Quentin Tarantino was born Texan, but bred Californian. From his early school years , Tarantino showed interest in acting and participated in drama clubs. He left high school at 16 to attend full-time acting classes at the James Best Theater Company in Toluca Lake. He grew bored with the James Best Acting School and quit after two years, although he made a point of keeping in touch with all his acting friends.
Then he landed a job at Video Archives, a now-defunct video rental store in Manhattan Beach, California.
‘WHEN PEOPLE ASK ME IF I WENT TO FILM SCHOOL, I TELL THEM NO. I WENT TO FILMS’
Tarantino’s years at the video store have since become famous for defining his directing career.
He’s said to have paid close attention to the types of films people liked to rent, in order to use this experience as inspiration for future projects. In Tarantino’s case, film theory was gained from thousands of hours of watched movies, which he then discussed and analysed at length with fellow movie enthusiasts – including future long-term collaborator Roger Avary (Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction).
Experiencing other people’s work, Tarantino eventually started writing his own screenplays.
He has always written dialogue for imaginary scenes, he says, since he was a child, but it wasn’t until he took evening acting classes – for which he would write the scripts he performed – that people told him he had a gift for words:
“That was the first time anyone had ever complimented me or given me any encouragement about my writing and from that day on I started taking it more seriously.”
Very much a “self-made man”, Tarantino took the opportunity to direct his first – albeit amateur – feature in the late 1980s.
In 1984-1987 Craig Hamann, Roger Avary and Quentin Tarantino created My Best Friend’s Birthday . The project started in 1984, when Hamann wrote a short 30-40 page script about a young man who continually tries to do something nice for his friend’s birthday, only to have his efforts backfire. Tarantino became attached to the project as co-writer and director, and he and Hamann expanded the short script into an 80-pager. With an estimated budget of $5,000 they shot the movie on 16mm film.
Hamann and Tarantino starred in the film, along with several video store and acting class buddies, and worked on the crew, which included fellow Video Archives employees. Unfortunately, most of the original cut was destroyed in a lab fire. The surviving 36 minutes never saw the light of day until later in Tarantino’s career, when they were re-cut and shown in several small festivals.
Watch “My Best Friend’s Birthday” right here, as part of Film Doctor’s Monday Prescriptions:
The screenplay of “My Best Friend’s Birthday” later formed the basis for Tony Scott’s True Romance.
MR. BROWN HAS USEFUL CONTACTS
The time spent at the Video Archives was fruitful not just for learning & honing the storytelling craft but for meeting people.
Tarantino and Avery were hired by producer John Langley, a regular video store customer who was impressed by their film knowledge, to work as production assistants on a Dolph Lundgren exercise video.
Tarantino wrote the script in three and a half weeks and Bender forwarded it to director Monte Hellman. Hellman helped Tarantino to secure funding from Richard Gladstein at Live Entertainment (which later became Artisan). When the screenplay landed in the hands of Harvey Keitel, the moderately planned production grew to a $1.5 million stint – the actor became enamored of the script and agreed not only to star, but to co-produce the film.
In January 1992, Reservoir Dogs was screened at the Sundance Film Festival and was an immediate hit. The film received a positive response from critics. A dialogue-driven heist movie, this project set the tone for Tarantino’s later films.
Meanwhile, Tarantino and Bender had set up a production company, A Band Apart – which stands behind not only all of Tarantino’s films but also a lot of music video and TV productions, as well as the 2004 remake of “Dirty Dancing”, “Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights”.
Tarantino maintains several long-term prolific collaborations – another reminder of how important the people around you are – not just in writing/directing/producing (Lawrence Bender, Robert Rodriguez), but also with actors (Tim Roth, Samuel L Jackson).
Reminiscing of that time, Tarantino has shared:
“Before Reservoir Dogs, everything was constantly a big build up to a huge let down.”
“I have always considered that with all the setbacks I had, the fact that I didn’t give up is maybe the one thing in my life that I am most proud of.”
“I just knew I would live a life of unfulfilment if I didn’t keep trying”.
After Sundance ’92 Tarantino found himself in demand in Hollywood. He sold 2 stories – for what would become “True Romance“ (1993) and “Natural Born Killers” (1994). This paved the way for “Pulp Fiction” (1994) – and Tarantino truly exploded onto the scene.
PERFECTIONISM & PERSONAL SIGNATURE
“All my movies are achingly personal,” has insisted Tarantino in an interview for The Telegraph in 2010. “People who really know me can see that in my work. In a film, I may be talking about a bomb in a theatre, but that’s not what I’m really talking about.” “[…] it’s not my job to tell you,” he’s said. “My job is to hide it.”
Although others might quibble, Tarantino insists that he has never put out a film that didn’t meet the high standards he set himself with that first film. He has already decided he will quit film-making while he’s still at the top of his game, around the age of 60:
“Directors are not famous for knowing when to leave the party,” he says. “I don’t want to make old geriatric colostomy bag movies. I want to make hard-d–k movies and I want them all to come from the same place as Reservoir Dogs; from the same artist, from the same man.”
‘Monday Prescription’ No. 47 – How you learn your craft is not important, what matters is that you LEARN it. Be resourceful. Be persistent. Believe in yourself. And don’t make anything you won’t be proud of yourself… Quentin Tarantino has managed all of that pretty well.
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