Since Reservoir Dogs announced Quentin Tarantino as a wunderkind writer/director almost 24 years ago, he has gotten to make films with as much control as any final cut director and is therefore insulated from controversy until release. The exception has been The Hateful Eight’s twists and turns that included his script leaking, and continued all the way up to the challenge of praying old projectors would work so his film could play in grand 70mm. As awards season gets serious and voters decide which of many worthy films will compete for Best Picture gold, Tarantino took a few moments to look back on a wild journey. He has chosen to embrace the hard road, including weather, that has become a media narrative of the film. The sum total, he said is a movie making experience more satisfying than any since Kill Bill.
DEADLINE: You wrote a first draft script, shelved the project when it leaked after you circulated it among a small group of actors and producers; you sued when the first draft was published online; staged a live reading benefit that reignited your passion; shot in 70mm and got Weinstein Company distribution head Erik Lomas to scour the world for obscure film projector parts. There was the threatened boycott from the cops, and now your movie is in release. Is this the wildest ride of any movie you’ve made?
TARANTINO: When you describe it like that…you remember in Slap Shot, when the killer goon team shows up to play the Charlestown Chiefs, and one player after another is introduced and then there’s the killer Ogie Ogelthorpe, who gets a whole introduction that just sounded like the one you just gave me! [Assumes a broadcaster’s intonation] ‘Oh, this young man has had a very trying rookie season. What with the litigation, the notoriety, his subsequent deportation to Canada and that country’s refusal to accept him, well I guess that’s more than most 21 year olds can handle.’ I thought I was just making a movie, so I guess hadn’t thought of the journey that way, though there have been wild things that have happened along the way that were like, oh wow, I didn’t expect that. Especially when it comes to that cop stuff. I always have fun making my movies, but this was the most fun I had making a movie, since Kill Bill.
TARANTINO: Different reasons I’m now beginning to contemplate now that I have more perspective. I’d never say, oh, my script is so fantastic, but I will say that me and the actors had a lot of confidence in the material, and we were really excited to show up there and do it every day. There was something about this, and I felt it when I did Reservoir Dogs, and when I was in the French farmhouse and the basement tavern in Inglourious Basterds, or at the dinner table with Django Unchained. When you’ve got a big piece of material and you’re on one set for a long period of time, and you’re not thinking you have three days to do this before you race to another location for four days, you just get to be there and totally in it, working with actors who really know the material. It was a joy. The joker in the deck was the way we had to hop around to deal with the weather. Even that ended up being exciting in its own right. While we had rehearsed the material, and got it down, we never knew what the weather was going to be any more than three days in advance. There were three different weather patterns in any given week. If it was snowing, we were out on the hill, and little by little chewing away through the falling snow scenes. It if was overcast, or foggy, we were in the stagecoach. If it was sunny and that was fuc*ing us, we were in Minnie’s Haberdashery, creating snow outside. So the idea of starting a scene and emotionally taking it till its very end, that was all gone. We would shoot that gorgeous opening scene where Sam Jackson was being interrogated by Kurt Russell’s John Ruth character. So the first side we would do is from Sam’s side, after we waited for snow and got it and it looked great. But it wasn’t going to be until another two and a half weeks passed before I could shoot that scene from the other side, because I didn’t have the snow. But that turned out actually to be kind of cool, to work a different way.
DEADLINE: Whether it was the script coming back to life after the star studded reading, or what you just described, how much of the unplanned drama helped the finished film?
TARANTINO: I was so upset by the leak of the first draft because I wanted to write this differently than I had the past few films. I wanted not to try putting it in one big massive draft and be done when I got to the end. I wanted to write it, three different times. I wanted that first draft to be really embryonic; the ending wasn’t meant to be the end, it was an end. The Lincoln Letter was brought up once, and that was it. I knew I wanted to do more with the letter, but I wasn’t ready and I didn’t have to be. Ideas like that Lincoln Letter I wanted to be able to expand. The second draft I wanted to get closer and I thought by the third draft, I would know how I wanted to end it all. That’s exactly what I did, even leaving a little bit open on the day we shot that ending. [Walton Goggins] was not supposed to read the letter, out loud at least. And then I was like, why not read it out loud? And if that isn’t the best ending of one of my movies, it was up there.
DEADLINE: So that flourish sprung into your mind as you were shooting?
TARANTINO: It was the extra ingredient I wanted to leave for that day. By the second draft, it was brought up at the dinner table, and by the third draft, it was with two gentlemen at the end. On the day, I decided we needed to hear it, for the first time.
DEADLINE: There have been press narratives about the adversity of The Hateful Eight and The Revenant, and as everybody wonders what constitutes a Best Picture candidate, I recall you putting a ticking clock on your retirement by saying that with the exception of a few like Ridley and Tony Scott and Martin Scorsese, directors repeat themselves and you wanted out before it was impossible that your next movie could be your masterpiece. How does this movie fit that high bar you set, where it makes you feel that your next film after this could be your masterpiece?
