How the Coen Brothers storyboarded their 1984 film ‘Blood Simple’
We’re revisiting the first feature film created by the Coen Brothers, the 1984 neo-noir effort Blood Simple, to explore the concept of its creation.
The film, which also became the first major project for cinematographer Barry Sonnenfeld—who later became a hugely respected director in his own right—has a name which was inspired by Dashiell Hammett’s 1929 novel Red Harvest.
The movie itself tells the story of a Texas bar owner Julian Marty, who is generally a jealous person by nature, hired a private detective to follow his wife, Abby, who it transpires is having an affair with Marty’s bartender Ray. The film, which is as stylish as it is complex, takes a darker turn with a murder plot.
Not only is the Blood Simple famed for propelling the careers of the Coen Brothers and Sonnenfeld, but also Joel Coen’s wife, Frances McDormand. She would later go on to star in numerous different projects with the directing duo.
Seemingly made on a shoestring budget, the film would not go on to be a box office hit, but it did earn the filmmakers high praise. Blood Simple set the early foundations for the work of the Coen Brothers and, more importantly, instilled some crucial working techniques that both Ethan and Joel have carried with them throughout their careers to date. Most notably, it has to be said, is their repeated use of highly detailed storyboards in the planning phase of a new project.
A few years back, in celebration of Blood Simple’s inauguration into the Criterion Collection, photographer Grant Delin created a video essay in which included the Coen Brothers, Frances McDormand and Barry Sonnenfeld to offer a fascinating glimpse into the early ideas surrounding the project.
“Even if I never see them [storyboards], to know that a director is thinking about how it’s going to be edited, that’s what I learned from Joel and Ethan,” actress McDormand explains. “Then I know what I’m serving. I do not believe that it’s an actor’s medium nor a director’s medium, I believe it’s an editor’s medium, so as an actor if I’m serving the final edit of a film, which is what I believer storyboards prepare you for, then I know the person knows what they’re doing.”
McDormand continues: “If someone comes to me and says, ‘This director is really great with actors,’ I don’t care. Because I know how to do my job, I don’t them to help me do my job. Do they know how to edit the film? I’d love to work with them.”
See the video essay of the film’s creation, below.