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Locations & Clothing

While the music and the lead characters' circumstances pointed to the Deep South early on, in reality, the movie might have been filmed in any number of places. About the choice of setting, says Holly Hunter who plays Penny and who has known the Coens since 1983, "I always think that Joel and Ethan write from an imaginary place. So the worlds they create are not necessarily based in reality. The South of ‘O Brother, Where Art Thou?' is not the one I grew up in."

"Mississippi, specifically as a place to shoot, came very late when we were done with the script and we did a scouting trip through a number of southern states from East Texas through Alabama," explains Ethan.

"Joel and Ethan and I wanted to have a very particular look that was classical and memorable," says production designer Dennis Gassner, who has worked with the Coens on three previous projects. A rural timeless quality and a variety of terrains were required to bring the scenes to life—from flat plains to rolling hills to swampy rivers. These were best found in western Mississippi in a 75 mile radius from Jackson.

"I've never done so much driving in my life," recalls Gassner. "Some days we must have driven 300 miles getting from location to location to location. It was phenomenal."

Over 20 rural settings and towns were used as shooting locations including such out-of-the-way places as Church Hill, Hazelhurst and D'Lo. The small towns of Canton and Yazoo City were transformed into mythical depression era locales with store fronts and interiors getting complete make-overs. Yazoo City, in fact, played the part of two different towns.

While this locale had what the filmmakers were looking for there was still a huge amount of work for the art department to do. "Each set was manipulated," explains Gassner. "Even to the point where we designed and built rocks to put in the river for the sirens to be on."

In the case of Yazoo City explains Gassner, "we dressed the exterior street. The structure was there but every building was modified. We put almost three months of work into that."

Recreating the recent past on film meant finding everything from wardrobe to dry goods store merchandise to automobiles. "It was hard to find things locally," recalls production designer Gassner. "Our set decorator Nancy Haigh drove from Jackson to New Orleans to Atlanta trying to find all the right pieces and couldn't find some of the things we wanted.

"We ended up bringing a lot from Los Angeles," continues Gassner, "where the prop houses have materials from the '20s and '30s."

Another important element of the visual landscape was the variety of vehicles. For transportation coordinator Don Tardino, whose responsibilities cover all vehicles on and off camera, this meant finding 40 cars from 1917 to 1937. "They're not museum pieces," says Tardino philosophically, referring to their general state of repair. Many days, in fact, the transportation department could have used a full time mechanic to keep the antiques running. Some of the more prominent cars seen on screen are the Hogwallop car played by a 1921 Model T, Babyface Nelson's 1933 Ford and the Black Mariah, designed specially for the film and modeled on a 1933 paddy wagon.

Creating just the right environment f


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