EXCLUSIVE: In between all the superhero spectacles today at San Diego Comic Con, Quentin Tarantino and his The Hateful Eight cast barnstormed into Hall H to show seven minutes of throwback filmmaking, harkening back to the way moviegoers saw films. It’s 70mm and the story is post-Civil War, where everybody had reason to be pissed at something, and it’s inevitable the fuse of a powderkeg will be lit when eight ornery characters on either side of the law are forced to huddle in a haberdashery when snowed in by a deadly storm. Right before Tarantino took the stage with cast members Bruce Dern, Walton Goggins, Michael Madsen, Tim Roth, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Demian Bichir and Kurt Russell (Samuel L. Jackson couldn’t make it), Tarantino sat with Deadline for a quick chat.
This publication played a minor role in the prologue of The Hateful Eight when we broke news that Tarantino had abruptly decided to shelve the picture after giving the first draft script to a small group of actors, and discovering the agent of at least one of them copied it and dispersed it all over town. And soon enough, websites like Gawker were pointing their readers to anonymous website that carried the script in full. I have written about Tarantino a long time, and it isn’t often that one gets a fat story like this dropped in their lap by a world famous film director, and then spends the next five minutes trying to calm him down and talk him out of scrapping a project I just really wanted to see. We start there.
TARANTINO: This does feel like we’ve come full circle, after that first conversation when I was so angry.
DEADLINE: And what does it say about me as a journalist that I spent five minutes trying to talk you out of it?
TARANTINO: My first thought was, here I was all livid and mad, and I give you a scoop of all time, and you are like, ‘No, no, you have to make this movie.’
DEADLINE: Okay then, it’s official. Worst journalist ever.
TARANTINO: It was really lovely, actually, one of the sweeter moments I’ve had with a journalist, and showed me that you actually cared about me. As mad as I was, it made me stop and think, did I really want to do this…
DEADLINE: In my defense, I wanted to be sure that you were sure, and not just pissed off. Once it was out, you can’t take it back. It nearly crashed our site. So your script leaked, and you shelved it. Then you arranged a star-studded reading for a charity, changed your mind, then made it a poster child for the preservation of film stock and had Harvey Weinstein round up every 70mm projector so at least some of the audience would see the movie the way they used to play. How did all of this change the original intention you had when you wrote the script, thinking it was just going to be your next movie?
TARANTINO: Sitting here in July, that seems like a million years ago. It affected my process, in so far as, this was one script I wanted to differently from the way I’d done it before. Normally, I proudly finish a first draft and I don’t write First Draft on it, I write, Last Draft. Then I’m done and boom. I wanted to do three drafts of this one, before I let it out into the world. This was just the first draft. There were multiple plot threads I knew I needed to tie up, but I didn’t even bother in Draft One because I knew I’d get there by Draft Three. When the script got out there, it violated this process in my mind of how I was going to do it, that was why I reacted so strongly. It felt like a betrayal, a violation, and I felt like, oh man, you’re in particular f*cking me up in this scenario. That’s why I reacted so badly. But then after I reacted that way, I just kept doing what I was doing. By the time we did that script reading, I had worked on it a bit and it was like a second draft. I’d worked on it a little and already had a different Chapter 5, though I didn’t end up doing that one either.
DEADLINE: That was the final act of the film?
TARANTINO: The movie is broken down into five chapters and Chapter 5 is the end. That was all very disconcerting, but at the same time, I’d never really rehearsed a script before I had done the movie, not in that earliest stage. We rehearsed for that public script reading for three days, so we got a lot done then. Then we did the reading and not only was it a smash, I got great reviews for it. I had never gotten great reviews before for a script, before I made the movie. That couldn’t help but be encouraging. Seeing the actors doing it was also encouraging. From that point on, it flowed into its own thing. It might have been disconcerting making such a big deal about 70mm, and making such a big deal about the road show and how we will be presenting it in 70mm in maybe 100 cities. All that was all made easier in that I had grown so confident in the material itself.
DEADLINE: It was like you’d have your out-of-town workshop before bringing the play to Broadway.
TARANTINO: Yes. To have made such a big presentation before I had gone and made the movie would literally have been putting the cart before the horse, if I wasn’t happy enough with the material, if there was still a question to decide if I could pull this off, we wouldn’t be talking about this stuff this way, it would be more like, hey, let’s try to do it this way. I felt confident about the material, the actors, and I guess myself, that we’d be okay.
DEADLINE: You have another killer cast. The inspiration for the material was all those TV Western series you watched as a kid. What did it mean to have Bruce Dern playing that ornery guy who used to hassle young Bruce Dern when he starred in all those shows?
