As an Arkansas native, Jeff Nichols knew he wanted to bring his third film home. The script for Mud was written for a small Southern town. After looking at locations in Arkansas and Louisiana, the filmmakers chose Dumas, Crockett's Bluff, Stuttgart, Lake Village and Eudora in Arkansas as filming locations. At first, they ran into challenges. Nichols and his team had to convince many people to support bringing the project to Arkansas, but after pitching the idea, Arkansas Governor Mike Beebe, Film Commissioner Christopher Crane, and state senators all came on board and championed the film.
Mud is the largest production ever to be filmed in Arkansas. The production crew took advantage of the talent and expertise in the state, hiring Arkansans to work on the film crew or appear as cast and extras. "The enthusiasm here for this film resembled an old-fashioned barn-raising. Everyone wanted to be a part of it, to support it," says assistant locations manager and Little Rock native David Fowlkes. Many other Arkansans contributed their cars, trucks, and homes as settings and props for the film.
About half of the 100-plus cast and crew working on the film were Arkansas residents. Sarah Tackett and Yancey Prosser of The Agency Inc. of Little Rock handled Arkansas casting, bringing on more than 11 actors and 400 extras. They held an extensive casting call in the summer of 2011 which was instrumental in casting the role of Neckbone, one of the two young boys in the film. Jacob Lofland, 15, an active teenager from Yell County, Arkansas, was chosen from more than 2,000 boys who auditioned for the role. "We knew Jacob was a very special find from the moment we saw his video, and it turned out that Jeff Nichols agreed," said Tackett.
"It was very important to us to bring this film to Arkansas," says Nichols, a native of Little Rock who made his first film, Shotgun Stories, in England, Arkansas. "The people and the river and houseboats in the region are particular to the Mud story. The Arkansas Film Commission and The Agency Inc. opened doors for us to make this happen. The people and community leaders and police in the places where we filmed really came out to help the film, and we greatly benefitted from their support. I feel very proud to have made this film in Arkansas."
"Arkansas's Delta region has been a perfect fit for this film," says Arkansas Film Commissioner Christopher Crane. "There was a team effort among the Arkansas State Police, Game and Fish Commission and Department of Finance and Administration to keep the production running smoothly, addressing all concerns in a timely and professional manner. We really appreciate the work of Jeff Nichols and his team to bring this production to Arkansas. We are proud to call Jeff one of our own and hope Arkansas is home to many more of his films over the coming years."
In Dumas, most scenes were filmed near the town's Piggly Wiggly grocery store and the Executive Inn, a '60s-era budget motel on a stretch of highway that runs through town. In September 2011, within hours of production beginning, Dumas's Wikipedia entry touted Mud's arrival, adding to its only other pop culture factoid as being the fictional hometown of 'Dewey Cox' in the John C. Reilly comedy Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story. Gas stations in the Dumas area soon reported an increase in sales. Several businesses along Highway 65 were used as filming locations, including The Tobacco Store, Big Banjo and El Torito parking lots. Also used were the Stimson Farm on Red Line Road, Gail's Sports Bar at Back Gate and the Pendleton Inn.
The houseboat and the woods where Mud hides out were located in the hamlet of Crockett's Bluff. Special Effects director Everett Byrom, an industry veteran, says that although he'd handled plenty of snakes, shootouts, and explosions before, working with a boat in a tree was a professional first for him. "Any time we get to play with cranes to move things around, it's such a joy," he says. Managing the boat in the tree required a 90-ton crane holding a 1958 fiberglass hull boat in the middle of a forest along a river in Arkansas. We put it in and out of the tree four times in a night of shooting, navigating through branches 50 feet up in the air. It was thrilling."
"Jeff Nichols is super smooth," says Byrom. "I like his focus, I like how he communicates, he is a kind and considerate person, and he allows people who care about his projects to put their best effort forward. Jeff, along with Sarah Green, (Line Producer) Michael Flynn, (Production Supervisor) Christopher Warner, (Production Designer) Richard Wright, and all the other folks involved, gave us what we needed to succeed."
Filming in wild and remote locations posed challenges for the filmmakers, but it also gave Mud a unique quality by showing audiences a part of the country they might not be familiar with. As in the films of Terence Malick -- a filmmaker Nichols admires -- the natural landscape of Mud serves almost as a separate character.
"In order to be true to the story you need to be true to its sense of place. We've gone deep into Arkansas to film this movie," says producer Sarah Green. "Arkansas is an amazingly varied place and has extraordinary cities and culture, but it also has some very out-of-the-way places that take a very, very long time to get to. We've spent quite a bit of our time driving and boating and gatoring and walking and hiking. It's been a running joke that every location takes forever to get to, but then you get there and think, 'Ah, there's a reason we came all this way. I haven't seen this in a movie before. I haven't seen this landscape, this river, this wild place.' It's thrilling."
"People will walk away from this film feeling that they entered a world they didn't know much about, and that they left knowing a lot more about it," says producer Aaron Ryder. "This part of the country is amazing. There's something magical about it ... this river life and these houseboats on the river, that's something I'd never heard of before. If you look around this area, you can see the way these people live on these boats, and it's a different culture and a different way of life."
The river settings in the film meant working on sets that were houseboats, and filming from the vantage point of a boat. Marine Coordinator Will White headed up a crew that handled boats, barges and pontoons used both in the film and behind the scenes to move houseboats, lighting, and otherwise support making the film. A Boston native, Mud was White's first Arkansas Delta experience. "The Mississippi River is a big river. It presented some challenges. The water is very muddy, so if anyone went in, we'd never find them again," says White. "The tides changed the position of the houseboats, so we were constantly on the move to get continuity."
McConaughey, who camped out near the set with his family through much of the shoot, appreciated the latitude and wide-open spaces in Southwest Arkansas and how it informs the story. "What's great about the South is there's so much room, there's less structure, not much regulation," he says. "When you're miles from civilization and something happens, you have to just work it out. You can't always call 9-1-1 and wait for help. There's a real spirit of self-reliance. When you walk out your door, be aware. There's a comfort that comes with that."
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