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Ethan Coen Webchat
On True Grit and false Lebowski rumours

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Showing no signs of saddlesoreness from all that travel talking about True Grit, Ethan Coen stopped by to answer questions from webchatters curious about he and his brother Joel's twist on Charles Portis' Western - and much more besides. If you've ever wondered how the Coen brothers discovered Hailee Steinfeld, which of their characters they're most proud of or just whether they can be found worshipping at the Church of the Latter-day Dude, it's all here. If you're Tara Reid you may want to avert your eyes around the halfway point.

Ethan Coen Webchat

_j_clark says: What made you choose to refer majorly to the original text [of Charles Portis’ True Grit] as opposed to the '69 film?
Well, I'll tell you: we saw the ‘69 film in ‘69 so we didn't remember it very well. The impetus for making the movie was an enthusiasm for the book, and we really only vaguely remembered the movie.

rhysf1 says: Do you find it difficult faithfully adapting a novel and not being able to use some of your classic dialogue and character names?
Character names, that's interesting, because we actually rewrote a script once as a writing job because we liked one of the character names. The name was basically all we liked from the original script: the character's name was Gus Petch. We actually ended up making the movie, it was Intolerable Cruelty. But no, we don't store up names for later use, so we didn't feel stymied in not being able to use our own character names.

Drew666 says: What makes Joel laugh?
It's very strange to be part of the establishment, but we got nominated for A Serious Man and who could blame us for that?
Still searching...

Miles Messervy 007 says: Why ‘Roderick Jaynes’?
Oh, I don't know. The name came out of the air, I don't know. We decided he was from Hove, and embittered. Possibly the two things are related. I don't know where the name came from, though.

Could you talk about when you bring DoP Roger Deakins in and how his input impacts production? What're the main things that Roger brings to the process?
He comes in as early as he can, and that's totally contingent on his schedule. If he's free, long before we start shooting then what we usually do is a draft of the storyboards without him and then a draft with him. We scout locations with him, again contingent on his schedule. He basically does everything with us from the point he's able to sign on. Participating in the location scouting and the storyboards is important because it just goes to what the movie looks like, and if he's shooting something.

Rhu says: Bill Murray claims that he did Garfield because it was written by Joel Cohen and he got confused as to which Joel Coen. Are you annoyed that he doesn't know how your brother's name is spelled?
(Laughs) No, I'm not a schoolmarm.

Daryn says: Now that cinema tastes seemed to have changed and audiences seem more open to arthouse and experimental movies, is there any chance we will ever see your adapation of To The White Sea?
Oh no. We worked on it with a producer named Richard Roth, and Jeremy Thomas. They're both great - Jeremy came very close to getting us the budget, which was large given the nature of the movie. But he came up short even with Brad Pitt doing the movie for free. So if we failed under those circumstances I don't know that we'll ever succeed. Also, Brad's too old now.

J.D. DRUMPELLIER says: Would you ever consider making a horror film? I know you've dabbled with classic genre horror imagery in Blood Simple and the like, but would you ever consider just making an all-out horror picture in the same vein as Raising Arizona is an all-out farcical comedy?
Funny you should ask. Yes, we're working on a couple of scripts now; one of which it would be fair to call a full-on horror movie. Frances McDormand is the monster.

Ethan Coen Webchat

thatfilmlover says: Joel and yourself have directed six actors to Oscar nominations, and two of them to wins. Now with Hailee [Steinfeld] and True Grit, what's your secret to getting the best out of actors?
Not doing anything. We just cast actors who know what they're doing and who we like working with. Actually, the whole directing actors is a mystery to me. I don't know that we really do anything. We'd like to take credit for all their performances but...

nickjhp says: I was just wondering what the significance of the first scene in A Serious Man is?
Joel and I write all our movies together. There's no separating even bits of movies, much less whole movies between us.
Oh... beats me. It's better with it than without it, right? I don't know.

El Dukerino says: Charles Portis has been described as "like Cormac McCarthy, but funny". Do you think that's fair?
It's unfair to Cormac. They're both very funny. Cormac is... I was going to say drier, but that's not true: Charles Portis is very dry. Maybe we were unfair to Cormac: there were a lot of laughs in the novel No Country For Old Men, as there are in his other books, but we didn't include any of them. Probably because they're mostly in the sheriff's monologues, which are totally absent from the movie.

Rhu says: Are there any of your films that feel more "yours" or more "Joel’s"? Or is everything really 50/50?
No, we write them all together, we talk through each script. There's no separating even bits of movies, much less whole movies as between the two of us.

TaraReid says: Hi Ethan! When are we starting filming on Lebowski 2? My agent apparently knows nothing but I still have the job don't I?
This was in the US press – Tara Reid announcing Lebowski 2. George Clooney periodically announces a movie called Hail Caesar that we're apparently going to do with him. And John Turturro's been after us for years to do a movie focused on his character in The Big Lebowski, the paedophile.

fakeplasticmax says: What are your thoughts on Lebowski's immense cult following, with things like The Two Gentlemen of Lebowski and the Church of the Latter-day Dude? Did you in some way expect the Dude phenomenon to take off as spectacularly as it did?
No, I haven't heard of the Church of the Latter-Day Dude. Do they actually convene and hold services? No, we didn't expect that, no.

James Barrett says: Is there a possibility that you may remake the sequel to True Grit (Rooster Cogburn, 1975) in the future?
Yes, if we can get Cate Blanchett to do the Katharine Hepburn part. We're in negotiations with her people.

