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The working titles of this film were Untitled Barber Movie, Untitled Barber Project and The Barber Movie. The film has a voice-over narration delivered by Billy Bob Thornton as his character, "Ed Crane." Although the narration fluctuates between past and present tense, the entirety of the film is a flashback until the end sequence, when Ed is in prison and writing his memoir for the magazine. "Roderick Jaynes," listed in the onscreen credits as a film editor, is a joint pseudonym used by brothers Ethan Coen and Joel Coen, who, along with Tricia Cooke, edited the film.
The film's end credits include the following acknowledgment: "'Fibber McGee & Molly' Courtesy of NBC Studios and The Museum of Broadcasting Communications, Chicago." The opening and ending cast credits differ slightly in order. According to the presskit, the film was shot at the following Southern California locations: Lincoln Heights Jail in Los Angeles for the jail scene; Don Carlos Stages in East Los Angeles for the courtroom scenes; Musso and Frank's Grill in Hollywood as Da Vinci's restaurant; Thousand Oaks for the wedding reception; a Presbyterian Church on Wilshire Blvd. in Los Angeles for the Bingo scene; an empty Bank of America branch in downtown Los Angeles as the Santa Rosa bank; a furniture store in Glendale as "Nirdlinger's" department store; the exterior of a Craftsman-style house in the "Bungalow Heaven" neighborhood in Pasadena became the Crane home; an apartment in Castle Green, a hotel-turned-apartment building in Pasadena, served as the piano teacher's studio; and portions of the city of Orange in Orange County doubled as Santa Rosa. Both Michael Badalucco and Thornton trained with barbers to learn how to cut hair; Thornton also briefly trained at Dirty Dan's Clip Joint.
The presskit adds the following information about the production: The picture was shot on color negative film, which was then printed on black-and-white film stock for theatrical exhibition. According to a November 30, 2001 article in Entertainment Weekly, USA Films negotiated with the filmmakers to shoot the picture so that videos could be released in color for European markets. The Man Who Wasn't There emulates the visual style and content of film noir, a genre produced primarily in the 1940s and 1950s. The filmmakers depicted the setting as Santa Rosa, CA because it evoked the 1943 Alfred Hitchcock film Shadow of a Doubt, which was set and filmed in Santa Rosa (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1941-50). Other echoes of a classic film noir May include the character names "Diedrickson" and "Nirdlinger." "Dietrichson" was used for two main characters in the 1944 Paramount film Double Indemnity, directed by Billy Wilder, while "Nirdlinger" was the surname used for the same characters in James M. Cain's novel Double Indemnity, on which the Paramount film was based (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1941-50).
The Man Who Wasn't There tied with David Lynch's Mulholland Dr. for the Best Director Palme d'Or award at the 2001 Cannes International Film Festival. Roger Deakins was selected by AFI as Cinematographer of the Year, and the film was nominated by AFI as Movie of the Year. Other AFI award nominations went to Thornton as AFI Actor of the Year-Male-Movies and to Tony Shalhoub as AFI Featured Actor of the Year-Male-Movies. The Hollywood Foreign Press Association nominated the film for 2001 Golden Globe awards in the following categories: Best Motion Picture Drama, Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture, Drama (Thornton) and Best Screenplay (Ethan and Joel Coen). The film also received an Academy Award nomination for Best Cinematography.