Archive for September, 2015

“The perfect movie doesn’t have any dialogue. So you should always be striving to make a silent movie.”
David Mamet
On Film Directing 

“One of my notions [in making Mad Max] was that if I make the action sequences as a silent movie, and it reads as a silent movie, then it can only get better with sound.”
Mad Max director/co-writer George Miller 

Today is the last day of a month of posts centered around filmmaker Robert Rodriguez (with help from a few of his director friends and acquaintances). And we end with the bang looking at the journey of George Miller, the 70-year-old director of Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) who not only started working with an unusual career for a film director (medical doctor), but was raised in an unlikely place (Chinchilla, Queensland, Australia—population 5,000 today).

“I grew up in a remote, rural town in the Outback of Australia. And there was no television then. There was a Saturday matinée and there were comics. And I grew up with brothers and we’d play out what we saw in movies and the comics. It was an invisible apprenticeship to make movies. I’d read American Cinematographer magazines and we’d scrutinize them about, and go, ‘Oh, that’s how they did the car rigging,’ and anything Hitchcock said became a little dictum. I learned where I think we should all learn— in the cinema. I just consumed everything…The big influence on me was Buster Keaton because cinema—the silent era—they were able to do things you could see nowhere else. It wasn’t a recording device, it was actually creating a language. And I suddenly thought, wow, this is amazing.”
Producer/writer/director George Miller
The Director’s Chair with Robert Rodriguez interview
(On the El Rey Network and available on iTunes)

While in medical school he entered a one-minute silent film contest with his brother which led to winning the competition and both attending a filmmaking workshop. Within ten years he made his debut feature film Max Max starring Mel Gibson.

Two remarkable things about that low-budget feature is its strong action photography (shot by  director of photography Dean Semler and the lack of dialogue by Gibson. (Under 20 lines of dialogue in the entire film for the lead role.)

Miller told Rodriguez of Mad Max, “I definitely had the Hitchcock dictum in my head, he said, ‘I try to make movies where they don’t have to read the subtitles in Japan.’ And as it turned out, the Japanese took to it.” (It’s important to remember that while Alfred Hitchcock is known for his classic films Psycho (1960), North By Northwest (1959), and Vertigo (1958), that he actually began making films in the early 1920s— in the silent era of movies. Read Hitchcock Loved ‘The Hurt Locker’ to see some of his takeaways of visual storytelling.)

As the global market today is more important than ever in the Hollywood film industry, there is much to learn from Hitchcock about visual storytelling. As well as from another director who bridged the silent era into “the talkies” with great effectiveness—John Ford. He also informed Miller’s visual style. In fact, the Mad Max movies have been called “Westerns on wheels.” Watch an action scene from Stagecoach (1939) and compare any of the four Mad Max films.  (By the way, Orson Welles watched Stagecoach 40 times before making Citizen Kane.)

One of my all time favorite movie entrances by a character is in Mad Max 2:The Road Warrior. The surprise intro of Gyro Captian doesn’t quite have the same impact on DVD or You Tube as it did on the big screen when I first saw it, but here’s a clip of it I found online:

Here’s the dynamic character intro of John Wayne in John Ford’s Stagecoach.

The movie Ben Hur (1959) also informed Miller’s visual style.

And lastly, to show the diversity of Miller, he directed Lorenzo’s Oil,  and was the one responsible for bringing prolific author Dick King-Smith’s Babe to the movies, and he won his sole Oscar for his 2006 animated feature Happy Feet. When asked the connection between Babe, Happy Feet, and Mad Max. Miller said they all follow the classic hero-myth story.

The real inspiration from Miller is if you’re from a remote, rural town in the Outback or a farm in Iowa, if you’re closer to 7 or 70, or if you just graduated from medical school or grammar school— some interesting things can happen if you take that first step and make a one-minute movie. (Start Small…but Start Somewhere.) For Miller, it eventually led him down Fury Road.

