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The deal, Vol. 1

'Kill Bill' is now two films, and Miramax wants director Tarantino to chip in on the extra costs.

October 08, 2003|Kim Masters | Special to The Times

Quentin Tarantino stands in front of a full house at Grauman's Chinese Theatre. It is the premiere of his long-awaited "Kill Bill" and a big day for Tarantino.

He is still presumably recovering from an inebriated appearance put in just a few hours earlier on "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno." (His publicist, Bumble Ward, says Tarantino was sober, although hungry and exhausted, when he arrived at the studio and sampled the refreshments while waiting to go on.) Now, Tarantino faces an audience that includes celebrities from Chris Rock to Dennis Hopper, eager to see his first film in six years.

Sounding more like a rapper than a revered auteur making his return to the big screen, Tarantino tells the guests how he wanted to add a little spark to the occasion. First, he says, he considered releasing rats in the theater. Or stopping by "the 'hood" to invite some Crips and Bloods to attend. He then would offer the guests either red or blue colors and stand back to watch what came next.

But he does not play out either of these fantasies. Instead, he dutifully greets a group that won passes in a radio promotion, thanks his cast and lets the film roll.

Looking on nervously is Harvey Weinstein, the Miramax co-chairman who has stood gamely behind Tarantino during the arduous and prolonged filming of his much-anticipated fourth directing effort. Tarantino was supposed to film "Kill Bill" in 60 days. He ended up shooting for eight months and going dramatically over budget. At the end, he was awash in footage.

While that might cause tension between any filmmaker and studio -- and fireworks when the personalities involved are as outsized as Tarantino's and Weinstein's -- the two came to what appears to be a completely amicable solution: Break the film into two installments.

But that didn't mean all was settled. Just days before Friday's release of "Kill Bill Vol. 1," Tarantino and Weinstein have been involved in a behind-the-scenes conflict over -- what else -- money.

Weinstein has asked Tarantino and producer Lawrence Bender to agree to give up some of their compensation to help cover increased marketing costs -- at least until Miramax finds out whether it's going to get its money back.

"We are looking to adjust a certain aspect of the deal, given the significant increase in the [marketing] budget, now that there are two films," Rick Sands, Miramax's chief operating officer, said in a written response to questions about the matter. Sands said Miramax would spend more to market just the first installment of the two-part series than it would have spent if "Kill Bill" had been a one-shot deal. The company might end up paying marketing costs of "$35 million and $25 million ... for Volumes 1 and 2, respectively," Sands said.

He added that "that there is a tremendous amount of respect, trust and collaboration between everyone. Quentin, Harvey, Lawrence all very much want this to be equitable and fair."

While most directors, or at least their agents, would outright reject such an after-the-fact renegotiation, nothing about "Kill Bill" is routine. And William Morris agent Mike Simpson, who represents Tarantino and Bender, says his clients are close to a deal with Miramax. He said they are cooperating because they want to ensure that Miramax will spend aggressively to market the two pictures.

"We could do nothing, but we wouldn't be acting like a good partner, and Miramax would have good reason to feel like they needed to hold back and look out for themselves," Simpson says.

"Kill Bill" is the stylishly told tale of a bride (Uma Thurman) who suffers a vicious attack by a gang of killers. The wedding party is massacred, and the bride is left for dead. But she isn't dead, of course, and "Kill Bill" spins the tale of her quest for vengeance. It pays extensive homage to martial-arts films and has been described by Tarantino, who declined to be interviewed, as "the movie of my geek movie dreams."

Replete with severed limbs and geysers of blood, "Kill Bill" is a festival of violence. On his Ain't It Cool News Web site, devoted "Kill Bill" fan Harry Knowles marvels at its reception from the Motion Picture Assn. of America. "Quentin dosed the MPAA," he exclaims joyously. "They had acid in their coffee the day they gave this film an R rating."

So graphic is the film that it raises questions about what it would take to get an NC-17 rating for violence.

Getting all that gore on film took time. As the grueling filming wore on, some in the industry started calling it "Tarantino's 'Apocalypse Now,' " alluding to Francis Ford Coppola's famously drawn-out shoot of his 1979 film. An executive involved in making the picture says the comparison is not on point. "It wasn't like he was in trouble," he says. "He just kept going."

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