EXCLUSIVE: Quentin Tarantino has long taken his encyclopedic cinematic influences, including genres and actors from the past, and blended them through his filter to create wildly inventive films that have influenced many up and coming filmmakers. Now, he has done a similar thing that I bet will not be copied by other filmmakers. After steeping himself for a half decade in the lore of ’60s films, stuntmen, Western TV series and the Manson family to create Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Tarantino harkened back to his love for movie novelizations and wrote one for his own movie, after the fact. The book becomes in a way its own singular Tarantino creation: using his film as a springboard, Tarantino heads into many unexpected directions while satisfyingly expanding and fleshing out the mythology of the world and the characters populated by Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie and others. If you are a fan of the movie, you’ll find it hard to put down a novel that was first published in paperback. Here, Tarantino discusses why he put the same painstaking detail in the book as he did the movie, and where he goes from here.
DEADLINE: As you’ve done when you promoted past films, you’ve stumped this novelization and got the internet hot and bothered mentioning things like a possible Kill Bill sequel, and a Reservoir Dogs remake with an all-Black cast. This on top of past musings about more Pulp Fiction and Inglourious Basterds. Nothing seems to come of these things, as you move onto the next original film. What about Once Upon a Time in Hollywood made this the one you followed through on, greatly expanding the movie’s mythology in novel form?
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QUENTIN TARANTINO: That’s a good question, I like the way you put it. I like novelizations, and two years ago I started digging out my old ones. They were the first adult books I ever read, and I started rereading the ones that I really liked, and then reading some of the ones that I thought that I’d never got around to reading. I started thinking, what a fun genre this is. This is really cool. And then I thought, you know, I own my stuff. I should do one of these on my work. My initial instinct was to turn Reservoir Dogs into a novelization because of the crime aspect. I thought it was just ready to go in the bookstore under the ‘mystery crimes’ section. But then I thought, the last thing I did was Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood, and people seemed to like it. That seemed like a really good prospect. But even more than that, I had all this material. I’m not talking about just a couple of scenes that got cut out of the theatrical release on the editing room floor. During the five or six years I was writing the script, I kept writing out things that I knew would never be in the movie, just to make me learn about the characters. Sometimes I wrote in the guise of a cinema book, and sometimes when I needed to find out anything about Rick’s career, I just put him in another scene with Marvin and had Marvin ask him.
DEADLINE: Marvin Schwarz was played by Al Pacino, the agent who tried to catch Rick Dalton’s falling star by putting him in spaghetti Westerns…
TARANTINO: I just had all this stuff and I was like, whoa, this is definitely the one to do. I’ve got a ton of material and a few things that I can extrapolate on that I haven’t figured out yet. Like, I had the basic idea of the whole Brandy story because I had enough of an idea to tell Brad about it when we were doing the movie…
DEADLINE: You mean Cliff Booth’s dog, who is the hero of the final scene with the Manson family members…
TARANTINO: I hadn’t worked it out 100 percent. Just to give you a further example of that, okay, so in the book, there’s this scene where after they finish shooting Lancer, Rick and James Stacy go to that bar and talk shop and shoot the shit.
DEADLINE: In a Hollywood bar that is a shrine to famous actors who were notorious hard drinkers…
TARANTINO: Right. Right. The Drinkers Hall of Fame. I wrote that because I came up with the idea, and it was interesting, but I never even typed it up. In the third act of a movie, you’re not going to set a scene in a bar where these guys shoot the shit for 40 minutes. So it’s just not in the movie, but I wrote it out, and it was cool. I just have a lot of scenes like that. I mean a lot of material like that.
DEADLINE: I haven’t read many movie novelizations. One would think the writer puts into words what they saw on screen and probably don’t stray that much from that…
TARANTINO: Well, okay, the only misnomer of what you were just saying is most novelizations, they’re written while the movie’s being made. The [authors] have never seen the movie, but they have the shooting scripts. So, for instance, when Alan Dean Foster wrote the Alien novel, he had no idea what the alien looked like in the movie.
DEADLINE: So they fill the gaps with their own imaginations and go off and create their own mythologies?
TARANTINO: Sometimes yes, sometimes no. Sometimes they hire an author to come in there and more or less breaks the screenplay down into novelistic prose, and then maybe adds a couple sources, but for the most part, just turns the screenplay into, you know, into a prose-ier affair.
