Hail, Caesar! is a 2016 American comedy film written, produced, edited and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen. The film stars Josh Brolin, George Clooney, Alden Ehrenreich, Ralph Fiennes, Jonah Hill, Scarlett Johansson, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton and Channing Tatum. The film is a fictional story that follows the real-life 'fixer' Eddie Mannix (Brolin) working in the Hollywood film industry in the 1950s, trying to discover what happened to a cast member who vanishes during filming.
As the studio's 'fixer', Mannix is busy at work trying to solve all the problems of the actors and filmmakers at Capitol Pictures. His latest assignments involve a disgruntled director, a singing cowboy, a beautiful swimmer and a handsome dancer. As if all this wasn't enough, Mannix faces his biggest challenge when Baird Whitlock (Clooney) is kidnapped while in costume for the swords-and-sandals epic 'Hail, Caesar!' If the studio doesn't pay $100,000, it's the end of the line for the movie star.
First revealed in 2004, the film was originally set to take place in the 1920s and follow actors performing a play about ancient Rome. The Coens shelved the idea until late 2013, when they announced the film was in development. Principal photography began in November 2014 in Los Angeles, California. The film premiered in Los Angeles on 1st February 2016, opened wide on 5th February and played at the 66th Berlin International Film Festival on 11th February.
Hail, Caesar! received very positive reviews from critics, many of whom praised its casting, acting and costumes. As of March 2016, the film has grossed over $59 million.
Brolin as Eddie Mannix, a tough but conflicted 'fixer' who keeps actors'
scandals out of the press.
The Coens first pitched the story to George Clooney in 1999 during the shooting of O Brother, Where Art Thou? Ethan Coen described it as a "thought experiment" rather than a tangible project. A comedy film, the story was originally said to follow "a troupe of actors in the 1920s putting on a play about ancient Rome", with the focus on a matinée idol. Clooney was to play the main character. In February 2008, the Coens said that the film did not have a script, but only existed as an idea. They stated that it would be the third in the 'Numbskull Trilogy' with Clooney, following O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000) and Intolerable Cruelty (2003).
The project was mentioned in a December 2013 interview about Inside Llewyn Davis. Joel Coen revealed that they were "working on" Hail, Caesar!, and that it would likely be their next project. The Coens reconfirmed the film's development in May 2014, with the plot now focused on a 'fixer' working in the Hollywood film industry in the 1950s.
In December 2013, the Coens confirmed that Clooney would remain involved with the project. In June 2014, Josh Brolin, Channing Tatum, Ralph Fiennes, and Tilda Swinton joined the cast, Universal Pictures was announced to be distributing the film, and Eric Fellner and Tim Bevan signed on to produce the film for Working Title Films. In July, Jonah Hill and Scarlett Johansson entered talks to join the production. Johansson would portray "an actress who suddenly becomes pregnant as her film is about to go into production". The next month, Johansson and Hill were confirmed to have joined the cast, and Alden Ehrenreich entered negotiations to star.
In a September 2014 interview with The Daily Beast, Frances McDormand said she had a role in the film. In October, Patrick Fischler, David Krumholtz, and Fisher Stevens joined the cast as communist screenwriters, and Clancy Brown joined as an actor in the film within a film, also titled Hail, Caesar! The following month, Christopher Lambert was cast as Arne Slessum, a European filmmaker who has an affair with Johannson's character. In a November 2014 interview at the Ottawa Pop Expo, Robert Picardo revealed that he had a role in the film and that he was set to begin filming in December.
In October 2014, Roger Deakins posted on his site that he would be the film's cinematographer and was shooting test footage. Principal photography on the film began in Los Angeles, California on 10th November 2014. According to the Los Angeles Times, the Coen brothers' decision to film in Los Angeles increased filming activity in the city, which had previously been down by "a double-digit percentage... in the fourth quarter [of 2014]". Later the same month, Kate Morgan Chadwick was seen filming with Brolin. Also in November, Emily Beecham was said to have a role in the film. In December, Clooney was photographed in full Roman regalia while filming scenes in Downtown Los Angeles.
