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Cinescape Interview

From The Quentin Tarantino Archives

Fu Fighter

by Anthony C Ferrante

It's the most expensive exploitation movie ever made. The script took a year and a half to write. Lensing the movie extended for 50 weeks. And there are only a handful of digital effects shots in it.

The movie is Kill Bill and it's writer director Quentin Tarantino's long-awaited return to the big screen. Whereas audiences knew what to expect with the summer's big guns-Hulk, Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, Matrix Reloaded and so on- Kill Bill is likely to slay moviegoers by sheer virtue of exposure.

“I have to tell you, a lot of people know about Kill Bill and know its coming out,” Tarantino says. “The only thing they’ve seen is that trailer, but we put that trailer together while we were shooting the movie. There’s nothing from the second half. It’s mostly from the first half because that’s all we had done. I’m not trying to get high on my own vapors, but people don’t know what they’re going to get into.”

Very little of the movie’s story has been leaked, and Tarantino’s plan to release the epic Kill Bill this fall as two 90-minute installments (Volume 1and Volume 2) within a month of each other is unprecedented for a genre film. On top of that, a version edited for the Japanese market is also being prepared with different scenes and a different flow (Tarantino even shot a completely different opening title sequence for this cut).

But that’s putting the cart before the horse. What about the movie itself? Lets allow Tarantino to whet genre fan appetites with his own description: “It’s a revenge movie,” he says. “Uma Thurman plays The Bride. She’s an assassin and she works for a team of assassins run by this guy named Bill David Carradine of the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad, and she tries to break away, leaves them and disappears. Bill tracks her down and she’s now pregnant and she’s getting married in Texas somewhere. They massacre everybody at the wedding chapel. They think they’ve killed her – they shoot her in the head – but they didn’t kill her, they just put her in a coma for four year. She come out of the coma, tracks all the members of the deadly Viper team one by one, leaving Bill for last. The thing is, it’s been four years. They’re all in different places doing different things now. Some of them have failed. None of that means anything to the Bride. They are all going to pay and pay horribly.”

In true Tarantino fashion, the premise has been twisted in such a way as to afford the writer-director the opportunity to experiment with different styles of filmmaking.

“These five people on her list, they’re all like in a different genre,” explains Tarantino. “She’s going to a different movie every time she goes to the next person on the list. With one, it’s a JapaneseYakuza samurai/wild gonzo violent shogun assassin kind of thing, where people have garden hoses for veins. Another character has her going into a spaghetti western movie; another is like an old Shaw brothers kung fu world. She’s hopping all these different genres.”

And unlike those movies, the shooting schedule for each sequence was laboriously staged and executed. The Bride’s Tokyo showdown with assassin O-ren (Lucy Liu) was perhaps the most ambitious.

“I wanted it to be to kung fu fights what the Apocalypse Now helicopter battle was to battle scenes,” says Tarantino. “To put in perspective, Pulp Fiction took 10 weeks to shoot. That fight scene took eight weeks.”

Tarantino stepped out of directorial limelight after 1997’s Jackie Brown – the 40-year old says the reason for the hiatus was that he needed time to re-energize and re-evaluate the direction of his career. He’s still a fan at heart; he spent most of his time away building up a collection of film prints and watching at least one genre film a day. Now his biggest film-making adventure, Kill Bill, is only a few short months from release. While camped out in an editing facility in Los Angeles, Tarantino took a break to discuss Kill Bill with Cinescape and convinced us within moments that the director is back – and with a vengeance!

THE INTERVIEW

CS: What were you doing during your down time between Jackie Brown and Kill Bill?

TARANTINO: I was relaxing, enjoying myself, living my life and watching a whole lot of movies. I was also working the entire time, but just writing. I have a ton of material to show for it. There was also something kind of cool about just writing after being the public eye for a while. I got in the public eye by being a writer and it was great to just dive into the material. So I started writing again and began with a World War II script, Inglorious Bastards, which turned into three separate World War II scripts. Then I started writing Kill Bill.

CS: What is your writing process?

