[IMG:L]Few people on the planet understand the language of the Cinema of Cool as thoroughly and masterfully as directors Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez – or, in Tarantino’s case in particular, with as much high-octane verbiage packed into such a short time. So when the two longtime pals sat down with Hollywood.com to discuss their new collaboration Grindhouse, a cutting-edge tribute to exploitation flicks with their double feature Planet Terror and Death Proof, we turned on the recorder, sat back and let them do the talking.
Hollywood.com: When did you guys first enter each other’s radar?
Robert Rodriguez: 1992
Quentin Tarantino: Yeah.
RR: Toronto Film Festival. Well, enter the radar; I knew about his movie, Reservoir Dogs already cause my agent had seen it and said “You’re going to love this guy Quentin Tarantino! He’s made a new movie, Reservoir Dogs – it’s really cool.” I saw it at the Telluride Film Festival. He wasn’t there, but then we met in Toronto. So Toronto Film Festival, we ran into each other in the lobby – I had already seen the movie and I just went on and on about it. And he hadn’t seen Mariachi yet.
QT: It was like, ‘Oh, you’re that Robert Rodriguez guy. El Mariachi, I’ve heard so much about it.
RR: We went to the El Mariachi screening together; he sat next to me, because by then we had become fast friends. I was video taping all my screenings at that time to get audience reactions. I couldn’t believe anyone was screening the movie. And so I had gotten the Telluride screening on tape with Quentin’s laugh track through the whole movie.
QT: It’s like a machine (laughs).
RR: It’s like, “Wow.” So I have reaction to the first time Quentin saw my movie.
HW: You two have very different personalities and styles; what makes these two movies come together?
RR: That’s what made it perfect: we both loved these types of movies and we could go and make a double feature and an audience isn’t going to be like, “Oh, you’re making a zombie picture, too? At the same time?” They’re just different enough that it creates that exact kind of experience you would have had going to the drive through for the double feature. These movies may be both in the horror genre, but they’re completely different beasts. You really feel like you’re getting a double feature, your money’s worth – and not just two very similar pictures.
QT: You want a little variation going on there; and that was a staple when they would particularly make horror double features – one was maybe more fantastical, and dealt with monsters, while the other one was about a guy terrorizing a babysitter. And I also liked the fact that we’re trying to make this whole Grindhouse experience work as this one big experience. It is a double feature – there’s not supposed to be a similarity going on there. Robert’s movie should feel like a Robert movie and the Quentin movie should look and feel like a Quentin movie; they’re not just an extension of each other. But hopefully, blended the right way, they should look like a double bill.
RR: At first, I was going to be the director of photography on his; and then the more I was shooting mine, the more I realized, “You know, if I shoot his, it’s going to start gravitating towards my kind of shots rather than his. And it’s going to start looking too similar to mine.” So I convinced him to be his own DP, so we’d have two completely different looking movies as well. He shot on film, and I shot on digital.
[IMG:R]HW: How is it to control not only the production of the movie, but shooting in your studio?
RR: Well, first, ever since I did El Mariachi out of Austin, I realized, “Wow, I don’t have to be in Hollywood to make a movie.” I just made that out of my apartment and the studio bought it and released it – in Spanish even. So that just opened the flood gates as far as me being able to call my own shots from then on. I just kept making movies in Austin and built the studio system down there for my own, and I always keep my budgets low. That’s the best way to keep a studio off your back, is at the end of the day, they’ll give you your freedom because you’re not spending anything and they’re not going to be climbing all over your back saying they want to see a cut early. Which they would have more of a right to if you’re spending $100 million; they’re going to tell you who you should cast if they’re the ones holding the purse strings. But when you’re giving them a huge movie for nothing or two movies for nothing, they really can’t.
QT: $55 [million]
RR: Yeah, I think $50-$55; that’s about how much they spent on Sin City, and Sin City was probably about $49-$50 for one movie. Here we have two films, and internationally, they’ll release as two movies. So with the stars that we have in it and the cast we have in it, it’s unbelievable how much production value they get for their money at Troublemaker. So they just want the movie, they don’t care how they get it; they’re just like, ‘Whatever you want to do, Robert Rodriguez.’
