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
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
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?
"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
of all time, with Jean-Paul Belmondo; it's
He did "LE SAMURAI" with Alain Delon.
He made, like,
the coolest gangster films ever. They're,
fantastic. His films were like he took
Cagney, the Warner Brothers gangster films,
he loved those, and a lot of times he just
stories from them and did them with Belmondo
or Delon or
Jean Gabin and just gave them a different
different coolness, you know, they had this
Gallic thing going through it, yet they were
trying to be like their American counterparts,
had a different rhythm all their own.
Then I took those
movies and threw an L.A. right-now into them.
like a crossbreed, giving birth to this, giving
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
naturally wide-screen, but a lot of stuff
Q.T. I thought wide-screen was perfect for this movie. When
people think of wide-screen they'll
think of westerns,
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,
J.B. But if you do a close-up you have two-thirds of the
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
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
and laser disc which will be letter-box.
J.B. Fritz Lang said that the only thing wide-screen was good
for was high school commencements and snakes.
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
GUILDENSTERN ARE DEAD" and "VINCENT &
THEO," and he
wants to be in the movie, but he won't read.
"Look. I read awful. I am the
world's worst reader.
If you just judge my past work I stand a better
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.
to talk him into reading, but no. Harvey
and I go to a bar, The Coach And Horses on
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
J.B. So, it worked out.
Q.T. He was OK. I didn't fire him. But Lawrence Tierney
the big dirt. Lawrence Tierney is insane.
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
thinking about hiring him." He said
he was a problem.
He said [imitating a low-pitched voice], "Look,
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
concept of filmmaking.
J.B. In what sense?
Q.T. He's insane. The man is insane. You can't talk to
He's that far from having a nervous breakdown.
night after shooting Larry went home and got
drunk and unloaded a .357 Magnum in his apartment
went into the next apartment where a family
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.
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.
if he's in jail.
J.B. Maybe, if it's a hit, it'll get him a good job, like in
Q.T. There you go, or in the kitchen.
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
"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