Pulp Fiction Killed Film School

By Michael Schilf · August 4, 2010

I had always loved movies, and when it came to declaring a major in college, I’d be lying if the allure of the Indiana Jones adventuring archeologist didn’t cross my mind, but it wasn’t until Pulp Fiction that I knew movies were my future. Like Tarantino before me, I was going to become an Oscar winning writer/director.

Pulp Fiction undoubtedly was the best film I had ever seen. It had eclectic dialogue, an ironic mix of violence and humor, and a kick ass soundtrack, but most importantly: it was an art film. At least that’s what I thought at the time. How could it not be something Truffaut would be proud of: a nonlinear storyline, with four intertwining stories, using an unconventional structure, out of chronological sequence, with extensive use of conversations and monologues to reveal character, chapter title cards, and a homage to postmodern film, black comedy, and “neo-noir”. And to top it off, Tarantino found a way to make his 8 million dollar art film receive major critical and commercial success: 213 million at the box office worldwide.

So when accepted into USC’s School of Cinematic Arts graduate screenwriting program, I was convinced I was standing on the threshold of my trek toward an Oscar winning, ground breaking, art film of my own.

I was wrong.

Pulp Fiction killed film school. Don ‘t get me wrong. I don’t regret my USC experience – wouldn’t trade it for anything. But the Pulp Fiction high was still going strong in the late ’90s, and somewhere along the way, people seemed to forget that making movies isn’t really about making art. Sure there might be art in it, but the core point of making a movie is to engage and entertain an audience. Period.

Anyone who knows a little bit about art knows Pablo Picasso, and the first thing that probably comes to mind is a painter who broke all the rules: two mouths and three noses on the same side of the face. But Picasso was a student first, and if you looked at his early art out of Madrid’s Royal Academy, he was Rembrandt then, not Picasso.

Tarantino is the same. He first had to learn how to tell a simple linear story so that later he could start breaking some rules. Simply put, Tarantino wouldn’t be “Tarantino” without learning the fundamentals first. But the irony is that if you take Pulp Fiction out of it’s non-linear story structure and recut it chronologically, it still follows the traditional sequence breakdown. So even Tarantino used structure fundamentals to make his “art”. We just couldn’t see it because of all the smoke and mirrors. Nicely done, Quentin. Nicely done.