HW: What about other studios other than ones run by the Weinstein brothers?
RR: No, I think other studios know that’s how I operate; other studios have enticed us to go work for them, and they said, ‘We’ll let you work the way you’re used to working, and you’ll make ‘em for us instead.’
QT: Even in that same vein, I’m really proud of Robert, cause he really does have a whole set-up, and I got a chance to experience that. He’s got a crew, he’s got a crew and they’re waiting; sound stages – way to go! And it was really funny, the first time I had actually gone down to Troublemaker to actually see what it is he had done – he had already made a couple movies at the time. I was looking around and I said, “You know Robert, , [Francis Ford] Coppola’s dream with American Zoetrope – that’s your reality.” “Wow, that’s right; we gotta do something with that.”
HW: What was it like tapping into his head?
QT: It was wonderful; it was like being in Robert Rodriguezland. You go to Disneyland and there’s Tomorrowland and Frontierland; Troublemaker is definitely Robert Rodriguezland. And it is really neat because, look, I didn’t go the green screen way with my stuff, but just knowing that I could, under any circumstances – Robert, ’s always been sort of lovely so far in that: “Quentin, my studio is your studio. Anytime you want to do something here, show up here you go. Here’s the crew, here’s the people, here’s your office; you go anywhere, this will always be yours. Enjoy!”
[IMG:L]HW: What are you trying to bring a modern audience with this?
QT: Well, one of the things that me and Robert, notice is that little by little things have chipped away in the last few decades of film exhibition. Back in the 70’s, they were doing these drive-ins and Grind Houses; there was more involved in theatrical expedition, there was more ballyhoo, it was a bigger deal when you went to the movies. The places weren’t just multiplexes – and I’m not down on them – but they weren’t just the multiplexes, they were these big houses, and they had these huge posters and giant murals reaching 10 feet in the air hanging above the marquee. And there was a whole set of lobby cards, and then you would go in and see the movie, and there were trailers, and then all this cool stuff between – not just trying to sell you crap. Cartoons in the middle of the movie, it was a whole presentation; there was a lot of ballyhoo involved. Now, it just seems like you rent a seat and that’s all you get, and not only that, you get commercials in front of it. And we really wanted to make going to the movies an exciting event. There’s a reason you’re getting off the couch and not just waiting for it to come to DVD, not just watching it in your living room, and even part of this whole Grindhouse experience, of like the messed up prints, the missing reel; that’s also created. But what’s important about these movies is an audience interaction aspect of it; whenever we wrote these films, whenever we talked about our movies, we’re shooting scenes the audience will go, “Ooooh” or “Ahhhh” or “Urghhhhh.” That’s how you can tell if it’s hot, and we’re kind of orchestrating a movie. If they’re not screaming at this moment, we’ve messed up. If they’re not gagging at that moment, we’ve messed up…at that moment, we’ve messed up.
HW: Quentin, how do you create such well developed female characters?
QT: I’m a writer; that’s what I do, that’s my job. Part of the thing about it is, you don’t just write about yourself – but I am writing about myself to some degree, one way or another. Everyone is a little – there’s a little part of me in everybody I write. But anyone who can only write about themselves or their life experiences in my mind isn’t a very good writer. It’s my job to look at other people’s humanity and it’s my job to, 24/7, look at my life and listen to everything everyone says, watching their faces, the little idiosyncratic aspects of human beings – it’s like a sponge, I take it in. It could be 10, 15, 20 years before it ever gets used, but when I’m sitting down, it’s like an antenna, it just opens up those doors and when it’s appropriate for a character it comes out. That includes speech patterns and everything else.
HW: Robert, when you created this idea, there were no zombie films and now there’s a ton.
