QUENTIN TARANTINO INTERVIEW:
ON THE SET OF
 
By
 
Josh Becker
 
     I arrived on the set of "RESERVOIR DOGS" in the last week of shooting after all of the principal actors (Harvey Keitel, Chris Penn, Tim Roth, Lawrence Tierney) had completed their parts and were wrapped.  The location was way out in the San Fernando Valley on Sunland Road, an area that I never knew existed before.  The film's publicist (an odd thing to have on a low-budget, independent movie) told me that I couldn't miss where they were shooting because I'd "see all the big trucks" (another oddity for low-budget).  Well, when I got to the specified intersection on Sunland Road there were no big trucks to speak of and no sign of a film crew.  I parked in a liquor store lot and wandered around.  Finally, down a side street and behind a building there were indeed a lot of big trucks and a movie crew.  I located the publicist  ("I'm the one with the bright red hair") and she led me to the film's producer, Lawrence Bender. 

 
       I've been acquainted with Lawrence for several years, ever since he produced a film for a friend of mine.  I had also written a story for him which he had me pitch to a group of Texas investors, then had attempted to screw me out of two-thirds of the originally agreed upon script fee.  Lawrence was quite surprised to see that I was the writer sent over by FILM THREAT, and possibly a bit fearful that I held a grudge.  I don't, he was just acting like a producer.  He informed me that I had missed all the good stuff being shot and today was strictly inserts (tight shots of hands and feet and the like). 

     I was then introduced to "RESERVOIR DOGS'" writer/director, Quentin Tarantino, a rather goofy-looking guy with a sunken mouth that looked like he wore dentures that weren't in (he has a full set of teeth, this is just my impression). I shook his hand. 

 
      "Nice to meet you," I said. 

 
      Quentin looked downright puzzled.  "We've already met." 

 
      Now I was puzzled.  "Really?  Where?" 

 
      "At the Dresden Room.  After the screening of 'DANGER ZONE THREE'." 

 
      This was an unreleased film that was edited by a mutual friend.  I clearly remembered seeing the film and going to the Dresden Room with a group of people, however, since I'm over thirty years of age and am losing a minimum of one hundred thousand brain cells a day, specifics are getting more and more difficult to retain.  I smiled brightly. 

 
      "Of course I remember you." 

 
      Quentin seemed pleased, then went off to shoot inserts. 

 
      Lawrence Bender, the publicist and I retired to a trailer to talk.  Lawrence gave me the basic rundown of what the film was about; a hard-boiled heist picture where everything goes wrong set against a pop, 70's soundtrack.  He also told me how their deal had come about; they got the script to Harvey Keitel who liked it so much that he became co-executive producer (with Monte Hellman, director of "RIDE THE WHIRLWIND" and "CHINA 9, LIBERTY 37"). 

 
       About a week later I met with Quentin Tarantino at his girlfriend's apartment in West Hollywood.  He gave me a two-hour interview, then, as I was about to leave, his girlfriend, he and I got into a raging discussion verging on an argument that I was very sorry I didn't get on tape. 

 
      Here are the highlights of the interview: 

 
 
 
J.B. I'm not trying to draw any direct comparisons to other 
     films, but what is "RESERVOIR DOGS" like? 
 
Q.T. It's like the films of Jean-Pierre Melville, "BOB THE 
     GAMBLER," "LE DOULOS," which is my favorite screenplay 
     of all time, with Jean-Paul Belmondo; it's fantastic. 
     He did "LE SAMURAI" with Alain Delon.  He made, like, 
     the coolest gangster films ever.  They're, like, 
     fantastic.  His films were like he took the Bogart, 
     Cagney, the Warner Brothers gangster films, all right, 
     he loved those, and a lot of times he just took the 
     stories from them and did them with Belmondo or Delon or 
     Jean Gabin and just gave them a different style, a 
     different coolness, you know, they had this French 
     Gallic thing going through it, yet they were still 
     trying to be like their American counterparts, but they 
     had a different rhythm all their own.  Then I took those 
     movies and threw an L.A. right-now into them.  So it's 
     like a crossbreed, giving birth to this, giving birth to 
     this... 
 
J.B. It's like a samurai movie that becomes a western, then 
     goes back to being a samurai movie. 
 
Q.T. Yeah.  It's like they keep going back on themselves. 
 
J.B. You shot the film wide-screen. 
 
Q.T. Yeah.  2:35 ratio. 
 
J.B. That's posed problems for filmmakers since it began in 
     the fifties.  There are certain things that are 
     naturally wide-screen, but a lot of stuff just isn't. 
 
Q.T. I thought wide-screen was perfect for this movie.  When 
      people think of wide-screen they'll think of westerns, 
     or of... 
 
