Quentin Tarantino Curated
Hollywood Film Director
CURATED BY :
You have rescued a few acting careers. Do you become invested in those careers, and do you get upset when actors wind up back where they were before you cast them?
Nobody ever really ends up exactly where they were. Maybe they don’t have a resurgence like John Travolta did, where he became a superstar again, making $20 million a movie. That’s obviously the best-case scenario. It would have been nice if Pam Grier had gotten other lead roles in major movies, but the truth is it’s hard for any woman to get lead roles in movies, especially a black woman in her early 50s. She was actually very realistic about that. She was just doing cameos and bit parts in stuff like Escape From L.A. After Jackie Brown, she got that TV show about a bar. And she was in the Jane Campion movie, and on The L Word, which wouldn’t have been the case without Jackie Brown.
What is your earliest childhood memory?
Frankly, my earliest childhood memories are of watching Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein and Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed. I remember not liking Frankenstein then and going, “Who is this bald guy?” But I love it now.
Considering that you direct as well as write your own films, is it ever a problem to adapt your vision to the screen?
Sometimes. But usually, the process is that it gets better because when I’m writing in my bedroom, in a bar, at my kitchen table or wherever I’m conjuring it all up on the page. That’s all well and good, but it is going to be a limited perspective at that point and time. Occasionally, what I write might read really well initially, but then you change your mind while hunting for locations when you discover settings which offer even better opportunities for drama or dramatic staging.
Would you say you found your way into the story of Once Upon a Time in Holywood via Sharon Tate?
That literally is what happened. I think the reason I backed off before is, you don’t know everything at the beginning. You don’t know how it’s all going to work. I knew I wanted to tell the Rick and Cliff story, and I knew I wanted to tell the Sharon story. But I needed to do all the research to know how I was going to do it.
Tate made only a handful of movies before she died. Most people know her only as a “Manson victim.” Your film gives her a new life on-screen, but there has been some criticism that Robbie doesn’t speak enough. How many lines of dialogue does a character need to haunt a movie?
It would have been easy to come up with some kind of story for Sharon, for this film, where there would be more characters for her to talk to in order to move the story along. And the same for Rick and for Cliff. But I had a situation where I thought, We don’t need a story. They’re the story. Let’s just have a day in the life of these characters. And so the idea is that you just follow the three of them as they go about their day. In the case of Sharon, I thought there was something kind of wonderful about this person who lived, who has been defined by the tragedy of her death. Just the idea that she’s driving around and doing errands, doing the kinds of things someone might do in Los Angeles. She’s living her life, which is what, in reality, she didn’t get a chance to do.
You once said you’d stop at 10 films, and you’ve just made No. 9. But why think about retirement at all?
I might have done it to myself to one degree or another by once saying that I only wanted to do 10 movies. But now, everyone’s asking about it. I answer the question and I get blamed for talking about it too much when I’m not the one bringing it up. I don’t have a super-great answer. I guess the idea is nothing lasts forever. I’ve been making movies one way for a while. I’ve built my whole life to do that. I didn’t get married, I didn’t have children. I kind of just set up that this is my time to make movies. I’m very lucky I’ve been able to work at a high level of opportunity that most filmmakers, at least in Hollywood, do not have the luxury of working, and I’ve appreciated it. And now it’s getting to be the end of it. I want to be able to do other things and not have to live on the line like I have for the last 28 years. I don’t feel bad about it. Most directors do not have a 30-year career. I’ve given what I’ve got to work at this level. And to work at another level is not interesting to me. Another level would be, OK, well, now I’m not trying to make each movie the masterpiece of all time. It’ll be fun to work with so-and-so, I’ll do a movie with him. Or, oh, this is a good book, that would make a good movie, so I’ll do that. That’s eventually what starts happening in the third act of a lot of directors’ careers and I would rather not do that. I would rather choose my own ending.
Filmmaking and filmgoing have changed so much since you started. Do you ever worry that younger viewers won’t get all your pop-culture references?
