Killers Of The Flower Moon filmmakers discuss crafting Martin Scorsese's latest masterpiece

Robert De Niro and Leonardo DiCaprio in Killers of the Flower Moon
(Image credit: Apple Inc.)

Martin Scorsese’s latest film Killers of the Flower Moon is once again an immaculate display of filmmaking at its finest, rightfully earning rave reviews. As ever with his work, he has assembled a cast and crew of some of the best in the industry to bring to life this story, which addresses an often forgotten chapter of American history.

Based on journalist David Grann’s novel of the same name, Killers of the Flower Moon tackles the real-life series of murders of members of the Osage Nation in Oklahoma during the '20s. Known as the 'Reign of Terror', the investigation of these crimes later led to the birth of the FBI. Exploring issues relating to racial violence, exploitation, the continued epidemic of murdered Indigenous women, injustice, and so much more that remain as relevant as ever to today’s society, it’s an important story to bring to the big screen. 

"Never again"

Killers of the Flower Moon

(Image credit: Apple TV+)

For Geoffrey Standing Bear, the Osage Nation’s Principal Chief, he hopes that most of all, the truth of this tale resonates with audiences. He states to GamesRadar+, on the red carpet of the film’s recent premiere at the BFI London Film Festival: "I hope that people understand this is a true story and this can happen to anyone if you are not prepared. We were terribly unprepared for what happened and although we lost so much of our wealth and so many lives, we are still here. We are still fighting. But never again."

The sentiment of 'never again' is one repeatedly brought up by the filmmakers we speak to, being something that’s keenly felt across the board. Production designer Jack Fisk emphasizes that the greatest lesson he learned from making Killers of the Flower Moon was that change is needed, as he told us: "I was excited to work with the Osage as it was something I hadn’t done before. Native Americans assimilating into the white world, it had to have been difficult, and I wanted to know more about it. But that’s the great thing about working in film, you get to dive into a world and learn about it. Mostly here, I learnt that we all have to do better, treat each other better. I don’t know how quickly it can change but hopefully it does."

A shift in perspective

Lily Gladstone and Martin Scorsese on set of Killers of the Flower Moon

(Image credit: Apple Inc.)

That world Fisk mentions is crafted with an incredible eye for detail from all involved. Wanting to be as authentic as possible there was a lengthy research process, which producer Marianne Bower tells us ended up dramatically altering the screenplay. Originally, the story was initially going to focus more on the FBI investigation, with Leonardo DiCaprio originally playing agent Tom White, who Jesse Plemons now portrays. However, whilst completing their groundwork, the filmmakers realised that it should instead lean more into the Osage perspective and Mollie’s story, who is beautifully played by Lily Gladstone. Bower explained: "My first role on the film was to go to Osage County for research, meeting Osage people, engaging with that community. In that process that perspective was brought forward and integrated into the film – the Osage experience is woven right through it, which was a big part of that rewriting process."

There’s something about her stillness and her ability to lean into that

Rene Haynes - Casting Director

Thankfully, an incredible actor was already lined up to play Mollie, hence they could lean more on her. Gladstone has received universal acclaim for her incredible, soulful performance, bringing such emotion with even just the eyes alone. Casting director duo Ellen Lewis and Rene Haynes are of course delighted with the response, but admit that they saw it coming. For Haynes, Gladstone has always been a star: "I’ve known Lily since the very beginning of her career. She’s one of many talented Indigenous actors that we considered, but as I was reading the script, whilst on the page it was describing Mollie, Lily kept coming into my head. There’s something about her stillness and her ability to lean into that, be interesting without the need to say anything."

Lewis nods in agreement, but adds that it was a risk casting Gladstone without first doing a chemistry test with DiCaprio. She believes the bold move paid off though: "There’s so much soul and depth to Lily, dignity too. And her connection to Leo is moving, heartbreaking, and so deep. You always hope that the chemistry is going to be there, but you really don’t know until you are filming."

Serious business

Leonardo DiCaprio and Lily Gladstone in Killers of the Flower Moon

(Image credit: Apple Inc.)

The film isn’t just about Mollie and DiCaprio’s character Ernest though, as we also get to see what her relationship with her family looks like. One of four girls, Mollie stands out from her siblings as being the most in touch with Osage tradition, which is reflected in the way she dresses. For costume designer Jacqueline West, that was the key to unlocking the sisters’ outfits: "This was a transition period just like with the horse and car, it was traditional versus modern. And the young people were trying to navigate that – for them it wasn’t a matter of being accepted, it was a matter of survival. I think they were monitoring trends to blend in and not draw attention to themselves because they were being murdered. The sisters act as a microcosm of the Osage world with Mollie being the most traditional and Anna being the most modern – the other two are degrees in-between that.”

He’s a great conductor of the orchestra that is the film crew – it allows you to reach your maximum potential as an artist

Mark Ulano - Sound Editor

One of the key features of Mollie’s outfits are the gorgeous blankets she drapes around herself, acting as a layer of protection not just from the cold weather. In fact, West goes as far as to describe this as being Mollie’s "armor", also adding that, for her, they are characters within the film. This is especially highlighted during a crucial scene which sees several members of the Osage Nation wearing them, as fellow costume designer Julie O’Keefe details: "When they go as a delegation to Washington DC, the blankets become a power symbol. Showing up en masse wearing them, they are showing the President that they mean business – serious business."

Killers Of The Flower Moon overall is "serious business" as the subject matter is treated with the respect it deserves. Everyone involved is full of praise for Scorsese for not only telling this story so beautifully, but being so collaborative in his approach. As sound editor Mark Ulano concludes: "It’s been a privilege and a pleasure. He’s a great conductor of the orchestra that is the film crew – it allows you to reach your maximum potential as an artist. We realize we get to play with good players, tell this story, and it’s not all about technique - it’s about coming together as a group and putting our passions together."

Killers Of The Flower Moon will release in US and UK theaters on October 20. It will then be available to stream on Apple TV+ at a later, currently unspecified, date.

For more on the movie, check out our interview with Scorsese himself and also legendary editor Thelma Schoonmaker. And to see how it compares to the rest of the director's work, here's our ranking of the best Martin Scorsese movies

Emily Murray
Entertainment Editor

As Entertainment Editor at GamesRadar, I oversee all the online content for Total Film and SFX magazine. Previously I've worked for the BBC, Zavvi, UNILAD, Yahoo, Digital Spy and more.