But then sometimes they’ll go wildly different than the movie. It usually ends up ending the same, but maybe they add things. The novelization of the James Bridges movie, September 30, 1955, that movie all takes place in the course of one day and night. John Minahan, who wrote the novelization, adds two years before that day happens. The events of the movie only happen in the last third of the book. Dean Koontz, in a novelization of Tobe Hooper’s Funhouse, the events of the movie start 100 pages in. He has the whole mythology that’s just completely him coming up with it. Arthur Herzog, he’s the guy who wrote the original book for The Swarm; when he did the novelization of Orca, which is a really good, he follows the story more or less. Everything that happens in the story in the movie happens in the book, but the lead character is decidedly not the Richard Harris character, and he has different relationships, and he has a lot of the same characters, but they have different relationships than they have in the movie. He ends up doing all the things the Richard Harris character does, but he’s just a completely different guy.
DEADLINE: How common is it for the writer-director to do the novelization?
TARANTINO: Sam Fuller did it quite a few times, on The Big Red One, The Naked Kiss, and about three or four of his movies. Sylvester Stallone did the novelization for Paradise Alley. John Milius did the novelization for The Wind and the Lion. And then just to hear the history of novelization, all right? In the Writer’s Guild contract, if they were doing a novelization, they had to offer the job to the screenwriter first. There’s a lot of novelizations that are written by the screenwriter. Anthony Shaffer wrote the novelization to The Wicker Man, and Colin Higgins wrote the novelization to Harold and Maude. Oftentimes, the screenwriters were disgruntled at what ended up happening to the movie. They didn’t like the casting, they didn’t like the rewrites. This got changed and that got changed. So, in the novelization, the screenwriters were able to do their version.
DEADLINE: You dove so deep into the mythology that in the movie you left to audience interpretation, like what was in the golden glowing suitcase in Pulp Fiction. You showed us exactly how Brandy the Pit Bull became a dog capable of wrecking the killers that Manson sent to murder Sharon Tate, baring the pitbull’s dogfighting history. We find out the gruesome truth of what really happened to Cliff Booth’s wife and learn of several murders Cliff committed. We learn about Rick Dalton being bipolar and self-medicating with those whiskey sours. We learn how Cliff became this stone killer war hero in World War II, which made understandable his clash with Bruce Lee. And we get what was cut out of the movie, a second scene with the young actress from Lancer, Mirabella, where she runs lines with Rick Dalton and helps him through his insecurities and toward that great performance we see in the film. You immersed yourself in the world of TV Westerns, hippie and Manson culture in a way most directors would not, just to write the movie script. I can’t think of another director who would not have washed their hands of this, once the movie got released. Why didn’t you?
TARANTINO: There are always some things that I took out that were shot, and they were a little painful, but at the same time, you know it’s a movie. I had a good relationship with Tom Rothman. If I’d felt they’d cut something that absolutely needed to be in there and it affected the running time, well, it would be in there. But he would make me ask myself a second time and a third time. I actually I like it that he did that…I can let it go., I guess it doesn’t serve the overall story. So, one is a movie, and one is a book, but also, some of these things you’re talking about I hadn’t written out [for the film]. For instance, I knew enough about the Brandy story to tell Brad Pitt when he was playing the character, but I hadn’t figured it out exactly what happened. I just knew it more as an anecdote that he could be informed by. I could talk to Leo all day long about Rick Dalton’s entire film career, but I didn’t need to cram that down the audience’s throat. As it was, I tried to cram in every little bit I could.
But the thing that was fun about this…normally what you described is how I am. Oh, for Kill Bill I’m going to do this. I’m going to do that, and when I’m finished with Kill Bill then I’m going to write an anime movie that’s just about the origin of Bill, and then I can do this and then that and whatever. But by the time I got through with the film, it’s like, okay, I’m done with that. But in this case: people just seem to like it so much, I had all this material, and I liked the idea of writing a first novel and taking the curse off of it a little bit by making it a novelization that’s this based genre of literature. I figured that was a good way to move into that area. And there was more of the Sharon story I could tell, more of Cliff and Rick I can tell. I can extrapolate on the Mansons more, but also there’s just a whole aspect of the history of Hollywood at that time that I can only stick in the margins of the movie. It’s there, but I’m kind of talking over everybody’s head, and that’s okay. But in the book, the novelistic narrator can go into detail about this kind of history of Hollywood that all these characters are living through.