RR: Yeah, the first 30 pages I wrote Planet Terror, was the same time I was doing The Faculty; I was telling Elijah Wood and Josh Hartnett, all the actors, Clea DuVall, ‘I got this zombie movie. I know zombie movies have been dead, but I know they’re going to come back.’ And they were so excited about it; they were fighting about who was going to be the person running down the road as the cars come by, the zombies.
HW: How did you see that far ahead?
RR: These things come in cycles, and I knew I had to get on it, but then I got sidetracked with other projects. And sure enough, four or five years later the zombie wave came and went, but it didn’t do quite as I wanted to do it. When we came to do this movie, it was the first thing I picked up; I had wanted to do the zombie pic for long time, and I could finally do it.
HW: Aside from the literal Grindhouse stylings, are there any thematic metaphors lurking in the films?
QT: I actually think there is a little bit in mine – and again, it doesn’t have to work this way, like something you could take in later, a couple or three times down the line as the years go on. But you could almost say there is, in terms of these women; it could be a comment on the feminization of men when it comes to these other guys in these movies. The women are just so much more powerful than them, especially the girls in the first half; but then, along comes Stuntman Mike – he’s like a dinosaur from a complete and other time, and they’ve never met anyone like that before, and don’t know what to make of him. So there is that kind of almost metaphor of the courting rituals of today.
HW: What attracts you to casting actors who may be past their prime?
QT: One of the things I like about this is I just love these actors as fans for a long time. It’s kind of like, “Well, how do you do this?” Here’s the deal: when most casting directors you deal with, they’re all going to come up with the same list of actors. There’ll be a few that’ll be a little different, but my list goes much longer and it doesn’t have to do with any of these Hollywood lists. You just have to be alive and I like you to make it in your movie.
HW: How much fun was the creation of the film’s fake trailers?
RR: We came up with several more that we were going to direct ourselves, but we just didn't have the time. If I hadn't done Machete first as a camera test I wouldn't even have gotten that one off, but we had to rely on our friends to bring us some trailers because we completely ran out of time making this movie ourselves. It was great to see theirs and to almost get these as presents when they finally got them cut together. We were so excited to check them out because they had already shot them and we had seen the scripts, but we hadn't seen any footage or anything.
QT: One of the things that was actually really cool about working with those guys was just the fact that whenever we talked to anyone about this we always had to explain it and Edgar [Wright] we didn't have to explain anything to. He got it. Eli [Roth] got it. Eli is so knowing because he's doing the one holiday that wasn't covered by slasher films and he's always been thinking about that forever. Even Edgar was like, “This is a British horror film from the '70's, but it's the American trailer and so they don't want you to know it's a British horror film which is why no one is speaking.”
RR: What I couldn't wait to hear was their experience in making them because I figured out when I did Machete that it's the most fun you can have making a movie because it's so instant gratification. You're only shooting for two days and so now you're going from “Now let’s go from the low angle shot of him open him up and getting all the machetes” – the money shot. Then you go “Now let’s do the waterfall shot with the babes” – another money shot. “Now he holds up his machete and everyone holds up their machetes.” You're just only shooting the good parts and you're done and you have all of this amazing footage. They would call before we started shooting and say, “This is the most fun I've ever had making a movie!” “Well, of course, because you're only shooting the BEST parts. You go home and you’re done after two days of shooting.” It's so fun to do that.
QT: Eli said, “I don't know if I even want to make movies anymore. I just want to make trailers.”
HW: Talking to some of the cast members about the screenings that you had for these types of films, almost everyone said that at first they didn't know why you wanted to do these movies because they weren't very good – They didn't understand your interest in them.
QT: Marley [Shelton] didn't say that. Marley is a big convert to Grindhouse cinema. She actually started to match me, buying movie for movie now, and even at the script reading she said, “So, Quentin, I just watched the DVD of Nightmare City. Wasn't that good?!”