TARANTINO: I write scripts the way other writers write books, not the way other writers write scripts. I don’t write on a computer. I write it by hand. I don’t have any 3x5 cards and no spine and I don’t go, “this happens here, that happens there.” I have a pretty good idea what is going to happen. The whole process is finding it. I know this is probably going to happen, but getting there is half the thing. It’s very free form.

CS: When did you start your film print collection?

TARANTINO: I started building it eight years ago, whether it is 35mm prints or 16mm prints or my fourth generation bootlegs of Shaw brother’s kung fu films or Italian Giallos. During those six years, there was never a day that went by that I didn’t watch a movie. I didn’t go out that often; I was just into my own cinema personal history. That was a whole lot of what I was doing, almost reconnecting myself as a writer and reconnecting myself as a film lover. Not just a moviemaker – a movie lover – and getting excited about it all again.

CS: Did you ever worry about being away form the spotlight for too long?

TARANTINO: People used to say I started this director-as-rock-star thing. It’s extremely flattering, but rock stars aren’t known for their longevity. I’m really so not about keeping up with the Joneses or stirring up some heat or anything. My whole feeling is I’m a film-maker and I can do what I want to do, and so it’s like I can put it down, and when I want it, I can pick it up again.

CS: Do you see yourself more as a writer as opposed to a director or actor?

TARANTINO: Not necessarily. It’s more along the lines of, I have three muses that I have to attend to. The director. The writer. The actor. They all kind of go together. There are different times in m life and different situations where one demands complete dominance over the other ones. In the case of Jackie Brown, I did the adaptation of that. But that was a choice of not writing an original and filtering my world through novelist Elmore Leonard’s world. And I didn’t act in it. That was completely the director. After that, I did Wait Until Dark on Broadway. I played the Alan Arkin character with Marisa Tomei. That was the actor taking center stage. After I had done both of those things, then it was “OK, now its time for the writer.” Then I got comfortable. It’s nice, after all the bigness to get small again.

CS: As a writer, do you feel as a director you’re reverential to the writer’s work?

TARANTINO: Writing is really about creation. You just have a white piece of paper looking back at you. When I’m directing, I’m very faithful to my scripts until I start shooting it. That’s one of the reasons I do a good job on my stuff – I know when to be reverential and know when to say fuck it and throw it away, whereas somebody else might not. To me, when I’m directing, it’s all about capturing a moment. It’s not about what was in your head when you were writing. Now you’re on the set, you’re shooting, you have actors and everything there. How do I feel today? You’re trying to capture that creativity and magic that exists that Tuesday.

CS: Now that you don’t have to write to make a living, is it freeing to be able to write whatever you want, knowing you’ll likely be able to get it made without any struggle?

TARANTINO: I’m definitely more precious about writing than I’ve been before, especially on Kill Bill. I really got into the movie but was all-important when I was writing the movie. Its all about the page – I’ll make the movie later. It’s a different discipline. A case could be made, if I had to pay my rent, you would have gotten a whole lot more work out of me. That’s true. Somebody said to me once, “As an artist, you haven’t been giving us your work. An artist owes us their work.” To some degree I agree with that, but I’m more along the lines of an artist owes you not to burn out. An artist owes you to do the best he can do every time. There are some directors that have completely different aesthetics, like Takashi Miike, who does five fucking movies a year. That becomes his aesthetic. You’re going to be hit-and-miss with this one and that. You’ll love this one, you’ll love moments of that one. [Rainer Werner] Fassbinder was like that too. In the course of a 30 year career, I don’t want any of my fans who are going to grow with me or maybe find my shit 15 years form now – like I’ve done with other directors – and have them apologize for the last 20 years of my work. I think one of the ways to combat that is to do it when it means everything to you. If not, live a good life.

CS: What made Kill Bill the movie you wanted to write and to direct next?

TARANTINO: After Jackie Brown, I started working on my war film and it was turning into my gigantic epic great novel. It was The Good the Bad and the Ugly in Nazi-occupied France. But it started to become so big, I didn’t know how to stop writing it. And I decided, “Let me put the war thing away. Its almost gotten too big for me now.” I came up with Kill Bill working on Pulp Fiction and wanting to work with Uma again. I wrote 30 pages and put it away. Then I ran into Uma again ad she asked me about it and I couldn’t imagine doing anything else. I called her up and said, “I’m going to write Kill Bill – that’s what I’m going to do next.” I just started working on it. It was going to be the down-and-dirty exploitation movie that I was going to do before I did my war epic. It turned completely into an epic on its own. I thought I was going to write in three months, and a year and a half later, I finished it.