TARANTINO: Wow, big question. I’m shy about saying my real answer. I don’t want to sound self aggrandizing. I’m crazy, gaga, eyes popping out of my head happy with this film. It’s everything I could have ever hoped it could be. I truly love it. It is what it is and I adore that about it. It has been amazing, going around the country to watch how it plays. Before I go off to Australia, I’m going to go and see some of the digital screenings of the multiplex cut. I want to watch with an audience that is paying to see the show. I was touched on Christmas Day and when I went to see it at the Del Amo Mall in Torrance, where I’m from, and where I shot a big section of Jackie Brown amd where for posterity I captured the mall I remembered when I worked there, including a giant exposition scene at the food court. Max Cherry actually goes to see a movie at the UA Del Amo, the theater I grew up in and did you know when you see him leaving the movie theater, the music playing is the closing credits of Jackie Brown? He went to the movies and saw Jackie Brown, and then came out and bumped into Jackie Brown, in the food court. I got lost in reverie for a moment by my point is, I went to the Del Amo to watch the second half of the 11 o clock show. I watched the last chapter play. It was real dark when I got there and I couldn’t see anything and then there was a closeup of Sam Jackson and his white sleeve, and it lit up the theater and I went, holy shit, it’s sold out. On Christmas Day. I went outside and hung by the Johnny Rockets and watched the people come out. They were hanging onto their programs and I could see they really liked the film. I was surprised how touched I was, to see people heading out to their cars and clutching their Hateful Eight programs.
Then I went and saw the film play in Portland at the Hollywood Theater, this beautiful old theater. The guy who runs that place, Dan Halsted, he has a lot of cool film prints I borrow and show at the New Beverly and I send him my prints but we never actually met before. I did the same with Tim League at The Ritz in Austin. This was all a blast. I saw it at Odeon Leicester Square in London and it looked fantastic there. I do this in Europe with all my films but I haven’t traveled the country before, in different states. Usually on the opening weekend of my films, I spend it driving around different venues in Los Angeles.
DEADLINE: Most of the movie crowd spent the holiday at a beach or ski slope…
TARANTINO: When your movie opens Christmas Day and you don’t have a family…it’s Christmas, but hey, your movie opened. As far as the barnstorming, I don’t think I’m doing as much as I promised The Weinsteins I would. But I think we’re going to have an incredibly strong three week run in 70mm and if we get lucky and get some Oscar nominations, we’ll keep the 70mm going in Los Angeles, the entire time. The movie will play in 35 at the New Beverly for the next two months. We’ll turn it into a double feature at some point. I’m still putting it together, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a double bill with The Hateful Eight and The Thing.
DEADLINE: Part of the back story has been getting old projects to work, and that some haven’t…
TARANTINO: I don’t want to come off griping all the time, but I was a little pissed at the industry coverage of a couple of the projection snafus that happened over the opening Hollywood weekend. You could have taken those exact articles, put a different spin on them and said that was a magnificent success, based on how much went right. It happened to me so I’m a bit touchy about it, but I was like, man, what’s wrong with this industry, with this negativity? We did something kind of amazing here and you’d think the impulse would be to cheer it on.
DEADLINE; I was at that first screening in New York, where the projector started and then stopped, and then we were entertained by Kurt Russell and Walton Goggins and producer Stacey Sher for an hour while the projectionist fixed it.
TARANTINO: Oh, you were there? I heard that turned out to be a pretty fantastic screening.
DEADLINE: Russell, Goggins and Sher were very animated, talking about making the movie and answering every question. Kurt has run out of things to say and while he answered a question about which of his other movie characters Snake Plissken could beat in a fight, the film started.
TARANTINO: Something happened where the platter system plate wasn’t generating the power it needed to rotate, at that screening. So what happened in the last 30 or 40 minutes of the film, people manually rotated the platter. And it worked. This projection team said, we can fix this, but we can’t fix it now and these people deserve a show. So they just hunkered down and found a way. To me, that’s a heroic story. It wasn’t about pushing a button. Those projectionists were proud of what they did, that the show went on. There was something so grand about the entire experiment. I was with Harvey three days before we opened 70mm in 100 locations, and there was literally this feeling I never felt before. Okay, now is the point where we cross our fingers and see if this works. If half of them screw up, well okay then, this didn’t work. We will have embarrassingly failed. What ended up happening was fantastic, to me. It was a drag the way it was covered. Every three years i make a movie and something changes a little bit. Now, I think if you have a negative headline, people will click on your article. I’m not used to this click bait journalism.
DEADLINE: It is certainly one of two ways to look at adversity.
TARANTINO: Well, the more you are trying to, frankly, “put on the show,” the more you are putting on your shoulders, and the more than can go wrong, but that’s what makes it special. I think there’s something cool about it. You know, I don’t feel any competition with The Revenant, for example. I feel that if you’re inclined to see The Revenant or you’re inclined to see The Hateful Eight, you’re going to see them both.