Tatum dyed his hair blond for his role as a tap-dancing sailor, one of five in the "No Dames!" sequence set in the Swingin’ Dinghy bar. The actor, who had danced hip-hop and street, but not tap, worked without a double after much training. Other dancers came from Broadway, including Clifton Samuels, who said that the scene's greatest challenge was not Christopher Gattelli's choreography, per se, but maintaining the style of the period "in which the dancers must stay on the balls of their feet." A split-screen scene from the That’s Entertainment! trilogy influenced the Coens' decision to widen the shot to reveal crew members pushing the set into place.
Hail, Caesar! was the first movie that Deakins shot on film since True Grit in 2010. The Coens had themselves said that their previous movie, Inside Llewyn Davis, would probably be their last use of the medium But with the classic Hollywood theme of Hail, Caesar! making film an obvious choice, Deakins agreed to give it one more try. "I don’t mind," he recalled saying, "I’ll shoot it on a cell phone if you like." Ultimately, though, film proved a limited palette due to the narrowing choices of stocks and processing options in the wake of digital cinematography. He didn't recall encountering those kinds of problems on earlier projects. "But it makes me nervous now. I don’t want to do that again, frankly. I don’t think the infrastructure’s there."
Southern California locations were used throughout the film, presenting a challenge to location manager John Panzarella. He noted that "period locations are disappearing fast", including several employed in an earlier film he scouted, the 1997 LA Confidential. The Warner Bros. studio, which, unusually, has retained its vintage buildings, stood in for most of the fictitious Capitol Pictures Productions after trailers, electrical hookups and other contemporary fixtures were removed. Union Station in downtown Los Angeles was also used for some studio exteriors. The synchronized swimming scene with Scarlett Johansson was choreographed and directed by Mesha Kussman, and performed by the Aqualillies, a Los Angeles-based group of professional synchronized swimmers. They worked at the water tank on Stage 30 at Sony Pictures Studios; the tank was also used for Esther Williams films and was under restoration until a week before shooting. The wood-paneled conference room where Mannix vets the movie with religious leaders was filmed at the Cravens Estate's drawing room in Pasadena. The office of general counsel Sid Siegelstein was shot at a 1929 building in Los Angeles's Arts District later owned by Southwestern Bag Company. The building was designed by the same architecture firm that undertook UCLA's Royce Hall.
Locations used for scenes beyond Capitol Pictures included the Appian Way scenes, which were shot at the Big Sky Movie Ranch in Simi Valley, and the western sequence, which was filmed at Vasquez Rocks Natural Area Park. The Well of Jehoshaphat sequence was shot at Bronson Canyon, formerly a quarry, in Griffith Park. The nightclub interiors, scene of Carlotta and Hobie's date, was shot at the Hollywood Palladium, with the exterior at the Fonda Theatre. Carlotta's house exterior was filmed at a 1927 home in the Los Feliz section of Los Angeles; this was also the locale for The Good Luck Bar, which stood in for the Imperial Gardens Chinese restaurant. The movie premiere was shot in the Los Angeles Theatre, selected for its spacious lobby.
Digital effects for Hail, Caesar! encompassed three areas: standard effects like Ehrenreich's lasso tricks, period effects including a matte painting of Rome that referenced the 1951 film Quo Vadis, and effects intended to blur the line between a 2016 film and the vintage movie-making techniques it portrays. Examples of the latter include a green screen car sequence made to look as if it employed the older technique of rear projection, and the submarine sequence, which employed computer graphics that suggested the use of miniatures. "It was important that the sub not look silly", said effects supervisor Dan Schrecker, whereas "the whole point of that Rome matte painting was that it was ridiculous." The burning film frame in McDormand's Moviola scene was created by Sam Spreckley, a Scottish visual artist who experiments with the technique. The special effects of the beach house on the bluff were meant as a homage to North by Northwest.