Intellectual Property of Film: The Coen Brothers

Filmakers Ethan Coen, left and Joel Coen, pose for a portrait while promoting their new movie "No Country For Old Men," at the Four Seasons Hotel in Los Angeles, Sunday, Nov. 4, 2007. (AP Photo/Stefano Paltera)

Few filmmakers have successfully written, directed and produced such a vast variety of movies as Joel and Ethan Coen, famously referred to as The Coen Brothers. Their creation and acquisition of intellectual property for film has been characterized as “genre-busting,” as they have covered everything from comedy to drama, romance to thriller, and everything in between (Callaghan, n.d.). The brothers’ success led them to launch their own production company, Mike Zoss Productions, which has produced twelve movies since 2000 (Internet Movie Database, n.d.).


The Coen Brothers founded Mike Zoss Productions in 1985, naming it after Mike Zoss Drugs in Minneapolis, their favorite place to spend time as children (Friedman, 2014). The first film produced by the company was Oh Brother, Where Art Thou? in 2000. This same year, the brothers decided to move their small basement office to a bigger office space located in Tribeca, New York City. The two men share the space with each other as well as one assistant, who raised the number of employees to three at the office (Netburn and McCeveran, 2001). Many, but not all, of the brothers’ creations from Oh Brother, Where Art Thou? forward have been produced by Mike Zoss Productions. The company continues to perform entertainment services for the motion film and television industries today (, n.d.).


The most obvious and vital assets of Mike Zoss Productions are the Coen brothers themselves. Joel and Ethan Coen have built the company with their own talent, whether it is their writing, direction, production, or all three. Additionally, Mike Zoss Productions holds well-known and popular movie titles under its belt, including True Grit, No Country for Old Men, and O Brother, Where Art Thou? (Internet Movie Database, n.d.).

Mike Zoss Productions produced the popular movie True Grit, written and directed by the Coen Brothers.

Business Model

Mike Zoss Productions is an independent film production firm involved with creating and acquiring intellectual property, as well as hiring the right people to successfully mold its ideas into movies. Additionally, the company regulates the timeliness of the process and manages its project’s budget. One can derive an idea for a film anywhere, but at Mike Zoss Productions, the ideas are typically sourced from its founders, Joel and Ethan Coen. While the brothers often create ideas for Mike Zoss Productions, the company still has a long way to go before the content is ready to be sold to a distribution firm.

Screenwriters such as Joel and Ethan Coen create the scenes and dialogue for a film. While some screenwriters have talent agents to connect them to production firms, the Coen brothers have their own Mike Zoss Productions. With their own production company, they do not need to worry about linking with firms, handing over their script, and agreeing on a percentage of the creators’ revenue (Turow, 2014, pp. 346). However, the brothers have been credited as screenwriters for a few recent and successful films that were not produced by Mike Zoss Productions, including Unbroken and Bridge of Spies. In these cases, they have performed for-hire work on other screenwriter’s scripts. These writers recognized and desired some of the brothers’ stylistic and signature touches (Calia, 2015).

The industry is very competitive, and the Coen Brothers compete with other quirky production companies and screenwriters. Because of the competition, it is effective for the duo to have their own production company, ensuring that the brothers have control over whether or not to make their ideas into films. After finishing a script, the brothers essentially sell their work to themselves. As a result, they transform their positions as screenwriters to production executives of their company. They fix their own scripts and eventually green light the projects after concluding that they will succeed. The company then needs to find the talent it needs to make the brothers’ visions into realities (Turow, 2014, pp. 347).

Mike Zoss Productions has also acquired one script, Bad Santa, which was not written by the brothers. In this case, screenwriters Glenn Ficarra and John Requa pitched their script to Mike Zoss Productions, and the company decided to green light the project. The Coen brothers have written all other films produced by the company, with the exception of a few unscripted documentaries (Internet Movie Database, n.d.).

Revenue Model

Joel and Ethan Coen do not make their money in the same fashion as other screenwriters. Most screenwriters make their revenue by selling their pitch, writing treatments, and eventually writing a full script for a producer. Some screenwriters write scripts on spec, simply hoping a production firm will bid for it. However, since the brothers essentially sell their own scripts to themselves, they make their profit in their duties as a production company. After Mike Zoss Productions creates or acquires an idea, packages the material, gathers the talent, and funds its project, it needs to make money off of its content. In order to do this, the company sells distribution rights (Turow, 2014, pp. 346-9). Therefore, the Coen Brothers must ensure that when they create or acquire intellectual property, they also consider how marketable their idea and finished product will be to distributors.

Plans for the Future

It is difficult to know exactly what is next for the Coen Brothers. It is likely that they are currently working on their next big project, but they have kept this information hidden from the public. This does not stop numerous rumors from circulating. According to Cinema Blend, the Coen Brothers are now attached to adapt a script from the 1960s crime novel, Ross MacDonald’s Black Money. This same source claims that there is also a possibility they will direct this project (Eisenberg, 2015). Additionally, in an interview with Variety, the brothers shared that they will make a sequel to Barton Fink eventually, but did not reveal when they would put this plan into action (Setoodeh, 2016). Nevertheless, the only people to know what is truly next on the brothers’ agenda are the Coen Brothers themselves.


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Callaghan, D. (n.d.). Falling into Darkness. Retrieved February 1, 2016, from

Eisenberg, E. (2015, August 9). The Coen Brothers May Have Found Their Next Movie. Retrieved February 2, 2016, from

Friedman, N. (2014, February 18). And the Oscar for Best Production-Company Name Goes to. Retrieved January 31, 2016, from

Garon, J. M. (2009, August). Film Financing and Distribution Deals. Retrieved February 7, 2016, from

Internet Movie Database. (n.d.). Mike Zoss Productions [us]. Retrieved February 2, 2016, from

Levine, J. (2000). The Coen Brothers: The Story of Two American Filmmakers. Toronto, Ontario: ECW Press.

Mentel, T. (2016, February 6). 7 Coen Brothers Movies Critics Loved: Have You Seen Them? Retrieved February 7, 2016, from

Netburn, D & McGeveran, T. (2001, February 26). Coen Brothers Join Harvey and Co., Buying Quirky Tribeca Office. Retrieved February 2, 2016, from

Setoodeh, R. (2016, February 3). The Coen Brothers Will Never Make A Sequel to ‘The Big Lebowski.’ Retrieved February 5, 2016, from

Sundance Institute. (2015, July 15). Sundance Institute Selects Projects and Panelists for Creative Film Producing Labs and Summit, July 27-August 3. Retrieved February 5, 2016, from (n.d.). Mike Zoss Productions Inc. Retrieved February 5, 2016, from

Turow, J. (2014). The Movie Industry. In E. Wetter (Ed. 5), Media Today: Mass Communication in a Converging World (pp. 335-363). New York, NY: Routledge.

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