They Ain't Heavy...

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MOJGAN B. AZIMI FOR TIME

Directors Joel and Ethan Coen

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Part of the secret to the relaxed set is the brothers' meticulous, Hitchcockian preparation, storyboarding every scene before they begin shooting. That also makes their movies cheap, since little crew time is wasted figuring out shots. Even though they're known for beautiful cinematography — Hanks' cape being carried by the wind over the Mississippi River and onto a garbage barge is one of the memorable images from The Ladykillers — they use less film stock than most directors. When movies don't cost much, studios leave their directors alone. In fact, the one big-budget project they planned, a largely silent World War II film starring Brad Pitt called To the White Sea, was tabled by the brothers partly because the high costs would have brought in the panicky suits.

Despite all the careful prep work and their rep for being brusque and quiet, the brothers are known for being loose on the set, laughing repeatedly at their own lines of dialogue and gags. "In the movie Tom sort of does an Ed Grimley, where the house blows up and he's running up the steps," says Ethan. "One of our voices is all over the track, laughing," finishes Joel. That wasn't the only scene that had to be dubbed over in the recording studio because of Coen brother laughter. The brothers, it turns out, are most interested in amusing themselves.

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