“George and Brendan McCarthy and a couple of other storyboard artists basically wrote [Mad Max: Fury Road] in storyboards.”
Colin Gibson
Production Designer

“There were 3,500 [storyboard] panels around the room and I would say a good 80% of those panels are reflected in the images that you see on the screen today…It was something that was very non-verbal. People obviously speak in the movie, but they speak only when it’s necessary.”
George Miller

P.S. If you can combine classical mythical storytelling with classical silent movie visual storytelling you will be tapping into powerful stuff. Two core books on the mythical journey are Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces  and Christopher Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey.

10/8/14 Update:
Here’s a video from the post The Editing of Mad Max: Fury Road by Vashi Nedomansky where he explains how Miller, DP John Seale, and editor Margaret Sixel used a “crosshair framing” or “center framed” technique in Mad Max: Fury Road so the quick cutting action would be visually friendly for audiences.

Also, it appears that later in the day after wrote this post that George Miller did a live stream Q&A with Michael Radford after a screening of Mad Max:Fury Road. So if you haven’t had your George Miller fill yet the Q&A begins at the 5:04 mark:

Related posts:

‘Storytelling Without Dialogue’ (Tip #82)
The Best Film School
Mr. Silent Films
Professor Jerry Lewis (Great Filmmakers)
Harold Loyd vs. Buster Keaton
Emotionally Silent Dialogue
Directing Tips from Peter Bogdanovich  “Silent looks between people—to me, that’s what movies are about.”—Peter Bogdanovich
Show, Don’t Tell (Tip #46) “One of the cardinal sins for a scriptwriter, when he runs into some difficulty, is to say ‘We can cover that by a line of dialogue.”—Hitchcock
Show, Don’t Tell (Part 2)—Chaplin

Scott W. Smith

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From Starsky & Hutch to Pacino & De Niro

“I saw Dr. Strangelove in 1963 when I was in Madison, Wis., where I was an undergraduate, and it was a revelation. What struck me is that it was possible to make a film as a real auteur for a mass audience….I don’t know how many times I’ve seen Strangelove but it’s as fresh and exciting today as it was in 1963.”
Michael Mann
2015 NPR interview with Arun Rath

Before Michael Mann directed Al Pacino and Robert De Niro in Heat, or Johnny Depp and Christian Bale in Public Enemies, or Tom Cruise and Jamie Foxx in Collateral, or Daniel Day Lewis and Madelene Stowe in The Last of the Mohicans, the 4-time Oscar-nominated producer/writer/director landed his first professional gig writing an episode for the TV show Starsky & Hutch in 1975.

Before that he attend The London Film School, and before that the Chicago-born Mann was an English major in Wisconsin with no real background in the visual arts until one cold winter night…

“I got into film when I took a film history course at the University of Wisconsin. It was freezing, Ten below zero, 10:30 at night and you’re coming down the hill where the buildings were from a screening, and I was so sweep away from what I’d seen. This experience we all have, kind of a wide awake dreaming where you’re transported and part of your brain hopes it doesn’t end too soon.  It just occurred to me the first time, what a minute, you’ve got to do this. I remember exactly where I was on the sidewalk half way down Bascom Hill, looking up—starry night, dry cold— you got to do this, you’re going to make films. An epiphany —that’s what you’re going to do—there’s no question about it….Changed my life. I knew exactly what I wanted to do.”
Michael Mann
Interview with Robert Rodriguez on The Director’s Chair

For what it’s worth my favorite Mann directed film is The Insider (1999) starring Russell Crowe and Al Pacino. The film was nominated for 7 Oscars including the screenplay by Eric Roth and Mann (from an article written by Marie Brenner on events from the life of Jeffrey Wigand).

