By Oliver Lyttelton | www.oliverlyttelton.com November 9, 2012 at 3:40PM
Given the number of stars that the Coens usually attract, the choice of Josh Brolin to lead the film was a somewhat surprising one. Brolin chased the part hard, though, and ended up enlisting some A-list talent to put him on tape while he was shooting "Planet Terror." “Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino filmed my first audition on a $1 million Genesis camera during lunch during 'Grindhouse,' " the actor said, "and so that was a really cool looking audition." But it didn't quite have the desired effect. "It was turned down. They watched it and their response was, ‘Who lit it?’ I was much bigger and I had a goatee, but it had nothing to do with the physicality. They just didn’t see it. It’s not what they were looking for at that moment. It wasn’t resonating and I have a brilliant agent who just became a persistent pest and just said, ‘Meet him, meet him, meet him, meet him.’ Not, ‘He’s perfect for the part.’ Not, ‘You’re making a mistake.’ Just, ‘Meet him.’ " Eventually the Coens relented, met with Brolin, and the actor got the part. Still, he nearly blew it again, coming off his motorbike on the way back from a wardrobe fitting and breaking his collarbone. Fortunately, Llewelyn get shot in the shoulder early on, so the Coen gave him the thumbs up.
For much of the shoot, the Coens picked out the isolated area of Marfa, Texas as their location, where films including "Giant" and "The Andromeda Strain" had previously lensed. By coincidence, there was another filmmaker using the region at the same time -- Paul Thomas Anderson, who was shooting another neo-Western, "There Will Be Blood." It seems like for the most part, the two projects -- which later became awards rivals -- were able to co-exist happily. But there was one clash. When Anderson's crew tested the pyrotechnics for the oil derrick fire, the amount of smoke produced was such that the Coens, who happened to be shooting wide shots in the direction of the "There Will Be Blood," had to suspend production for the day. Still, the Coens got their payback on Oscar night...
Once again, Joel and Ethan Coen were reunited with Carter Burwell, their regular composer who'd worked on every one of their films except, "O Brother Where Art Thou," since "Blood Simple." But despite the film being a thriller, the decision was to pare the music right down. As sound editor Skip Lievsay told the New York Times, "Suspense thrillers in Hollywood are traditionally done almost entirely with music,” he said. “The idea here was to remove the safety net that lets the audience feel like they know what’s going to happen. I think it makes the movie much more suspenseful. You’re not guided by the score and so you lose that comfort zone." Ethan Coen had suggested minimal music, and Burwell agreed, saying "My first suggestion was that if there’s music, it should somehow emanate from the landscape." They tried using abstract sounds like violin harmonics and percussion, but Burwell found that even those "destroyed the tension that came from the quiet." Ultimately, Burwell used singing bowls, bells used in Buddhist meditation, as his primary instrument, tuning them to different frequencies -- including, for one indoor scene, a tone intended to mirror the hum of a refrigerator. Ultimately, only 16 minutes of score are in the film, mostly over the credits.