DEADLINE: You contracted to write a second book, Cinema Speculation.
DEADLINE: Did we get a warmup, with the very detailed analysis of movies from the period by the stuntman/cinephile Cliff Booth? He would see art movies while waiting to pick up Rick and every Sunday, and he’s specific in calling Antonioni a fraud, Bergman boring. Fellini wearing out his welcome. Kurosawa was a master but ran out of steam in his later films. How closely did Cliff’s assessments reflect your own?
TARANTINO: Well, it’s interesting. I’ve been very lucky I’ve been getting really good reviews, and I really wasn’t sure where they were going to be coming from, but one of the things in a couple of the reviews is they go, well, this is obviously not Cliff. This is fraudulent. It’s implausible that Cliff would feel this way about this stuff. This is obviously Tarantino talking and just putting it in Cliff’s mouth. I kind of resent that a little bit because look, some of Cliff’s opinions I actually do share to some degree or another, but the reason I feel them is different than the reasons Cliff feels them. Cliff’s coming from a different point of view, and I tried very hard to explain the point of view that he’s coming from. I mean, Cliff isn’t a cinephile. That’s not where he’s coming from. People probably think being a cinephile is unmanly. I put a line in there, Cliff doesn’t go to movies for excitement. If he wants to have excitement, he’ll hop on a dirt bike and go around and do a Motocross run. That’s exciting for Cliff.
But it was just the idea that after World War II…him finding foreign films was as implausible and surprising to him as people seem to think it is in the chapter, because it’s just that. He had a hard time in the war, and he came back, and he sees the Hollywood movies of the ‘50s, and he goes, they’re just juvenile. They’re for children. But then, he goes and sees Open City, or he goes and sees The Bicycle Thief, or Yojimbo, and he goes, wow, this is real. This is a movie made by people who just went through the war. He responds to the reality of it all.
DEADLINE: It more closely resembles what he saw than how Hollywood served up war?
TARANTINO: Yes, it was just part of his reality. So, he would pick Sunday as his foreign film day, and go see The Bridge or Bitter Rice.
DEADLINE: But not with Rick Dalton sitting next to him…
TARANTINO: Yeah, Rick says, I don’t go to f*cking movies to read. I had a funny line in there, I think, where it’s like, Rick thinks real movies are Hollywood movies, and except for England, any country’s movies are simply them doing the best they can do.
DEADLINE: Your mix of fact and fiction involving real Hollywood figures of the ‘60s was intriguing in the movie, and you greatly expand it in the novel. You’ve got Wild Wild West star Robert Conrad with a short-man complex and a bad rep for hurting stuntmen. Bruce Lee is described similarly. Real or fiction?
TARANTINO: Everything I brought up about somebody, I didn’t make it up out of whole cloth. It is either known about that person and documented, or it was their reputations. You know, I never worked with Jack Lord. I don’t know if he was unpleasant, but every actor I’ve ever talked to who did work with Jack Lord has told me it was very unpleasant.
And I’m a big Robert Conrad fan. I really like Robert Conrad. Not only do I really like him, I just kind of started getting into watching his old Hawaiian Eye show, and I think he’s f*cking amazing on it. He was really good when he was in his early 20s and just this real cocky little tough guy, socking people out. But I didn’t make that stuff up. He’s still referred to that way by the stunt community to this day.
DEADLINE: What about how the stuntman played by Brad Pitt who got paid extra by the crew to do things like sock Otto Preminger in the jaw, and mess up others who are abusive? Is that a real thing?
TARANTINO: Well, there were such thing as ringers, but okay, I made up the Preminger example. Based on what I knew of him being a tyrant. I’ve actually talked to a couple people who worked on Hurry Sundown. And you know how it ends with all those explosions? Well, apparently, he didn’t tell John Phillip Law that that shit was going to happen. They said that all these other places start blowing up, and John Phillip Law just ran for the hills.
DEADLINE: Preminger wanted the frightened reaction on camera?
TARANTINO: Yes, I guess so.
