In Focus: Get to Know ‘Hail, Caesar!’ Directors Joel and Ethan Coen

In Focus: Get to Know ‘Hail, Caesar!’ Directors Joel and Ethan Coen

"In Focus" is our new series that, well, focuses on influential directors, how they got their start and their influence on the industry -- along with a healthy dose of trivia. 


Joel and Ethan Coen

Ages: 61 (Joel) 58 (Ethan)

Born: St. Louis Park, Minnesota

Best Known For: Fargo, The Big Lebowski, No Country for Old Men, Inside Llewyn Davis

The Coen brothers are arguably the most famous directing duo working today. They've known for making comedies and gritty crime dramas that could fit in just as easily at an art house movie theater as they could a mainstream multiplex. They're no strangers to big, bold ensemble casts and their latest movie is no exception. It's a comedy about 1950s Hollywood called Hail, Caesar! and stars George Clooney, Josh Brolin, Scarlett Johansson, Channing Tatum, Tilda Swinton, Jonah Hill, Dolph Lundgren, Frances McDormand and many, many more.


Before They Were Directors: Most filmmakers tend to have a similar path into the industry. After graduating school, they take whatever film jobs they can get, working as a production assistant here and there, maybe taking some writing jobs if they can get them. Most of these gigs, while educational and crucial to one's career, rarely end up being on big, notable films. And that may have been the case when Joel Coen took an assistant editor job for an aspiring filmmaker's first feature, a low-budget horror movie made entirely by amateurs. But fortune shined on all involved and that movie happened to be Sam Raimi's The Evil Dead.

Their relationship with Raimi didn't end there, either. They wrote Crimewave for him to direct and he later cowrote The Hudsucker Proxy for them to direct. They've remained a good friends ever since.

First Feature Film: 1984's Blood Simple would mark Joel and Ethan's first feature film together. It's a smart, taught thriller about a bar owner who hires a private detective to kill his wife, which obviously doesn't go quite as planned. To get the movie made, the brothers filmed a fake trailer for the movie to help entice investors. The feature version would then go on to play at some of the biggest film festivals in the world, including Cannes and the Toronto International Film Festival.


Their Breakout Film: While critics and audiences did love Blood Simple, it was not a smash box office hit. Their follow-up film was far more financially successful. Raising Arizona, a little, strange comedy about a simple man who kidnaps a baby for his infertile wife, wasn't as universally loved by critics, but it did quite well at the box office, guaranteeing that the Coen brothers would no longer have to make fake trailers to get films financed.


Movies They Wrote But Didn't Direct: The Coens are best known as a duo who write and direct their own scripts, but they do occasionally work on others' films. They wrote Sam Raimi's Crimewave, a remake of the classic crime comedy Gambit, Angelina Jolie's Unbroken and Steven Spielberg's Bridge of Spies.

Fun Fact: There is a Chinese remake of Blood Simple called A Woman, a Gun and a Noodle Shop directed by Zhang Yimou (Hero, House of Flying Daggers).



2004's The Ladykillers was the first movie in which the Coen brothers officially shared the directing credit. Though they had been codirecting from the beginning, a Director's Guild rule prohibited two people from sharing a directing credit unless they were an established duo, so for the first two decades of their careers Joel had been taking the director's credit while Ethan was taking a producer's credit.

The Coens are only the third pair of directors to ever be nominated for Best Director. The first two were Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins for West Side Story and Warren Beatty and Buck Henry for Heaven Can Wait.

The pair received their first Oscar nominations in 1997 for Fargo, which was nominated for Best Editing, Director and Screenplay. They won for the latter.

The Coens have been nominated for a total of 14 Academy Awards and have won Best Screenplay for Fargo and Best Screenplay, Directing and Picture for No Country for Old Men.

Joel Coen is married to Frances McDormand. They met on Blood Simple and she has since appeared in five of their films, most notably Fargo.

Speaking of Fargo, the 2014 movie Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter (pictured above) is inspired by an urban legend about a Japanese woman who supposedly froze to death while looking for the ransom money seen left in the snow at the end of the movie.

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