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(Credit: Miramax Films)

The story of how Paul Thomas Anderson interrupted a Coen brothers movie

When we look back at the best films of 2007, it is almost impossible to exclude Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood as well as the Coen brothers’ No Country For Old Men from the discussion. Both are considered to be modern masterpieces and were contenders for the Academy Award for Best Picture, with No Country for Old Men eventually winning the coveted Oscar along with several prestigious accolades.

Based on the eponymous Cormac McCarthy novel, No Country for Old Men translates McCarthy’s bleak and darkly humourous vision to the big screen with effortless mastery. In an interview, Joel Coen revealed: “We didn’t actually pick it. It was sent to us by Scott Rudin who had acquired the rights to it, he sent it to us in galleys about a year before it came out. He asked us if we were interested in doing it and we read it and both, we’d read other Cormac McCarthy books just for pleasure and liked him a lot, but this one we thought was, could make a really interesting movie.”

While many scenes were shot in Las Vegas, which were passed off as locations in Eagle Pass and Del Rio, Texas, Tommy Lee Jones told the Coen brothers to consider shooting in Texas. The production process took the crew to various locations in New Mexico as well as Texas, which were magnificently utilised by cinematographer Roger Deakins.

Deakins later explained: “In No Country, there’s maybe only a dozen shots that are not in the final film. It’s that order of planning. And we only shot 250,000 feet, whereas most productions of that size might shoot 700,000 or a million feet of film. It’s quite precise, the way they approach everything. We never use a zoom, I don’t even carry a zoom lens with me, unless it’s for something very specific.”

On the set of one such location in Marfa, Texas, two worlds collided. In the close vicinity of the Coen brothers’ project, American filmmaker Paul Thomas Anderson was also working on his own magnum opus There Will Be Blood which has been described by many critics as “The Citizen Kane of our time”. Starring Daniel Day-Lewis as an ambitious oil magnate who stops at nothing to get what he wants, There Will Be Blood is a scathing indictment of the American Dream.

When Anderson conducted a huge pyrotechnical test that went terribly wrong, it resulted in the interruption of both productions. The smoke from the failed experiment carried over to the set of No Country for Old Men and forced the crew to stop working for a day until everything was cleared out. It proved to be an insignificant but memorable bump in the respective production processes of two of the best films of the 21st century.

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