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Cannes 2008 Tarantino Master Class transcripts

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From the official Festival website

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Following in the footsteps of Martin Scorsese in 2007, and also Stephen Frears, Nanni Moretti, Wong Kar Wai and Sydney Pollack, Quentin Tarantino is invited today to speak to the Festival's audience about his professional experiences as a filmmaker and screenplay writer. Highlights from the masterclass moderated by film critic Michel Ciment.

About his early days working in a video store: “I literally had access to all the great films and all these wonderful directors, and work through different director’s careers and even to this day, I do that. When I find a director that I like, or that I get inspired by, then I want to see all their work. I just finished doing that with Paul Mazursky.”

About the directors that have most influenced his work: “The directors that have really influenced me big time when I was younger and helped me to develop my own aesthetic were directors like Brian DePalma, Sergio Leone, Howard Hawks were way up there for me. As much as I adored Martin Scorsese and my work probably owes more to him, Brian DePalma was my rock star of the current directors.”

On studying acting for six years, what did it bring to him as a filmmaker: “Personally I would actually recommend that anyone who wants to start off on a director career or a writer career, I would suggest that you join an acting class. That should be your first stop. Do scenes and try to figure out where the actor would be coming from. If you do a scene with a class member, it’s your job to take responsibility for the scene… Everything I learned about writing, I learned from acting… It also started teaching me about the camera. I started studying with James Best and in teaching me camera technique, how to act within the frame, he actually taught me the vocabulary of the camera. I started thinking about the frame and the limitations of the frame…So then when I started watching the movies that I’d always loved, like Mario Bava’s Black Sabbath or Once Upon a Time in the West, now I could actually see what those guys were doing. I could see how Leone was manipulating Bronson in and out of the frame. Once you start doing that, it’s only a few short steps before you start composing shots of your own.”

On working with Terry Gilliam at the Sundance Director Workshop: “I had been accepted for Reservoir Dogs but it was ready go; I was to be leaving Sundance and going into production. I could experiment and I like long takes so I did one of the scenes from the movie with a long take. I showed my scene to a first group of directors and they hated it. They had a meeting with me and started talking about how I could not do what I did. I liked my scene and I was experimenting with long takes. That was what I was trying to do. Then the next group of resource directors comes in. Terry Gilliam comes in and says, ‘Just great.’ Never in my life had I experienced white to black quite that way. Then Volker Schlöndorff comes walking in, ‘Ah the little genius!' [with a German accent]. And the bottom line was, that’s going to be my career. People are going to REALLY like me or REALLY not and get used to it.”

On the first scene of his first film, Reservoir Dogs: “I have always liked circular camera movements. DePalma always used it to emphasize love… As time has gone on, I have had a lot of directors come up to me and say that whenever they put a bunch of people around a table in a crime film, that’s all they want to do, but they can’t use the 360° shot because it’s just too Reservoir Dogs… You didn’t have situations in other 360 shots where you literally lose the film for 10 seconds because you’re just on the back , which actually started creating these wild dissolves, almost… You don’t try to maneuver the camera so it’s falling on the people, but if you keep doing the scenes again and again, the camera will fall just as the guy is saying his lines…”

On the rehearsals for Reservoir Dogs: “I did a two-week rehearsal on Reservoir Dogs and it was the best thing I ever did. It was an acting piece and we’re making a very low-budget movie, and one of the things about it was that I had an idea of low-budget that wasn’t reflected by most independent producers. With a two-week rehearsal, we would save all this time. They didn’t think like that… But one of the things that was so great about the rehearsal was we became The Dogs! Through the entire pre-production, I was worried about being fired for the simple fact that I just thought this was too good to be true. I had never had anything really work out in my life before… But after the rehearsal period, I knew I couldn’t get fired because I actually knew the other actors would continue doing the movie. We were The Dogs!”

On writing for cinema: “When I seriously began writing, I was in acting school. I didn’t have access to scripts, but I’ve always had a very good memory, so I remembered the dialogue, I remembered the scene from a movie. I’d write it down and anything I couldn’t remember, I’d fill in. The more I started doing that, the more I started filling in more, and more… so little by little, I started writing acting scenes.”

On comedy and tension at the same time in Pulp Fiction: “One of the three things I tend to do a lot, one of them is making things funny that aren’t funny. One of my stock and trades is I do these big sequences that are humorous, yet there’s tension in there. There almost like mini movies. A lot of people do this little scene and then this little scene and then they all add up. I tend to go someplace and you’re there for 10 minutes, 20 minutes and they’re like little movies unto themselves almost. And usually in those situations, there is a tension that is growing and growing and usually it explodes… “

On making the film adaptation of Jackie Brown from a book: “Exposition scenes, they are rarely in my movies, but when you adapt a novel, you’ve got to have those scenes because you have to keep the plot going. That was difficult, especially to make it feel organic. Elmore Leonard had a big influence on me as far as my writing style was concerned. He would set up a standard genre story – a blackmail or a robbery or something – and then he would have real life come in and f… up everything.”

On music in his films: “I don’t normally use original score. I don’t trust any composer to do it… The music is so important. The idea of paying a guy and showing him your movie at the end and then he comes over it; I would never give anybody that kind of responsibility…I have one of the best soundtrack collections… That’s how I write it, that’s how I design it; I go into my soundtrack collection and I start visualizing the sequences…I cut out the composers. I work with the best composers, Ennio Morricone, Lalo Schifrin, John Berry…but I don’t deal with them.”

On his collaboration with Uma Thurman and Kill Bill: “I thought I’d leave a little bit open for her to contribute, for her to add. Uma didn’t do any writing with me, but I shared with her during the entire year and a half of writing. I read her so many scenes that by the time that the script was finished, I gave her that credit because there was an authorship about it. The wedding dress, and she came up with the name Beatrix; I left little blanks so she could fill them in. The Bride is a joint partnership between Uma and myself.”



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