Coen brothers finish filming Nebraska scenes for upcoming Netflix series

Coen brothers finish filming Nebraska scenes for upcoming Netflix series
World-Herald News Service

It’s a wrap for the Coen brothers’ Nebraska shoot.

Last week, the Oscar-winning writer-directors finished filming the Nebraska scenes for their upcoming Netflix anthology series, “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs”; it was the end of a two-week shoot and months of preproduction work.

The majority of the filming took place in Sioux County, in a spot about 20 minutes north of Scottsbluff. Though a few scenes were shot along the North Platte River, west of town.

When Joel and Ethan Coen were scouting for locations for their new project — which is set during the pioneer era of the American West — they sought vistas with rolling hills and no signs of civilization. These stretches of western Nebraska fit the bill, bringing about 250 cast and crew members to the region.

Starr Lehl, Scottsbluff economic development director, said the shoot went smoothly.

“I really couldn’t have asked for anything to work better,” she said. “(The Coen brothers) were able to find everything they need right here in the region. They just kept saying how friendly everyone was. They were just so polite, such down-to-earth guys.”

Before the Coens left town, Scottsbluff Mayor Randy Meininger presented them with keys to the city. They were also each given an admiralship, an honorary title approved by the governor, Lehl said.

The Coens were apparently quite taken by the Nebraska work ethic. This summer in Scottsbluff, the production held casting auditions for extras — they sought women with long hair and men with big beards. More than 700 tried out; about 50 landed parts as wagon-train pioneers. Everyone reportedly worked hard and showed up on time.

“(The Coen brothers) really loved the extras,” said Laurie Richards, Nebraska’s film officer. “They just had a great time with them, and they just lauded praises on them at the end of the run.”

One of those extras was Justin Shields, a 27-year-old Omaha native who teaches high school social studies in Sidney, Nebraska. Shields shaved off three months of beard growth shortly after the shoot wrapped.

“They wanted guys with long hair and beards,” he said of auditioning. “I fit the description, and I’m a fan of the Coen brothers, so why not give it a shot?”

The past few weeks of shooting made for some long days and late nights, Shields said. Because of a nondisclosure agreement, he can’t share photos or details of the shoot until the TV show airs. But he could say that it was an overall great experience.

“I think they really liked that we worked well together,” he said. “I made a lot of friends out of doing this. Me being a teacher, and there were farmers, and there were business people. It was a cool experience to see all these different people from different backgrounds getting together to do this. ”

Lehl had been a part of the production early on, when the Coens were first considering shooting in the region. She drove location scouts around the area in her four-wheel-drive truck; the scouts sent thousands of photos of the terrain to the Coens, eventually reeling them out there.

“The most exciting part of this whole thing,” Lehl said, “was when the Coen brothers (first came to the area). We went to this ranch in Sioux County, and they both stepped out of the car and did a 360, and said, ‘Wow, this is exactly what we’re looking for.’ Right then, I knew they were coming. I just kind of got the chills. This is big, this is really big.”

To the uninitiated, the Coen brothers are the guys behind such classics as “Blood Simple,” “Raising Arizona,” “Barton Fink,” “Miller’s Crossing,” “Fargo,” “The Big Lebowski,” “True Grit” (the 2010 remake) and “No Country for Old Men,” which won them their first Oscars for best picture and best director.

“The Ballad of Buster Scruggs” will be the first time they’ve directed a TV series. The anthology will tell six interconnected stories. The Nebraska episode, called “The Gal Who Got Rattled,” will follow the story of two trail bosses on the Oregon Trail and a woman on a wagon trail who needs the help of one boss and might be a marriage prospect for the other. Zoe Kazan (recently seen in “The Big Sick”) will play the titular “gal.”

James Franco and Stephen Root will star in the second episode of the series, “Near Algodones.” And Tim Blake Nelson will play Buster Scruggs in the title episode, the story of a singing cowboy. The Netflix series will premiere sometime in 2018.

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