DEADLINE: What about the Manson family mythology deep dive? I knew about Manson’s musical ambitions, and him getting a songwriting credit on a Beach Boys song. But that home invasion scene that Manson goaded Pussycat into, like a training exercise? Pussycat was the young woman Cliff Booth drove to Spahn Ranch in the movie. Was that real? And the stuff about how Manson didn’t want his acolytes watching TV because the commercials created material desires and could ruin their devotion to him…
TARANTINO: All of that I discovered in my research. The whole thing about him not letting the girls watch TV, his relationship with [the music people] Terry Melcher and Dennis Wilson and Randy Jacobson, it’s all documented and I just put it into words. Pussycat is a fictional character, but that is a pretty good example of a creepy crawl that they did.
DEADLINE: So they actually did things like sneak into the home of an elderly couple and scare the life out of them, for laughs…
TARANTINO: Oh, they absolutely did those things. Part of the reason they got found guilty for murder was because, the prosecution, even though they were making up a lot of stuff, the prosecution was able to basically prove, hey, look, these creepy crawls were just a dress rehearsal for the murder.
DEADLINE: There is a legend that Bruce Lee squared off with a stuntman on The Green Hornet…
TARANTINO: Apparently that happened with the judo expert and stuntman Gene LeBell. But Cliff isn’t Gene LeBell, Cliff is Cliff, all right? So that didn’t happen because Cliff didn’t, doesn’t exist. But you know, there was an incident that happened similar to that, and Bruce Lee was hated by the American stuntmen that he worked with on the show, and he had no respect for them. He had respect for…when he went to Hong Kong and started making movies, he liked those guys. He had respect for them, but he had no respect for the American stuntmen.
DEADLINE: It remains a source of contention, even though the scene in the movie seemed designed to show why Cliff was unemployable and became Rick Dalton’s driver. Do you have feelings about Bruce Lee that has perhaps gotten lost in the drama that kept the film from opening in China?
TARANTINO: Oh, yes. But it’s just much ado about nothing and I have no wish to completely extrapolate on it because I don’t feel like there’s anything wrong. I think it’s a fairly fair representation of Bruce Lee, and if the fans don’t like it, I don’t care.
DEADLINE: Even more than in the movie, Cliff comes off the page as a character who could have been the lead in an Elmore Leonard novel. You mentioned the late author in the novel, you based Jackie Brown on his work. Who are your author influences as you begin the process of settling into this novel writing thing that seems an obvious post-retirement pursuit?
TARANTINO: Oh, thank you. Thank you. Gosh, you know, it’s interesting. I guess I would say some weird cross mix between Elmore Leonard and Larry McMurtry, and Pauline Kael.
DEADLINE: The famed New Yorker film critic? Why do you put her in there?
TARANTINO: Well, one, she’s my favorite writer, so I can’t help but be influenced by her. There was even kind of an aspect in this book where…and I think I pulled it off, where I’m actually experimenting with using film criticism-type writing, but as narrative. I had never really seen that before, frankly, and so I was like…so that was an experiment that I was trying, inside of the pages.
DEADLINE: This novel makes for a better understanding of certain scenes in the movie, and that includes the one where Rick Dalton rises to the occasion as the villain in Lancer. You can’t really frame the stakes in the confrontation between his villain Caleb and the Lancer clan without knowing the backstory, but it would take too long to tell. That is, old man Lancer had two sons who grew up elsewhere and became accomplished killers holding grudges against a father they believe abandoned them. One wants to kill the old man. The whole story has the makings of a Tarantino-esque movie. Why did you spend so many pages digging into that series?
TARANTINO: Well, I decided it would be fun, all right? I just thought it would be fun. It was like, you know…and also it was a way for me to treat my book with the experimentation that I do with my films sometimes. Just the idea that you’re reading the book, and you get to chapter four, five, or six or whatever, and then all of a sudden, there’s a Lancer chapter. And then it’s just the story, all right? It’s just the Lancer story told as if, all of a sudden, you’re reading a western novel from 1966…and all of a sudden it feels like an Elmore Leonard western, or a Marvin H. Albert western, or a Max Brand western, or Louis L’Amour. So you have that and then we go on with the ’69 story, and then there’s another Lancer chapter. I just thought it would be fun.
DEADLINE: It doesn’t really propel the main narrative, but it is just as interesting.
TARANTINO: I also liked the idea of trying my hand at writing a western novel. I remember when I was meeting with different publishers, with different editors, and talking about the manuscript, there was a really good one that I ended up not going with, but she was really terrific, and I asked her, I go, well, what did you think about the Lancer chapter? And she goes, well, one, I liked them, but arguably, they’re the best written chapters in the book because you’re not trying to sound like you. You’re trying to sound like Louis L’Amour, and you’re doing a pretty good job of it.