On one hand, it bums me out that they don’t know more than they do. On the other hand, they’re quick—they’re almost too quick to look up everything. Whenever I give my film writing to, like, a millennial to read, they can never get through it because they want to Google every name I mention. I mean, you don’t have to know everybody I’m talking about here. Every film book I ever read, I expected the guy to know more than me. And I’m Mr. Look Up Things, constantly, as I’m watching stuff. Like, OK, what exactly was her filmography, and was this movie before that one? But back when I was just using the Ephraim Katz Film Encyclopedia I knew more, because you had to know it. It wasn’t just, OK, bang, got it. The Ephraim Katz guide, that was our IMDb. The thing that was exciting about that—they hadn’t updated it forever, and then they updated it in the late ‘90s. And I’m in it. I’m like, Oh my God, I’m in the Ephraim Katz Film Encyclopedia! It was like seeing my name on Moses’ tablets.
How did you cast Margot Robbie as Sharon Tate in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood?
I’d seen her in a couple of things and thought, she’s really the only person. Everybody else would be a secondary choice. Then I let some of my friends read the script, and they all said, So you’re casting Margot Robbie, right? And out of the blue I got a letter from her, saying, “I really like your work, and I’d love to work with you sometime.” Literally, I had just finished the script a week and a half earlier.
The film is set in 1969, a great time in Hollywood but also one marked by a truly grim event. Did you have any trepidation about using the Manson murders as a backdrop?
I thought hard about it. You can try it, and maybe you won’t pull it off. Maybe it falls into bad taste, it seems ugly, opportunistic. I was aware of all those things. But that doesn’t mean I didn’t want to try. I knew that if I was going to do this, I had to earn the right to do it at some point in the material. So I risked going for it. And when I did it on the page, I thought I did pull it off. If I’d tried it and wasn’t able to pull it off, then I wouldn’t have made the movie.
Your latest, Once Upon a Time in … Hollywood, like your 1997 movie Jackie Brown, is filled with affection for its characters and for Los Angeles. Do you see any connection between the two films?
I do. In both cases I was creating a Los Angeles of my memory. In this movie, it was the Los Angeles of when I was 6 and 7. It was easy to remember all that stuff. I think of my dad’s Karmann Ghia, which is why Cliff drives a Karmann Ghia. And billboards, and what was on the radio. I remember what shows I was watching, what the cartoons were. The book Jackie Brown was based on [Elmore Leonard’s Rum Punch] was set in Florida. I set it in the South Bay, which is where I grew up in the ’80s, and I wanted to reflect that.
When you have a genre fixed in your mind for your film, how does it affect your writing?
Do you think about the music you're going to use while writing or shooting?
Does the fact that you sometimes repeat the same actor in multiple films (Like Samuel L Jackson) hurt your writing process?
What does your mind go through when you watch your own work?
Has it ever happened that the characters you were developing didn't fit into the genre you wanted for that film?
During the genesis of your script building process, do you focus on the genre, the characters or something else?
What do you do when a scene is not working out while you're writing it?
What is behind the fact that you like writing in chapters like a novelist rather than in a typical screenwriting format?
How do you structure your writing?
While writing a scene, is your focus on the imagery of the scene or how it would sound?
How do you tackle with situations where your actors improvise, but not with respect with what you wish to achieve?
What is your screenwriting process?
One of the common themes of your characters is how they are often pretending — they are hiding something. This goes back to Reservoir Dogs, and this film is full of these types.
It must be an obsession of mine to some degree or another. In movie after movie, characters go undercover as somebody they’re not. But it wasn’t necessarily the intention. I wrote most of these characters for these actors — I called them the Tarantino Superstars. They can handle my material. They can handle my dialogue. It sounds good coming out of their mouths. They understand the rhythms, but also — and this is probably the most important part — they get the jokes. They know when, even when it’s not officially a joke, they know there is a laugh there. But that’s not for everybody. Not every actor is born from that kind of theatricality that is required in my pieces.
Race is a recurring theme in your films. Are you working through your own experiences with race via film?
No, I think me dealing with race in America is one of the things I have to offer to cinema. That is one part of my interest in American society, and so the fact that it bleeds into my work makes perfect sense. In particular, it’s what I have to offer the Western genre, because it’s really not been dealt with [there] in any meaningful way.
You were only 6 years old in the time period of your movie 'Once Upon a Time in Hollywood'. Was this visual depiction of Los Angeles right out of your memory, from hippie culture to the songs playing on car radios right of your childhood?
