"In Focus" is our new series that, well, focuses on influential directors, how they got their start and their influence on the industry -- along with a healthy dose of trivia.
Most directors rarely become household names, at least not in the same sense as the A-list actors in their movies. Quentin Tarantino, however, is undoubtedly a director whose name is recognized even by people who don't watch his movies. He's known for his smart, fast dialogue and violent, controversy-courting movies. His latest is The Hateful Eight starring Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Walton Goggins and Channing Tatum.
Born: Knoxville, Tennessee
Best Known For: Pulp Fiction, Kill Bill, Reservoir Dogs
Before He Was a Director: Tarantino got his start in the industry as an actor in very small roles, with his most notable being a spot as an Elvis impersonator on an episode of The Golden Girls. While pursuing acting, he worked a number of odd jobs including one as a video-store clerk where he was well known for always recommending relatively obscure movies for people to see. Eventually he met another aspiring filmmaker named Lawrence Bender at a party. Bender loved Tarantino’s enthusiasm and encouraged him to commit to screenwriting. Fast forward a few years and the two of them were heading to the Sundance Film Festival for the world premiere of a little movie called Reservoir Dogs.
First Feature Film: Technically a rarely seen movie called My Best Friend’s Birthday was Tarantino’s feature film debut as a director, but the reason it’s so rarely seen is that a fire destroyed most of the film’s elements and all that remains is a 36-minute version. It has never been released, though the half of the movie that did survive has been screened as a novelty at a few film festivals.
His Breakout Film: Reservoir Dogs blew Tarantino’s career sky high right out of the gate. It premiered at Sundance in January of 1992, was acquired for distribution by Miramax Films and was in theaters around the U.S. by October. It grossed nearly $3 million at the domestic box office, which was an undeniable success for an indie movie made on a budget of only $30,000.
Fun Fact: There was actually a Reservoir Dogs video game made 14 years after the release of the movie, but the only actor who would grant their likeness rights to it was Michael Madsen and so most of the characters look nothing like their movie counterparts.
The Movies You May Not Even Realize Tarantino Helped Write:
Tarantino only has two official screenplay credits on feature films that he didn’t direct himself, From Dusk Till Dawn and True Romance. However, he was an uncredited writer on a pair of ‘90s action classics. The first is Crimson Tide, which he did unofficial dialogue work on for his True Romance director Tony Scott. The second is Michael Bay’s The Rock. Oh, and Tarantino also did an uncredited rewrite of the SNL movie It’s Pat.
Yes, It’s Pat was secretly worked on by Quentin Tarantino. (He also provided the story for Natural Born Killers, but that’s an official credit so not as amusing.)
Did You Know?
Tarantino has directed two episodes of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation based on a story of his own devising. They are two of the most watched episodes of the entire series.
Quentin’s parents named him after Quint Asper, a character on the serial Western Gunsmoke played by none other than Burt Reynolds.
Even though Reservoir Dogs made twice as much money in theaters in the U.K. as it did in the U.S., it was banned on home video there until 1995.
Tarantino separates his movies into two different universes, one he dubs the “Movie Movie Universe” and the other the “Realer Than Real World Universe.” The “Movie Movie” entries are ones that have no grounding in reality and are movies he feels characters from his “Realer Than Real World” would watch. So, for example, a character from Pulp Fiction could hypothetically watch From Dusk till Dawn (assuming they survived to see its release).
The Movie Movie Universe: Natural Born Killers, From Dusk Till Dawn, Kill Bill Vol 1., Kill Bill Vol 2.
The Realer Than Real World Universe: Reservoir Dogs, True Romance, Pulp Fiction, Death Proof, Inglourious Basterds, Django Unchained, The Hateful Eight
Tarantino has been nominated for an Academy Award five times and has won twice. The wins are for Best Original Screenplay for Django Unchained and Pulp Fiction.