EXCLUSIVE: The production design of ‘True Grit’ (clip)

Posted by · 8:37 am · January 18th, 2011

A month ago we offered a week-long series of in-depth interviews with the below-the-line talent of Joel and Ethan Coen’s “True Grit.” One of them was a conversation with production designer Jess Gonchor, who is featured heavily in this brief featurette on the film’s design, provided exclusively to us by Paramount Pictures:

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17 responses so far

  • 1 1-18-2011 at 9:09 am

    Maxim said...

    How ironic is it that the most financially successful film of Coens’ career’s advertises the very thing their most criticially acclaimed film din’t have? I’m talking about the inevitability of “Retribution”.

    I finally saw “True Grit” last night and came away suprised and impressed.

    I don’t really understand why I fell into Kris’s “the film is suprisingly straightforward, stripped down with few directorial flourishes” rhetoric. I am equally suprised he felt that way.

    I was realy beginning to expect a straughtworward and oldfashioned western aimed at faimilies. It turned out to be anything but, and I was initialy taken aback by how different it turned out to be.

    I think the movie had a very strong sense of style throughout almost to a point were its directorial presence eclipsed the actors’ perfomances. The atmosphere was palpable. And unique. I didn’t expect this sense of potential violence and mercilessness. It’s a pretty grim film.

    What impressed me the most about the film was, not just what people said but how they talked to each other. The timing, mutual acknoledgment, convicition in charactrer’s voices and non-verbal parts of ther communications all felt very stylized and realistic in equal measure.
    This single aspect was to me a lot closer to what you would see in an older war film than a western. If you will pardon the pun, the movie brought real sense of grit that I didn’t see before.

    I have never seen a western where characters communicated quite like that and that is the single most memorable aspect to me. I was also really impressed by Barry Pepper and the coward Josh Brolin. Great perfomances. Also, love the prosecutor in the court scene.

    My only criticism is that the film gave a little too many lines to Bridges and the film felt a little rushed towards the end (mainly due to one or two jarring transitions in an otherwise terrificly edited film). Another thing, and I am not sure if it’s a criticism, but, as odd as it may sound, True Grit seems to tread a similar thematic territory to No Contry, only as related to a much younger protagonist.

    And having finally seen the film, I am kind of bummed Coens missed DGA and ACE nods. I think theirs is my favorite directorial work of the year.

  • 2 1-18-2011 at 9:46 am

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    What you just described is not a style exercise. So many people think the language (which is Portis’s) makes it “stylized.”

    The way the film is shot and put together is entirely straightforward and classic Mann/Boetticher/Ford.

  • 3 1-18-2011 at 10:10 am

    Maxim said...

    “What you just described is not a style exercise. So many people think the language (which is Portis’s) makes it “stylized.”

    Kris, I think you misundersood what I meant. I wasn’t talking about the dialog at all. In fact I was careful to make it explicit here:

    “What impressed me the most about the film was, not just what people said but how they talked to each other. The timing, mutual acknoledgment, convicition in charactrer’s voices and non-verbal parts of ther communications ”

    And while I chose to concentrate on the spoken aspects of the movie that doesn’t mean I have overlooked how the scenes were put together and shot. It’s just my subjective opinion of course but the film seemed as deliberate, stylized, and complicated as No Country.

  • 4 1-18-2011 at 12:03 pm

    Maxim said...

    I hope that explains my position a little better.

  • 5 1-18-2011 at 12:06 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    It explains it a little better. I still disagree, though. And I’ll quote Joel Coen:

    “There’s something very straight ahead about it, in terms of its value as entertainment, in terms of it kind of fitting into this adventure story genre. You don’t want to comment on that. You just want to do it.”

  • 6 1-18-2011 at 12:08 pm

    Speaking English said...

    Watching it does not feel like watching a Coen brothers film, but as you step back from it and let it marinate it sort of oddly… does. Little moments like the hanged man, the “bear” doctor, that haunting ending – they stick with you, and it becomes something more than it initially felt.

    And of course, it turns out those two scenes were added in by the Coen brothers themselves. Go figure.

    Great piece on the art direction as well.

  • 7 1-18-2011 at 12:19 pm

    Maxim said...

    I don’t know if that quote by Joel really contradicts what I am saying (and, by the way, never take what they are saying at face value – they’ll get you to think this wasn’t a western at all – and I think neither of us really believes that). I think there is a difference between something being straight ahead and straightforward. Just like I wouldn’t confuse the linearity of the storyline (which they, imo, did their best to make to appear more complicated) and the story being simple.