TARANTINO: It was so interesting. Walt Goggins’ character is the character Bruce Dern would have played, if we’d done this in 1969. Walt Goggins has the Bruce Dern role. A lot of Bruce’s scenes are with Walt and it was wonderful to see these two different archetypes playing off each other. The jumping off point was those episodic Western TV shows, and in the case of both Bruce Dern and Kurt Russell, they were on those shows. Forget about Bruce, he did seven Gunsmokes, and five Big Valleys; Kurt did a High Chaparral, and Kurt did a Gunsmoke. He had his own Western show, The Quest, and The Trials Of Jamie McPeters. He was on all those shows, and so they got the references. I would always talk about, if I was doing this movie in 1969, what would be the cast, with those type of actors? Bruce Dern would be playing the Chris Mannix role [Goggins played him], Vic Morrow would be there, Claude Akins would be the John Ruth role [Russell plays him], I would have cast Bill Cosby to be the Major Warren role [Samuel L. Jackson plays him].
DEADLINE: You worked with actors you’ve done repeat business with in Jackson, Russell, Tim Roth and Michael Madsen, but you’ve added new actors in Goggins, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Demian Bichir. Who most surprised you?
TARANTINO: No contest. It would have to be Jennifer who wins most surprising. Though the way Demian played Bob the Mexican, is so different from how I conceived it. That is the “who the f*ck is this guy” performance. In the best canadian casino case of Sam, Walt, Kurt, Tim and Michael Madsen, I was writing for those guys, and they fit the characters and the rhythms of the dialogue, like a glove. They took it to higher heights than it was on the page, but that was more or less what I expected. Part of the thing about Daisy Domergue is, that character had to be discovered and fleshed out by the actress. Maybe 15 actresses could have played what I wrote on the page. And you would have 15 characterizations. You couldn’t show it in the audition, somebody had to commit to being that character and see where that leads you. She’s such a weird hot potato of a character. I needed Daisy to be revealed to me, and that would never happen beforehand. So I had to choose right and see what kind of flower bloomed. And she bloomed into this truly amazing character, one of my favorite female characters I’ve ever written. She is a force to be reckoned with, but I don’t think she would have been able to conceive it, and I wouldn’t either, it was one of those things where you had to commit and see where it went.
DEADLINE: The script called for a suffocating amount of snow that forces these hateful eight into one room. We kept hearing that both you, and Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu on The Revenant, had some challenges finding the snow. How was that?
TARANTINO: People have made too much of that. He had a far tougher problem than I did with the snow. We didn’t get snow the first month we were there, but then we got a sh*t load of it, after that. The only thing it did was kept us up there longer, but frankly that made the movie cooler and better than if we just got what we needed and headed for a sound stage. We shot the whole first half of the movie, that was done in Colorado. We got our snow for that. We just had to wait longer than we expected. When it came, it really came and it just looks amazing in the movie. From what I’ve heard, I don’t know if they ever truly got what they needed.
DEADLINE: You said you were shooting the biggest widescreen movie in 40 years and you were going to remind people why this is real moviemaking. Coming out the other side, what are some things that make you feel you were right to stand your ground, dig your heels in and do it this way?
TARANTINO: The proof will be in the pudding, in the look and the feel of the film, but it was just gratifying shooting and then watching our dailies in 70mm, at the end of every day. You just looked at it and said, there it is, baby, it’s right there. Even as far as editing, I am trying not to get comfortable watching on the Avid. Every time we finished a scene, they conformed the film and we’d go to the Directors Guild and screen what we’d just done. So I am used to seeing it big, the way it is going to be seen. But the proof is also how excited everybody seems to be about the idea of this roadshow, the 70mm presentation. Even the foreign distributors, who are figuring out how they can best show the movie. Part of the thought process at the very beginning was, if I shoot on the 65mm, then I’m making them release it on 70mm. They weren’t spending all that money to just have a [token effort]. So that was forcing their hand. Well, little did I realize that, while 35mm presentation might be a lost cause, 70mm isn’t. That could be the future, as far as how a big special movie is showcased.
I hadn’t realized what a lost cause 35mm has proven to be, and how excited about 70mm that people in the industry were going to get. We used those Ultra Panavision 70 lenses, and now, Star Wars is doing the next movie with those lenses. And that means they are going to release it big in 70mm for some big thing. I never thought I would be in a world where my movie is leading Star Wars, when it comes to technical equipment. All the studios, because Harvey has all these projectors now, they are saying, maybe we’d like to that on some of our movies. We are hearing that the entire industry is saying, let’s just see how this roadshow does, let’s just see. It might not work, but it could be a real thing. It’s going to be about 100 stops on the roadshow. They promised me 80 to 100 screens, and I think we’ve just gotten up to 100 as of last week. That more or less breaks down to the idea that every state in America has at least two venues.
DEADLINE: So you start out making another film, and you strike a blow for preserving film, and another for the sanctity of a copyrighted creation of a screenplay?
TARANTINO: I have to say I regret the lawsuit with Gawker. Not because I’m friendly with those fellas. I think they’re scumbags, frankly. But it confused the issue. And that issue was about those agents passing my script around, and the lack of accountability that is involved in Hollywood. Once I screamed and yelled about it, it might have made people say, well, maybe that is wrong, and I have done that. They have bragged about it, had they done it the week before, but that week, they were a bit shy about it. By throwing the light on Gawker, it took the light off what was important to me, which was business practices in this town.