We are seriously excited for Quentin Tarantino’s new film Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. To tide us over as we wait for the film to open July 26th, The Q&A podcast host Jeff Goldsmith takes us down memory lane with his “lost” 2009 interview with Tarantino about his amazing film Inglourious Basterds.
Listen to the full interview here:
Here’s a breakdown of some the enduring wisdom that Tarantino shares.
DIY Film School
In the late 80s, Tarantino borrowed a 16mm camera from a friend. Originally intending to make a short film, he ended up making the feature My Best Friend’s Birthday that you can watch on YouTube.
“We spent three years shooting on weekends,” says Tarantino. “I’m thinking, ‘I’m making Strangers in Paradise!’”
After three years, Tarantino ended up with quite a lot of footage. Unsure if he had anything substantial that could amount to a movie and dealing with losing some of the footage in a lab fire, he considered ditching the project.
“The lab fire hurt it a lot, but it was also this kind of never-ending Mt. Everest. When I looked at the footage and I didn’t like it, I thought I should abandon it. Then one day I went to the theater and saw Clerks and I thought maybe I shouldn’t abandon it.”
After being depressed for about a month, he was able to bounce back when he realized the stuff he’d shot in the third year was actually pretty good.
“The proudest moment of my life is that I didn’t quit,” he says. “This was my film school. I figured out how to do it on my own,” he says.
The path to Reservoir Dogs…
Most people remember seeing Reservoir Dogs (1992) for the first time and being absolutely blown away by the story, the characters and dialogue. Though Tarantino is highly revered as a filmmaker now, forging a film career was tough in the beginning.
“Right after I wrote True Romance,” says Tarantino, “the coverage at William Morris was just brutal. They ripped it apart! No one was interested in my stuff at all.”
So how did Tarantino get his first big break? A friend helped him out.
“What eventually happened,” says Tarantino, “was my buddy named Scotty Spiegel who wrote Evil Dead 2 had just sold a big script. People were asking him to rewrite their scripts. He was too busy so he told them to call his friend Quentin. Suddenly, I started getting like $4k to do a little dialogue polish on something, then it went up to $6k, then $10k – I made $10k a year working minimum wage. I was now making a living as a writer.”
About a year later, Tarantino directed his first movie. “There’s no bigger leap than actually working at a video store to having a career as a writer. That was the Evel Knieval Snake River canyon leap.”
From The Inglorious Bastards to Kill Bill and back.
Many people know Tarantino has an encyclopedic knowledge of film. One of his favorite films from the 1970s was The Inglorious Bastards.
“I’ve always liked the genre of a bunch of guys on a mission – a war movie. I always thought one of these days I’m going to do my version of The Inglorious Bastards.
He purchased the rights to the original movie, giving him free rein creatively. Maybe too much free rein. Years went by and rumors began that Tarantino had writer’s block.
“I had the opposite of writer’s block – I couldn’t stop writing! The draft was around 300 pages.”
Then he got the idea to make it into a miniseries. But in the early 2000s, miniseries weren’t popular like they are today. Tarantino seemed in over his head but luckily writer/director Luc Besson (The Fifth Element, The Professional) set him straight one night over dinner.
When Tarantino pitched the Inglourious Basterds miniseries to Besson, it didn’t go over well. “You are one of the only filmmakers to make me want to leave the house,” said Besson. “Now I have to wait five years? I’m disappointed.”
For Tarantino, it was a wake-up call. “Every once in a while you hear some sh*t and you can’t f***ing un-hear it. This was one of those times. I turned it into a movie.”
Tarantino became obsessed with the Shosanna character (Melanie Laurent) and initially thought about making her a pulpy, Nazi-killing badass but then he decided that type of character wasn’t right for the film. “I put that aside, and went to make Kill Bill and made The Bride [Uma Thurman’s character] more badass.”
Sticking with a script as a blueprint…
The script for Kill Bill also got unwieldy but things worked out considering they were able to make two films out of what he shot. But he admits he made one of the biggest mistakes a screenwriter can make: turning the screenplay, what most people consider a blueprint for the film, into nearly a novel – something he seems to now regret.
As he was writing Kill Bill, he told himself, “I’m not writing a blueprint, this is literature. I’m not writing for the production manager. I’m writing as much prose as I want – I’ve got interior monologues going on. As I was doing Kill Bill, I realized why people write the blueprint and not the novel. It was like going on set with a novel and adapting it every single solitary day.”
When he returned to working on Inglourious Basterds (the movie), he had a new perspective on Shosanna. He wanted to really connect with her pain, her fear and the reality of her situation. “Now, she isn’t a comic book character. She’s real. She’s a survivor,” said Tarantino.
While it may not surprise you that Tarantino is one of those old-school writers who write screenplays mostly by hand, sometimes on an actual typewriter, it may surprise you that he never writes an outline.
“No outline,” says Tarantino. “I have an idea where I’m going to go with [the script], but it’s really the characters who write the piece. The whole thing is just about letting those characters come alive. They take me, they tell me, they go their own way. I’ve learned that by the time I actually get to the middle of the story, I was wasting my time figuring out what happens on the other side. By the middle, it’s become something so completely different than what I could have imagined.”
What’s your favorite Tarantino movie? Let us know in the comments section below.
Here are more Tarantino scripts to download for free:
Shanee Edwards graduated from UCLA Film School with an MFA in Screenwriting and is currently the film critic for SheKnows.com. She recently won the Next MacGyver television writing competition to create a TV show about a female engineer. Her pilot, Ada and the Machine, is currently in development with America Ferrera’s Take Fountain Productions. You can follow her on Twitter: @ShaneeEdwards