Quentin Tarantino. Full stop. One of the most iconic filmmakers living today. On a venture to create a brilliant repertoire consisting only of ten feature-length films, the iconography of Tarantino as a writer, director, and actor is unmatched by any. He has written and directed:
Kill Bill Volumes 1 and 2
The Hateful Eight
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Tarantino's style of comical violence, quirky characters, impassioned monologues, and some of the best movie soundtracks of all time, make him a true Hollywood legend.
Tarantino was born in 1963 in Knoxville, Tennesse. At the age of three, he moved to Los Angeles, specifically Torrance, California, where he was raised by his mother and stepfather. From an early age, he had a passion for film and acting, which was greatly encouraged by his family. As a young boy, his mother would take him to the movie theater, or he would ride his bike, and he would relish in the art of filmmaking. He was in love with the form and his eidetic memory allows him to remember, to this day, every movie that he saw and the impact that each one had on him as a child. That being said, while his passion for films blossomed, his academics suffered. I’m sure we all know someone like this, or perhaps you are this person, but Quentin Tarantino said he was entirely unable to do work that he was disinterested in. It wasn’t that he lacked a work ethic. When he was passionate about something, he could outwork anyone. But if the interest wasn’t there, he couldn’t fake it… at all.
By the age of 15, Tarantino had dropped out of high school to pursue film and acting full time. In doing so, he began writing screenplays seriously and acting in community theater productions. In his spare time, he worked at an adult movie theater. Ironically, being a movie theater usher had been his childhood dream, however, he said that the experience would have been much better had they shown different films.
Around this time, while trying to get inspiration to write, Quentin discovered the books of film critic Pauline Kael. This began what would become his version of a film school. He would ride his bike to the movie theater, watch a film, then go into the B. Dalton Bookstore and read Pauline Kael’s reviews. It became his way of not just enjoying a film for entertainment, but being able to look at it through an analytical point of view, and in turn, learn something about how these films were crafted.
Pauline Kael, had a brutal honesty that Tarantino adored, and he found
himself following her influence to discover the filmmakers that would eventually inspire his own work. Some of his most influential films include Brian De Palma’s highly underrated Blow Out and Sylvester Stalone’s Rocky. He credits Sylvester Stalone with showing him, a young actor trying to make it in Hollywood, that it was possible to write something and also play the starring role.
Quentin Tarantino has famously said, “When people ask me if I went to film school I say, ‘No, I went to films.’” It might seem sort of inconceivable that one of the best filmmakers of all time didn’t go to film school, but his method of learning about filmmaking was more real and valuable than any expensive program could ever be.
Here was his process:
He would watch every and any film he could get his hands on. He would read all of the books on filmmaking and film criticism that he could find. He would watch and listen to interviews of filmmakers talking about their process. Each step on its own can only propel you so far in the film industry, but altogether the amalgamation of information produced the most authentic kind of student. More than any film student paying thousands of dollars to have a professor talk movies at them could ever be, Tarantino was learning and growing and developing for one simple reason… he LOVED movies. And this line is something he still carries with him to this day.
On his sets he will pose the questions “Why are we here? Why are we working so hard? Why are we doing this?” and he will have everyone say it with him, “Because we LOVE making movies!”
Back to the journey that started his career, while continuing to act in small theater productions, the thing Tarantino struggled with the most was writing. He couldn’t seem to get any of his ideas off the floor. He said he had dozens of ten or fifteen paged scripts, where he’d start something and sit with it, but it wouldn’t take long before it would fizzle out. One of these early screenplays was based on Hal Needham’s Smokey and the Bandit. It was entitled Captain Peachfuzz and the Anchovy Bandit. Pulling from snippets of Smokey and the Bandit and similarly styled movies, the story followed a man who robbed pizza parlors and was on the run from authorities with a beautiful woman at his side.
Another early script was entitled Brooklyn B.R. No, B.R. does not stand for anything, but a young Tarantino thought it sounded cool. Based on Stalone’s Paradise Alley, it was about three Italian brothers named Dominic, Scotty, and Mario (or Dario, it was undecided) living in the New York City slums. Both scripts, roughly thirty pages long at the time, felt like an accomplishment.
Then came the moment where things changed. One of his best friends at the time, Roger Avary, had been working on a screenplay called Open Road. After Avary got stuck halfway through, Quentin wanted to give writing the second act a shot. Opposed to the usual grind of writing, Tarantino found himself with the complete opposite problem, he couldn’t get himself to stop writing. He said it was at this moment that he realized what it must feel like to be an actual writer. Unfortunately, nothing ever came of Open Roads, however, Quentin vowed to himself that the next script he wrote would be the one he turned into a movie. And not long after that, he wrote his very first produced screenplay, True Romance. And soon after that, he penned Reservoir Dogs, which was his directorial debut.
So there you have it, easily one of the most talented screenwriters of all time didn’t graduate from film school (or high school for that matter) and spent about five years struggling to write a script over thirty pages long before he made his big break.
In the Swila Community, we have a group of people coming from all over the globe, from vastly different backgrounds, who have lived vastly different lives. I don’t know your stories, but I think that Tarantino’s story, if nothing else, should prove to you that nothing is standing in your way of making your dreams a reality. It took him a long time to get there, but he worked his hardest at the thing that he was the most passionate about, and eventually, he not only got his voice heard, but he went on to become a luminary.
Right now, while you are sitting at your desk staring at several fifteen paged scripts or scenes that you can’t seem to get off the ground, remember that now is not the time to give up. Now is the time to push even harder. Push yourself, push your ideas, push your boundaries. Watch films analytically. Get inspired. And keep writing. It might not happen today. It might not happen next week. It might not happen in the next year. But, if you want it bad enough, keep pushing because as Quentin Tarantino has proved, anything is possible with enough passion.
Stay tuned for next week when I’ll delve deeper into the work of Quentin Tarantino, his style and his development as a filmmaker.
Always be writing.
Tell better stories.
Never give up.
Make sure to leave a comment with your thoughts and ideas. And let us know who's philosophy we should explore next.