Five Fun Facts From The Once Upon A Time ... In Hollywood Q&A w/PTA & QT
A couple of days ago, The Director’s Guild podcast (The Director’s Cut) dropped a very special Q&A between long-time friends and filmmaking masters, Paul Thomas Anderson and Quentin Tarantino, regarding Tarantino’s latest film, Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood. Their conversation covered everything from the genesis of film’s idea, how particular scenes were handled, as well as a few of their favorite moments.
The Q&A is as fun and insightful as you’d expect, but their enthusiasm and excitement for the film and cinema in general make it even more fun. It’s always great to see artists geek out over one another, and as far as America is concerned, PTA and QT rank amongst the very best working in the industry today.
We’ve got the full Q&A embedded below, but for the sake of convenience in these busy times, we’ve combed through the convo to mine the five most interesting bits for your viewing pleasure!
Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood marks the first instance that Tarantino started from the end and worked backwards.
PTA: All right, I’ll start at the back. Maybe you’ve never been asked this before, but at what point did you discover your ending, or did you know it when you started?
QT: It’s not been asked as a direct question. The first thing I had was the [Brad Pitt] character, the stuntman character, and I knew it was gonna be a 50s, early 60s western-star actor — I hadn’t figured out who that guy was, but I mean, he’s only one of six or seven dudes… I had the idea of them, not the story or anything like that, and I kinda knew I was gonna put them right next to Sharon Tate.
Literally, the first story thing I came up with was the end. Everything else was working backwards. It’s the only time I’ve ever done that. I’ve never just come up with an end, then came up with a whole story to justify its end.
Apocalypse Now helped Tarantino direct scenes at Spahn Ranch.
PTA: Your scripts are usually written out very specifically, but [the Spahn Ranch scene] is one that seems… Even the dogs are fucking directed! Talk about that.
QT: Well, actually, that may be the best way to start it off. There’s this really great story about Francis Ford Coppola doing the Robert Duvall sequences in Apocalypse Now. They’re using the helicopters from the Filipino airport, and he’s paying for everything himself. There’s all the incredible pressures of trying to do this, which are pretty unimaginable, and him and [Apocalypse Now cinematographer] Vittorio Storaro realize, much to [Coppola’s] horrible chagrin because he needs to get footage shot, that if the helicopters aren’t in the background, it just doesn’t work. It’s dead. You can’t just have the helicopters a little bit. After you’ve established the helicopters, the helicopters have to be flying in ever single solitary shot.
Now, I didn’t have as much of a problem as Francis Ford Coppola, but I did tell the people, ‘Look, if there’s any shot at Spahn Ranch, I need you to have a dog in the background.’ There can never be a shot where I don’t see a dog doing something because that was what it was like; they had a lot of dogs there. That means the place is alive. That means it’s living. That mean it’s crawling. That means it’s got fleas. That means it’s scrounging. There’s movement, there’s always movement going on. The place is alive, and there’s always some living thing running from one pile of trash to another in the background to kinda keep it going.
The thing about directing that was it was one of those hard sequences where you realize, ‘Okay, this is one of the cornerstones of the movie.’ Part of the thing was kinda doing a non-story movie for most of it, and the closest thing to a story is when [Cliff] goes to Spahn Ranch. There is an aspect to the movie where you go, ‘Oh shit, we’ve been headed here the entire time. I didn’t realize it, but here we are. Maybe the film had a story, and it’s about getting him here.'
I had a terrific group of actors and it worked really good on the page, so now it’s mine to fuck up. It’s almost so big, I was like, “How do you start this?’ I gave myself two weeks to shoot there completely uninterrupted and then a little bit of leeway if I needed it — maybe as much as four days, if I had to. I figured that would be enough. I didn’t think that as too much, but that would be enough, and I tried to not use those four days. The point being, not to really work out anything. I had maybe one of the best sets I’ve ever had in my entire life. I though Barbara Ling and Nancy Haigh did a fantastic job with Spahn Ranch, and it looked so amazing. I just couldn’t believe it.
PTA has seen the film 4.5 times and talks about a few of his favorite parts.
PTA: This is the most magnificent film. I have seen it four and half times now… one of the things I love about this movie is how much joy there is in it. Just pure joy and your movies always have the joy of making the movie and that they are always filled with that, but there’s something else going on here in this movie that you haven’t had before. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but it’s like the world’s expert made a movie about the thing he knows most about, which is the movies, this city, and the humanity of it.
Over the course of the conversation, PTA talked about a few of his personal favorite moments from the film. They were a bit too tricky to transcribe due to a lot of it being QT and PTA reciting lines of dialogue together (something which was probably an adorable sight to behold) and being so excited that they talked over each other. Plus, due to the pair’s camaraderie, transcribing these particular exchanges would take away from their inherent charm.
PTA’s favorites included his favorite scene, which is a flashback sequence involving Kurt Russell (which he re-enacts at the 21-minute mark), and his favorite performance (by Nicholas Hammond at the 26-minute mark), with a special request shoutout to Rebecca Gayheart as Cliff’s wife, who he praises as being “fucking fantastic in a movie with a billion great performances” at the 21:20 timestamp.
Tarantino hates The Wrecking Crew, but thinks Sharon Tate is great in it.
QT: I can now honestly say — along with one other movie; I won’t say what — that the movie I’ve seen that I don’t like the most is The Wrecking Crew. It’s a really bad comedy, but she’s really good in it. It was on TV the other day, and I watched it for a good 40 minutes just to watch Sharon in it. One of things that makes me so tickled is that normally, when she does her little pratfall and she falls in the lobby, she gets a laugh. The audience laughs in our theater, and it’s actually the laugh I’m always looking forward to the most. I’m always like, ‘Is Sharon gonna get a laugh in our theater when she does her pratfall?’ She almost always does, and I’m very happy for her.
Tarantino respects Tate a lot, and didn’t want her to be a “Quentin Tarantino character.”
QT: I tried to not turn Sharon into a Quentin Tarantino character. Rick’s a Quentin Tarantino character. Cliff’s a Quentin Tarantino character. Even McQueen is a bit of Quentin Tarantino character. In a way, I didn’t want Sharon to be a character. I wanted her to be the person that she is. Now, it’s only my interpretation of the person from what I’ve learned about, and I’ve definitely been leaning into the bride in the light stuff, but that really seems to be who she is. If there are other aspects of her out there, I couldn’t find it. But the thing was not about her being a character, but the real person. She was almost supposed to represent normalcy in the thing. She doesn’t have any plot to do. We’re watching her live her life because that’s what was robbed from her.
The fact that she is a person cosigned to history for the most part, defined completely and utterly by her tragic death. And in these last four weeks people have watched Margot [Robbie] play this person, and they saw that she was more that. She was a lovely person and they get a sense of her spirit and they get a sense of her life and you actually watch her doing things people do in a life–watching errands, driving a car, just doing life stuff, and you even got to see the real Sharon juxtaposed into that. And now I actually think that people will think about her differently than they thought before. It’s not the beginning and end-all of Sharon. There’s still more to learn about her and everything, but I think saving her from her tombstone, the movie has done that to a small degree, but I think a significant degree.
You can check out the full convo below!
What do you think? Did you learn anything new? How do you feel about Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood? We want to know. Share your thoughts and feelings in the comments section below, and as always, remember to viddy well!