Related posts:
Michael Mann & Subtext
Screenwriting from Wisconsin
Rod Serling’s Ohio Epiphany

Scott W. Smith

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There’s been a big surge this month on my post Screenwriter/Saleman Pete Jones.  Why would there be a surge from a post written over four years ago? I haven’t seen the rebooted Project Greenlight, but I have a felling it’s connected to that since Jones was the person who wrote and directed the first Project Greenlight film, Stolen Summer.

And since I’m on the tail-end of a month long of posts centered around filmmaker Robert Rodriguez it’s a fitting time to talk about his salesman side that’s helped allowed him to build a creative career.  Earlier this year on Tim Ferriss’ podcast he asked Rodriguez this question, “When you hear the word successful who’s the first person that come to mind to you?”

“I always thought my dad was successful because he was an entrepreneur in that he had ten kids and he sold cookware door to door. And the beauty of that was he’d come home and my mom would say, ‘the kids need braces,’ and he’d calculate how much cookware he’d have to sell to pay that—and he’d go sell it. Once he knew he had a target, If he worked a job where if he got the same amount of money no matter what you’d be screwed, but because he could go sell harder—sell somebody on something. It’s really strange, I have five brothers and none of them work for anyone, they’re all entrepreneurs, they all have their own businesses…No one wanted to work for anyone else. Partly because it’s in the DNA, you just don’t want to be under someone else’s thumb….I used to read his little entrepreneur magazines and I’d say, ‘that’s so cool that guy owns video machines in the back of his truck and drove them around the malls.’ I was always encouraged by these entrepreneur stories. People finding another way to go, instead of following everybody else and finding success and happiness. Successful people to me are people who put it all together. Because you can have business success, and job security and be miserable in your personal life, or always having that falling apart or some crisis always happening, and I’m eating it up and loving it and I got that from my father.”
Filmmaker Robert Rodriguez

On a related note, last night I watched on Netflix Milius and enjoyed the doc as it filled in some gaps on the life and work of writer/director John Milius (Conan the Barbarian, Big Wednesday). Besides being a gifted storyteller, Milius sold his persona of bravado and machismo that was a mixture of Hemingway, John Ford, and John Huston. He came on the scene in the late 60s with Coppola, Lucas, and Spielberg. He wrote iconic lines such as “…You’ve got to ask yourself one question—do I feel lucky?” (Clint Eastwood in Dirty Harry) and “I love the smell of napalm in the morning” (Robert Duvall in Apocalypse Now). Oliver StoneJoe Eszterhas and Quentin Tarantino all followed the larger than life Hollywood persona using a torch borrowed from Milius. (And one that Milius took from his childhood heroes John Wayne, Gene Autry, and Chuck Yeager.) More on Milius later when I can do some research.

Scott W. Smith

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“I remember very distinctly [while shooting Forrest Gump] where I’d go through waves of absolute terror. I’d go, ‘This is the worst movie I’ve every made. How is this ever going to work?'”
Director Robert Zemeckis
(The film would go on to be a box office hit and win six Oscar Awards including Best Picture, Best Actor in a Leading Role—Tom Hanks, and Best Director for Zemeckis’ work.)

On The Director’s Chair interview filmmaker Robert Rodiguez asked filmmaker Robert Zemeckis this question about Forrest Gump; “When did you know you had something special?”

Robert Zemeckis: “It was that scene at Jenny’s grave. We shot Viet Nam in the morning, and my AD [assistant director] said to me, ‘You know what? The company’s parked here [the production crew], the oak tree’s right there, let’s shoot this after lunch.’ ‘Hey Tom [Hanks], how ’bout we do Jenny’s grave after lunch?’ And Tom, you know, ‘Great.’ And [we did] four takes, and the second one is in the movie. I remember he started doing the scene and I started getting really emotional, and I said cut and I looked behind me and the entire crew was dissolved into tears.”

