Although the Coen brothers first broke onto the film scene with their debut – the brilliant neo-noir crime drama Blood Simple in 1984 – Joel Coen was involved in the world of cinema from early on in his life. He was a student at NYU’s prestigious film programme and even signed up for the graduate film course offered by the University of Texas at Austin, but eventually dropped out.
Instead of continuing his formal education, Joel chose to attain professional experience after graduation by taking up gigs as a production assistant on various commercial projects and music videos. As he worked on his film editing skills, Joel found a place as a crew member of a Sam Raimi project who would later become a frequent collaborator of the Coen brothers.
It was on the set of Raimi’s 1981 cult classic The Evil Dead that Joel Coen first met the director. The film follows a group of college students who seek to escape the monotony of modernity by retreating to the wilderness of a cabin in the middle of a forest. However, they experience supernatural events when they discover an audiotape that entails terrible, life-threatening consequences.
After the initial production process, Raimi was not making headway with large amounts of footage at his disposal, so he hired Edna Paul to help with the film’s editing. Working as Paul’s protégé was none other than Joel Coen, who assisted with the editing process and was also responsible for the famous shed sequence.
When the Coen brothers pitched Blood Simple, they drew inspiration from Raimi’s advice and made a prototype film to attract investors as he had done for The Evil Dead. After the critical success of Blood Simple, Raimi collaborated with the Coen Brothers on the 1985 comedy horror film Crimewave, but that project was deemed as a failure at the time.
During the making of The Evil Dead, Joel learnt a visual technique that he would soon employ in his own films – the use of the “shaky cam”. With the shaky cam, the visual narrative can mimic the aesthetic sensibilities of the cinéma vérité style. While Raimi used it to depict the POV of a supernatural entity, the Coen Brothers adopted the technique in order to translate the moods and emotions of various characters in films like Blood Simple and Raising Arizona.