Films Writing

I Approach Writing the Same Way the Coen Brothers Approach Movies

“The Meeting” by Beau Berkley

What genre of films do the Coen brothers make?

According to Wikipedia, they make neo-noir crime films (Blood SimpleThe Man Who Wasn’t There). And neo-noir gangster films (Miller’s Crossing). There are also neo-noir neo-Western crime thrillers (No Country for Old Men) and American revisionist Westerns (True Grit).

Then there are all the comedic films. The straight comedies (The Hudsucker ProxyHail, Caesar!), the crime comedies (Raising ArizonaThe Big LebowskiO Brother, Where Art Thou?), the black comedy (Burn After Reading), the black comedy thriller (The Ladykillers), the neo-noir black comedy thriller (Fargo), the black dramedy (A Serious Man), the Western comedy-drama anthology (The Ballad of Buster Scruggs), and even a romantic comedy (Intolerable Cruelty).

There’s also Barton Fink, a psychological thriller period piece, and whatever Inside Llewyn Davis is.

Would it surprise you if they made a musical? Or a horror film? Hell, we live in a world where Todd Phillips made a gritty comic book picture— why can’t the Coens?

Their approach has been referred to as genre hybridity and while the subject matter may vary wildly, their distinctive style remains and can be easily identified.

I try to approach my writing the same way.

Virtually all of the advice surrounding how to become a successful writer, particularly online, boils down to this: write about a single topic, become a recognized expert on a niche topic, and build a loyal audience in the process.

I am friendly with people that pay their mortgage by writing online and all of them reached that point by becoming a sage on one topic, whether it is personal finance or music or something else.

While I often romanticize being a full-time writer, I realized long along that I can’t do it. I want to write about whatever interests me in that moment.

Originally, I started writing about hip-hop and, for a time, developed a nice little following. It had been my passion for decades and I had been analyzing the music and the culture since the days of dial-up, so it was a natural progression. I probably could have made it into a career.

The problem was that I couldn’t do it anymore. I got sick of trying to find a new angle to an old topic, particularly if my livelihood didn’t depend on it. Moreover, as so often happens, it passed me by. The landscape changed and I was now expected to give my insights on a topic that I barely recognized, let alone understood?

The name of my website — and Medium publication — is The Passion of Christopher Pierznik because I write things about which I feel passionate — and that extends far beyond sports or music.

So, like Joel and Ethan Coen following up No Country for Old Men with Burn After Reading, I began writing about whatever I wanted.

A few years ago, my oldest daughter watched Sofia the First all the time, so I wrote about it.

I thought what LeBron James did in 2016 was one of the most incredible athletic accomplishments I had ever witnessed, so I wrote about it.

John Adams is a personal hero of mine and I often find that he is unappreciated, particularly in comparison to Thomas Jefferson, so I wrote about it.

I have an emotional attachment to a 1973 pop song, so I wrote about it.

I often make a slow cooker meal on Sundays, so I wrote about it.

I loved Zack Snyder’s DC films and thought he was in the midst of incredible universe building when it was ripped away from him, so I wrote about it.

I’ve written about writing and my career and how my children affect my mental health, as well as the versatility of diners, saying goodbye to my cardropping out of graduate school, and how much I love books.

And, when the mood strikes, I’ll still pen one or two things about hip-hop.

I could have continued writing about only one topic and maybe it would have made me more financially successful or given me a larger platform, but the work would have suffered.

I need to write about whatever it is that gets my creative juices flowing, even if it is completely different from what I normally produce.

After all, it works for the Coens.

Christopher Pierznik is the worst-selling author of nine books that are available in paperback and Kindle. Check out more of his writing at MediumHis work has appeared on XXL, Cuepoint, Business InsiderThe CauldronMedium, Fatherly, Hip Hop Golden Age, and many more. Subscribe to his monthly newsletter or follow him on Facebook or Twitter.


By Christopher Pierznik

Christopher Pierznik is the author of 9 books and has contributed to numerous websites on a variety of topics including music, sports, movies, TV, personal finance, and life. He works in corporate finance and lives in northern New Jersey with his family. His dream is to one day be a member of the Wu-Tang Clan.

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