same, but there is no way to sum up the relationship between family members.''
The journey to the location where Malick is making his Apocalypse Now requires a 13-hour flight from L.A. to Sydney and a three-hour flight to Cairns, Australia. From there, it's an hour drive up the coast to Port Douglas and another 45 minutes inland to Dancer mountain. The terrain is so rough that trailers and production trucks can't make it up the hill. A base camp has been set up on low ground, and roads have been carved out of the mountains. Transporting the 250 actors and 200 crew members up the hill takes two hours each morning. ''Logistically, this is more difficult than Titanic,'' says producer Grant Hill, who handled the logistics for James Cameron's Oscar winning epic. ''Every day is a military operation. We have over 500 people who need to be clothed, fed, and moved around. We never have a small day.''
Malick himself was shocked when he saw the scope of his creation. ''He never expected it to be this big thing with loads of men and machines,'' Chaplin says, sitting under an umbrella, holding a cigarette between his thumb and index finger and staring off into nowhere. ''He had written this film about people and nature, and he got here and there was this war going on.''