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Film

The Christmas film secretly written by the Coen brothers

The Coen brothers have maintained a lifelong interest in cinema after being exposed to a wide variety of masterpieces such as the film of Federico Fellini and Jerry Lewis comedies on TV. They loved movies so much that Joel Coen even mowed lawns to save up money for a Super 8 camera with which they made remakes of the classics they saw as well as their own original works from an early age.

Starting from their 1984 directorial debut Blood Simple, the Coen brothers made it evident to the world that they were among the most original artistic forces in the landscape of contemporary cinema. Recently, Joel Coen ventured into uncharted territory by directing his first solo film without the collaboration of his brother – The Tragedy of Macbeth – which received widespread acclaim for its undeniable brilliance.

Over the years, the Coen brothers have not just been praised for their impeccable directorial talent but also for their masterful writing. Blending a mixture of existential meditations and dark humour, their screenplays for masterpieces such as Fargo and The Big Lebowski are now taught in film schools to students as examples of how to perfect the extremely difficult art of writing effective scripts.

While the brothers have enjoyed writing their own material for the projects they have directed, they also participated in the directorial efforts of others by writing the script. One such example is Terry Zwigoff’s hilarious comedy Bad Santa which starred Billy Bob Thornton as a depressed scam artist who manages to land jobs to play Santa in departmental stores only to get the opportunity of robbing them with his dwarf assistant.

The idea for Bad Santa had been developed by the Coen brothers who did not want to direct the film themselves and hired Glenn Ficarra as well as John Requa to translate their concept into a full-fledged screenplay. According to Zwigoff, the writing duo finished the script and showed it to the brother, they passed on the opportunity of directing the film but offered to provide notes.

Zwigoff added: “When the Coens sat down to try and give them notes over a weekend, eventually they just thought it would be easier if they take a pass on it and rewrite it.” In the end, Ficarra and Requa described their finished product as a “really crass script” to which the Coen brothers added “a bunch of crass jokes”.

When Universal Studios got around to reading the script, they rejected it by claiming: “[I]t was the most foul, disgusting, misogynistic, anti-Christmas, anti-children thing we could imagine.” Thankfully, Miramax picked Bad Santa up and now it is regarded as one of the essential anti-Christmas films and a truly hilarious modern comedy.