DEADLINE: So, it’s as much a novelization of a television series as opposed to a Tarantino movie…
TARANTINO: Yes, well, I can imagine actually when I give Robert Rodriguez the book to read, he might come back with, hey, I want to do a movie of Lancer. I’m like, go ahead.
DEADLINE: As I read an important passage about how Rick and Cliff become inseparable because Dalton gets set on fire during a shoot, and just before he takes off in a run that would have burned him to death, Cliff firmly and calmly tells Rick that he’s standing in water, and to simply fall down. I recall the first interview we did before the release of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood and when were trading great Burt Reynolds tales, that was one you told me happened to him on the movie Fuzz…
TARANTINO: Yes. That story…there’s a lot of stories, I mean a whole lot of incidents that happen in the book that are just actual anecdotes. The people I thank in the dedication told me stories. Michael Parks told me some, David Carradine, Robert Blake, Burt Reynolds. I was able to weave these real-life Hollywood stories all through the book. The book would probably be a third less in length if I took all those out. They’re all real stories that I just had. Sometimes I used some of the real characters, but usually, I made it happen to Rick or Cliff.
DEADLINE: Another Reynolds contribution to the novel came when he told you about his work with the director William Witney and the filmmaker’s philosophy that…
TARANTINO: No scene has ever been written that can’t be improved by the addition of a fistfight.
DEADLINE: I can’t dispute it. Last time, you told me you had written a number of episodes of Rick Dalton’s fictional TV series Bounty Law, for the purposes of making Leonardo DiCaprio’s character as believable as possible in the time period. You said you would like to direct those, even with another actor if DiCaprio wasn’t interested. What’s happened there?
TARANTINO: Well, you know, we’ve been living through the pandemic.
DEADLINE: Yes, that is true.
TARANTINO: Everything shut down. I don’t want to do it, now, and I was working on the book, and I’m still working on my cinema book. But I have those episodes written. Sony, with Tom Rothman said, we’ll make that show if you want to do it. It will probably be in a couple years from now, so we’ll see.
DEADLINE: When you won the Golden Globe for Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, you said there was an umbilical cord connection between Reservoir Dogs and what your last film would be, and then you said you considered remaking that first picture with a cast of Black actors. In the book there’s a shout out to Quentin Tarantino for having directed a John Sayles script for the gangster epic The Lady in Red. Was that a hint?
TARANTINO: That’s a no. In the universe where Sharon Tate lives, in that universe, in between Jackie Brown and Kill Bill, I did The Lady in Red. But as we know, Sharon Tate didn’t live.
DEADLINE: What was the biggest challenge for you transitioning from screenplays to a novel?
TARANTINO: There’s a limiting aspect to a screenplay. It just can’t be whatever you want it to be. You are making a movie. And at some point it has to [conform to] the length of a movie, at least for its initial theatrical run. So I’m not going to just stick two guys sitting in a bar shooting the shit in the third act of a film, because that just doesn’t really work. But it completely works as a novel. But the biggest challenge in writing? Screenplays are really easy for me. I’m not saying I don’t work hard, I work really hard, all right? But I know how to do it. Writing a novel, a piece of prose, was not hard, but it wasn’t easy. I’d never done it before. It was different than what I’d been doing before. I’d been writing these quasi-novels as my screenplays, but a quasi-novel is not the same thing as a novel.
DEADLINE: What was harder to get the hang of, writing the script for Reservoir Dogs or writing this as a novel?
TARANTINO: Well, that’s not a good comparison because, by the time I wrote Reservoir Dogs, I’d already written Natural Born Killers and True Romance. But it’s an interesting question, actually…I’m not coming up with a good answer, but you’ve got me thinking about what was the difference…the big difference in writing my first script for True Romance, well, I got to finish it.
TARANTINO: You know, was it just going to be like all the other scripts I wrote, where I got up to page 60 and stopped? So when I actually felt that I was going to finish True Romance, and it was going to be not 500 pages, that was exciting. That was really, really groovy. I was happy to get there. Well, I knew I was going to finish this novel. And if it was 400 pages, who cares?
DEADLINE: How did True Romance go from the first script you finished to this frenetic Tony Scott-directed film with an incredible ensemble cast including Patricia Arquette, Christian Slater, James Gandolfini, Dennis Hopper, Christopher Walken, Gary Oldman and even Brad Pitt?