Rodriguez also asked Zemeckis what his methods were as a director:

“I love to, what I call rehearse, but isn’t really rehearsal. Basically I just have a really long, elaborate table read with my key cast. And I basically act the movie out, and then they start chiming in and we take each character and put them into deep therapy, and that’s sort of my rehearsal process…I think an actor only wants to know one thing from a director and that is ‘What is the character feeling?’ What’s a character feeling in that moment in that scene? Well, he’s young, he’s really sad. Wait, cut. Not that sad. You just have your hand on his throttle… My favorite quote is a Truffaut quote; ‘The definition of a great movie is the perfect blend of truth and spectacle. And spectacle is why you go to the movies. Films have always been the marriage between art and science. It’s a technical art form. All the technology that we use to create a modern movie, to me is all equal. I don’t give any more weight to a visual effect or a close-up which is a visual effect—It’s to serve the story…There’s great power in letting the camera just kinda witness everything. And let the camera be this invisible thing that’s just floating around….I always approach the camera from the story. How can the camera tell the beats of the story and give the audience the information they need when they need to know it.”
Robert Zemeckis

P.S. I only have three more workdays in my self-prescribed month of posts with a Robert Rodriguez emphasis. I haven’t even touch on his book, Rebel Without a Crew, so I think I’ll make my goal.

Related posts:

The Shocking Truth (Tip #84) I set out to tell the truth. And sometimes the truth is shocking.”—Tennessee Williams
Hunting for Truth
Telling the Truth=Humor
Eric Roth on Theme & Loneliness (Forrest Gump screenwriter)
Mike Nichols on Comedy, Tragedy & Truth

Scott W. Smith

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“My story is like an American dream story. I grew up on the south side of Chicago [in a] working poor family…I was a freshman in high school when I saw Bonnie and Clyde, and I remember very profoundly there is a scene where Gene Hackman’s character gets shot in the head and he’s in this field and he’s dying. And I remember being overwhelmed with sadness and emotion. And that was the seminal moment where I go I gotta be a movie director. Right around the same time I’m watching Johnny Carson and his guest that night is Jerry Lewis. In the 60s he was like the Spielberg of the movie industry. He had like total autonomy of making his movies. So Johnny says, ‘Hey Jerry, I hear your teaching school at a university,’ and he goes, ‘Yeah, I’m teaching at USC Cinema School.’ And I went, there’s cinema school? I thought there’s a place where you can actually learn cinema. I said I gotta go to this place. I got accepted into the USC film school and that was my connection to the movie business. I came out cold turkey. I had no relatives in the movie business, nobody had a union card, and I basically got into the industry through the film school.”
Oscar-winning director Robert Zemeckis (Forrest Gump)
The Director’s Chair
interview with Robert Rodriguez

In 1975 Zemeckis won at the The Academy’s Student Film Award for his film A Field of Honor. Over the years his filmography includes Back to the Future, Cast Away, Flight, and The Walk (which is released in theaters next week).

Related posts:
Professor Jerry Lewis (The Total Filmmaker)
Professor Jerry Lewis (Screenwriting)
Professor Jerry Lewis (Great Filmmakers)
Jerry Lewis (Directing)
Professor Jerry Lewis (Actors)
Filmmaking Quote #13 Robert Zemeckis
Postcard #43 (Savannah)
40 Days of Emotions

Scott W. Smith

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“The advice is if you want to direct, direct. And even easier—if you want to write, write. Writing is one of the only things that can be done with very little resources.”
Writer/director Guillermo del Toro

“Mexico is still a very violent place. So I do think that some of that element in my films comes from a Mexican sensibility.”
Mexican born filmmaker Guillermo del Toro

Robert Rodriguez question to Guillermo del Toro on the The Directors Chair: “I asked Francis Ford Coppola if he had a question for you, and he did, and it’s a great question. He said, ‘Guillermo, with such a fertile imagination what techniques do you use to thin out or to do less and try to focus in on essentials?'”

