EXCLUSIVE: The lack of action at AFM is attributable in part to foreign buyer distraction over the fest’s A+ title, Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight. I am hearing offers are five deep for just about every territory and that the auction will be resolved by week’s end. That means big distributors aren’t focusing on much else. All this began when the director himself strode into a Casa del Mar ballroom filled with buyers late last week. Flanked by Harvey Weinstein and cast members Walton Goggins, Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell and Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tarantino stoked the fires by regaling prospective offshore distributors with his grand plans. All had read most of Tarantino’s shooting script and knew the setup: Eight hate-filled firebrands from the Old West hole up in an establishment to seek shelter from a blizzard. The talk is as tough as the food. Some use harsh language merely to vent, while others come out vented by bullets, and nobody knows who is lying. Tarantino focused on many things in his talk — including a proclamation that he’ll definitely retire after his 10th film — but his main goal was to make offshore distributors his accomplices in a plan to establish The Hateful Eight as such an epic 70 mm effort that it will remind the world why, compared to film, digital projection is like coming to a gunfight with a knife.
“If we do our jobs right by making this film a 70 mm event, we will remind people why this is something you can’t see on television and how this is an experience you can’t have when you watch movies in your apartment, your man cave or your iPhone or iPad,” Tarantino said. “You’ll see 24 frames per second play out, all these wonderfully painted pictures create the illusion of movement. I’m hoping it’s going to stop the momentum of the digital stuff, and that people will hopefully go, ‘Man, that is going to the movies, and that is worth saving, and we need to see more of that.”
I moderated the talk with Tarantino right after he’d finalized a cast that includes Bruce Dern, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, Demian Bichir and Channing Tatum. Goggins, Jackson, Russell and Leigh were aglow from a table read days before in which bounty hunters, confederate generals, lawmen and a lady outlaw trade salty banter that seems headed for the trademark Tarantino violent climax (nobody was shown the film’s last chapter). The big surprise to me was that the inspiration for Tarantino’s first real Western wasn’t some John Wayne, Peckinpah or Clint Eastwood screen classic, but rather the TV series that dominated the 1960s primetime network landscape and provided early jobs for actors that included Russell and Dern.
“It’s less inspired by one Western movie than by Bonanza, The Virginian, High Chaparral,” Tarantino said. “Twice per season, those shows would have an episode where a bunch of outlaws would take the lead characters hostage. They would come to the Ponderosa and hold everybody hostage, or to go Judge Garth’s place — Lee J. Cobb played him — in The Virginian and take hostages. There would be a guest star like David Carradine, Darren McGavin, Claude Akins, Robert Culp, Charles Bronson or James Coburn. I don’t like that storyline in a modern context, but I love it in a Western, where you would pass halfway through the show to find out if they were good or bad guys, and they all had a past that was revealed. “I thought, ‘What if I did a movie starring nothing but those characters? No heroes, no Michael Landons. Just a bunch of nefarious guys in a room, all telling backstories that may or may not be true. Trap those guys together in a room with a blizzard outside, give them guns, and see what happens.’ ”
From the partial script I read, the back and forth between those ornery characters — it was six years after the Civil War, when everybody was pissed about something — has Tarantino’s trademark macho lyricism. After that table reading, it was clear the cast members present were already getting started on each other, and on Tarantino.
After Leigh said how much she sparked to her outlaw character, and how fresh and original Tarantino’s dialogue felt to her, Jackson butted in with a retort that left the room in stitches.
“Not all the dialogue felt that fresh and new to me,” he said. “The first words to my character are, “Howdy, n*gger.’ I feel like some version of this has been said to me before.”
After Tarantino scanned the crowd of buyers, he noted “there are a whole lot of people in this room who helped build my career over 20 years, outside of the last two movies. As good as my films do in America, they do better overseas, and part of that has been how you guys sold Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction and Kill Bill.”
Russell jumped in quickly: “What about Death Proof?”
