Quentin Tarantino, who is currently prepping his latest western project, Elmore Leonard’s “Forty Lashes Less One,” advised a group of graduate design students at UCLA’s Design Showcase West on Saturday to never lose sight of the connection between craft and character.
In his keynote, Tarantino admitted that he made the connection for the first time during an encounter with Terry Gilliam (“Brazil”) at the Sundance Lab in ’91 while developing “Reservoir Dogs.” Tarantino asked Gilliam how he achieved his cinematic vision.
He replied: “Quentin, it’s not your job to create your vision. It’s your job to have a vision. And then it’s your job to hire talented individuals [and artists] who understand your vision and you articulate it to them. And then they take your vision and they create it….They will take the different elements of your vision and make it three-dimensional. You don’t need to know anything about sewing to have wonderful costumes in your films. You just need to express what you want to the costume designers. You don’t need to have a degree in engineering to have magnificent sets…That’s not your job!”
At the same Sundance Lab, Tarantino also met with director Ulu Grosbard (“True Confessions”), who stressed the importance of costume design.
“Every time you have a costume fitting, you the director, need to be in that fitting because the character is being born right there when they put on these shoes, when they put on these pants,” Grosbard said. For example, Grosbard estimated that Robert De Niro got a handle on 70% of his priest character in “True Confession” from his shoes.
Lo and behold, when Tarantino approached De Niro to play Louis Gara in “Jackie Brown,” the actor asked what kind of shoes he wore —and Tarantino was ready. He explained that after being in jail for five years, the toe of one of his shoes was folded over after being stuffed in a bag with all of his other clothes. “So he has to flex his foot just a little bit to keep it together.” It worked.
And Tarantino said that’s how he collaborates with his designers, describing what he wants through examples of movies, comic books and other multi-media faves.
Before checking out graduate student work from 14 universities (including UCLA, CalArts, Carnegie Mellon, NYU and the University of Texas, Austin), Tarantino dispensed this parting advice: “Just know that whatever you end up working on, it’s also part of your job to make [the craft] more approachable. Keep talking about story and keep talking about character…and it’s your job in the nicest way possible [to] make them get it.”