Last night at the opening of the Film Society of Lincoln Center's beautiful new facility, the Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center, we were fortunate enough to catch a conversation between filmmakers and mutual admirers, the Coen brothers, Joel and Ethan and Noah Baumbach. The theme of the evening was film openings and the trio picked a grouping of their film intros and discussed the who, what, where, when, hows and whys of their selected filmography (strangely enough the Coens elected to skip by one of the greatest film openings ever, the eleven-minute opening of "Raising Arizona").
The sibling filmmakers began discussing their upcoming project when an audience member brought up a quote from nearly 20 years ago when the duo apparently said they would never be interested in a musical because they found playback (having the actors lip sync to prerecorded music) to be tedious and cumbersome. The duo not only didn’t recall saying this -- which they apparently had during the “Miller’s Crossing” premiere at the New York Film Festival -- but having done a lot of music for “O’ Brother Where Art Thou,” no longer believed this to be the case. The audience member speculated that it might have been during the USO scene in “Barton Fink” which they were filming at the time, but they shot that notion down as well. In doing so, they also revealed some small details of the next project they're working on which sounds like a music-based offering.
Ethan: That’s funny, I don’t remember playback being especially vexed in the USO scene. “O’ Brother Where Art Thou” had a lot of music in it, which was a mix of everything from live performance, I mean on camera performance and a lot of playback and it’s funny we said that.
Joel: I actually don’t remember saying that or why we may have said it. There are certain cumbersome aspects of production that you get used to. We used quite a bit of playback on ‘O’ Brother’.
Noah: And you’re working on a movie now that has quite a bit of music in it.
Joel: Yeah, but I don’t know that it will have any playback.
Ethan: Yeah, it will be mostly live I think.
Joel: We’re working on a movie now that has music in it but it’s pretty much all performed live, single instrument so it’s hard to tell.
Ethan also suggested their new film was "kind of like 'Margot At The Wedding,' " Baumbach's 2007 film, in which during the immediate opening of the film, the audience is just dropped into a scene already in progress without any setup or establishing shots or narration to let them know what's going on. He then joked of the project that it might be more up Baumbach's alley saying, "Noah should be doing it, we shouldn't." Later on the brothers suggested this again.
"Our LA is very filtered, you can see how we think about it, we have Raymond Chandler and that kind of story, where your LA is very real," Ethan said discussing the city featured both in "The Big Lebowski" and in Baumbach's "Greenberg." "Something we would never do, although again the [film] we’re about to do you should be doing."
The brothers brought up this new project one more time, shedding slightly more light on their approach to it casting-wise. Joel said, “In adaptations that we’ve done, even if we have ended up using the same actors, they have, generally speaking, been written because the characters are presented to you in an adaptation. So they’re written without regard to who’s necessarily going to play them, from our point of view. But in stories that we’re coming up with ourselves it’s frequently the case that we write for specific people although I have to say, the [musical] thing we’re doing now, we’re not writing specifically for any of the parts which is unusual for us.”
And that was it, no titles were given, no other details, but it does sound like a project similar to "A Serious Man" in the way that it's an original film not being envisioned for any star actors at the moment. It also sounds like this is a brand new project and not one of the many fabled projects that the duo will never end up making (their "Barton Fink" sequel,“Old Fink,” or a Jesus-led “Lebowski” spinoff). This would also rule out adaptations like their screenplay for the remake of “Gambit,” their version of “The Yiddish Policeman’s Union,” or older projects “Suburbicon” and “Hail Caesar” both of which were earmarked for their frequent leading man, George Clooney. It’s also definitely not their “horror film” which was being written with Joel’s wife, Frances McDormand in mind for “the monster.”
Will it be their next film? We assume so. Aside from say, "To The White Sea" (another project that will probably stay in their past), the Coens have pretty much gotten their way for the last twenty years in that, whatever they started writing, eventually would become their next film. We tried to accost the brothers afterwards, but both they and Baumbach seemed to have friends and family around and digging for more seemed inappropriate. More details should emerge soon, and a further recap of this fascinating conversation will be along shortly. FYI, if you live in New York and/or are visiting this weekend, the Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center is putting on some amazing free events that include guests like Mike Nichols, Jason Reitman, Oliver Stone and more.