10 Fun Facts About Burn After Reading

Focus Features
Focus Features

A fired CIA agent, his philandering wife, and a couple of not-so-clever gym employees' lives all come crashing together in Joel and Ethan Coen’s 2008 black comedy. On the 10th anniversary of the film's release, laugh a little bit harder at Burn After Reading knowing these 10 fun facts.

1. IT MARKED JOEL AND ETHAN COEN'S THIRD COLLABORATION WITH GEORGE CLOONEY.

George Clooney and Frances McDormand in 'Burn After Reading' (2008)
Focus Features

In Burn After Reading, George Clooney plays married federal marshal Harry Pfarrer, who's having an affair with Katie Cox (Tilda Swinton), the wife of CIA analyst Osborne Cox (John Malkovich). The film marked Clooney's third collaboration with the Coens. Clooney also starred in 2000’s O Brother Where Art Thou? and 2003’s Intolerable Cruelty. The Coens wrote the role of Pfarrer specifically for him.

2. THE COENS WROTE THE SCREENPLAY FOR BURN AFTER READING AT THE SAME TIME THEY WERE WRITING NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN.

While the Coens' standard practice is to work on one project at a time, they made an exception with Burn After Reading. "We actually wrote this script around the same time we were adapting No Country for Old Men," Joel Coen said. No Country for Old Men would go on to earn them Oscars for Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Director, and Best Picture in 2008.

3. THEY PUT THE ACTORS AHEAD OF THE STORY.

Burn After Reading features many of the Coens' usual players, and in some ways they were thinking about the actors they wanted to work with—and what sort of situations they could put them in—before the finer details of the story itself. “We came up with the idea thinking about different parts we wanted to write for actors that we know—who we thought might be fun to throw together; George Clooney, Richard Jenkins, Frances McDormand, and Brad Pitt, each of whom we know and all of whom we have worked with before, except for Brad," Ethan Coen said. "We thought about a mix of characters, and a story, that might be interesting to see these actors play."

4. THE ROLE OF OSBORNE COX WAS WRITTEN SPECIFICALLY FOR JOHN MALKOVICH.

John Malkovich in 'Burn After Reading' (2008)
Focus Features

Even though they had never worked with Malkovich before, the Coens wrote the lead role with the two-time Oscar nominee in mind.

“Like Brad, John Malkovich is someone we hadn’t worked with before but have wanted to for some time," Joel Coen said. "So we wrote John’s part specifically for him, which was a lot of fun to do.”

5. THE FILM MARKED THE FIRST TIME IN NEARLY 20 YEARS THAT THE COENS DIDN'T WORK WITH THEIR USUAL CINEMATOGRAPHER, ROGER DEAKINS.

Burn After Reading is one of the few films the Coens haven't shot with their longtime cinematographer Roger Deakins, who had already committed to working with Sam Mendes on Revolutionary Road. Instead, they tapped then-four-time Oscar nominee Emmanuel "Chivo" Lubezki as their director of photography for the project.

“Chivo spent a lot of time in New York City for pre-production, and we were able to go to places together and figure out where he would need to hide lights, where I would have to put in something architectural, and so on," production designer Jess Gonchor said. In the years since, Lubezki has been nominated for an additional four Oscars and won three of them. His first win came in 2014 for Alfonso Cuarón's Gravity; he won the next two years as well, for Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) in 2015 and The Revenant in 2016 (both of those for Alejandro G. Iñárritu).

6. FRANCES MCDORMAND'S CHARACTER'S BOB HAIRDO HAD POLITICAL ROOTS.

It was modeled on Clinton/Lewinsky sex scandal whistleblower Linda Tripp—or, more specifically, Tripp's post-makeover hair after she helped usher the scandal into the spotlight.

7. TILDA SWINTON THOUGHT THAT SHE LOOKED LIKE A SIMPSONS CHARACTER.

Tilda Swinton in 'Burn After Reading' (2008)
Focus Features

McDormand's bob wasn't the movie's only statement hairdo. Tilda Swinton's character also had a look that was rather familiar. "Katie has a very rigid hairdo," Swinton said. "Straight, not a wisp of a curl, and a heart-stopping shade of iron-red, if there is such a natural color—which I doubt. I was reminded of Edna Krabappel’s, from The Simpsons.”