RR: We knew that part of the experience would be, almost like with Sin City where people would see it on paper and go “Oh, these are based on the film noirs of the '40's and '50's.” Then they see Sin City and it resembles those in no way whatsoever. This would be the same case where we go “Let’s make a movie that actually lives up to those posters so that when people see our movies they'll go, 'Wow, this is what Grindhouse cinema is. Let’s go look at some of these movies and see if we can find the same thing.'” They can't find it because we're giving them the extreme audience-pleasing version of it, but in and of those bunch there really are not only just great moments and scenes, but there are some really great movies in there too.
QT: Yeah, great stories. I mean, it was funny – not to go on too long about it – but I showed the movie Macon County Line and it was a big drive-in hit in its day, but the script is actually quite sophisticated. I realized that if a studio was trying to remake that movie now, what was great about that movie was that it was a real story. In a real story you don't know everything that you need to know in 20 minutes. A story is always unfolding and usually by the time you get to the third act you wouldn't even know how you got there from the first act, but I think if they were going to do a remake of that movie now they would take the last 20 minutes and make the whole movie about that. That just shows that these movies, especially in a lot of the story structures, were actually far more sophisticated than what people are doing now.
HW: Why the decision to kind of contemporize them and not do them strictly in period?
QT: Well, we never really wanted it to be just this '70's artifact. The reason that a lot of those movies looked that way, the print quality looked that way then in '74. That's also part of the fun of this. We're really doing a throwback to a Hollywood that doesn't exist anymore. We're in a different world now. Now you open up a movie in 1,500 theaters, 2,000 theaters and you have 2,000 prints floating around back there. Back then an exploitation company might make five prints and open it in Chattanooga and it would play there and then they would move it to Memphis and then for the entire year they would just schlep these same four or five or six prints all around the country. Now they're actually playing in the worst theaters in the worst projectors available in America and once it goes through the El Paso Drive-In meat grinder it'll never be the same. So depending on when you saw in the run it could very well look like this. So we didn't want to make it '70's, but we wanted to pretend as if this type of filmmaking had never stopped, this type of exhibition had never stopped. So it made sense that they pulled out cell phones and did text messaging and dealing with computers. It is contemporary. It just has that look and style of cinema then.
HW: Will we ever see either of the “missing reels” from the films?
QT: Hopes are high that we find them. I've got a little detective looking for mine and he said that there's a possibility that maybe my missing reel might be in a basement in Holland. So when I get through with all this press stuff I intend to go down there and see if I can find my missing reel. There is talk about Acuna, Mexico, where Robert's missing reel might be, but the English language soundtrack is completely gone and so we don't know.
HW: No one has given up any info on what happens in the “missing reels.”
QT: I'll tell you why. The reason is because they ARE phantom reels. We want YOU to replace what happened in there. One of the reasons we got this idea – I do this festival in Austin and I showed this movie, this cool spy film shot in Israel called The Sell Out with Oliver Reed. It always had a missing reel in it, but I still liked the movie and so I just showed it anyway. And one of the things that was so cool about this experience was that the missing reel happens, and so the movie literally just jumps 15 minutes inside of it. So when the movie starts again you begin to think that maybe Oliver Reed had sex with the wife of his best friend, but you don't know. It's not even eluded to, but all of a sudden their dynamic had changed and you knew that there was this big piece about his mysterious past that was revealed in that missing reel and everyone is referring to stuff that we don't about. When we did that in the theater you actually had to write those 15 minutes yourself to even kind of continue watching. My thing was that I never actually even wanted to see that missing reel because I provided it. So that was part of my idea the whole time.
RR: During that screening I had my laptop because I was still coming up with movies for Grindhouse and he introduced the movie just like that and I thought, “We have to have missing reels in our ideas. That is such a great idea.”
HW: There were some self-referential touches we noticed – there was a glimpse of a list with the phrase “kill Bill” on it in Planet Terror, and Pulp Fiction’s theme “Miserlou” was listed on the juke box in Death Proof--
RR: Oh, that was her “To Do” list. Did you notice that on Marley's list?
QT: Oh, no!
RR: She's putting her needles away, and her husband's name is William Block and the list says, “Pick up the pets, do this and that, kill Bill.”
[Tarantino laughs, surprised]
HW: Were there other self-referential instances in these movies?