Guillermo del Toro: “What you need to do is if you can live without it, leave it behind. In designing one of my philosophies I learned from theater design, or opera design, where each set has one statement. For example in Pan’s Labyrinth, the captain’s room is a giant gear with other gears next to it. And the Pale Man is a devil with a chimney….So what part of the set is telling the story? And that’s the part you focus everything. And the rest you need to fall, not away, [but] be secondary to that.”

Scott W. Smith

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“Nobody knew anything. We were just a bunch of kids making a movie.”
John Carpenter on making Halloween when he was 29-years-old
(Though there is some understatement from Carpenter who grew up in Bowling Green, Kentucky and eventually graduated from USC film school back when John Ford and Orson Welles were guest speakers.)

The fun part about embracing your limitations is seeing where it will take you. What kind of odd connections can you make that will be fresh and interesting? My post yesterday (The Perfect Ending) had a video clip of David Nutter winning an Emmy for directing, and I noticed on that clip that the actress handing him his Emmy was Jamie Lee Curtis. I wondered if there was a way I could play off that today on my all month-long of writing posts connected to filmmaker Robert Rodriguez.

When I think of Curtis I think of her first feature film role in Halloween (1978). And when I think of Halloween I think of John Carpenter who directed the film from a script he wrote with Debra Hill. And it just so happens that Rodriguez interviewed Carpenter on The Director’s Chair.

“Why would a young hispanic filmmaker from San Antonio, Texas ever believe he could be a filmmaker? It was because of your movies. I would see John Carpenter’s The Fog—I’d say who’s this guy? Why is his name above the title. Well look, he’s writing it, he’s directing it, he’s editing it, he’s scoring it, and I’d think this guy is having so much fun. He’s doing it without a studio. He’s doing it independently. He’s doing it with a low-budget. Two hands, boot straps, check, got it— we can go.”
Robert Rodriguez to John Carpenter
The Director’s Chair, Episode 1

I don’t write too much about horror films because it’s not a genre I’m drawn to these days. But like every other teenager in 1978 I remember watching Halloween in a packed theater with people screaming. Great memories. I’ll never forget the one dude being picked up in the movie and being nailed to a door by the bad guy’s knife—ending with the shot of his feet just dangling in the air.

And I remember when I was 12-years-old being enthralled watching the house burn in the House of Usher when they showed the movie one night at the junior high where my mom was a teacher.  Visions of Dracula, Godzillia, Cujo, Norman Bates, Hannibel Lecter, Alien Queen, and those giant ants in Them! will follow me to the grave.

There are plenty of classic horror films throughout film history; The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1922), Nosferatu (1922) Dracula ( 1931) The Bride of Frankenstein (1935), Psycho (1960), The Birds (1963), Rosemary’s Baby (1968), The Exorcist (1973), Alien (1979), Friday the 13th (1980) and Poltergist (1982). And the low-budget films The Blair Witch Project (1999), Saw (2004)  Paranormal Activity (2009) are still in the top 20 of movies that percentage wise are the most profitable movies of all time.

“Horror will always be the same. Horror will always be with us. It was around at the beginning in the birth of cinema. Edison did Frankenstein. It’s one genre that translates around the world. Big monster comes through the door everybody, in every country jumps up and screams. It’s a universal language. You don’t make horror movies to make money. you don’t make horror movies to be popular. You want to do it because you have a story to tell.”
John Carpenter
Interview with Robert Rodriguez on The Director’s Chair

The Devils Castle (1896 or 1897) written, directed and starring George Melies is often credited with being the first horror film, so ending with the beginning seems a fitting way to round out this post:

P.S. House of Usher (based on an Edger Allen Poe short story) starred Vincent Price and was directed by Roger Corman. Didn’t know that until I did some research writing this post. I have written much about Corman over the years and Carpenter names him as his inspiration from wanting to be a filmmaker.

