Making Django Unchained by Q. Tarantino
From The Quentin Tarantino Archives
REVENGE SHOULD BE SATISFYING
"The important thing to remember is that the revenge should be satisfying.
The difference between Django Unchained and my other films is that it follows one character on a journey.
Django and his wife are runaway slaves who are caught and as a punishment sold to owners on opposite sides of the country.
We meet Django in Texas as he’s freed by a bounty hunter who teaches him his trade and, later, agrees to help him rescue his wife from the clutches of Calvin Candie a plantation owner who makes slaves fight to the death for fun.
Generally, revenge movies are simple. You meet the hero. You meet his wife. You meet their kids.
You hang out with them for about 20 minutes and then the bad guys kill the wife, kill the kids and the good guy goes on a roaring rampage of revenge.
The important thing to remember is that the revenge should be satisfying; it’s horrible when the heroes don’t personally kill the bad guys.
In Patriot Games, for instance, they’re fighting each other and then the bad guy falls on an anchor and dies. That is so unsatisfying. You need to go to movie jail if you do that!
At the end of a movie called Breaking Point, the bad guy is in a greenhouse and the hero takes a bulldozer and pushes the house off a cliff. Well that wasn’t any fun! I want you to beat his head until it’s black pudding! That’s satisfying.
In my own Kill Bill it’s a little bittersweet when bad guy Bill dies. He’s got to go, but it’s not quite the euphoric scene you might think it would be.
But if your villains are really worthy to have hell rained down on them, if they’re as loathsome as the slavers and murderers in Django Unchained, then we need to see it. Let the lead character want to do it – and then do it!"
PICK YOUR HERO LIKE YOU WOULD YOUR WIFE
"When you pick your lead for your movie, it’s kind of like picking your wife; it has to be right. Jamie Foxx has a quality that the young actors of the Sixties Westerns had.
They were young, good-looking and sexy. Jamie has a cowboy quality about him already. He’s from Texas and he’s a good rider.
The horse in the movie is Foxx’s horse in real life. I think it’s the first time since Roy Rogers and Trigger that a lead actor has ridden his own horse in a film."
MAKE THE VILLAIN CHARMING
"I did a lot of research into how slave plantations worked as societies: basically an absurd, grotesque parody of European aristocracy.
I’d pictured Calvin Candie as an older man but when Leonardo DiCaprio said he was interested, I realised Candie could be like a petulant boy emperor. If you owned 40 miles of land in those days, you had all those slaves who were literally your property. The white workers were pretty much slaves as well.
To all intents and purposes, you were a king with absolute rule. And so like Caligula, Candie indulges himself with hedonistic vices and strange obsessions.
Leonardo brought a charm to the role and makes Candie a much better bad guy than the one I’d written."
FORGET CGI – MAKE IT REAL
"None of the gore in Django is digital. No way. What’s the point of that?
The only time you’re allowed to use CGI (computer-generated imagery) is where you would kill the actor if you did the stunt for real.
Otherwise, if you want to impress me as a viewer, you’ve got to do it.
The hardest stunt in Django was when a wagon blows up as the Regulators who guard the slaves attack. We had 11 horses and the riders hit the ground at the same time. That’s more horses than have ever done a stunt like that before. It took four months to get them to do it on cue.
For the opening sequence in the winter, I needed it to be so cold you could see the actors’ breath; I didn’t want to add the breath later. It was -8F.
People were collapsing, going face down in the snow. People would start crying and were having nervous breakdowns because it was so brutally, frigidly cold. But if I can shoot the real thing, I will."
STRETCH THE TENSION LIKE A RUBBER BAND
"If you do it right, the longer the scene goes on, the more suspenseful it can be. I happen to think this is an area where I seem to be the only person doing it.
The idea came to me when I was writing Inglourious Basterds: one scene, with a German growing suspicious of a British spy in a tavern, was 35 pages long! I questioned it – but it seemed to be holding.
The idea behind it was like stretching a rubber band. The thinner and thinner a rubber band gets, the more you fear the moment it snaps. It gets more and more dangerous... you’re waiting and waiting.
Now, pulling that off takes some delicacy and fantastic actors who will keep up the tension.
The long, tense scene in this film is a dinner party where Samuel L. Jackson suspects Django. For a long time, all the tension is carried entirely in Samuel’s eyes.
My theory with this stuff is, to use the rubber band metaphor, there should be no more give in the rubber band. It’s going to snap… then you pull it a bit more! I’m a huge Brian DePalma fan.
He is one of the true modern masters of suspense. But even he never ratcheted up tension for half an hour."
GET THE MUSIC RIGHT
I never understood what it had to do with surfing. I planned to put the music for this film together the same way, using existing songs that I liked.
But artists heard about the movie and about three-quarters of the way through filming began to send me songs on spec. I actually ended up with an original song that Ennio Morricone wrote for the film, called Ancora Qui."
COPY CLASSIC SCENES... BUT MAKE THEM YOUR OWN
"There’s a scene in Django Unchained where a guy gets shot through a white carnation and I lifted it directly from a film by Sergio Corbucci (director of 1966’s Django).
But I tried not to copy anybody else. I used slow motion more in this film than I ever have before, but I didn’t want to imitate Sam Peckinpah too closely. If there’s one thing worse than a bad Tarantino imitator, it’s a bad Peckinpah imitator. The final shootout sequence of The Wild Bunch is a masterpiece beyond compare.
I do it slightly differently: I film Django shooting at 90 frames per second (very slow motion) and the people getting shot at 22 frames per second (slightly speeded up). I didn’t quite pull it off the way it was in my mind, but it worked nevertheless.
To me, a well-done action scene by a director is a joy forever. The way Michael Cimino did the restaurant shootout in Year Of The Dragon is one of the best pieces of action ever committed to celluloid. The showdown at the end of The Good The Bad And The Ugly is, I think, the greatest moment of cinema since its invention."
USE SPECIAL TARANTINO BLOOD
"One of the things Corbucci did was to push Spaghetti Westerns from being operatic, grandiose versions of American Westerns to being much more violent, brutal and surreal. I wanted Django Unchained to be like that.
So for the climactic shootout at the Candyland plantation we have dozens of people dying, with bullets hitting the fallen bodies and big blood squibs filling the air with gore. I’d never seen in a movie what would happen to bodies in a hail of bullets, these explosions of blood and flesh.
Peckinpah did bloody shootouts – but bodies being landmines of blood? That was something even he hadn’t tried.
Rather than being so realistic that you can’t handle it, it’s surreal. And I actually think it’s fun. Hopefully people’s mouths are on the floor with surprise.
The colour of the blood is very important, by the way. It’s Tarantino Blood, a colour we discovered on Kill Bill and now use all the time. There are moments in the movie where people get shot and because they’re backlit, it looks like the Bellagio fountains in Las Vegas.
Yet no matter how bad the violence in this movie gets, I’m here to tell you, a lot worse was done in real life during slavery times. Far worse."
- Originally Published at: Daily Mail UK