And when Leigh lamented that Tarantino had brought her into his repertory company just in time to hear he was not far from retiring, both Russell and Jackson opened fire.
“You don’t actually believe that shit, do you?” Russell asked everybody. Added Jackson: “What’s Quentin going to do with himself if he’s not doing this?”
Tarantino said his days would consist of “writing plays and books, going gracefully into my tender years.”
Despite the audience opposition to that notion, Tarantino said he was serious.
“I don’t believe you should stay onstage until people are begging you to get off,” he said. “I like the idea of leaving them wanting a bit more. I do think directing is a young man’s game, and I like the idea of an umbilical cord connection from my first to my last movie. I’m not trying to ridicule anyone who thinks differently, but I want to go out while I’m still hard. … I like that I will leave a 10-film filmography, and so I’ve got two more to go after this. It’s not etched in stone, but that is the plan. If I get to the 10th, do a good job and don’t screw it up, well that sounds like a good way to end the old career. If, later on, I come across a good movie, I won’t not do it just because I said I wouldn’t. But 10 and done, leaving them wanting more — that sounds right.”
Tarantino got serious in speaking about his motives for putting foreign territories up for grabs at AFM after Sony released his previous film Django Unchained overseas and Universal released the one before it, Inglourious Basterds, internationally. “I didn’t want to split it up the way I did the last two movies,” Tarantino said. “Harvey Weinstein wanted the whole damn thing. He said, ‘Quentin, just give me the ball and let me run with it and I’ll go back to all your old friends, the ones who helped build your career.’ We are not simply looking to sell to the highest bidder; this is a very special release, and you know your markets better than we do. Once you hear what we want, and how much we want to push the whole 70 mm thing, we want you to come back and tell us, ‘OK, this is how we think it will work best in Spain, or Scandinavia or Latin America. I was down with that idea. This film needs special attention, and we want your expertise, telling us the best way we can achieve what we want to in each market.”
Several times in the script, shots are described as being depicted in “glorious 70 mm.” That isn’t just lip service, Tarantino said. Christopher Nolan — another film stock proponent who along with Tarantino and a few others persuaded Kodak to keep making more — gave theaters with film capable projectors an exclusive early window to display Interstellar. Tarantino plans to take it even further.
“I know this business has gone digital, even more in foreign countries than in America where it’s 90%,” he said. “Digital presentation is just television in public, we’re all just getting together and watching TV without pointing the remote control at the screen. I have worked 20 years, too long to accept the diminishing results of having it come into theaters with the quality of a f*cking DVD, shot with the same shit they shoot soap operas with. It’s just not good enough for me.
“I thought, ‘How can I make them show [the beauty of] film?’ Well, I can shoot in 70 mm and leave them asking, ‘What’s the point of showing it any other way?’ I had a plan and asked the Weinsteins to tell me how it could be realized. Now that film has become endangered, and the theatrical experience is become more and more a throwaway, what we could do was go back to the ’60s style, when there were big roadshow productions of big films like The Sand Pebbles, Mutiny On The Bounty, Battle Of The Bulge, or It’s A Mad Mad Mad Mad World. There would be an exclusive engagement in 70 mm in a big theater or opera house that would play for a month. It felt like a night at the theater or the symphony. Then they would cut it down and it would show up at the theaters and the drive-ins, near you.”
That is Tarantino’s template.