Related posts:

Fear of the Unknown ““The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear.” H.P. Lovecraft
The Creature from…
Coppola & Roger Corman
The ‘Piranha’ Highway
Screenwriting Quote #189 (Darren Bousman)
Stephen Susco Q&A at Full Sail * Think primal. Fear and personal loss are the foundations of many fine films.
Writing ‘Silence of the Lambs’
Orson Welles at USC (Part 1) 

Scott W. Smith 

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Game of Thrones broke a huge Emmys record at Sunday night’s ceremonies. With David Nutter’s win for best director of a drama series, the HBO show snagged its tenth Emmy this year, the most any series has ever won in a single year.” 
Eliana Dockterman, Time, September 20, 2015
(Game of Thrones would finish the night with 11 Emmys)

“What am I doing up here?”
David Nutter
(How Nutter began his Emmy acceptance speech)

It was the perfect ending. Perfect and poetic. I’m not talking about a movie or a TV show, but about yesterday—and about a life. And what made it really special is no one wrote the ending, it just happened in that mystical way where things align together perfectly. It was an ending that filmmaker/film teacher Ralph Clemente would have appreciated if he hadn’t died earlier this year, but one that happened because he lived.

When David Nutter was a 20-year-old music major he had a big dream—to be the next Barry Manilow. Nutter’s musical dreams died before he graduated from the University of Miami. But he also found a new dream in 1980 when he took an 8mm filmmaking class with Prof. George Capewell.

Then Nutter found a filmmaking mentor with Clemente, who Capewell had hired as filmmaker in residence at Miami. After graduating from Miami, Nutter launched his career when he directed the 1985 feature Cease Fire (starring Don Johnson), which Clemente worked on as an associate producer.

Fast forward 20 years to last night when Nutter accepted a Primetime Emmy for directing the Game of Thrones episode, Mother’s Mercy. A remarkable accomplishment because we are in what has been called the modern golden age of television. At the end of his acceptance speech Nutter said, “Thank you to Ralph Clemente, the man who taught me the most.” One little sentence made for the perfect ending.

Earlier in the day there was a tribute at Valencia College in Orlando for Ralph Clemente, where Clemente started the film program in the late ’80s. He would help students work on 47 feature films through a film program that he helped designed. Valencia College President Sandy Shugart spoke at the tribute about how Ralph taught him about vision, saying Clemente was like a gardener who could taste the fruit before he planted the seeds.

And Ralph Clemente planted a lot of seeds. Inspired a lot of people.  At the tribute they played a video of Nutter talking about how Clemente was not only his teacher and mentor but also a father figure. He also said that he changed is life because he ended up marrying the au pair that Ralph and his wife Emily had when they were raising their sons in Miami. Nutter said that he regretted not being at the tribute, but if he won an Emmy he’d be sure to mention Ralph—and that’s exactly how it went down. Fruit from seeds planted 35 years ago.

Ralph Clemente Tribute at Valencia College

Ralph Clemente Tribute at Valencia College

Several people at the tribute mentioned affectionately how Clemente was a schmoozer.  He was a positive people person who got people on board with his vision. I wish I had a quote of his I could drop in here to show how that helps in the filmmaking process, but since I’ve been running Robert Rodriguez related posts all month I’ll hand it off to him to talk about the salesmanship side that is often needed with the creative and technical side of filmmaking:

