Vanity Fair has a great article on the making of Pulp Fiction. As exhaustive as it is, I'm sure most film fans are well-acquainted with the ins-and-outs of the rise of Quentin Tarantino. In fact, I know most of them are because "Tarantino" is the rallying cry for any aspiring writer who chafes at being told to color within the lines.
I'm sure you're familiar with this. Some insider like me tells writers that typos on the first page are a tipoff that the writer doesn't know what they're talking about, and inevitably someone in the comments will spout off that Tarantino can't spell for shit, so why does one need to worry about a bunch of arbitrary rules?
Well, because you're not Tarantino.
And even Tarantino wasn't always Tarantino. Note this excerpt from the article:
Iin 1986, Tarantino was a 23-year-old part-time actor and high-school dropout, broke, without an apartment of his own, showering rarely. With no agent, he sent out scripts that never got past low-level readers. “Too vile, too vulgar, too violent” was the usual reaction, he later said. According to Quentin Tarantino, by Wensley Clarkson, his constant use of the f-word in his script True Romance caused one studio rep to write to Cathryn Jaymes, his early manager:
Dear Fucking Cathryn,
How dare you send me this fucking piece of shit. You must be out of your fucking mind. You want to know how I feel about it? Here’s your fucking piece of shit back. Fuck you.
Okay, so history would seem to exonerate Quentin and prove those guys to be wrong, right? But here's the thing, violence and vulgarity are not what make Quentin's scripts great. Profanity alone doesn't take a PASS to a CONSIDER. But what is it that makes a Tarantino script better than 99% of the scripts by people who use him as an excuse to skirt the "rules?"
“Every major studio passed,” says Lawrence Bender.
Then, says [producer Danny] DeVito, “I gave it to the king, Harvey Weinstein.”
It went through Richard Gladstein, who was now at Miramax. Weinstein, who had recently merged Miramax with Disney in an $80 million deal, was walking out of his L.A. office on his way to catch a plane for a vacation on Martha’s Vineyard when Gladstein handed him the script. “What is this, the fucking telephone book?,” Weinstein asked him when he saw that it was 159 pages, the normal being 115. He lugged the script to the plane, however.
Take note - the first thing Weinstein commented on was the length. Before he even reads it, he's making a derisive remark about how thick the script is. And that's because he knows that 99.999% of a time, a tell-tale sign like that marks a loser.
“He called me two hours later and said, ‘The first scene is fucking brilliant. Does it stay this good?’ ” remembers Gladstein. He called again an hour later, having read to the point where the main character, the hit man Vincent Vega, is shot and killed. “Are you guys crazy?” he yelled. “You just killed off the main character in the middle of the movie!”
“Just keep reading,” said Gladstein. “And Harvey says, ‘Start negotiating!’ So I did, and he called back shortly thereafter and said, ‘Are you closed yet?’ I said, ‘I’m into it.’ Harvey said, ‘Hurry up! We’re making this movie.’ ”
THAT is when you can break the rules - when the writing is not just good, but "fucking brilliant." When you do things that has a studio head thinking you're crazy, but still intrigued enough to see how you proceed from there.
Okay, but what of the matter of the people who passed? Of the other pros who thought Quentin's rep was out of her mind for sending out that garbage?
[At Cannes,] it didn’t win anything until the very last award, the Palme d’Or, for the best of the 22 feature-film entries. When that year’s jury president, Clint Eastwood, announced that the winner, by what turned out to be a unanimous vote, was Pulp Fiction, the audience went wild. After Tarantino and the cast rushed onstage, one woman screamed, “Pulp Fiction is shit!” Tarantino shot her the finger and then said why the prize was unexpected: “I don’t make movies that bring people together. I make movies that split people apart.”
That is why. If you want to be Tarantino, if you want to break all the rules as he did and assemble them your own way, then you need to make peace with something - not everyone will love you. In fact, those that hate your work, probably will do so passionately.
So get used to the fact that not everyone is going to bow down and recognize your brilliance. If you're truly talented, eventually your work will speak to the people it's made for. But the people who don't get it, won't ever get it. And no amount of shouting "Tarantino does it!" will change that. It just makes you look whiny and petulant.
Take your criticisms with grace. If there was an accurate and absolute way to measure the merits of every creative work, then Rotten Tomatoes would be out of business because every film would score only 0% or 100%. Tarantino needed to alienate a lot of people before he found his champion, and when he did, that guy went to the matt for the work because it spoke directly to him. Take THAT as the lesson of his rise to glory.
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