    I actually tend to think that the movie is packed with visual flourishes and I don’t believe that the names you brought up necessarily represent the kind of straightforwardness you talked about.

    Think about this: there had been a few post-Ford/Mann westerns. How many of those are actually more stylistic or, I don’t know, auteristic then this one?

  • 8 1-18-2011 at 12:22 pm

    Maxim said...

    “Watching it does not feel like watching a Coen brothers film”

    It’s really odd for me to read so many people have this type of a response. I don’t know if it’s due to the period costumes/setting or the fact that the movie isn’t as hyper as some of their 90s work, but to me, this movie is Coenesque through and through. It hepls if you’d seen “Blood Simple”, I guess.

  • 9 1-18-2011 at 12:45 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    The bear doctor was in the book, English.

  • 10 1-18-2011 at 12:49 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Maxim: Then I guess you have a completely different take on Ford, Boetticher and Mann than the rest of the world. It’s not like I’m saying they weren’t artful, but there is a simplicity of grace that is inarguable, and the Coens, consciously or not, tapped into that for True Grit.

    Also, I’ve seen Blood Simple (which has no real point in the conversation), and I still think, formally, True Grit does not have a lot in common with the Coens’ work. Thematically, absolutely. But once again, I’m talking about the formal aspects of the film, while you seem to be arguing other elements.

  • 11 1-18-2011 at 1:13 pm

    Maxim said...

    You know, throughout this whole conversation I was trying to understand how much of our apparent disagreement is due to the fact that we put different meaning into the words like simple and straight forward. I now think that there is more to it then that.

    I certainly won’t argue that they haven’t followed some very old conventions and tapped into the common western mythos.Or that there aren’t shots that strive for nothing more than a particulae type of grace (even if it’s nearly always marred by something else) It’s just that after listening to all of your True Grit related interviews you’ve done (and I heard/read all of them) I formed an impression that this was going to be if not an entirely anonymous than a largely reserved and convervative effort. And I was ok with that.

    The point I’ve been trying to make throughout is that I didn’t feel any of it. I don’t think the movie was that convervative, in particular in it’s choice of the camera angles. Actually, if anything it’s the Jeff Bridges’s character that could have been done more with but the rest, makes this movie quite unlike any western I’ve seen. Maybe it’s the fact that compared to the previous version of True Grit this seems so much more thoughtout – that makes it seem so different to me – but I really don’t see it as the kind of reserved, measured piece I thought it was going to be.

    It might be hard to explain why I brought up “Blood Simple” but, to me it’s the closest point of reference to “True Grit” out of all of their oeuvre, in terms of tone.

  • 12 1-18-2011 at 1:37 pm

    Andrej said...

    Very impressive. The way they draped the electricity poles with tree bark is pretty damn ingenious, and the overall attention to detail this movie has is stunning. ☺

    I was pleasantly surprised when I saw True Grit. I had low/indifferent expectations, but I ended up enjoying it more than I had expected, though I liked more their previous movie, A Serious Man.

  • 13 1-18-2011 at 1:39 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    All fair enough, Maxim.

  • 14 1-18-2011 at 3:05 pm

    Speaking English said...

    ***The bear doctor was in the book, English.***

    Oh, huh. Don’t know why I thought the Coens invented it. Either way, that scene in particular well utilizes some offbeat Coen-esque humor.

  • 15 1-18-2011 at 3:34 pm

    JJ1 said...

    I thought the production design was lovely. Impeccable, actually. And I hope it gets nominated.

    On it feeling like or not feeling like a Coens film:

    Many of the shots (editing, cinematography) felt classic Western. The dialogue, itself, is what it is (straight from the book).

    But if pressed (without knowing who the directors were prior), due to the cadence with which the dialogue was said & conveyed, it felt somewhat Coen-esque to me.

  • 16 1-19-2011 at 6:57 am

    DylanS said...

    I also don’t see it as all that straightforward. The characterizations are 100% Coen Bros. There’s no typical leading man in the film. Jeff Bridges is sloppy-drunk most of the time. Matt Damon is playing an overly self-assured character who, in the end, is kind of a dork, and what can I even say about how the trailer and his past performances missleads the expectations of Brolin’s character.