“If you go to an actor and say, ‘hey, I’m a filmmaker and I’m making a low budget movie and I kind of need a marquee to kinda help sell it. I can’t pay you very much. And it’s probably going to be a lot of work, but do you want to be in it?’ you’re only thinking about yourself , and they’ll be like, ‘No, get the hell out of here.’ Because all you’re taking about is what you do and how you do it, which is I make low budget movies. Yeah, so what, that means ya got no money. Instead I always start with why. I go to [the actor] and say, ‘I love what you do. I’ve always been a big fan—I believe in creative freedom. I don’t work with the studios, I work independently. I’m the boss, it’s just me and my crew. It’s very creative, ask any of your actor friends. They’ll say go have that experience, you’re going to feel so invigorated. I shoot very quickly and you’ll be out [quickly]. Robert De Niro in Machete was out in four days. While you’ll be on your next movie for six months, you’ll be on my movie for four days, and it’s going to be the most fun you’ve ever had. And your performance is going to be really freeing, that’s why I do it. How do I do it? I work very independently. I have very few people on my crew and we do multiple jobs. We do it with less money so we have more freedom. Do you want to come make this movie?’ And they’ll be like, ‘Yes.’ Because it’s all about what they can do. What they can bring to it. How it’s going to fulfill them.”
Filmmaker Robert Rodriguez
Tim Ferriss interview

Clemente wasn’t in it just for himself. He knew he could only do the kinds of things he wanted to do by helping people do the things they wanted to do. Win-win. I was part of the Miami film program during the Clemente era and know that he poured himself into students. So yesterday wasn’t the end of his legacy. There will be students of his that will take what they learned from him and pass it on to others they work with in that circle of life kind of way.

Link to donate to the Ralph R. Clemente Scholarship at Valencia College.

P.S. Back when I had a production company in Iowa I worked with Josh McCabe while he was still in college and tried to pass on what I knew to him in the few years we worked together. (I wrote about him in the 2011 post How to Get Started Working in Production.) Today Josh works in production in Denver, Colorado and just this weekend got married. Congrats to he and his wife Ashely.  He never met Ralph Clemente, but I hope I passed on a few things to him I learned working with Clemente that helped make him the creative producer/shooter/editor he is today.


Photo by Jon Van Allen

Related posts:
Ralph Clemente (1943-2015)
‘It has to move me.’—David Nutter
Insanely Great Endings Screenwriting insight from Michael Arndt

Scott W. Smith

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“I couldn’t be prouder of Grindhouse, I couldn’t be prouder of both of our films [Planet Terror and Death Proof], but it was the first one I’d had that was a flop. It didn’t shake me as far as my feelings for the movie, it did shake me to think I may never have a hit again. ‘Cause actually when you have a big flop, you almost can’t imagine ever having a hit again. They’ll never show up again….Frankly, we were also a little cocky. We’d gotten used to going into uncharted territory—you with Sin City, me with Kill Bill—hacking our way through and people following. We kind of thought they’d follow us anywhere. And, no, they won’t follow you everywhere. We needed to give them a little bit more of a reason—a little bit more of an understanding. All good. But I felt like my girlfriend had just broken up with me, but my girlfriend was the planet earth…I was coming off of a flop, I had to prove myself. It made me want to tame myself. I wasn’t quite so f’ing sure about myself. I really had to make this into a movie…I wouldn’t be surprised if 20 years from now Inglourious Basterds is the one they talk about the most.”
Writer/ Director Quentin Tarantino
Interview on The Director’s Chair with Robert Rodriguez

Tarantino received Oscar-nominations for both writing and directing Inglourious Basterds which made over $300 million at the box office worldwide. He then followed it up three years later with Django Unchained for which he not only won his second Oscar, but it became his biggest box office hit making more than $400 million worldwide.

Related posts:
Tarantino Gumbo Soup Film School
‘What I’m really here to do’—Tarantino
‘The way I write’—Tarantino

Scott W. Smith

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“Once you actually start thinking about directing if you look at something like The Good, the Bad and the Ugly or Once Upon a Time in the West—well, that’s directing. You can literally see what the director does and the way the characters enter frame and exit frame, and the way the camera does it’s thing. It’s almost like a directing school. It doesn’t mean you have to direct like that, but it shows you what directing is, shows you cinematically.”
Quentin Tarantino
The Director’s Chair interview with Robert Rodriguez

Filmmaker Quentin Tarantino is an interesting amalgamation the American South, Southern California, and somewhere in the vicinity of the South China Sea.

