He’s the worst advert for film school ever. Quentin Tarantino didn’t go. In fact, he didn’t bother much with school at all. Quitting high-school at 16 – the age his mother was when she gave birth to him – young Quentin watched movies instead. After all, what could he learn that Hawks, De Palma and Leone couldn’t teach him? Dressed all in back, a leather jacket slung over his open-collar shirt, Tarantino hit the 61st Cannes Film Festival with much more on his mind that why film school is a waste of money. Take a seat. It’s time to talk movies…
What was it like working in the videostore?
Before I went to Video Archives, I’d get the TV guide every week and read it cover to cover. But now I literally had access to all the great films and all these terrific directors. I’d watch them every day. So I’d become a fan of Eric Rohmer. And just watch one movie after another after another. And so I’d work through different directors’ careers.
Which directors influenced you most when you were growing up?
Brian De Palma, Sergio Leone and Howard Hawks were really way, way up there for me. As much as I adored Scorsese, when it comes to the movie brats, you pick your favourite. And everyone’s favourite was Scorsese. But Brian De Palma was a kind of rock star of the current directors. And it was probably because my work was actually closer to Scorsese’s and I didn’t want to give him too much credit, even though I secretly adored him!
Is it true you studied acting for six years before directing?
I would actually recommend anybody who wants to start a director career or a writer career, rather than start off trying to taking writing classes – which, I don’t even know what the hell that is – or directing classes, I would suggest you join an acting class. Everything I’ve learned about writing, I learned from acting. When I write, I basically just get lost in what the characters are doing. Which is what you try to do when you’re acting. You lose yourself.
Your never finished your first film, My Best Friend’s Birthday. What do you think of it now?
The footage from the first two weeks of shooting was the first time I’d done anything. It looks very very amateur. It’s cute, but its amateur. But cut to two and a half years later, when I[‘m writing more scenes and I’m shooting at the weekend, now that stuff in the film isn’t bad. I’d learned what I was doing a little bit. They were scenes. They were okay. I’d learned…
What did you learn from your experiences at Sundance?
When I went to Sundance, Reservoir Dogs was already set to go. So it’s not like I’m going there hoping to get my movie made, I’m actually leaving Sundance and then going into production. This is my first time since My Best Friend’s Birthday that I can actually experiment with film. I wanted to experiment with long takes. So I do one of the scenes from the movie with Mr Pink. It’s me and Steve Buscemi acting in it and I space out the long takes. Because they tell you at Sundance, “We want you to get out of this, whatever YOU want to get out of this. We want you to TRY different things.” They have a bunch of resource directors there. In the first group, Monte Hellman was there and a lot of other people. And they HATED it.
They hated it?
They hated it. The cinematographer said, ‘Not only is this scene horrible. What’s so frightening is, you’re going into production. If you do this in real life, they’re going to fire you.’ So I go and take a long solitary walk with myself in the Sundance woods. And I think, ‘I like my scene. I like it. I was experimenting with long takes. That’s what I was doing.’ Then the next group come in, including Terry Gilliam. And Terry Gilliam goes, ‘AAAH! Your scene’s just great!’ Never in my life have I experienced black and white in quite that way. ‘You were trying to do something. That’s what I wanted to see.’ So I took another walk in the woods… And I thought, ‘You know, that’s gonna be my career. Either people are gonna really like me or they’re really not. Just get fucking used to it. This is the deal.’
Why do you think Reservoir Dogs was so controversial when it was released?
Because it’s real. The bullets aren’t movie bullets. When Mr Orange gets shot in the stomach – it’s a slow death and pain every step of the way. And I was trying to dramatise that and not bullshit around. Until Mr Orange passes out, it’s just excruciating. How can you keep a scene going when you have a guy just screaming? Well, you just go for it. It might get ugly but that’s what happens when people get shot.
When did you first have the idea for Pulp Fiction?
Well, I came up with the scene when Vince goes to Mia’s house when I was 24. And I was 29 when I made the movie. I had an idea for a clichéd movie, a guy hanging out with a gangsters wife but couldn’t touch her. I wrote that sequence and I never wrote anything more. But I’d written and visualised everything: she’s watching him, like a cat playing with a mouse, it’s ‘Son Of A Preacher Man’ playing…
Do you think you’ll always pick the soundtrack rather than using a composer?
They got my to try it in Kill Bill 2, but… I just don’t trust any composer. Music is SO important. The idea of paying a guy and showing him your movie and then he comes up with the music… I would never give anybody that responsibility. Who the FUCK is this guy? Coming in here, throwing your shit over my movie?
What if you liked it?
And what if I don’t like it? I wouldn’t like it! I mean, I’ve already paid the guy… So… fuck that! I have one of the best soundtrack collections in America, as far as my album collection. I’ve worked with some of the greatest composers in the world. I’ve worked with Morricone, I’ve worked with Luis Bacalov and John Barry. Deal with it. I just take their music and do what I want!