RR: Red Apple cigarettes, that's a little one.
QT: I mean, that's not even a reference anymore. That's just part of the universe.
RR: We didn't really go out of our way, but if you needed a pack of cigarettes then there it is. When I had to draw up the list I just thought that would be funny.
QT: The Mustang that they drive has a similar color scheme as Uma's [Thurman] outfit, that yellow and black color scheme that was in Kill Bill. One of the scenes that's actually gone, but will be in the full and complete version of Death Proof when it's by itself is actually Rosario [Dawson]'s phone is the whistling theme from Kill Bill. The thing about it is that it's totally self-referential, but who gives a damn. Having said that, though, that's actually a very popular ring tone because of Kill Bill in Europe – and in particular in Eastern Europe – and is actually one of the most used ring tones that there is.
HW: Fans of the Grindhouse tradition will no doubt be punch drunk in love for this movie, but then there’s everyone else. Who’s in the mass audience for these films?
RR: Everyone who loves movies. People who remember double features are going to get a nostalgic trip off of it which is what the reaction we've gotten so far. For those people are who are too young to remember any of this, it just seems like a really new experience that we've conjured up and we seem really original.
QT: If you need to know the whole history of Grindhouse and how this came from that then we didn't really do our jobs. Part of our thing is: Robert's movie has to work as a movie and my movie has to work as a movie, and you yank them out and show them that it's got to work by itself. But when you put them together it's got to work as a whole experience, and that's what we were really going after and so to us with the trailers and this whole experience, we're trying to capture this thing that if it works correctly it's closer to a ride than it is going to see a movie play out.
HW: We all have a pretty bug how this movie is going to perform at the box office. Have you started working on the sequels? Do you think it's going to be a franchise?
RR: Yeah. When we came up with the name Grindhouse it felt like it just explained a lot of things that we could do with our future ideas that we'd want to explore or other filmmakers bringing us things or even doing like a straight off of some of these, like you could do a Machete.
HW: It seems like trailer helmers Rob Zombie and Eli Roth would be perfect choices for follow-ups.
QT: Oh yeah, Rob – he shot so much stuff on Werewolf Women of the SS. He'd only have had to shoot six more days and he would've had a movie finished [Laughs]. One of the funny things was that when we came up with it there are many, many different sub-genres that would play at the grindhouses which is what made a Grindhouse. So, there are all these possibilities of what we could do, whether that's a Blacksploitation movie or a Spaghetti Western – all kinds of things that you could do. We immediately thought that the way to start them off was to make them horror. We thought that we wouldn't have to explain too much to anyone if we did that. What's exciting is the idea of wanting to do a Spaghetti Western, which I've always wanted to do, and I've always wanted to do a Blacksploitation movie, or even like Women in Prison or a Moonshining movie. Who knows? All kinds of stuff like that, and this gives us a kind of wonderful umbrella to do that in. Not that it would ever be a left handed project because life is too short for that and I give my heart and soul to everything that I do, but in a weird way the weight of the world wouldn't be riding on it if it fell into Grindhouse. It could just be what it is and I don't have to reinvent cinema in order to do it…If we did another one, we could totally do it where we got other directors, but the idea is also for us to be able to explore other genres and especially more subgenres like where they would be appropriate in this kind of setting.
HW: What’s next – Sin City 2?
RR: We’ll see, we’ll see – usually a week after I’m done, I kind of forget. But Sin City 2 could be shooting as soon as June.
HW: What were the giddiest moments for you both while making these films, the cinema nirvana moments?
RR: The nirvana moment had to be a week ago, when I saw his movie for the first time.
QT: And I saw his for the first time.
RR: We were sitting there going, “We can't believe that we got to this moment. We're finally going to see each other's movies.”
QT: “I'm going to see a new Robert Rodriguez movie right now!”
RR: He watched mine and then his credits come up and I realize that I haven't seen any of his footage, and I was like, “I'm going to see a new Quentin Tarantino film right now! I can't believe it.” That was probably the best moment.