“We’re doing this 70 mm, and we are trying to create an event,” he said. “I need to know from all of you if this can last a month in your territory in that format, or two weeks. Then we roll it out in 35 and eventually digital. We’re not doing the usual 70 mm, where you shoot 35 mm and blow it up. We’re shooting 65 mm which, when you turn it into a print, is 70 mm. Panavision is not only behind this movie, they look at it as a legacy. They are inventing a lot of the stuff we need, and this is being supervised by my three-time Oscar-winning cinematographer Bob Richardson, who’s back with me after Kill Bill, Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. I couldn’t do this if he wasn’t in my corner. He went to Panavision to check out lenses for this big Sherman Tank of a camera he’ll use. He goes into the warehouse room and sees all these big crazy lenses. He asks, ‘What are those?’ It was the ultra-Panavision lenses that haven’t been used since How The West Was Won, Mutiny On The Bounty, Battle Of The Bulge and It’s A Mad Mad Mad Mad World, which were all bigger than the normal 70 mm. If the normal scope is 235, this is 278, the widest frame possible on film. The projectors need a decoder, an adapter, to blow it out that way. That’s why Mad Mad World, Battle Of The Bulge and Ice Station Zebra look the way they do. The last movie to use these lenses was Khartoum with Charlton Heston and Laurence Olivier. We’re using those lenses for this movie. We’ve been testing them the last month and everything is A-OK. They look amazing. We are literally coming out with the biggest widescreen movie shot in the last 40 years.”
The crowd responded enthusiastically to Tarantino’s grand ambition. To the actors, this was more about a filmmaker and a script good enough for them to endure the cold of the Colorado Rocky Mountains this winter.
“They had an incredibly wet summer, so we should have an incredibly snowy winter,” Tarantino enthused. “Should be deep snow, the Rockies right behind us, and part of the idea for shooting it out there is that cold makes for misery.” Turning to Jackson, he said: “I want to see a little misery in this man’s eyes. Every line of dialogue, I want it to be punctuated by hot breath.”
The cast sounded game, though Russell noted that the camera always froze up in his last tundra experience on The Thing. Leigh said an outlaw character she loved more than life would sustain her through the cold, and Jackson and Goggins said they were up for anything Tarantino can throw at them.
“I’d rather shoot in the tropics, but when I did Long Kiss Goodnight, the average temperature in the heat of the day was -37 degrees,” he said. “I’ve spent 4 1/2 months in the cold before.”
Goggins, not an ounce of fat on him from filming the swan song of his Boyd Crowder character in the final season of FX’s Justified, said he would have to gain some weight to withstand the cold. But he’d do anything Tarantino asked of him.
“That’s the fire inside, and Quentin’s the kind of general you follow anywhere and provide whatever he demands of you,” Goggins said. “On Django Unchained, it was hot, hot, hot in New Orleans, sitting on a horse for 14 hours a day. You sign on for a Quentin Tarantino movie, you’re in with the best and you expect to be put in extreme conditions, physically and psychologically. Game on.”
Jackson and the others indicated that the key temperature is the one they began to achieve at the table read, where good actors first collided over strong dialogue that has the chance to be memorable when so little these days is.
“Movies tend to be a show-me process, and you read a lot of what you’re going to do — running, diving, looking this way or that,” Jackson said. “When you get a Tarantino script, you get dialogue that expresses who you are, how you feel about things and how others feel, and you develop relationships in the midst of all that. You get to say some pretty interesting and dynamic things. I’ve always loved a monologue. I’m one of those ‘look at me’ people. When I did plays, my only regret was I couldn’t watch those plays with me in them. I’m not one of those actors who say, ‘Oh, I can’t stand to watch myself.’ Bullshit. I love watching myself, and I really love watching myself in Quentin Tarantino movies. When I’m at home, flipping channels and I come across a Quentin film I’m in, I’m stopping to watch. I appreciate him for that.
“I’ve missed doing monologues and especially with him because he loves it so much,” Jackson continued. “We’ve had to stop and yell ‘cut,’ because he’s laughing over my motherfu*king lines. He’ll be making some noise, and I’ll be like, [voice goes high] ‘What’s up, motherfu*ker?’ He has a Shakespearean literary prowess tapered for the cinema. He writes what we want to say and what people in the audience want to hear. It’s a real blessing to have said a lot of the things that he’s written. People can go through their careers and nobody remembers one line they’ve said. There’s not a day goes by that I don’t see someone on the street, feeding some Quentin Tarantino line back at me. That is the sign that something’s going to last.”