How Did This Team Make 'The Tragedy of Macbeth'?

'The Tragedy of Macbeth'Credit: A24/Apple TV+
How can you capture a play, but still make it look cinematic? 

When Joel Coen decided to adapt Macbeth from play to film, he had to think outside the box. Well, outside the theater.

This was something written for a stage. He couldn't succumb to that. He wanted it to look and feel like a movie. So what would make that possible? There was so much to tackle, and the director can only do so much. It was up to him to help build the team that shared his vision. People who wanted to work on something they really believed in and something that would stand the test of time, just as the play had. 

“It’s amazing how this play prefigures 20th-century pulp noir tropes,” Coen told The Guardian.

The results? An instant classic with the A24/Apple TV+ original film, starring Denzel Washington and Frances McDormand as Lord and Lady Macbeth. It's a must-see.

Now, you can watch a behind-the-scenes documentary showing how everything came together. 

Check out this video from STREAM WARS, and let's talk after. 

Video is no longer available: www.youtube.com/watch?v=FBO5zSBjpYA

How Did They Make The Tragedy of Macbeth

Before any shooting even began, Oscar-nominated production designer Stefan Dechant and cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel started prep with Joel Coen. Delbonnel and Coen began around 18 months before shooting. They pulled movie references from Sunrise to The Passion of Joan of Arc to the Night of the Hunter to Oliver Twist

Costume designer Mary Zophres came in soon after. Knowing they were going to shoot black and white actually made her job fun, because the colors she chose for the costumes created a wide range of depth. Two colors Coen asked her to avoid? Magenta and purple. He wanted it to feel soothing and natural. 

“With digital, you have a longer latitude in terms of exposure [than film] which meant we could play with a wider scale of gray… converting to black and white really helped us push different color curves in post. I could play with the blue and red curves and change how the black and white looked as opposed to baking in a look on film,” Delbonnel told IB365

With that all in mind, they actually shot in color on ARRI Alexa LF with Cooke S7 lenses and then converted to monochrome in post.

When it came to the aspect ratio, they shot in 1.19:1, a near-perfect square that evokes German expressionist filmmakers. 

Of course, what good are the cameras if the acting doesn't capture you?

Luckily, they had two of the best actors in the world headlining. At a recent Q&A, McDormand talked about what it was like deciding to play this role as an older woman. 

“It felt important to us,” McDormand said. “And when I did it on stage, it was important to me to acknowledge that I was postmenopausal, that I was not of childbearing age—and that that was going to be significant in the relationship and the destruction and the deterioration of the Macbeths’ relationship because he as a man can have an heir. He could have an heir with another woman. But he has stayed with her even though she hasn’t kind of filled her political job in the marriage.”

McDormand explained how they changed the play a little to reflect two people in their sixties playing the roles. 

“We had a long discussion between ourselves and with Denzel, changing just the tense when he says, ‘Bring forth men-children only, for thy undaunted mettle should produce nothing but males.’” 

This all fits in the newly crafted narrative about an older couple trying to seize power as their days wane. And it's supported by all the technical work of the people working in and around the movie. 

Did you see the movie? What did you think? Let us know in the comments    

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