The whole movie is a memory piece on what LA was like back then. I was 6 and 7 in ’69 and I remember it really well. All that radio, KHJ, that’s what everyone listened to then if you were white. KJLH I think was the black station. Back then, people didn’t switch the dial, they kept it at one station even when the commercials came on. You just talked over a radio that was always loud. The TV was always on or the radio was always on. There was always some kind of media going on all the time. I knew even as a little boy that this hippie youth culture thing was a new thing and shaking the fabric of society a little bit. I had really young parents so they weren’t that divorced from that, but they were still coming from a ’50s perspective by comparison.
When so much can go wrong, between bad reviews to journalists giving up reveals two months before the release of your film, why do you so love premiering in Cannes?
Reveals was an issue, and I’m always hoping it’s not going to get trashed. Oddly enough, I guess the bottom line is, it costs a lot of money to go and when you have the head of marketing and the head of the studio saying, “OK, let’s do it,” then that is a major sign of confidence they have in the movie, in letting the world know. They’re not going to drop a couple million dollars if they don’t think they have the goods. If they don’t think these reviews are going to be good? These are going to be our lead horses that ride our stagecoach into town. We can all be wrong about that, but everyone has to be that confident. Yeah, it is a risk, but that is overshadowed by the fun, especially in a world that seems like is getting less and less and less so.
Your influence is everywhere now. How does it feel to watch other people’s movies and TV shows and see them using your tricks?
That’s great. That means I’m doing my job. I’m a legit filmmaker of my generation who’s leading the pack. Hitchcock saw his techniques done by other people, and that was all great. Spielberg saw his techniques copied — that just means you’re having an impact. Before I ever made a movie, my mission statement was that I wanted to make movies that, if young people saw them, it would make them want to make movies. That is one thing I can definitely say I’ve done.
Are there any franchises you would actually want to direct?
I could have imagined doing the first Scream. The Weinsteins were trying to get Robert Rodriguez to do it. I don’t even think they thought I would be interested. I actually didn’t care for Wes Craven’s direction of it. I thought he was the iron chain attached to its ankle that kept it earthbound and stopped it from going to the moon.
What do you make of the recent glut of superhero movies?
I’ve been reading comic books since I was a kid, and I’ve had my own Marvel Universe obsessions for years. So I don’t really have a problem with the whole superhero thing right now, except I wish I didn’t have to wait until my 50s for this to be the dominant genre. Back in the ’80s, when movies sucked — I saw more movies then than I’d ever seen in my life, and the Hollywood bottom-line product was the worst it had been since the ’50s — that would have been a great time.
What is your take on people watching films on their smartphones?
I can’t even make myself watch a movie on a laptop. I’m old-school. I read the newspaper. I read magazines. I watch the news on television. I watch CNBC a lot.
Are you nostalgic for the ’90s?
I’m not, even though I think the ’90s were a really cool time. It was definitely a cool time for me. But almost like how Bob Dylan had to survive the ’60s so he could be not just considered an artist of the ’60s, I had to survive the ’90s so that when VH1 does their I Love the ’90s thing, they wouldn’t mention me. I think the jury was out about that for a while. But if I am going to be nostalgic about the ’90s, it’s for the lack of everybody being connected to all this technology all the time.
You’ve talked at various times about how, when you’re directing, you like to play your audience like a conductor does an orchestra. As time goes on and audiences become more sophisticated and accustomed to your style, does that become harder?
Frankly, sophisticated audiences are not a problem. Dumb audiences are a problem. But I think audiences are getting more sophisticated — that’s just a product of time. In the ’50s, audiences accepted a level of artifice that the audiences in 1966 would chuckle at. And the audiences of 1978 would chuckle at what the audience of 1966 said was okay, too. The trick is to try to be way ahead of that curve, so they’re not chuckling at your movies 20 years down the line. With Pulp Fiction,people were like, “Wow, I have never seen a movie like that before. A movie can do that?” I don’t think that’s the case anymore. I’m not talking ridiculously over anyone’s head anymore. I think people watched Django and Inglourious Basterds and thought they were really out there, but they got it. They felt themselves on solid ground. And people understand what I’m doing with genre. They’re not befuddled. They don’t think I’m doing it wrong. They get it.
What are some of the action movies which inspired you to make Kill Bill?
How did the concept of 'The Bride' take birth in Kill Bill?
How do you write such riveting conversations between your characters?
Do you put a lot of thought into the way you juxtapose humor and violence?
No more thought than I put into anything else. I love it, I think it’s like a Reese’s Cup, two great tastes that taste great together. I’m not bending over backwards to try and do it, it just kind of happens. And then when it happens, it’s like, “Whoa, that’s great. I got something.”
