"Phantom Of The Paradise” (1974)
Jack Fisk: When I finished “Badlands,” the producer asked me to come work with De Palma on "Phantom of the Paradise." I'd been doing some stuff with Roger and Gene Corman, but I hadn't done that many films at that point. But I got so excited about doing a musical with Faustian themes, and I loved “Cabinet of Dr. Caligari,” so I wanted to do a set influenced by that.
We shot a lot in Los Angeles, in Dallas and in New York. I had a minimal budget and no crew, really. I did most of the building myself. One day, the company went to lunch and there was this scene where Winslow breaks out of jail through a brick wall. I was there while everyone was eating lunch, putting brick and mortar on. When the crew came back and I hadn't quite finished, one of the grips started going on about how inexperienced I was and how stupid I was to be doing this at lunch. Suddenly, Brian snapped at him to shut up and said, "Jack's making this film look great." To this day, that was one of the major affirmations that what I was doing was having an effect on the director, that Brian —who could be kind of dour— was suddenly taken with this sort of approach.
On that film, I had an art director who wasn't getting sets done, so Sissy came in and started sewing sheets for Swan's bedroom, the satin sheets that look like records. She did it overnight on a tiny little sewing machine that we had at home. We were doing things like that for the whole shoot. I was so exhausted around that time —I remember flying to Dallas and thinking, "God, if I'm ever going to die in an airplane, make it now." But, you know, I didn't die. [laughs]
[Because of 'Phantom'] Brian actually thought of Sissy as a set dresser. When I got together with Brian on “Carrie,” Sissy called him and said, “Brian, I'm coming in for a test for "Carrie," but I've also got an audition for a Vanquish commercial where I can make $10,000. Should I do that or come in?' ” She thought he'd say, "Oh, please come in. I gotta see you." But what he actually said was, "Well Sissy, I think you ought to do the commercial." She got so upset that she sat down in our living room in Topanga Canyon and read the book of “Carrie” from cover to cover. She didn't sleep, got up the next morning, put Vaseline in her hair, and put on a little sailor dress that her mother had made her in seventh grade. Then she went into where they were testing, only wanting to test for one part, for Carrie.
The next day, I met Brian and the producers and cinematographer at the lab where they were looking at the tests. Her test came on, and she just killed it. You looked at her and it was Carrie, but it was a Carrie that you cared about. The lights went up, and everyone turned to Brian, who said, "She's Carrie." He didn't expect to cast her though, so much so that they never negotiated a deal with her. Sissy was waiting in the car outside to hear what happened, and I ran out saying, "You got the part, you can ask whatever you want!" And then a few days later, Sissy, Piper Laurie and Brian started rehearsing, and the rest is history. We just love Brian. He became such a good friend.
Later on, when we were filming the scene where Carrie menstruates for the first time, Sissy was looking for some direction on how to play the scene. And Brian, in a very sort of male way, said, "It's like you're being hit by a truck." And I said, "Well I was run over by a car once!" So Sissy asked me to describe to her how I felt. And I started telling her about the whole thing, and then that turned into me in the shower right beside her in the scene, telling her about getting hit by a car when I was 14. They had me hold in my hand the fake blood that she reaches down into, so it was kind of ridiculous. The bad thing about that was that I was wet the entire time; the good thing was that we finished the scene. I just think Brian was relieved that he didn't have to give her any more description.