How the Coen Brothers Storyboarded Blood Simple Down to a Tee (1984)

Sel­dom, in the films of the Joel and Ethan Coen, do char­ac­ters’ schemes go accord­ing to plan. You can watch it hap­pen all across their fil­mog­ra­phy: the baby theft in Rais­ing Ari­zona, the own-wife kid­nap­ping and ran­som in Far­go, the casi­no-vault tun­nel heist in The Ladykillers, the Com­mu­nist con­ver­sion of a screen idol in Hail, Cae­sar! But they’ve earned their enor­mous cin­e­mat­ic rep­u­ta­tion not just for their themes, but for the pre­ci­sion with which they con­struct movies around them; it some­times seems that the more dis­solute the char­ac­ters and ulti­mate­ly dis­as­trous the plot they fall into, the more care­ful­ly-made the pic­ture.

This pat­tern began in 1984 with their first fea­ture, the Texas neo-noir Blood Sim­ple. Despite its rel­a­tive­ly small-scale pro­duc­tion (espe­cial­ly by the stan­dards of their peri­od piece-heavy recent work), it show­cas­es every ele­ment their fans love: the sense of place, the sharp dia­logue, the fas­ci­na­tion with “low” life, the dark humor, the atten­tion to detail.

No won­der, then, that it has now arrived in the Cri­te­ri­on Col­lec­tion, in an edi­tion which includes sup­ple­men­tary mate­ri­als like the com­par­i­son between the sto­ry­board and fin­ished scene above, fea­tur­ing com­men­tary from the Coens Joel and Ethan both, as well as direc­tor of pho­tog­ra­phy Bar­ry Son­nen­feld and actor Frances McDor­mand.

“There are direc­tors who are com­plete­ly com­fort­able extem­po­riz­ing on the set, and oth­ers who are not,” say Joel and Ethan, trad­ing off obser­va­tions. “Some direc­tors want to throw every­thing up in the air and just see where it lands; that’s real­ly how they work, fun­da­men­tal­ly, and get great results. We’re kind of the… oth­er end of the spec­trum. We’re more com­fort­able if we have a plan, even if we stray quite a dis­tance from that plan while we’re shoot­ing.” They seem not to have strayed at all in the par­tic­u­lar scene in this video, but their fil­mog­ra­phy boasts more than enough vital­i­ty to rule out the pos­si­bil­i­ty of com­plete, con­trol-freak­ish rigid­i­ty. All of it shows us how the best-laid plans of mice and men go awry — but only because the Coen Broth­ers lay even bet­ter plans first.

via No Film School

Relat­ed Con­tent:

How the Coen Broth­ers Put Their Remark­able Stamp on the “Shot Reverse Shot,” the Fun­da­men­tal Cin­e­mat­ic Tech­nique

Watch the Coen Broth­ers’ TV Com­mer­cials: Swiss Cig­a­rettes, Gap Jeans, Tax­es & Clean Coal

Tui­leries: A Short, Slight­ly Twist­ed Film by Joel and Ethan Coen

World Cin­e­ma: Joel and Ethan Coen’s Play­ful Homage to Cin­e­ma His­to­ry

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities and cul­ture. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer, the video series The City in Cin­e­ma, the crowd­fund­ed jour­nal­ism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Ange­les Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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