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Quentin Tarantino Returns to Sundance with ‘Reservoir Dogs’ 25 Years After Its Premiere

The now-famous auteur reflected on his Sundance roots and the American indie scene of the early '90s.

"Reservoir Dogs"

“Reservoir Dogs”

Sundance Institute

Twenty-five years after premiering his “Reservoir Dogs” to a mixed reception at the 1992 Sundance Film Festival, Quentin Tarantino returned to Park City on the last weekend of the Sundance Film Festival to screen Miramax’s new 35mm print of his first feature and to reflect on his roots at the festival. After the film, Tarantino was accompanied onstage by his long-time producer Lawrence Bender and actor Michael Madsen (who played Mr. Blonde), as the three men took part in an eye-opening 50-minute Q&A.

Tarantino’s immediate reflection after having watched the film for the first time in a while was that he was surprised about its 100-minute length. “I can’t believe I made a movie that short,” joked Tarantino, whose last film, “The Hateful Eight,” was over three hours long.

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Although not often associated with the festival proper, one of Tarantino’s first big breaks was getting “Reservoir Dogs” into Sundance Institute’s Filmmaker (now called Director’s) Lab.

“Besides Lawrence, who had read all my scripts, [the Labs] were the first time somebody took me seriously,” said Tarantino. “I couldn’t believe how altruistic everybody was, they were all there just to help me.”

Quentin Tarantino, Steve Buscemi and David Jensen workshop a scene from "Reservoir Dogs" at the 1991 Filmmakers Lab

Quentin Tarantino, Steve Buscemi and David Jensen workshop a scene from “Reservoir Dogs” at the 1991 Filmmakers Lab

© 2016 Sundance Institute | Photo by Sandy Miller

Tarantino did joke that lab instructors kept telling him that “they wanted him to get out of the experience what he wanted to get out the experience,” but the director added the instructors didn’t always practice what they preached.

Having known he wanted to shoot “Reservoir Dogs” in long takes, he used the lab as a way of experimenting with that approach to shooting when workshopping scenes.

“All these famous resource people at the Labs were pretty harsh in their criticism,” said Tarantino. “I think they thought I shot it that way because I didn’t know you could cut.”

Later in the Labs, the English director Jon Amiel asked the young director if he had done his “subtext work” with the script. Confused, Amiel added, “You think you know everything about this script because you wrote it, but you don’t.”

Harvey Keitel and Tim Roth in "Reservoir Dogs"

Harvey Keitel and Tim Roth in “Reservoir Dogs”

Courtesy of Sundance Institute

Amiel then had Tarantino analyze the real motivations of both Mr. Orange (Tim Roth) and Mr. White (Harvey Keitel) in a particular scene. Tarantino said that it sent him down a rabbit hole and he discovered the dynamic between the two characters was actually a father-son-like relationship, which led to him seeing the film’s ending in a different light.

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“It was really interesting, but I knew I never wanted to do that ever again,” said Tarantino. He later added that it was important for him to realize there were deep roots underneath the surface of his stories, but that he never wanted to pull them up and analyze them in the same way. He found that it was more important that he get the drama of the scenes working and save the deeper analytic interpretation for after he made the film.

During the Q&A, Bender and Tarantino retold stories of how he got the script to Harvey Keitel through Bender’s acting coach and the vital role the veteran actor played in getting not only the film made, but in protecting the first-time director from other influences.

Tarantino also retold stories of his epic battles with actor Lawrence Tierney and how, at the end of the first week of shooting, a fight between the two had to be broken up after Tarantino fired the veteran actor.

Lawrence Tierney in "Reservoir Dogs"

Lawrence Tierney in “Reservoir Dogs”

Courtesy of Sundance Institute

Tarantino, who spent most of preproduction and production convinced he was going to be fired, realized that after a week of shooting with Tierney his financial backers would likely choose to shoot with a different director rather than reshoot Tierney’s scenes. He quickly realized he’d have to “take some shit” if he didn’t want to go back to working in the video store.

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He also reflected on the early ’90s and what an exciting time it was to be an young American director. “Every eight years, there’s a new hot spot in world cinema and in the early ’90s, that was American independent films,” said Tarantino.

Not having travelled much in his life, Tarantino spent a year bringing “Reservoir Dogs” to a number of international film festivals where it, and other Sundance films, were warmly received.

“1992 was a watershed year for Sundance,” said Tarantino. “It really felt like we were part of a movement.”

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