8. THE COENS ASKED THE ACTORS TO EMBRACE THEIR "INNER KNUCKLEHEADS."

In preparation for the film, the Coens said they "asked the actors to embrace their inner knucklehead[s]." Joel Coen elaborated: “The story is about middle-aged people, all of whom are undergoing professional, personal, and sexual crises touching on matters of national security. That’s what makes it a Washington tale. The plot concerns the Central Intelligence Agency and the world of physical fitness, and what happens when those two worlds intersect and collide; Internet dating is also in the mix.” Yes, there's a lot going on.

9. THE FILM'S THEATRICAL POSTER IS BASED ON ESPIONAGE THRILLERS FROM THE 1960S.

The typography was modeled after a similar font on the poster for the 1967 film The Comedians.

10. THE THEATRICAL POSTER FOR COMING UP DAISY, THE FICTIONAL MOVIE WITHIN THE MOVIE, SAYS IT WAS BASED ON A BOOK BY CORMAC MCCARTHY.

Brad Pitt, Ethan Coen, and Joel Coen in 'Burn After Reading' (2008)
Focus Features

McCarthy, as you may know, is the author of No Country for Old Men. The small snippets of Coming Up Daisy shown in the film were actually directed by the Coens’ friend and frequent collaborator, Sam Raimi.

8 Haunting Horror Movie Gimmicks

Universal Pictures Home Entertainment
Universal Pictures Home Entertainment

In the 1950s and 1960s, horror movies were making studios huge profits on shoestring budgets. But after the market hit horror overload, directors and studios had to be extra creative to get people to flock to theaters. That's when a flood of different gimmicks were introduced at movie theaters across the country to make a film stand out from the crowd. From hypnotists to life insurance policies and free vomit bags, here's a brief history of some of the most memorable horror movie gimmicks.

1. PSYCHO-RAMA // MY WORLD DIES SCREAMING (1958)

In order to truly become a classic, a horror movie can't just work on the surface; it has to get deep inside of your head. That's what Psycho-Rama tried to achieve when it was first conceived for My World Dies Screaming, later renamed Terror in the Haunted House. Psycho-Rama introduced audiences to subliminal imagery in order to let the scares sink in more than any traditional film could.

Skulls, snakes, ghoulish faces, and the word "Death" would all appear onscreen for a fraction of a second—not long enough for an audience member to consciously notice it, but it was enough to get them uneasy. Obviously Psycho-Rama didn't really catch on with the public or the film industry, but horror directors, like William Friedkin in The Exorcist, have since gone on to use this quick imagery technique to enhance their own movies.

2. FRIGHT INSURANCE // MACABRE (1958)

Director William Castle didn't make a name for himself in the film industry by directing cinematic classics; instead, he relied on shock and schlock to help fill movie theater seats. His movies were full of what audiences craved at the time: horror, gore, terror, suspense, and a heaping helping of camp. But his true genius came from marketing—and the gimmicks he brought to every movie, which have since become legendary among horrorphiles.

His most famous stunt was the life insurance policy he purchased for every member of an audience that paid to see Macabre. This was a real policy backed by Lloyd's of London, so if you died of fright in your seat, your family would receive $1000. Now who wouldn't want to roll the dice on that type of deal? Of course, the policy didn't cover anyone with a preexisting medical condition or an audience member who committed suicide during the screening. Lloyd's had to draw the line somewhere, right?

3. HYPNO-VISTA // HORRORS OF THE BLACK MUSEUM (1959)

How do you make your routine horror movie stand out from the crowd? Hypnotize your audience, of course. Thus Hypno-Vista was born. For this gimmick, James Nicholson, president of American International Pictures, suggested that a lecture by a hypnotist, Dr. Emile Franchel, should precede Horrors of the Black Museum, which had a plot focusing on a hypnotizing killer.

For 13 minutes, Dr. Franchel talked to the audience about the science behind hypnotism, before attempting to hypnotize them himself in order to feel more immersed in the story. Nowadays it comes off as overlong and dry, but it was a gimmick that got people into theaters back in 1959. Plus, writer Herman Cohen said that eventually the lecture had to be removed whenever the movie re-aired on TV because it did, in fact, hypnotize some people.

