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.
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