Did you write to music? Is that something that enters into your writing process?
Oh yeah, yeah, it’s a major part of it, that’s kind of how I write. I’ll write for a while and then I’ll find an appropriate song and in a weird way, the music will keep me in the mood. I find music to define the mood of the movie, the rhythm the movie is going to play in.
Do you think that repetition of a phrase or word in dialogue enhances its power for an audience or detracts from it?
Well, I do that a lot. I like it. I think that in my dialogue there’s a bit of whatever you would call it, a music or poetry, and the repetition of certain words helps give it a beat or a rhythm. It just happens and I just go with it, looking for the rhythm of the scene.
You’ve voiced concern in the past that your own voice, your own dialogue might someday become old hat, that people might grow tired of it. Was that one of the reasons you decided to go with an adaptation rather than an original script for Jackie Brown?
Well, that wasn’t the reason but it does very conveniently serve that purpose. It’s a nice way of kind of holding onto my dialogue, of holding onto my gift and whatever I’ve got to offer. I don’t want people to take me for granted. The things I have to offer I don’t want wasted. When you watch something David Mamet’s written you know you’ve listened to David Mamet dialogue. I want to try and avoid that if I can. I want to try to avoid that as a writer and I want to try to avoid it as a filmmaker. I want people to see my new movie, not my next movie.
Do you think the Hollywood environment is constraining to writers as far as their perspective?
Well, it’s your life and anybody’s life is valid, you know. But to really get to know people and discover humanity, which is what I truly think writers and actors do, you’ve got to be interested in other human beings, you have to be interested in humanity in general, and you have to do some discovering of humanity and different people. In real life, there are no bad guys. Everybody just has their own perspective. I do have sympathy for the devil. To keep pursuing that you need to break out of your environment, whether that is Hollywood or you’re a novelist living in Rhode Island. You gotta go have a conversation with and get to know somebody that makes $10,000 a year. You know, they have a totally different perspective. So that’s the only danger, you’ve gotta work at it, you gotta work at going out and keeping your hand into other people’s lives and not just your own.
Can you think of an example where your perspective at a certain moment really changed the way you approached something?
Well, anything that’s really personal I wouldn’t want to talk about because that’s not what the scene’s about, it’s just underneath it there. But like something more on the surface would be Vince’s whole thing in Pulp Fiction about Amsterdam. I was in Amsterdam for the very first time in my life when I was writing that script and it was kind of blowing my mind. And it was blowing Vince’s mind too, he’d just come back from there too. When I spent time in Amsterdam I was just going there to be by myself, but it worked its way in ’cause that is what I was going through and that was gold.
What’s the relationship between your acting and your writing?
I think they’re almost inseparably married. When I describe things in my writing I never use writing adjectives. I don’t know what a writing adjective is. I always use acting adjectives. To me, writing’s almost the same thing because you’re acting like a character and that’s what acting is all about, the moment. You don’t want to be result-oriented, you don’t want to say, “Okay, this is what’s going to happen.” No, you start with your character and anything can happen, like life. You shouldn’t try to predestine where you’re gonna go and what you’re gonna see. You can hit the nail on the head, but you want the kind of freedom that allows for something you hadn’t even imagined to happen. I’m very much a man of the moment. I can think about an idea for a year, two years, even four years all right, but whatever is going on with me the moment I write is gonna work it’s way into the piece.
How exactly have Elmore Leonard’s books influenced your writing style?
Well, when I was a kid and I first started reading his novels I got really caught up in his characters and the way they talked. As I started reading more and more of his novels it kind of gave me permission to go my way with characters talking around things as opposed to talking about them. He showed me that characters can go off on tangents and those tangents are just as valid as anything else. Like the way real people talk. I think his biggest influence on any of my things was True Romance. Actually, in True Romance I was trying to do my version of an Elmore Leonard novel in script form. I didn’t rip it off, there’s nothing blatant about it, it’s just a feeling you know, and a style I was inspired by more than anything you could point your finger at.
Is Pulp Fiction a better film than Reservoir dogs?
Do you make your films with an audience in mind?
Who has influenced your work the most?
Why do you prefer to write your own scripts?
What are your 3 most favourite movies?
Have you ever tried to write a novel?
What do you think is the problem with Hollywood productions?
Did you always want to become a director or a screenwriter?