TARANTINO: Like six years. There were five years that nobody was interested. I couldn’t give it away.
DEADLINE: What changed?
TARANTINO: Well, I mean, look, I was not this professional writer that people took seriously. Nobody of consequence ever read it. Maybe this reader here or that reader there, and they just thought, this is not like any script I’ve ever read before, he doesn’t know how to write. Throw this guy out. How I eventually got into the industry to some degree was, my friend Scott Spiegel was going to write something for the director, William Lustig, who did Maniac, Maniac Cop. He wanted to bring me in to help him, and Lustig looked at me and said, “Who is this f*cking guy?” And so, he gave them my script for True Romance, just as an audition piece. He read it, and he really, really liked it and couldn’t quite get it out of his head. He had a deal with Cinetel at the time, and so he showed it to the people there and bought it. They were going to make it, with William Lustig. But then the woman who was the head of development at Cinetel, Caitlin Knell, who really helped me out in getting started in my career. She was really good friends with Tony Scott because she used to be his assistant. She knew I was a big fan of his. So she invited me to the set of The Last Boy Scout and I was able to watch filming for a little bit, and she took me to Tony’s birthday party. I was in heaven. I was only just a year out of the video store. And apparently, I made such a nice impression on Tony that he was like, who is this kid? She said, the boy’s a really good writer, I’m working with him on this thing at Cinetel. And he goes, ‘Well, send me a couple of his scripts. Let me read them. He seems like a nice guy. I mean, he really likes me, so he’s obviously got good taste. Send me a couple of his scripts.’
She sent him True Romance and Reservoir Dogs. He read them, and he called Cat in a month and goes, ‘I want to make it. I want to make Reservoir Dogs. Let’s do it right now.’ She was, well, okay. That one he won’t give you. That one he looks like he could make himself. Tony says, okay, okay, I’ll do the other one.’ And then it became a situation where Cinetel was going to make it, but then Tony wanted to make it. I go, well, get it away from Cinetel, or pay them off or whatever or make it for them. He said, okay, and that’s how it happened.
DEADLINE: That’s a Once Upon a Time in Hollywood story right there, isn’t it? During the Deadline Contenders panel for that movie, I wagered that once you had a baby, you might rediscover your love of movie-making after you were up to your eyeballs in dirty diapers…
TARANTINO: You said, you’re not going to retire. You have a family to get away from.
DEADLINE: Well, you haven’t wavered yet. You made nine films before getting married and becoming a father. What are the best things about this new chapter in your life?
TARANTINO: Well, I terms of the movie I’m going to do, I have no idea what it is right now. But I can say very easily, this last year we had to live through the quarantine like everybody else, but aside from that, this last year was an absolutely, wonderful year. Everyone got huddled in their houses for quarantine, but this was the year I intended to spend at home anyway. It’s the first year of my son’s life. I was planning on being there, all the time. And I was writing the second half of my novel.
Daniella created just this wonderful situation for me to be able to go every day and do my work in my office and write, and then I would take little breaks, play with Leo and give him a bath, just hang out with the joy of my little boy.
DEADLINE: I recall visiting you once at home. You had the notorious “Pussy Wagon” from Kill Bill in the driveway and said you drive it around from time to time. How hard is it to strap the baby car seat into that ride?
TARANTINO: The thing about the Pussy Wagon is, whenever I drove it on the freeway, everyone recognized it’s me. Everyone recognized the Pussy Wagon. And then it would be a chain, because people would drive alongside me and try to talk to me.
DEADLINE: So, it’s not a good ride for the kid.
TARANTINO: It’s not a good ride for that. It’s cool and it’s fun every once in a while, to take it out for a Sunday drive. But I wouldn’t run errands in it.
DEADLINE: At what age will you be comfortable letting your son Leo watch your movies?
TARANTINO: That depends on his interest. If we’re judging by me, I saw a lot of stuff early on when it came out, you know, so I would imagine [early]. If I had to imagine, he would probably, as a little boy, be most attracted to Kill Bill, anywhere between five, six, or seven.
DEADLINE: I can still remember taking my little boy to see Borat when it opened. When Borat had that naked wrestling match in bed with his portly companion, I laughed hard but when I looked over at my son, he leaned over and said, “Dad, I’m not going to be able to un-see this.” I looked around the crowded theater, and only then noticed he was by far the youngest person. I thought, I’m going to hell.
