As Joel and Ethan Coen consistently reveal nothing about their current projects, it wouldn’t have been surprising if Alex Karpovsky declaring their new film to be “zany” were the last bit of news about Hail, Caesar! until its February 5, 2016 release. However, two longtime Coen collaborators, composer Carter Burwell and sound mixer Skip Lievsay, were willing to expand a bit on that adjective.
At the “Dolby Institute: The Sound of the Coens” Master Class at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, the two were discussing their process with the Coens when Burwell offered that Hail, Caesar! is “a musical comedy that takes place on a Hollywood backlot, so you pass through all these pictures that are in production” and that there’s a “tap-dance water number” among the planned musical scenes. The film will follow Eddie Mannix, a fixer for a ’50s Hollywood studio, as he deals with various problems throughout a single day in his life. So far George Clooney, Josh Brolin, Channing Tatum, Ralph Fiennes, Tilda Swinton, Scarlett Johansson, and Jonah Hill are set to star, with a brief appearance by Karpovsky.
In keeping with the Coens’ inclination toward dark material, Burwell carefully noted that the film won’t exactly be a happy, singsong affair, saying, “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.”
Presumably, as soon as this discussion began, Joel and Ethan’s ears started burning and they instinctively set the Hail, Caesar! script on fire, then called Clooney to let him know he’d have to prepare to play an even bigger numbskull than originally planned. “Just wing it, George,” they likely said. “Use your imagination.”