Wallace Shawn told film critic Nathan Rabin he did not understand the film after initially reading the screenplay, but signed on as he was impressed by Richard Kelly and flattered that the part was written specifically for him; ultimately, he said that he still found the film mostly incomprehensible after three viewings, but "liked it very much".
Richard Kelly wrote the script shortly before the September 11 attacks. The original script involved blackmail, a porn star, and two cops. After the attacks, Kelly revised the script. He said, "[The original script] was more about making fun of Hollywood. But now it's about, I hope, creating a piece of science fiction that's about a really important problem we're facing, about civil liberties and homeland security and needing to sustain both those things and balance them." He described the film as a "tapestry of ideas all related to some of the biggest issues that I think we're facing right now . . . alternative fuel or the increasing obsession with celebrity and how celebrity now intertwines with politics". With the film's premise of a nuclear attack on Texas, Kelly wanted to take a look at how the United States would respond and survive while constructing a "great black comedy."
Richard Kelly has claimed on his MySpace blog that he had very little time for the DVD as he was starting shooting on his next feature, The Box (2009). However, he has stated several times that if Sony commissioned one (based on the sales of the current DVD), he would happily be involved in a "Director's Cut" DVD in the future with more special features and deleted scenes from the Cannes cut.
A scene that never even made it into the Cannes cut involves Boxer, right after Starla gets shot, 'bleeding' back in time to the 1920s and meeting Inga von Westphalen as a young fortune teller. Pilot Abilene's cryptic reference to black umbrellas is an orphaned reference to this.
In addition to the feature film, an expanded version of Southland Tales will be presented as a six-part interactive experience with the prequel saga to be published as three separate 90-130 page graphic novels, each written by Kelly. The graphic novels will be released over a six month period early in 2007 leading up to the film's release with the feature film comprised of the story's final three chapters. In addition, the film's official website will be one of the largest and most elaborate ever designed for a feature film. Richard Kelly describes the graphic novels as a "work in tandem with the website, creating a more epic multimedia experience for those interested in taking the plunge."
There are three chapters in the movie, each sharing its name with a song by an alternative music artist. "Temptation Waits" is a song by Garbage ; "Memory Gospel" is a song by Moby (who also composed the film's score); and "Wave of Mutilation" is a song by Pixies.
Richard Kelly sent the organizers of the 2006 Cannes Film Festival a rough cut of the film on DVD assuming that it would not be accepted. Much to his surprise, they loved it and wanted the film entered in competition for the Palme d'Or. He stopped editing the film and was also unable to complete all of the visual effects in time for the screening. Kelly's film premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in May 2006 with a length of 160 minutes. Kelly describes the negative reaction at Cannes as a "very painful experience on a lot of levels" but ultimately felt that the film "was better off because of it". After the film's festival release, it was purchased by Sony Pictures.
The line "We saw shadows of the morning light/shadows of the evening sun/till the shadows and the light were one" is from Jane's Addiction's song "Three Days", which is featured on the soundtrack of the film.
When the Prime Minister of Japan got his hand chopped off, he claims that it only should be the finger. Baron von Westphalen answers that he had probably missed the 6 inch deviation clause in his contract. The German dubbing of the movie obviously got confused about the US customary units and translated 6 inches with 1.80 meters, which is actually 6 feet.
Universal Studios had originally optioned the U.S. rights, but after the Cannes screening, it was sold to Sony, although Universal still retained some international rights. Richard Kelly sought more financing to finish visual effects for the film, and he negotiated a deal with Sony to cut down on the film's length in exchange for funds to complete the visual effects.
The Doomsday Scenario Interface in the beginning of the movie resembles the TV interface in Paul Verhoeven's Starship Troopers (1997). Verhoeven's next film after "Troopers" was to be Hollow Man (2000), a title pretty close to T.S. Eliot's poem "The Hollow Men", from where Justin Timberlake's lines "This is the way the world ends. This is the way the world ends. This is the way the worlds end. Not with a bang, but with a whimper." with the last line reversed so it reads, "not with a whimper, but with a bang."
At 1:48:52, when Jehrico is in the Elevator and swipes and ID card, the screen distorts and flashes to white on blue Alphanumeric characters. During the first flash at the bottom of the screen set apart from the rest of the characters by spaces is the name Priscilla Elliott. In Southland Tales Priscilla Elliott is the Assistant Art Director, later working with the director Richard Kelly once more as Art Director in the movie "The Box".
When casting the film Richard Kelly sought Arty Lang for the role of Fortunio Balducci (Will Sasso) but Lang was unable to play the part due to commitments to The Howard Stern Show. Kelly also contacted Rick Moranis regarding the role of Vaughn Smallhouse (John Larroquette), and while they had a long and pleasant telephone conversation, Moranis was ultimately unwilling to step out of retirement. For the part of Walter Mung (Christopher Lambert) Kelly contacted Oliver Stone, for whom he had interned years before. Although Stone was apparently tempted, he politely declined. Kelly had said that he's very happy with the actors he did eventually cast, and with their respective performances.
The trivia items below may give away important plot points.
Although the character of General Teena MacArthur, played by (Janeane Garofalo) is largely absent from the theatrical cut of the film, she can be briefly seen at the end of the film at the party where Pilot Abilene and others are celebrating.