September 19, 2016

See How the Coen Brothers Storyboarded Their First Feature Film 'Blood Simple'

In the case of the Coen Brother's 1984 neo-noir Blood Simple, elaborate storyboarding led to very precise filmmaking.

Joel and Ethan Coen have made some of the most beautiful, well-made films of our time, and just like cinematic master Alfred Hitchcock, they storyboard everything. Storyboards don't just give you a sense of how the mise-en-scène will take shape on paper, but it allows you to be much more prepared once you arrive on set.

In celebration of Blood Simple's inauguration into the Criterion Collection, photographer Grant Delin created this helpful video essay that compares the Coen's storyboards to the actual shots in the film and includes commentary from the dynamic directing duo, as well as DP Barry Sonnenfeld and actor and frequent Coen collaborator Frances McDormand.

This video provides a great inside look at the creative process of two of indie film's most precious directors. Their work is so unique that many fans and students of film will find this bit of knowledge priceless in terms of learning more about how the Coen's go about building a story from the ground up. It's also interesting that despite their idiosyncratic style, they have a very disciplined approach to preproduction.      

Your Comment

7 Comments

Everyone has a different approach but I prefer the kind of film making that isn't story boarded and just goes with the flow, like what Terrence Malick does.

September 19, 2016 at 9:38PM

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Henry Barnill
Director of Photography
671

I have always felt storyboarding helps us not to miss out on the absolute necessary shots, and spares us the pain of a reshoot. But it restricts us from the new ideas that emerge on the set.

September 20, 2016 at 3:53AM, Edited September 20, 4:00AM

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Ayan Banerjee
Film Maker
236

How?

September 20, 2016 at 7:07AM

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Indie Guy
815

This is why you should visit the set before storyboarding. Get a feel for the location first, then create how the scene will look. Using this technique, we won't miss out on any necessary shots, and we'll have a good idea of how to incorporate new ideas in the environment should anything truly notable develop.

September 21, 2016 at 10:01AM, Edited September 21, 10:01AM

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Lorenzo Ducai
Director/Cinematographer/Editor/Wedding Photographer
131

True but that is not always feasible. Like I visit a place in the morning as a recce, and on the shoot date probably we are shooting late afternoon. The weather or angle of light might be different that day, and I might have to choose a different camera angle from what I originally decided, to enhance pictoriality (if that is a word). Now this is a cycle. Once that happens, I have to change the angle of each and every shot in that scene and how the actors are to be staged.

September 29, 2016 at 1:29AM

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Ayan Banerjee
Film Maker
236

It's simply incredible to me that anyone would approach a very expensive, time-consuming endeavor and not create a plan of attack that everyone involved can see and get onboard with.

Irresponsible is a word that comes to mind. To the producers, the actors, the crew and yourself. Really, everyone.

Storyboards or, at the very least, shot lists keep the train on the track.

In rebuttal to the comment from Ayan above, storyboards do not restrict anything. They just form the architecture of the project. No one ever said you can't deviate from the plan.

If you read the post about Ewan McGregor directing American Pastoral, he resisted but, in the end, embraced storyboards, realizing the essential, so that everybody was "on the same page".

I love Terrence Malik but, maybe there's a reason the Coen brothers' movies, with their concise, clear vision and structure are held in higher regard for a reason. That reason might be, in part, storyboards.

September 20, 2016 at 10:58AM, Edited September 20, 11:12AM

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Richard Krall
richardkrall.com
805

I think it depends what kind of film you are making. If you are making a suspense driven film like Blood Simple, storyboards or detailed shot lists make sense. Suspense in film is created through visuals and editing, and the more precise you can be the more suspense one can generate. If it's a drama or comedy a more spontaneous approach that gives the performers freedom can be beneficial. That said, the Coens have made some of the funniest films of all time with their approach. Some of their comedies have fallen flat though (Hudsucker and Hail Caeser for me), and that's often because they feel over designed and lacking in spontaneity.

October 2, 2016 at 11:52AM, Edited October 2, 11:52AM

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Batutta
107