Buddy says: Barton Fink is hired to write a wrestling picture. The Naked Man, which you co-wrote, was a wrestling picture (albeit a rather strange one) what can you tell us about their connection (if any connection exists)?
What would be a not-strange wrestling picture? I don't know, no connection. People like wrestling. There are just some things that people like. People like cows. People like Dutch doors. One just recognises what people like.

Finkblot says: Joel, have you considered working with Sam Raimi once again? Hudsucker Proxy was a revelation, and Crimewave was insane!
No, Sam's too busy. We're game. We're in negotiations with his people.

rolotomasi says: What is your attitude towards film criticism? Do you pay attention to the reviews your pictures get?
Yes, I love reading reviews. I love reading bad reviews. When they're really nasty they feel personal in a way that you never get in real life, where people are generally polite. They're really interesting - actually, and I always find it mysterious what gets up people's noses. Good reviews are not so interesting, because it's basically people saying, "I really liked your movie," which they do say in real life.

Ethan Coen Webchat

Mrs. Fink says: Ethan, I have to know... what's your favourite sandwich?
Oh. Well, OK, prosciutto and mozzarella, a little arugula, oil and vinegar on it. Are you offering?

DavisBrown says: How long did it take you to find the right person to play the character of Mattie Ross? Do you enjoy working with younger people on set?
John Turturro's been after us for years to do a movie focused on Jesus from The Big Lebowski.
Many months. Casting people were looking throughout the States for about six months, at least, before we started shooting, and they saw thousands of people – probably 15,000 girls, either in person or through online submissions. 14,990 of them were dreadful. Joel and I saw a tiny fraction of who the casting directors saw, a few of whom were interesting. But we only saw Hailee Steinfeld about four weeks before we started shooting. We were starting to feel some anxiety until we met her. And it's fun working with young people. The process has been fun for her in a way that it sometimes isn't for us and the other more experienced actors. And that's actually contagious on the set.

Rhu says: Does it feel weird after the Oscar win, that you now basically are a part of the establishment? It would have seemed incredibly unlikely not that long ago.
Yes, it's very strange. I was in the Oscar mosh pit last year, looking around thinking, "I actually know most of these people." It's alarming. But I don't think we can be blamed for it; we got nominated for A Serious Man - I mean, who could blame us for that?

lloydwhittle says: What character are you most proud of creating?
Sy Ableman. Fred Melamed's character in A Serious Man. Best movie monster ever!

Michael Welsh says: I remember reading you basically went door to door to finance Blood Simple - would you give the same advice to aspiring filmmakers today?
I don't know, I really don't know. That was more than 25 years ago, so I don't know how relevant our experience is now. I don't know what the experience of starting out in the movie business is now.

Mark_It_Zero says: What's the one thing that you and your brother argue most about?
We don't really argue. When we're writing it's not even like there are opposing points of view; mostly it's like we're staring at the wall and any idea is welcome. And once the script is finished the process of writing the script together has us obviously very much on the same page. We have other long-standing collaborators as well and we also don't argue with any of them - we're obviously very non-confrontational people.

Marmotman says: Any plans on going into a big-dollar TV series a la Spielberg, Bruckheimer etc? Even if not, any old TV shows either side of the pond that you'd like to remake?
No, hadn't thought about it.

kathen says: You guys always manage to get your actors to have the best hair, but which hairstyle was your favourite? (I personally think Tilda Swinton's in Burn After Reading is glorious)
Yeah, that was good. There's one scene in a restaurant with Tilda and George; the restaurant has copper-coloured sconces that perfectly match her hair. But I think my favourite is John Turturro's wedge in Barton Fink. Look for Barry Pepper's hair in True Grit, hair enthusiast.

oamr9792 says: Do you have any plans to write another book of short stories to go with your films?
I've written a few stories, but I've gotten lazy; not enough to compose a book. And I probably won't have any time soon.

Sully114 says: I was wondering why Jeff Bridges eye patch in True Grit is on the opposite eye than John Wayne’s?
(Burying head in hands) I'm stumped.

Buddy says: Do you still plan on doing an adaptation of Elmore Leonard’s Cuba Libre or have you already satisfied your appetite for Westerns?
What makes Joel laugh? I'm still searching...
Oh, we did do a script of that but it was just a writing job, many years ago when the book came out. But it wasn't something for us to make.

Gringo says: Has there ever been a book that you'd love to see on the screen but you can't think how to make the adaptation work?
No. That's a strange, logically imperfect question somehow; the two novel adaptations that we've done we did because they struck us as promising movie material. I don't know how a book would strike us as that and yet seem impossible to adapt into a movie.

andthorough says: What would you say your favourite piece of music is from one of your films?
Boy, I like so much of what Carter Burwell has done; every single movie of ours has been with Carter doing the underscoring. The theme from The Man Who Wasn't There which we did with Billy Bob Thornton, I really like, and A Serious Man. Those two were original with Carter. Some movies he takes themes he or we have found and adapts them, and the score of True Grit is thematically based on four 19th century Protestant hymns. All his music is great; I actually really enjoy that part of the movie because we have so little input into it that it's harder for us to get sick of the music than it is for other parts of the film.

Finkblot says: What will your next project be? Gambit? Old Fink? Or something previously unannounced?
Gambit was also a writing job. It seems like the movie is going to get made but not by us; it never was to have been. [As for] Old Fink, the Barton Fink sequel: John Turturro is not old enough yet. And the whole thing may be more a thought experiment than a movie. We don't really know what we're doing yet; we're working on a couple of scripts.

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