One thing that we’re really, really looking forward to in the Christmas movie season is the return of Quentin Tarantino to the press circuit. Now that he’s finished his eighth movie, “Django Unchained,” (which starts screening for press over the weekend), the filmmaker can get on with the busy business of selling the movie. And love him or hate him, one can’t deny Tarantino knows how to talk, and his colorful appearances on the press tour always make for interesting reading/viewing. He is, as you might expect, like a character from one of his movies come to life.
And his first major interview, alongside Ben Affleck, Ang Lee, David O. Russell, Tom Hooper and Gus Van Sant on The Hollywood Reporter‘s sausage party of a directors’ roundtable, was no exception. Some of what he said has already made headlines, but there’s plenty more where that came from. You can watch the whole interview below, but for those short of time, we’ve rounded up some of the highlights from the director below.
“Django Unchained” hits theaters on Christmas Day, so expect plenty more insight from the filmmaker over the next month or so.
1. He starts talking about on-set temper tantrums…in front of David O. Russell
When asked about the challenges of directing, Tarantino is characteristically immodest about his abilities, while still acknowledging that the greatest stress is the sheer scale of the job. “The telling of the story, dealing with the actors, dealing with the cameramen and everything — to me, that’s the easy part, that’s the part where I think, ‘I was meant to do this.’ It’s just the shouldering of the entire production and leading the army and inspiring everybody every day.”
He continues “You want to have a temper tantrum. You want to just say, from time to time, like, ‘I’ve fucking had it.’ But you can’t say that because everyone really is counting on you to get them up that hill.” Perhaps cautious that David O Russell, who’s had a famous on-set blow-up or two, is in the room (Russell responds with good humor, wryly saying, “Speak for yourself, Quentin,” when the director tells the room, “We all get frustrated”), the moderator asks if Tarantino ever has had a tantrum. “I haven’t had a temper tantrum,” the director responds, “not yet. You know, it’s like, I can’t really have a temper tantrum and still be a boss that’s respected, at least as far as I’m concerned. But, you know, at some point, though, people got to know that there’s a penalty for fucking up.”
2. Tarantino didn’t want a three-hour “Django Unchained” either.
Stories of post-production on “Django Unchained” have detailed a desperate battle to cut the film down to a 2 hour 45 minute running time, with some suggesting that Harvey Weinstein was pressuring Tarantino to edit the picture. The director totally denies the charge saying, “If he treated me that way, I wouldn’t be working with him for twenty years.”
He also suggests that he wants a shorter film too, but that it just takes some time to make it work, normally with a test screening involved. “I didn’t want a three-hour movie, either. When you’re cutting it down, at that moment in time, before you watch it with an audience, you know it’s too long, but you can’t imagine taking anything out. So then you watch it with an audience, and then all of a sudden — ‘Oh, wow, that is kind of boring now!’ or ‘No, this is not as suspenseful by the time we got to it as it needs to be.’ But you can only go so far in the Avid room on your own. At some point, you have to watch it with an audience… And then you watch the movie and 15 minutes are gone by noon the next day!”
3. Tarantino had moments early in his career when he worried he wouldn’t make it.
Again, QT isn’t known for self-doubt, but when asked if he ever feared he’d never make it, he did have with an uncharacteristically vulnerable response. “I didn’t entertain that thought [of failure],” he said. “If I did, I’d probably own a video store right now, and it’d be out of business right now, and I don’t know what the hell I’d be doing. I just figured I couldn’t have a fallback plan, ’cause I couldn’t allow myself to fall back. All or nothing. There’s directing and there’s wanting to direct without ever having directed before, and they’re two different dudes. And the thing about wanting to be a director, and wanting this to be your artform… Aside from getting a 16mm camera, or Super 8 camera, and making something, which is definitely within your power, and even more within people’s power now, to test out these theories. But in the ’80s, when I was a young guy, there was no proof of it at all. You could act, and see if there’s something there. If you want to write, you can get a piece of paper, and see if there’s something there. But if you want to direct, actually direct a feature film, and you’ve never done anything, it’s all theory. So at 3 in the morning, from time to time, you wonder ‘Is this a mistake?’ You think you might have it, but you don’t know. I’m talking about before I literally did anything. This mountain you’re trying to climb, before you even know you’re a mountain climber.” Aspiring filmmakers, take note.4. He calls digital projection “TV in public,” but might actually be open to making something for the small screen.
Part of the reason Tarantino says he’s moving towards potential retirement (which he says he’d use to write novels and film criticism) is that he hates digital, both to shoot and to project. “I can’t stand all this digital stuff. This is not what I signed up for. Even the fact that digital presentation is the way it is right now — I mean, it’s television in public, it’s just television in public. That’s how I feel about it. I came into this for film.” But that’s not to say that he wouldn’t be prepared to make something for TV. Indeed, he feels that, given the length of his scripts, they might actually be better suited to a small screen format, with the added running time that buys you. “If I’m gonna do TV in public,” he continues. “I’d rather just write one of my big scripts and do it as a miniseries for HBO, and then I don’t have the time pressure that I’m always under, and I get to actually use all the script. I always write these huge scripts that I have to kind of — my scripts aren’t like blueprints. They’re not novels, but they’re novels written with script format. And so I’m adapting the script into a movie every day. The one movie that I was actually able to use everything — where you actually have the entire breadth of what I spent a year writing — was the two ‘Kill Bill‘ movies ’cause it’s two movies. So if I’m gonna do another big epic thing again, it’ll probably be like a six-hour miniseries or something.”
5. Tarantino wants to make sure his films keep the “dick hard” of future fans.
The other reason he’s started talking about hanging up his viewfinder is that he’s concerned about his legend, and the idea that he might end up making disappointing films towards the end of his career. “It’s age, it’s absolutely age,” he says. “I’m really well versed on a lot of directors’ careers, you know, and when you look at those last five films when they were past it, when they were too old, and they’re really out of touch with the times, whether it be William Wyler and ‘The Liberation of L.B. Jones‘ or Billy Wilder with ‘Fedora‘ and then ‘Buddy Buddy‘ or whatever the hell. To me, it’s all about my filmography, and I want to go out with a terrific filmography. [2007’s] ‘Death Proof‘ has got to be the worst movie I ever make. And for a left-handed movie, that wasn’t so bad, all right? — so if that’s the worst I ever get, I’m good. But I do think one of those out-of-touch, old, limp, flaccid-dick movies costs you three good movies as far as your rating is concerned. It’s a grade-point average. I think I risk failure every single time with the movies I do, and I haven’t fallen into failure. Risking failure is not what I’m afraid of. Failing is what I’m afraid of.”
“I do think it’s a young man’s game. I really do. I discovered Howard Hawks when I was 15. I saw ‘Rio Bravo‘ and thought it was fantastic,” he continued. “Then I ended up going to some film festival, and I saw ‘His Girl Friday.’ Then all of a sudden I’m at home, and I notice that a movie called ‘Barbary Coast‘ is being played, and it said in the TV Guide, ‘Directed by Howard Hawks,’ and so I watched that. Well, those three movies in a row really got me into that director. So I fantasize about another 12-year-old girl or boy, 20 years after I’m dead, seeing one of my movies, liking it. ‘Who the hell did that?’ Seeing another movie, and then whatever they choose from the pile — ’cause they don’t know what’s good and what’s bad, all right? — I have to keep their dick hard! I have to keep them wanting to go back for more. They can’t grab ‘Buddy Buddy’! They can’t grab ‘Buddy Buddy’! It can’t — that can’t happen!”