TARANTINO: That discussion is a whole big part of Cinema Speculation. During the whole New Hollywood period, I was seeing these movies at six and seven. I saw Point Blank when it came out in ’68, when I was between six and seven. All the exalted New Hollywood movies, those were the movies I grew up watching, and that’s a big part of what the next book’s about. I’m writing about some of these movies from my perspective now, but I always touch on my perspective from when I first saw them.
DEADLINE: It will probably take you at least five years to write and get a handle on that final film you’ll direct. Projecting beyond that, what do you imagine your life will be like? It seems like novels will be a part of it. And what’s going to happen when a filmmaker knocks on your door, and wants to take your book and turn it into a movie?
TARANTINO: Well, that’ll be interesting. It just has to depend on what the book is, but I could be down with that. I’ll be into writing the script. That could be interesting. But like for any author, the book’s the book. That don’t affect the book.
DEADLINE: Even when you know you could do a better job, behind the camera, and many still wish you would change your mind about retirement…
TARANTINO: I really appreciate the sentiment. Look, I don’t have any plans of changing my plans right now, but I haven’t retired yet. I still have another movie to do.
DEADLINE: The pandemic took a real toll on the theatrical business, and you would have felt that as the owner of the New Beverly Cinema, with plans to buy another movie house. Streaming exploded during the pandemic and all the majors leaned into their streaming services. One of the pleasurable things about Once Upon a Time in Hollywood was that while you had big stars, it wasn’t a franchise extension or a big superhero movie but rather an original that didn’t follow the formulaic storytelling models we see more and more. What do you see for the future of the movie business, as studios prioritize their streaming businesses?
TARANTINO: I know what you mean, but I don’t know. I think it all remains to be seen. It does make me think that everybody that came out with a movie in 2019 was pretty fu*king lucky. They just managed to fly through the windowsill just literally as the window was slamming shut behind them. That’s me, that’s Joker, that’s Parasite and that’s 1917. We made Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood, an original movie, not franchise-based or anything like that. We spent 95 million dollars on it, and it played all around the world, and it made something like $346 million. And we made it all through asses in seats. All of that entire figure had nothing to do with ancillary, or streaming or DVD sales. It had to do with people, who could do anything in the world they wanted to do that night, leaving the house, going to a movie theater and buying a ticket. And doing it within the first four weeks of release. I know you couldn’t do that right now, that couldn’t be done today. To make that much just in ticket sales? That’s not a reality today. It might be a reality at another time, but it’s definitely not today, not 300 million dollars for a movie like that, only by asses in seats. No. That’s old-world thinking.
DEADLINE: What’s new-world thinking?
TARANTINO: Well, in promoting the New Beverly, the one thing that I think is a positive… I have no idea what’s going to happen with the chains as far as they are concerned. I’m going to have no idea what happens with the studio versus their day and date streaming strategies. I do know that Sony doesn’t do that; Tom Rothman is committed to the theatrical experience. He’s not doing day and date with the Sony Channel. He’s not spending a billion dollars to launch a Sony Channel, not as of yet. The incredible success the New Beverly has had when we opened up, I do see that there is definitely an avenue for boutique cinemas to do really well. The cool Mom and Pop cinemas that have a curating aspect, like the Showcase in Portland or the Alamo Drafthouse to some degree, and then the New Beverly and the Vista when it opens back up again. I think those cinemas are probably not only going to do well, they might do better than they have before.
DEADLINE: Aside from the streaming element, we are in a moment where the creative process has become democratized, and public outrage and petitions circulate online, sometimes even before movies are shot. We saw it with the Bruce Lee and China stuff. And studios are now wired to focus on billion dollar high concept and superhero films. You made movies exactly the way you wanted, your whole career. What most concerns you for the future auteur filmmakers?
TARANTINO: Well, I think we’re living through a really bad time right now. But we’ve lived through these really bad times before. To me, the ‘50s is one of the worst decades in the history of Hollywood, and it came after the ‘30s and ‘40s, which were two of the best decades of Hollywood. What we think of as the ‘60s really didn’t start until ’67. From 1960 to 1965, was just the ‘50s, part two. But that gave birth to New Hollywood, as a counteractive, and that gave birth to the explosion of cinema in the ‘70s. And after that explosion ran its course around ’82, we had another horribly politically-correct repressive decade. We all lived through that fu*ked up cinematic decade, but then that gave birth to the ‘90s, which we didn’t realize was going to actually be the ‘70s, part two. Now you look back on it, and it absolutely was.