CS: What made Kill Bill into such an epic?

TARANTINO: Kill Bill was my big, giant exploitation movie – my big grindhouse movie. As much fun as it is, I take it really seriously. This movie doesn’t take place in the real world. It takes place in this special universe. It’s very much a movie universe. It has its own rules and own mythology and a lot of these rules can be found in some of the genre films I’m dealing with in this film.

CS: Why didn’t you employ a lot of digital effects in the film?

TARANTINO: I felt that whenever I had to do that – and there are a couple teeny, tiny CG shots in this movie – I figured I failed. My whole thing was if we couldn’t do it on set and we couldn’t do it in camera then we can’t do it. I’m just fucking bored to tears with this CGI stuff. This is my big grindhouse movie; I’m using old techniques to get stuff across.

CS: How are you going to split the movie into two parts and how did that happen?

TARANTINO: Its been speculated for a long time, and we hadn’t known for sure if we were going to do it or not until recently. I screened it for Miramax President Harvey Weinstein and said, “This is the first half of the movie; we’re not done with the second one.” After screening it to Harvey, he said, “That’s it. That’s the first movie. Great ending. Fantastic. I love it. That’s the first movie.” We didn’t split it up because of time either. The movie is not going to be that long. It would be a long movie if I put it all together. As it is, the first one is about 94 minutes and the next one is about 94 minutes.

CS: When will the second one come out?

TARANTINO: The first one will come out at the beginning of October and we’re looking at the schedule to determine exactly when to bring out the next one. The idea is at a certain point both movies will be playing in theaters.

CS: This is kind of unprecedented for such a mainstream movie.

TARANTINO: A couple of art films have done it before. There was a French movie in two parts called Jean de Florette and Manon of the Spring. They did it. There was another one, Little Dorrit; they also did it.

CS: You also run the risk of, “What if the movie fails? You have a Volume 2 and no one wants to see it.” Have you worried about that?

TARANTINO: Not really. It’s not like it’s this four-hour movie. There was an aspect of it where I was like, “This is a grindhouse movie; it can’t be three hours. That’s just too pretentious. Instead it’s like two 90-minute movies. That’s the deal.” It also became less and less an issue of length and more and more an issue of intensity. I don’t know if the average moviegoer could handle it form beginning to end in one sitting. At the end of the first one, you want to go home have a drink and go and eat pie and talk about it.

CS: Does the first one feel like an ending?

TARANTINO: It’s a definite end, but there is also a “dot, dot, dot” there because she’s not through with her death list.

CS: But it will be satisfying for a viewer?

TARANTINO: That was half the reason that made everyone’s decision for it. “That’s the end. I can’t really take anymore. I need a couple of weeks to calm down.”

CS: Is it a bloody movie? Is that what you mean by intensity?

TARANTINO: It’s also the intensity of the fights, action, comedy, and emotional intensity. It’s like all my stuff. You’re laughing one minute, you’re horrified and the next second you’re laughing at what you’re horrified about the second before that. The moviegoing audience gets yanked, pulled, jerked, fucked, kissed and everything. There’s even a 10-minute anime sequence in the movie. I wrote the script for it. I don’t do storyboards; I just wrote this intense script that described it. Production I.G., who did Ghost in the Shell and Blood: The Last Vampire, animated it.

CS: With so many edgy filmmakers doing superhero movies, would you ever consider doing something overly commercial?

TARANTINO: That would be the kind of thing I would do if my voice found an audience. “Okay, he’s really good at doing this. Let’s put him in something slightly more commercial and see if he can broaden his audience.” I never had to do that experiment. That’s one of the reasons I’m kind of precious. I don’t want to piss that away. It’s a very lucky position to be in. I don’t have to go work for a living; I don’t have to do a job and prove myself commercially.