A little over 30 years ago, two brothers from Minnesota set the world on fire with a little neo-noir called Blood Simple. The Coen brothers, as they would come to be known, were a couple of lanky filmmakers who were excellent at thinking outside the box, flipping genres on their heads, and making movies at every level.
Their career has run the gamut of runaway hit to insane flop to cult classic. That's why I think looking back at some of their most famous quotes about filmmaking would be a great opportunity for us to learn how they approach storytelling.
So let's boil down these quotes together, dudes.
Six Coen Brothers Quotes to Inspire Your Filmmaking Process
1. "Like any kind of writing, there are good days and frustrating days. But even frustrating days can be rewarding sometimes." - Ethan Coen (Far Out Magazine)
Many writers have good and bad days when it comes to producing pages. Even when you struggle, you can figure things out about the characters you never knew. That's why it's so important to stay with the idea and really work at it.
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 Coen (Coen Brothers: Interviews)
No one writes characters like the Coens. They frequently develop people who have goals and act a little outside the center. These kinds of characters really make actors and actresses excited about playing them. Especially if they feel unique.
What can you do to make your characters shine?
3. "We wouldn't have done it if we didn't think we could have fun with it." - Ethan Coen (talking about The Ladykillers)
As filmmakers, we can spend years on an idea. The only reason to do that is because we are in love with it.
A friend once told me, don't write a feature unless you think you could spend three years of your life within the world. That's key. Only chase the stories you love.
4. "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 Coen (Coen Brothers: Interviews)
Endings are not easy to write. You want to tie everything up in a bow, but in reality, the audience wants a little ambiguity. It makes them use their imaginations.
Don't focus so much on making it perfect, focus on closing character arcs and then leaving the audience wanting more.
5. "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 Coen (Brainy Quote)
Don't put too much pressure on getting things made inside Hollywood when you start. Focus more on writing things or making things that are good. The audience will come around to greatness.
Of course, you want to get respect and get things made, but that will come, just get things done to show people. greatness always gets recognized.
6. "These things are hard to pin down. We work on a script a bit, then work on a different one." - Joel Coen (Coen Brothers: Interviews)
Don't put all your eggs in one basket. Always have a rotating stable of ideas you're ready to show people. You never know when things will die on the vine or fizzle out. So much of Hollywood is respecting changing tastes and having a new idea or spec to show people as you go.