J.B. ..."LAWRENCE OF ARABIA"... 
 
Q.T. ...Or deserts, or Death Valley.  I think wide-screen 
     makes things more intimate.  It's so big and takes you 
     so close.  It takes you inside the people, inside their 
     space. 
 
J.B. But if you do a close-up you have two-thirds of the 
     screen empty. 
 
Q.T. But I think that's great. 
 
J.B. Although you say you have a theatrical release, the life 
     of a movie these days is on video.  What do you do with 
     your wide-screen? 
 
Q.T. I don't give a damn.  I don't even remotely care about 
     the video release.  As far as I'm concerned this has got 
     two lives that are important for me: theatrical release 
     and laser disc which will be letter-box.  Forget the 
     video. 
 
J.B. Fritz Lang said that the only thing wide-screen was good 
     for was high school commencements and snakes.  (Quentin 
     laughs).  Now, how about some dirt?  This is for FILM 
     THREAT after all. 
 
Q.T. OK.  [At the casting session] ...in walks Tim Roth and 
     he's like an art film superstar with "ROSENCRATZ AND 
     GUILDENSTERN ARE DEAD" and "VINCENT & THEO," and he 
     wants to be in the movie, but he won't read.  He says, 
     "Look.  I read awful.  I am the world's worst reader. 
     If you just judge my past work I stand a better chance 
     than reading.  If I read for you I won't get the part. 
     That's for sure."  So, I set up a time when me and him 
     and Harvey [Keitel] can meet each other.  Harvey tries 
     to talk him into reading, but no.  Harvey leaves.  Tim 
     and I go to a bar, The Coach And Horses on Sunset where 
     he hangs out, and we're drinking and drinking and we get 
     ripped.  I mean just smashed.  It's 2:00 in the morning 
      now and we're both ripped on our ass.  Basically, in a 
     drunken stupor I gave him the part.  And then, after I 
     gave him the part, I saw "VINCENT & THEO" and I hated 
     him in it.  He was awful!  He was the worst!  Oh my God! 
     What do I do?  I gave him the part, I've got to be a man 
     of my word, and...  He was OK in it ["RESERVOIR DOGS," 
     that is]. 
 
J.B. So, it worked out. 
 

Q.T. He was OK.  I didn't fire him.  But Lawrence Tierney is 
     the big dirt.  Lawrence Tierney is insane.  He should 
     not be walking the streets.  He should be in Bellevue 
     with constant medication.  If I ever meet Norman Mailer 
     again I'm going to kick his fuckin' ass.  I met Norman 
     Mailer before I cast Lawrence Tierney at a party for the 
     Actor's Studio in New York.  I said, "Hey, you worked 
     with Lawrence Tierney [on "TOUGH GUYS DON'T DANCE"], I'm 
     thinking about hiring him."  He said he was a problem. 
     He said [imitating a low-pitched voice], "Look, Lawrence 
     will slow you down about 20%.  If you allow for it 
     you'll be fine."  Fuck you, Norman Mailer!  He slows you 
     down 80%!  What's this 20% bullshit?  My friend said, 
     "Is he personally challenging you?"  No, Lawrence likes 
     me.  He's a nice guy.  It's not that he's personally 
     challenging me, he personally challenges the entire 
     concept of filmmaking. 
 
J.B. In what sense? 
 
Q.T. He's insane.  The man is insane.  You can't talk to him. 
     He's that far from having a nervous breakdown.  One 
     night after shooting Larry went home and got big time 
     drunk and unloaded a .357 Magnum in his apartment that 
     went into the next apartment where a family was 
     sleeping, so he was thrown in jail.  He was taken from 
     his bail arraignment to the set.  He's got like five 
     years hanging over his head right now.  He's got a 
     record that goes back forty years.  He's a felon, he 
     shouldn't be having a gun in the first place.  The 
     Lawrence Tierney saga is not over yet. 
 
J.B. But for you, at least for the moment, it is. 
 
Q.T. If this movie does what it's supposed to do, be seen. 
     Lawrence Tierney could have a whole new career.  But not 
     if he's in jail. 
 
J.B. Maybe, if it's a hit, it'll get him a good job, like in 
     the laundry. 
 
Q.T. There you go, or in the kitchen. 
 
 
 
Postscript: 

 Within what seemed like just a few weeks, Quentin Tarantino and RESERVOIR DOGS became a phenomenon.  Me, being the complete schmuck that I am, called Lawrence Bender to see if he wanted to read my new script. 
"Are you nuts?" wondered Lawrence.  "You called me a thief and Quentin ugly." 
"No," I corrected, "I called Quentin 'goofy-looking.'" 
"Yeah, well, fuck off!"  And he hung up on me. 
I guess I burned that bridge. 
 
Josh Becker, 1992

 

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