At 3 hours 26 minutes long, Killers of the Flower Moon is not a simple story. In the layered tale set in Oklahoma in the early 20th century, Martin Scorsese explores a shameful part of American history through the characters of Ernest Buckhart (played by Leonardo DiCaprio); his uncle, William King Hale (Robert De Niro); his wife, an Osage woman named Mollie Buckhart (Lily Gladstone); and their community.
The film explores Ernest and Mollie’s marriage while also depicting the gruesome deaths of dozens of Osage people—a plot by Hale, in which Ernest is more than complicit, to inherit oil rights which belong to the tribe. To create the world of this true story, Scorsese enlisted production designer Jack Fisk, known for his work creating on-location sets for The Revenant and There Will Be Blood (both of which earned him Oscar nominations), and Terrence Malick collaborations including The Tree of Life, The New World, Badlands, and Days of Heaven, for which he famously built a mansion out of plywood in a field.
It was important that the film be made with input from the Osage Nation, and Scorsese and Fisk knew that taking the production to a location anywhere other than Oklahoma would hinder that. “Normally in film you want to shoot where a story took place, but often you’re not allowed to or you’re not able to financially or the place doesn’t exist. The Osage Nation wanted the story shot there. They wanted to be around, they wanted to have a hand in it,” Fisk tells AD. “They wanted to know what we were doing. And if we’d gone off to try and recreate this world somewhere else, it would’ve been less. We wouldn’t have gained more going somewhere.”
So with about $15 million of the film’s overall $200 million budget to spend on sets, Fisk brought back to life an Oklahoma without freeways, suburban sprawl, or 21st-century technology in the town of Pawhuska. New façades were constructed for stores and businesses, and numerous vintage cars—plus a massive amount of dirt—were brought in for the main road.