4. NO LATE ADMISSION // PSYCHO (1960)

Though this isn't the most gimmickiest of gimmicks, Alfred Hitchcock's insistence that no audience member be admitted into Psycho once the movie started got a lot of publicity at the time. The Master of Suspense's reasoning is less about drumming up publicity and more about audience satisfaction, though. Because Janet Leigh gets killed so early into the movie, he didn't want people to miss her part and feel misled by the movie's marketing.

This publicity tactic wasn't completely novel, though, as the groundbreaking French horror movie Les Diaboliques (1955) had a similar policy in place. This was at a time when people would simply stroll into movie screenings whenever they wanted, so to see a director—especially one so masterful at the art of publicity—who was adamant about showing up on time was a great way to pique some interest.

5. FRIGHT BREAK // HOMICIDAL (1961)

Another classic William Castle gimmick was the "fright break" he offered to audience members during his 1961 movie, Homicidal. Here, a timer would appear on the screen just as the film was hurtling toward its gruesome climax. Frightened audience members had 45 seconds to leave the theater and still get a full refund on their ticket. There was a catch, though.

Frightened audience members who decided to take the easy way out were shamed into the "coward's corner," which was a yellow cardboard booth supervised by some poor sap theater employee. Then, they were forced to sign a paper reading "I'm a bona-fide coward," before getting their money back. Obviously, at the risk of such humiliation, most people decided to just grit their teeth and experience the horror on the screen instead.

6. THE PUNISHMENT POLL // MR. SARDONICUS (1961)

The most interactive of William Castle's schlocky horror gimmicks put the fate of the film itself into the hands of the audience. Dubbed the "punishment poll," Castle devised a way to let viewers vote on the fate of the characters in the movie Mr. Sardonicus. Upon entering the theater, people were given a card with a picture of a thumb on it that would glow when a special light was placed on it. "Thumbs up" meant that Mr. Sardonicus would be given mercy, and "thumbs down" meant … well, you get the idea.

Apparently audiences never gave ol' Sardonicus the thumbs up, despite Castle's claims that the happier ending was filmed and ready to go. However, no alternative ending has ever surfaced, leaving many to doubt his claims. Chances are, there was only one way out for Mr. Sardonicus.

7. FREE VOMIT BAGS // MARK OF THE DEVIL (1970)

Horror fans are mostly masochists at heart. They don't want to be entertained—they want to be terrified. So when the folks behind 1970's Mark of the Devil gave out free vomit bags to the audience due to the film's grotesque nature, how could any self-respecting horror fan not be intrigued? It wasn't just the bags that the studio was advertising; it also claimed the film was rated V, for violence—and maybe some vomit?

8. DUO-VISION // WICKED, WICKED (1973)

Duo-Vision was hyped as the new storytelling technique in cinema—offering two times the terror for the price of one ticket. Of course Duo-Vision is just fancy marketing lingo for split-screen, meaning audiences see a film from two completely different perspectives side-by-side. In the 1973 horror film Wicked, Wicked, that meant watching the movie from the points of view of both the killer and his victims.

Seems like a perfect concept for the horror genre, right? Well, Duo-Vision wasn't just employed during the movie's most horrific moments; it was used for the movie's entire 95-minute runtime. The technique had been used sparingly in other films—most notably in Brian De Palma's much better film Sisters (1973)—but it had never been implemented to this extent. A little bit of Duo-Vision apparently goes a long way, because it fell out of favor soon after.

John Carpenter May Be Planning a They Live Sequel

Universal Studios Home Video
Universal Studios Home Video

John Carpenter is one of the horror genre's biggest names. The man behind the original Halloween, The Fog, Escape from New York, and The Thing, ​Carpenter has had a long enough career to see many of his most popular creations be remade, including this year's new Halloween film, which features some of the original actors returning to their iconic roles to continue a decades-long story.

But in a recent interview with ​Den of Geek, when Carpenter was questioned about whether his cult classic They Live might he ripe for revisiting, Carpenter teased: "Well, I’m not gonna tell you about that, because it might be closer to reality than you think."

​They Live, which came out in 1988, featured the late professional wrestler 'Rowdy' Roddy Piper in his signature role as a man who finds a pair of sunglasses that allow him to see the true state of the world and uncover an alien invasion. Like so many of Carpenter's other films, it has continued to amass a cult following in the decades since its release—especially among those viewers who understood and appreciated its underlying political metaphor.

Today's highly divisive political climate makes it a perfect time for a sequel/reboot/reimagining of They Live, and it sounds as if Carpenter might agree.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER