Quentin Tarantino Explains How to Write & Direct Movies

When Quentin Taran­ti­no debuted in 1992 with Reser­voir Dogs, and even more so when he fol­lowed it up with the cin­e­mat­ic phe­nom­e­non that was Pulp Fic­tion, the view­ers most dubi­ous about the young auteur’s cul­tur­al stay­ing pow­er dis­missed his movies as ele­va­tions of style over sub­stance. Whether or not Taran­ti­no has con­vert­ed all his ear­ly crit­ics over the past 27 years, he’s cer­tain­ly demon­strat­ed that style can con­sti­tute a sub­stance of its own.

Even many who did­n’t care for his lat­est pic­ture, this year’s Once Upon a Time in Hol­ly­wood, nev­er­the­less expressed grat­i­tude at the release of a lav­ish, large-scale film packed full of ideas, ref­er­ences, set pieces, and jokes — an increas­ing­ly rare achieve­ment, or even aspi­ra­tion, among non-Taran­ti­no film­mak­ers. How does he do it? The Direc­tor’s Chair pro­file video above, and the accom­pa­ny­ing Stu­dio Binder essay by Matt Vasil­i­auskas, iden­ti­fies the essen­tial ele­ments that con­sti­tute the Taran­tin­ian style and Taran­tin­ian sub­stance.

In the video Taran­ti­no dis­cuss­es his process: “I was put on Earth to face the blank page,” to bring forth ideas from with­in and place them in new genre con­texts, to write one line of dia­logue after anoth­er and feel the sur­prise as the script takes turns unex­pect­ed even to him. Every­thing, from con­ver­sa­tions to action scenes to expan­sive wide shots, plays out in his head before he shoots the first frame: “Before I make the movie, I watch the movie.” And like all auteurs, he makes the movie he wants to see: “I don’t think the audi­ence is this dumb per­son low­er than me,” he has said. “I am the audi­ence.”

A film­mak­er look­ing to fol­low Taran­ti­no’s exam­ple must do the fol­low­ing: “Keep it per­son­al,” using expe­ri­ences they’ve actu­al­ly had or emo­tions they’ve actu­al­ly felt, even if they present them fil­tered through “crazy genre world.” “Struc­ture like a nov­el,” with the will­ing­ness to break free of chrono­log­i­cal order. “Think like an actor,” since you’ll have to work long and hard with them. Shoot “Hong Kong action sequences,” two or three moves at a time, so that you can organ­i­cal­ly change and incor­po­rate what hap­pens along the way. “Keep music in mind,” whether that means exist­ing songs that evoke cer­tain times, places, and moods, or orig­i­nal scores like that which Taran­ti­no com­mis­sioned for The Hate­ful Eight from Ennio Mor­ri­cone.

Mor­ri­cone is best known for his col­lab­o­ra­tions with Taran­ti­no’s hero Ser­gio Leone, and like Leone and “all direc­tors work­ing at the top of their game,” writes Vasil­i­auskas, Taran­ti­no “uses the cam­era as his most pow­er­ful sto­ry­telling imple­ment,” espe­cial­ly when shoot­ing wide. “Whether it’s the Bride bat­tling the Crazy 88 gang in Kill Bill or Djan­go sur­vey­ing a burned-out home, Taran­ti­no under­stands the pow­er of the wide-shot to not only cre­ate ten­sion, but to uti­lize the envi­ron­ment in reveal­ing the desires of his char­ac­ters.” But he also gets seri­ous aes­thet­ic and emo­tion­al mileage out of extreme close-ups, crash zooms, and point-of-view shots from inside the trunk of a car (or peri­od equiv­a­lents there­of).

Above all, this for­mer Man­hat­tan Beach video-store clerk “absorbs movies,” and has by his own admis­sion stolen from more films than most of us will watch in our lives. But none of this makes pre­dictable what Taran­ti­no will draw from his real-life and film­go­ing expe­ri­ences and put on the screen next: “I should throw them for a loop,” he says in an inter­view clip includ­ed in the video. He means his audi­ence, of course, but before he can throw us for a loop, he has to do it to him­self. And what­ev­er thrills and sur­pris­es Taran­ti­no will, as we’ve seen over the course of ten fea­ture films so far, thrill and sur­prise us even more.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

How Quentin Taran­ti­no Steals from Oth­er Movies: A Video Essay

How Quentin Taran­ti­no Cre­ates Sus­pense in His Favorite Scene, the Ten­sion-Filled Open­ing Moments of Inglou­ri­ous Bas­ter­ds

The Films of Quentin Taran­ti­no: Watch Video Essays on Pulp Fic­tionReser­voir DogsKill Bill & More

Quentin Taran­ti­no Explains The Art of the Music in His Films

Wes Ander­son Explains How He Writes and Directs Movies, and What Goes Into His Dis­tinc­tive Film­mak­ing Style

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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