I think I had a big part of changing that, but it wasn’t just me alone. There was the whole aspect of…by 1992, you know, you had me up there with Reservoir Dogs. You had the Belgian guys making Man Bites Dog, Robert Rodriguez with El Mariachi, you had Romeo is Bleeding. A lot of really interesting gruesome shit all came out. As Dennis Hopper said, expressionistic painting didn’t come out because a bunch of guys got together, had coffee, and said, hey, let’s paint expressionistic-ally. It’s more like there’s something in the air, and it hit everybody, at the same time. I didn’t know Robert Rodriguez was doing that. I didn’t know the Belgian guys were doing what they were doing. And then all of a sudden, we found ourselves at the same film festivals together. Hopper called that genre, ‘bang bang, snicker snicker.’
I think what’s going on right now is probably going to last about six, seven, or eight more years, and there’ll be a revolt against it. This is just a period of time we’re living through.
DEADLINE: How will streaming impact that?
TARANTINO: Look, I don’t like it. I’m not a fan. I like holding the DVD in my hand. I like looking at it on the shelf. I like shit I can hold in my hand. I don’t like buying virtual shit I don’t really own.
DEADLINE: Studios see digital as efficient and more profitable. What would you recommend that they keep in mind, you know, about the power of the theatrical film?
TARANTINO: I have nothing to tell them. I mean, the thing about it is, they’re either interested in it being a business model or they’re not. It’s just like any industry. If they want to make everything disposable because it favors the bottom line right now and because they don’t care about 20 years later when they’re not going to have that job, I don’t know what to tell them. I keep pointing my finger at Tom Rothman. He’s not going down that road.
Hey, let me ask you a question.
TARANTINO: Because I always ask you when we talk about a movie, did you have a favorite scene. Did you have a favorite chapter?
DEADLINE: I love that Lancer stuff, the whole backstory of the series, laid out like a Western. I…
TARANTINO: Oh, really? That’s great.
DEADLINE: I loved the movie, as you know, and was into this book of yours, the whole way because I wanted more and got it. If you made a movie that focused on Cliff Booth after his stuntman career ended, I would watch that. That character became so much more interesting in the novel. More of a good guy than a bad guy, but not by much. The murders he committed, the demise of his wife, all this after he became so hardened by his war hero experiences. But somehow you root for him. The character won Brad Pitt an Oscar, but he shines more brightly in the novel…
TARANTINO: Of all my characters, Cliff Booth has ripened most. People really just end up being really fascinated with him. Two years later after the movie, people still bring him up and talk about him. He seems to have a shelf life that resonates the more time passes.
One of the things I was really happy about, with the Lancer stuff…I think it has always been a strength of my movies that you don’t often hear what you get used to in normal genre movies, as an exposition thing. I try to take something that actually will count as exposition later on, but usually bury it in a scene that has all kinds of other shit in it, so you don’t realize you’re learning something important until an hour later when that information you learned plays itself off. Like in the movie when you see Cliff feeding his dog in his trailer. That seems like it’s just a way to show how Cliff lives, and a way to show his place versus Rick’s place. His home life, and where his life has led him. But then when you get to the Manson family coming into the house, you realize you were learning how trained Brandy is. As they’re like, wait a minute, what dog would just not f*cking make a noise? No, no, no. You know it. You get it now. All right?
DEADLINE: When I watched the movie, and saw Brandy attack the Manson clan on command, I took it as being part of a fairy tale, much like watching Hitler get machine-gunned in the movie theater in Inglourious Basterds. But reading about Cliff’s road with Brandy in the dogfighting circuit, it made more sense than in the movie. Not only did you explain exactly why Brandy was who she was, but it worked in a very interesting scene about Cliff killing yet another person.
TARANTINO: Right. Well, even Cliff doesn’t know how many people he’s killed.
DEADLINE: You write in the book that Cliff’s violent war-hero story was made into a mediocre movie, but in reality, a movie by you about that would be great…
TARANTINO: Hmm. Someday I’ll do his adventure in the POW camp.
DEADLINE: If we’ve put that on your radar, our work here is done.
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