Jackie Brown is a much quieter, more adult movie. Is it more personal?
For a start, it’s set in the area where I grew up, this area by LAX. It hasn’t been used that much in movies – I think Robert Towne used it in Tequila Sunrise. I saw a million movies at that same theatre that Robert Forster visits in the film. I worked in that mall for three years. I was there every day for three years.
In Elmore Leonard’s book, Jackie is white. Why did you change that?
For the most part, I try to keep the character and find the perfect fit as an actor. I had to figure out a woman that I could cast at that age: late 40s, still attractive and could handle anything. And I thought, well, that sounds like Pam Grier. And I’ve always adored Pam Grier. Then all of a sudden the idea of casting Pam Grier sounded like a cool idea. So I stuck to that. But instead of a pornographic, exploitation, blaxploitation, violence extravaganza, I did more realistic version of that. She’s a working girl trying to get by.
How was it for adapting someone else’s work for the first time?
It was very different. One of the things I’ve avoided in my scripts is exposition sequences. They’re always disguised. But when you’ve got the novel, they’re there to keep the plot going. But Elmore Leonard was a terrific writer and a big influence on my writing style. He would set up a standard genre story an then he would have real life come in a fuck up everything.
What did you want to achieve with Kill Bill?
I’d done some cool cinematic sequences before, but I’d never really tried my hand at action. I wanted to throw my hat in the ring with the greatest action directors who ever lived. I wanted to be as good as them. The only reason to do it is to stand as tall as they do.
At one point you were going to play Pai Mei. Did you learn martial arts?
I went through three months of training. Which actually ended up helping me tremendously with the girls. Because I don’t think I actually wouldn’t had that much authority with them: ‘Harder-faster, harder-faster, harder-faster! Kick higher!’ It would have been, ‘Fuck you! You try it.’ But they couldn’t do that, because I went through the same pain they did.
Were you as good as them?
Let me tell you man, it hurt all of us, but they’re girls. They’re naturally more flexible than I am. So I was really going through some pain. All that kung fu they teach you, it’s really just stretching. They just stretch the shit out of you for three month. Once you’ve been stetched like crazy, they show you a few moves and you can do it. It’s not really martial arts, it’s just a lot of stretching and now you can do their dance moves.
So how come you didn’t play Pai Mei in the end?
I hadn’t shot a film in years, I’m having such fun directing, but it’s also such hard work. You know what, i think it’s just too important for me to direct this movie and be on top of it rather than being in it. I tried to quit Pai Mei three times. And each time, my choreographer Woo Ping talked me out of it. Finally I was like, I just.. can’t… do it man!’ And we’ve got Gordon Liu here…
What’s your feeling about using CG in movies?
I’m not into all this digital stuff, all this super-high-tech stuff. I go backwards – it’s lower, lower, lower tech for me. I regress more each movie.
Like using the rough, scratched, stylised film for Death Proof?
That came with Kill Bill and the way the Shaw brothers sent out a shitty print of their movies. They took that print and duped it – maybe four dupes – and send it round America. Just a straight fucking dupe. A goddamn dupe. Not even a good dupe necessarily. That’s how I wanted to do it. People are like, ‘We can do it in digital and we can fuck it up this way and…’ No. I’m gonna fuck it up the way it should be fucked up.
Do you think technology is changing cinema?
I actually like Ang Lee’s Hulk, but did start seeing the start of going crazy in the editing room with all the things they could do with their new machines. And I know what that’s like. It’s cool. You can’t wait to try these things. You’re excited, you keep doing these thing… Triple-screens and five-screens and all these things. And the next thing you know, you’ve got The Hulk! “I said to my editor, you’ve gotta watch the Hulk, man. When we do Kill Bill, we’ve gotta be careful, man. We’re getting way too fucking busy, man.’ He saw the Hulk and he was like, ‘OH MY GOD. We’ve got to be SO careful!’
The stunts in Death Proof are real, right?
I know with Speed Racer it’s meant to be that way, but with normal stuff, when I see a CGI car crash, I like, ‘Oh, wow! How fucking cheap and bullshit is that? I got car crash and I’ll get to do in CGI? Give me a fucking break!’ But I knew that was gonna start taking over, so this was my chance.
Did it help that your lead actress, Zoe Bell, was a stunt woman?
I did a documentary about her called Double Dare. And there’s a moment in the movie where something rally great happens to her. And I notice in the theatre that a few people are actually crying. And I’m like, ‘Wow they don’t know Zoe and they’re crying.’ So write a part for her. She’s going to be wonderful on screen – and she’s a stunt person. So I can do all the stuff I can’t do with normal actors and I won’t even have to talk her into it. Zoe will insist I do it that way. So I can really push the shit out of this!