Quentin Tarantino was honored at last month's Santa Barbara International… (Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles…)
At the recent Santa Barbara International Film Festival, Oscar nominee Quentin Tarantino was the recipient of the American Riviera Award for his screenwriting. The event included a conversation in front of 2,000 festival guests and clips of his films throughout his career.
Here is the transcript of that Jan. 30 conversation with L.A. Times writer John Horn; it has been edited for length and language:
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John Horn: Thank you very much. Great reception.
QuentinTarantino: Yeah, exactly. Hey, by the way, thanks everybody for coming out. I actually didn't realize this was such a big deal. And so I'm actually rather taken aback by all this goodwill and love. Thank you very much.
We got a lot of stuff to look at. We're gonna talk about writing tonight. You come to screenwriting as an actor first, not as a screenwriter. And I'm curious what that brings in terms of your writing. What does it mean to be an actor who's writing? Do you write something that you know you're gonna hear?
Tarantino: Yeah, it's interesting. It's funny. I never took any writing classes, but I did take acting classes. And one of the things is, even to this day, most of the adjectives I use during the writing process are adjectives actors would use, trying to get into character or taking it where a thing goes. You know, the actors that I really like are the actors that really invest in their character, invest in the backstory, invest in who that person was before the story started, maybe who that person is after the story is over. And even, OK, the story says, "They turn left." But if what if they turned right? What would happen then? And just because the story says you turn left, people have free will. They could actually turn right. And then there's a whole other thing that could happen. And so it's that idea, that thought process when it comes to characters, that I think I bring to my writing. Now, by the way, that actually is how most writers write. Might not be how most screenwriters, and I'm not saying that to put down screenwriting. There is a reason why some people would actually write something and actually want to be finished around page 120 and have an idea where you're going. I kind of like doing it the novelistic way. Where I have an idea where I'm going, but it's like when you know how to get to somebody's house, but you don't exactly know the exact directions but you can kinda find your way on your own. And you trust you'll end up at your friend's house. Well, that's kinda how I like to do it.
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Meaning your characters are gonna go where they're gonna go.
Tarantino: Yeah. I mean, for better or for worse. Doing this now long enough, I actually think if I had more control over the steering wheel, things would get done a little easier and get done a lot better and the story might be even a little bit better. And that might very well be the case. However, I don't want to do that. I want to create these characters. And I'm helping them out in the first half of the story. But if I'm doing it the way I want to do it, the way I think I should be doing it, they need to be taking it over by mid-story. And then I'm just following them.
So how do you turn off the director in you who's watching these characters go in that direction and it's like, "That's an interesting direction. I can't film that" or "I don't want you to go that way"?
Tarantino: I don't do this that much anymore, but before I would actually follow them down that rabbit hole. I would just go down with them. And I would write this stuff I thought was really terrific, but ultimately is not what I wanted to spend a year of my life making. But it happened. And I was informed by it. And I learned something from it. And it was cool. And rarely can you take it and cannibalize it and put in stuff that works, but it's still an interesting process to go through. That happened a lot with “Kill Bill.” 'Cause I wasn't in any hurry to finish it. I just really wanted to have the experience of going through the broader experience. And I have gone down that way now. I'm a little bit more, "No, that's not the most interesting way. I'm gonna stop them." Actually, I don't have to. I don't really have to do that. I haven't had to stop them from going anywhere that I thought was just really a fool's errand.
When you look at these clips, there's a precision with the dialogue, but there's also a precision of the imagery. And when you're writing, are you picturing how that scene is gonna look or are you listening to how it's gonna sound?