MOVIES : OFF-CENTERPIECE : Hmmm. Let’s See. Whose Calls Won’t I Return Today?


It’s January, 1991 and Quentin Tarantino, 27, is in his fifth year of trying to become a movie actor or screenwriter. He’s working at a video store in Manhattan Beach and getting rejection after rejection from Hollywood.

Flash forward to January, 1992. Tarantino returns to his mother’s home in Glendale after a week at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. The phone is ringing wildly. Agents are calling. Deals are being offered.

What changed Hollywood’s view of Tarantino?

Simple. Tarantino’s movie, “Reservoir Dogs.”

His script began attracting attention early last year when it was circulating among film industry agents. The movie, with prints still dripping wet, was completed just three days before the Sundance Festival began and the five Park City screenings were among the hardest tickets to get, based on advance word from Hollywood, and word-of-mouth around the festival. The buzz seemed to be right, based on the reaction of those who saw it. Some festival-goers had problems with its violence and some called it one-dimensional, but most said Tarantino’s touch as a writer and director was unmistakable. “Reservoir Dogs” was arguably the most talked-about movie of the festival.


Tarantino says he never “wrote things to sell. I wrote things to make. But I never had any success. It was a wasted life.”

That realization led him to the decision to finally write a movie he could produce. So he wrote “Reservoir Dogs” in four weeks and planned to shoot it on a $10,000 budget. But a friend and fellow would-be actor, Lawrence Bender, told him the script was “too good” to be made so cheaply, and persuaded Tarantino to hold off while he would take the script to some of his contacts.

“The script got circulated around Hollywood. Agents read it and gave it to all their actors. And that started people talking,” Tarantino recalls.

The favorable reaction was quite a change from the days when Tarantino himself would try to sell his screenplays. “Script readers used to say my scripts were too vile, too vulgar, too violent. The scripts never got past the reader.

“Now, the scripts go right to the top guys.

“Before,” he says, “the script readers reamed my screenplays. I still have the rejection letters.

“Now,” after Sundance, he says, “I’ve gotten the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval . . . people are even looking at my old scripts and saying, ‘Oh, wow. This is so cool.’ ”


The script for “Reservoir Dogs” ended up with Monte Hellman and Richard N. Gladstein of Live America Inc. who, with Bender, decided to produce it. The film was shot in August with Tarantino directing on a budget that has been estimated between $1.5 million and $3 million.

“Quentin has written something that is challenging,” Gladstein says. “It’s a very, very, very, very violent comedy.”

How does Tarantino describe his own movie? “It’s a heist film, about a bunch of guys who get together to pull a robbery and everything that can go wrong, goes wrong,” said the writer-director. “It all leads to violence and blood, but it ends up being black, gallows humor.” The 93-minute feature features Harvey Keitel, Tim Roth, Chris Penn, Steve Buscemi, Lawrence Tierney and Michael Madsen.

Gladstein said the movie didn’t win any prizes at Sundance “because it, perhaps, wasn’t the most politically correct movie. There’s not a woman in it who has a spoken line of dialogue. It’s a bit rough. Gritty. But the reaction by the people was fantastic.”

He says the American release of the film will not come before the Cannes International Film Festival in May, where, Gladstein says, Live wants to enter the movie in the competition for first-time directors.

Meanwhile, Hollywood is calling Tarantino about his future. But the director, who sleeps in his old room decorated with a Bobby Sherman lunch pail and posters of such movies as “Breathless,” “The Evil Eye” and the French poster for “Dressed to Kill,” isn’t answering.

“They’re offering me X movie, starring Mr. X. and I say, ‘Send it over and I’ll look at it.’ But everyone knows what I’m going to do. You see, I’m spoiled now. On ‘Reservoir Dogs,’ we never had a production meeting. It was kept pure. No producer ever monkeyed around with the script.

“So I have my own project and say, if you want to do it, then let’s do it. If you don’t like it, then I’ll go somewhere else.”

One project he has a deal to write and direct is “Pulp Fiction,” a film he will make for Danny DeVito’s production company, Jersey Films.

And before that, he plans to travel. “I’ve been broke all my adult life . . . never been anywhere. This time in Park City? It was the first time I was ever in snow.”