DEADLINE: Both had hard roads, but they are audacious and risky and sometimes those are the ones that reflect well over time.
TARANTINO: One of the things you asked, how do you think this fits as a significant effort…I think The Hateful Eight is a literary piece of work. I think it might be my best script. And consequently, I think it might be my best directing of my own material. That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s my best movie, I’m not saying that. If the one you like is Kill Bill, or if it’s Pulp Fiction, then who’s to argue? But I think this was a case where I was lucky enough to work with the right actors, who really knew the material and who were there for all the right reasons, and I’ve been doing this 20 years now and there was an ease in directing these actors in this material inside of that stage that was just…fun. Until we had to lose people, because I had to shoot them out. It was pretty stress free.
DEADLINE: Might that be a reason to not retire, if you are improving with each film? When I asked Ridley Scott about your retirement rationale, he personalized where it went wrong for him. He basically said, what else am I going to do, walk the dog all day? I’ll walk the dog in the morning, and then head to the set. His work keeps him alive and vibrant, he said.
TARANTINO: [Laughs]. Well, I don’t really expound on these theories when I’m sitting next to Ridley Scott. Whenever it’s brought up and I’m sitting next to him, I give it as short shrift as possible. I don’t pontificate.
DEADLINE: He certainly pushed the envelope on The Martian, as you have done. Is there anything more gratifying?
TARANTINO: One of the things about The Revanant and The Hateful Eight is they are both throw backs to the big picture, road show kind of thing. That film also opened exclusively, and for good reason. Their thing is this big visual look, and they’re giving you this big experience and they’re saying, you need to see this in the theater. And in both cases, what we both were trying to capture was the most difficult thing to do. That anxiety, and the fact that both of these were so difficult, that was always part of the big picture. One of the movies I watched before I did The Hateful Eight was The Sand Pebbles. I had a big roadshow print of it and watched it. I noticed every time I watched it I noticed on the ocean there were these Junks, these small Chinese boats, and they were always there. They never take a break but you can see it’s not random or they are just catching traffic. It lends an authentic and visually stimulating look but they have to set it up that way, every take. I remembered Vittorio Storaro and Francis Ford Coppola talking about Apocalypse Now and how, once they got to Robert Duvall’s place in the picture when they took over that village and created that visual calliope with the helicopters flying around, that they had to have helicopters in the sky anytime they shot footage during the Robert Duvall section. Or else the whole thing died. They created this chaotic ambiance that was powerful and strong, and then they couldn’t stop it. It was what it was, and it built on itself and needed to be there all the time. Someone could say well, we can’t do that. But then you’re making a lesser movie. Or you can recognize even though it’s a pain in the ass to do this every time you roll film, you’re either doing it the right way, or you’re not. And that’s what I realized, going into the movie, what shooting in the snow was going to be. I could either commit to that, or else we’d be fuc*ing around. And I didn’t come to shoot 70 mm and going all the way up there to fu*k around.
DEADLINE: There’s talk you might do a stage version of The Hateful Eight and speculation you might play with the horror genre for one of your final films. But is this 70 mm experiment something you’re determined to do again, or can Erik Lomas put all those projectors and parts on eBay?
TARANTINO: [Laughs] Oh, no. I would love to shoot in 70mm again. I’m not sure what the next thing I’m going to do it and I guess it’s possible I might come up with something that the format would be totally inappropriate for. That’s possible. Having said that, it will be interesting to see how it all plays out. What I love is that it makes an effort to ensure that The Hateful Eight is shown on film and projected that way and if you’re going to go to the trouble of shooting on 70, that they’re going to go to the trouble of presenting it that way. This is a big, big, big version of that. Maybe we could do a bigger version. Or maybe smaller, depending on the movie. I love the force of commitment that it has in the way the movie is being shown. Frankly, what I hope is that our Roadshow is so successful—and in its first week, it couldn’t have been any more successful unless we’d been in bigger theaters—is that it becomes this boutique thing. If you’re shooting a big movie, then you might as well shoot in 70mm and then you will have this special engagement, before it opens, where it’s a big deal and you get your program and that’s the reason why you go to the movies. That would be awesome and that’s what I would love to see happen.
A lot of people have gone out to see the 70mm, but a lot more came out just to see the movie. You can sit here and try to describe the difference between digital projection and 70mm, but then it’s something special when they go to a theater that’s fitted for it. It’s a big screen and then it starts. Not with 15 minutes of gibble gabble, but with the overture and people were right into it. They were reading their programs. Hearing people talk about it and reading the podcasts, everybody really digs that intermission. It is great where it falls, dramatically. And people are going to the bathroom and those bathrooms are buzzing with talk about the movie. And you can do things. At the New Beverly where we’re showing it, I started it off with a whole bunch of these Cinerama trailers. It starts with a trailer for It’s A Mad Mad Mad Mad World, and then Grand Prix, and then Battle of the Bulge, and then Ice Station Zebra. And then it ends with 2001. It’s just a real fun way to start it off. I love coming up with those trailer programs for that theater.