Had Quentin Tarantino gone to film school in the early ’80s he would have been fed a steady diet of acceptable film history and told the proper directors who should be admired and studied. And it would have been a solid list of the usual suspects; Hitchcock, Welles, Ford, Bergman, Godard, Chaplin, Capra, Truffaut, Stevens, Huston, Bunuel, Griffith, Lubitrsch, etc.

Or he could have followed in the wake of the giant filmmakers of the 70s; Lumet, Pollack, Altman, Coppola, Bogdanovich, Allen, Polanski, Herzog, etc. (Though I seem to recall an interview where Tarantino said Bogdanovich’s They All Laughed was one of his favorite films.)

But in the words Tarantino he didn’t go to film school “he went to films.” With an appetite that sometimes included the old masters (Kurosawa/Hawks/Wilder) and the new ones (Scorsese/De Palma/Kubrick), but more than likely seemed to be the slightly off-beat or obscure; Mario Bava (Black Sabbath), Jimmy Wang Yu (The Chinese Boxer), Sergio Leone (A Fistful of Dollars), Joseph Sargent (White Lightning), Jack Hill (Coffy), Bruce Lee (The Way of the Dragon), Sergio Corbucci (Companeros), Dario Argento (Tenebre) and Chang-Hwa Jeong (Five Fingers of Death). 

Everything from blaxploitation movies, spaghetti westerns, anime, and martial arts films. In other words, movies that were not usually included in most film schools—and if they were it would have been in a derogatory way. Then toss in this Tarantino quote/revelation,”One of my favorite books of all time is Larry McMurtry’s All My Friends Are Going to Be Strangers. It’s a very influential book to me. I always use it as an example of what I’m trying to do.”

It’s a gumbo soup mixed in the south of somewhere unique. Of course, not everyone appreciates Tarantino’s movies—and he’s fine with that:

“I don’t make movies that bring people together. I make movies that split people apart.”
Quentin Tarantino

Before Tarantino and Roger Avary won an Oscar for their work on the Pulp Fiction screenplay the two worked together at the video rental store Video Archives in Manhatten Beach, California and also together as production assistants. In an interview on The Director’s Chair with Robert Rodriguez, Tarantino explained his limited production experience before directing Reservoir Dogs.

PA Credit

Tarantino: “Frankly I identified with the PAs on the set [of Reservoir Dogs] more than anyone else because we were all about the same level of experience. The only sets I’d been on where I worked was I was a PA on the Dolph Lundgren exercise home video. So that was my only working job, where I was actually part of a crew. But it’s one thing to say, ‘Hey, I want to make a movie’ and then somebody going, ‘Ok, we’re going to take a chance on you.’

“…The only training I’d ever done was as an actor. I knew that would be one of my strengths… I wasn’t all about the lens and the lighting and all that stuff that a lot of film students at the time were. What I could do was put a bunch of actors in a room, and get the best out of them. And rehearse the scene and get them to the right kind of pitch.

“…We had a two-week rehearsal [on Reservoir Dogs] and we’d chewed the rag on the material so much, and they were so ready to go it gave me confidence. I knew I was the best person to do this movie. I knew this material better than anybody else knew it. And these guys really respected me. They wanted to make my movie. It was diving into the material that gave me confidence. I was ready to do it.”

Rodriguez: I can’t imagine a more confident person than you, so to hear you say that should give people some kind of consolation if they feel nervous about a step they are going to take. You should feel nervous, you should feel some fear. You are embarking on something that is worth your time.

Tarantino: But if you’re doing a piece that’s your answer. Get to know that piece [that script]. There was nobody better than me to tell that story… Everybody else on the set could know a whole hell of a lot more about filmmaking than I did—and they all did—but I knew this material better than they did.”

Related posts:
‘What I’m really here to do”—Tarantino
‘The way I write’—Tarantino
‘It’s Good Not to Follow the Herd’

Scott W. Smith

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