When Quentin Tarantino hit it big in the 1990s with Reservoir Dogs, and then much bigger with Pulp Fiction, he became known as the auteur who’d received his film education by working as a video-store clerk. But like much Hollywood hype, that story wasn’t quite true. “No, I was already a movie expert,” says the man himself in a clip from the 1994 BBC documentary Quentin Tarantino: Hollywood’s Boy Wonder. “That’s how I got hired at Video Archives.” Located in the South Bay — a comparatively little-seen region of Los Angeles County later paid loving tribute with Jackie Brown — the store was, in the words of one of its owners, “one of the few places that Quentin could come as a regular guy and get a job and become like a star.”
“Me and the other guys would walk into the local movie theater and we’d be heading toward our seats and we’d hear, ‘There go the guys from Video Archives,'” says Tarantino in Tom Roston’s I Lost It at the Video Store. On one level, the experience constituted “a primer to what it would be like to be famous.” Having begun as a Video Archives customer, Tarantino wound up working there for five years, offering voluminous and forceful recommendations by day and, after closing, putting on staff-only film festivals by night. “That time is captured perfectly in True Romance,” which Tony Scott directed but Tarantino wrote, and one of those co-workers, Roger Avary, would collaborate with him on the screenplay for Pulp Fiction.
Video Archives was a beacon to all the South Bay’s “film geeks.” Then as now, most such people “devote a lot of money and they devote a lot of their life to the following of film, but they don’t really have that much to show for all this devotion,” other than their strongly held cinematic opinions. “What you find out fairly quickly in Hollywood is, this is a community where hardly anybody trusts their own opinion. People want people to tell them what is good, what to like, what not to like.” Hence the ability of the young Tarantino, brimming with opinions and unafraid to state them and possessed of an unwavering resolve to make movies of his own, to go from video-store clerking practically straight to the top of the industry. Though he didn’t need film school — nor college, or indeed high school — he could hardly have found a more suitable alma mater.
Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, 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.