Brothers Joel and Ethan Coen have cemented themselves as one of the most influential filmmaking duos of all time. Through an array of acclaimed movies including Fargo (1996), True Grit (2010) and The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018), the brothers have a reputation for blending genres and writing convoluted plots with eccentric characters. In order to bask in the wisdom of this iconic filmmaking duo, we’ve compiled 15 amazing Coen brothers quotes that are sure to inspire all budding screenwriters and filmmakers.
Coen Brothers – Dynamic Duo
Born and raised in Minnesota, Joel and Ethan Coen had a keen interest in cinema during their childhood. Inspired by the movies they watched on television, Joel bought a Vivitar Super 8 camera to shoot home movies, starring their friends.
For many years the Directors Guild of America (DGA) regulations prevented the brothers from sharing directorial credit due to the rule that only one person may be credited director. To work around this, the pair agreed that Joel would be credited as director, Ethan credited producer and both given the screenwriting credit. “Roderick Jaynes”, a pseudonym they shared, was credited as editor.
Joel enrolled in the undergraduate film program at New York University before landing himself a job as an assistant editor on low budget horror movies. Ethan took a different direction, studying Philosophy at Princeton University. After Ethan graduated, the brothers started writing independent films, their first being Blood Simple (1984), financed with funds raised by themselves.
Blood Simple, a dark thriller blended with crime and horror; established their stylistic trademarks. Meanwhile, fast-paced comedy Raising Arizona (1987) showcased their versatility. The latter, distributed by 20th Century Fox, started their progression from independent films to working with major studios.
Despite numerous awards including four Oscars, the brothers had disappointment too. The Hudsucker Proxy (1994) lost $14 million at the box office and received mixed reviews. And despite critical acclaim since, The Big Lebowski (1998) initially underperformed.
It is undeniable that hard work led to their success. And a dedication to making their own productions with little financial support caught the eyes of major studios, bringing opportunities to further their profile whilst still remaining auteurs.
We’ve compiled 15 amazing Coen brothers quotes to give an insight into the creative minds of the Coen brothers and inspire your own creative process.
Coen Brothers Quotes on…Creative Process
1. “Like any kind of writing, there are good days and frustrating days. But even frustrating days can be rewarding sometimes.” – Ethan
2. “You love all your characters, even the ridiculous ones. You have to on some level; they’re your weird creations in some kind of way. I don’t even know how you approach the process of conceiving the characters if in a sense you hated them. It’s just absurd.” – Joel
3. “The question is: Where would it get you if something that’s a little bit ambiguous in the movie is made clear? It doesn’t get you anywhere.” – Joel
4. “I don’t know we have a method. We show up at the office. Is that a method? That’s about the extent to which it’s been formalized, systematized. We show up at the office and talk, talk a scene through” – Ethan
Coen Brothers Quotes on…Writing
5. “The characters are the result of two things. First, we elaborate them into fairly well-defined people through their dialogue, then they happen all over again, when the actor interprets them.” – Joel
6. “We go to the office every day when we’re writing – or supposed to be writing. It’s not always productive, and there’s a lot of procrastinating, just staring at the wall, like any other writing. But we just make ourselves go to the office every day for more or less the whole day.” – Ethan
7. “It’s almost like a genre rule: Don’t Open The Box.” – Joel
Coen Brothers Quotes on…Progression
8. “And when you see it the first time you put the film together, the roughest cut, is when you want to go home and open up your veins and get in a warm tub and just go away. And then it gradually, maybe, works its way back, somewhere toward that spot you were at before.” – Joel
9. “I think when you watch the dailies, the film that you shoot every day, you’re very excited by it and very optimistic about how it’s going to work.” – Joel
Coen Brothers Quotes on…Style
10. “We’re not big on taste. And actually, if you don’t pander to undue sensitivities, then it ends up usually not being much of a problem.” – Ethan
11 “We’ve always actually been remarkably commercially successful. Not in terms of making huge amounts of money, which we rarely do, but in terms of not losing money and making modest amounts of money. We’re actually strangely consistent in that respect.” – Ethan
12. “Sometimes, in certain stories, I think we know at the outset essentially what the tone is going to be, or it becomes important that we’re groping toward some kind of story with a certain kind of tone that we both get somehow. But I don’t think how that’s combined with other elements is ever in any way overtly discussed.” – Joel
Coen Brothers Quotes on…Being Successful and Setting Yourself Apart
13. “When you do a writing job for a studio, one of the things you want to do is satisfy the expectations of your employer. That’s a little bit different than when you sit down and write something to satisfy yourself, because then you’re the employer.” – Joel
14. “We don’t outline, so we don’t have prospective tasks to divide up. It’s just, we start at the beginning and talk the first scene through, write it up, proceed to the next.” – Ethan
15. “Being non-commercial is never an ambition. Movies come together at different points for fortuitous reasons. You do them as you get the opportunity, as opposed to doing them when you choose to or design to.” – Ethan
This article was written by Jamie McIvor and edited by IS Staff.
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