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New details about Hail, Caesar! — the Coen brothers’ upcoming “musical comedy” — have been revealed, thanks to their oft-collaborators: composer Carter Burwell and sound mixer Skip Lievsay.
During the “Dolby Institute: The Sound of the Coens” Master Class, part of the 2015 Tribeca Film Festival, Dolby director Glenn Kiser asked the two to describe the early parts of their process with directors Ethan and Joel Coen.
“We’re doing one now,” said Lievsay of Universal’s 2016 release, with an ensemble cast that includes George Clooney, Josh Brolin, Channing Tatum, Ralph Fiennes, Tilda Swinton, Scarlett Johansson and Jonah Hill. It tells the comedic tale of Eddie Mannix, a fixer who worked for the Hollywood studios in the 1950s, and follows a single day in his life as he is presented with plenty of problems to fix.
Burwell added, “It’s a musical comedy that takes place on a Hollywood backlot, so you pass through all these pictures that are in production there.” Since the storyline has the plot popping into different in-progress films, the musical sequences will differ, but among the ones planned is “a tap-dance water number.”
But don’t expect too much lightheartedness onscreen. Burwell later explained to The Hollywood Reporter, “I wouldn’t actually call it a ‘musical comedy’ — there are movies within the movie, and those movies might have comedic music, but the movie we’re making is actually not comical. I haven’t written the music yet, but I’m quite certain it’s actually going to be quite the opposite. It’s going to be rather serious, and it’s about faith. It’s not about the music.”
He continued, “It’s actually pretty complicated, musically — you’ll see, the themes that I’m writing for the movie have to relate to the themes of the movies within the movie. So it’s actually this rug with all these threads going in and out. But I haven’t written it yet!”
Throughout the panel, the auteurs spoke about their other films, including Raising Arizona, Miller’s Crossing, The Man Who Wasn’t There and Burn After Reading.
Burwell and Lievsay noted that their process begins with “spotting,” during which the four of them sonically map out the film early in the production process — “It’s a smart thing I recommend everyone do because if you don’t, at the final mix, you have someone else trying to shove in music and sound effects. … It’s a situation for fistfighting,” said Burwell — and make sure they have “a good recording of every single line in the script before we finish shooting,” said Lievsay.
Though Burwell joked that he and Lievsay continued to collaborate with the Coen brothers over the years simply because “they just hate meeting new people,” he later noted, “They write knowing the importance of sound and music, and a lot of people don’t. … They feel free to have minutes with no dialogue.”
Lievsay, in jest, called that directorial instinct “imagination.”
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