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Quentin Tarantino: From the screen to the page

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Hollywood, it seems, was built on movies that were built on books. We all know that Don Corleone was a literary legend first, as was Mary Poppins, and that shark in “Jaws.”

So, it might surprise you that the book that inspired Quentin Tarantino’s epic “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” was actually written after the film.

The movie, you recall, is about an aging actor and his stunt double looking for relevance in late-1960s Hollywood. The new book is actually a novelization, a much more detailed version of the script, so if for instance you want to see even more of Brad Pitt’s character, the book will tell you everything that Tarantino couldn’t fit in the film.

It all makes perfect sense to the author, whom correspondent Tracy Smith met at the movie theater he owns in Los Angeles. She asked, “When I talked to you in 2009, you said – and you’ve said this to a lot of people – that at 60 you were going to ‘switch gears and become a man of letters,’ I think is how you put it to me, and ‘do novels.’ So, you’re 58, and you’re headed down that path already?”

“Yeah, exactly,” Tarantino replied. “Without cutting it off at 60, I’ve started on that path.”

Filmmaker (and now novelist) Quentin Tarantino with correspondent Tracy Smith.  

CBS News

Of course, it’s been a hell of a ride so far:  Quentin Tarantino has made nine movies, and along the way created some of the most memorable characters in film history, from a yellow jumpsuit-wearing female action hero in the “Kill Bill” movies, to an unnervingly genteel Nazi villain in “Inglourious Basterds.”

But as Tarantino would be the first to tell you, filmmaking is not the easiest way to make a living.

Smith asked, “What is it about the literary life that appeals to you?”

HarperCollins

“Well, one nice thing is: I spend a lotta time writing my scripts,” he said. “And then, when I’m done, now I gotta go make the movie! And now I gotta cast it, and we gotta go look for locations, and then we go to another place where I go live and we spend six months doing that. It’s like this whole process. You know, it’s a fun process. And it’s a wonderful way to live a life. I’m not making it sound like it’s a bad thing. I’m very fortunate to have the situation to do that. But the idea of putting your heart and soul into a piece of writing, and then when you’re done, you’re done? That’s, that’s amazing!”

And how did it feel finishing the book, “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”?  “It felt fantastic!” he said.

Tarantino might be a first-time novelist, but he’s always been a writer, a lot of it in longhand. “Yeah, I write it like that,” he said. “But then I type it up afterwards.”

He demonstrated his one-finger-typing method. “Oh my goodness. That’s a long process,” said Smith.

“You’d be surprised how you pick up speed, once you get comfortable. When you gotta take all that junk, right, and type it up with one finger, you know, if it’s not Shakespeare, you can cut it!” he laughed.

Jules (Samuel L. Jackson): Naw, I don’t eat pork.
Vincent (John Travolta): Are you Jewish?
Jules: I ain’t Jewish man, I just don’t dig on swine.
Vincent: Why not?
Jules: They’re filthy animals. I don’t eat filthy animals.
Vincent: Sausages taste good. Pork chops taste good.
Jules: A sewer rat may taste like pumpkin pie. I’ll never know ’cause even if it did, I wouldn’t eat the filthy motherf*****.
From “Pulp Fiction”

But his process seems to work; both of his Oscars are for Best Original Screenplay (for “Pulp Fiction” and “Django Unchained”).

Smith asked, “Where does that come from, your gift for dialogue?”

“I guess it would be my memory. I just remember conversations, I remember funny things, I remember turns of phrases. Even if me and you go out to lunch and we’re overhearing an interesting conversation between a daughter and her mother in the next booth, if they say something interesting, it could be nine years from now …”

“You’ll remember it?”

“Yeah, I’ll remember. As I’m writing, if it’s apropos, it’ll pop up.”

“It comes back?”

“Yes. Exactly.”

And it seems he chooses his actors as carefully as his words.

“I don’t know who you are, but you touched me today.”
George Spahn (Bruce Dern), “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”

Bruce Dern played movie ranch-owner George Spahn in “Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood,” but Tarantino’s first pick was Burt Reynolds, who passed away before the film was finished.

Smith asked, “Did you get a chance to shoot with him?”

“No, no. I got a chance to rehearse with him. I’m officially the last role he played, because he came to the script reading. So, that was his last acting. In fact, not only that, the night he died, what he was doing before he passed on, is he was running lines with his assistant. That’s, like, sad and beautiful at the same time.”

“It is. In a way it has to make you feel good to give him that chance to be – “

“Oh, he was so happy. I can honestly say he died happy,” Tarantino said. “I’m not saying he died happy because of me. But he was happy. He was definitely happy when he passed on.”

These days, Tarantino seems to have found his own share of happiness: he’s now a married father of one.

Smith said, “When we talked the last time, we talked about relationships and you said, ‘I’m all about the movie. I need to focus on my movie. That’s all I care about. That’s it.’ What changed?”

“Well, the woman I met changed it: Daniella Pick. All right, I met her. And we fell in love. And she wanted to get married. And I did, too. And so, I married.”

“It’s pretty incredible because it’s something that trumped your ultimate love, the love of the movie,” Smith said.

“Absolutely, and she didn’t take away anything from it.”

Quentin and Daniella, who split their time between Los Angeles and her native Israel, have a 16-month-old son, Leo, who – no surprise – already likes watching movies with Dad.

“And so, I now know officially the first motion picture he’s seen is ‘Despicable Me 2,'” Tarantino said.

Smith said, “And the cool thing is, here you are sharing a movie with your son.”

“If I talk about it too much – I’m already gonna start crying if I talk about it too … I can’t even see his name written on a piece of paper without crying.”

“Really?”

“Yeah.”

“What is that about?”

“It’s just, he’s my Leo. He’s my little lion,” Tarantino said. “And i just see his name, L-E-O, written down isolated. And it just – when it comes to him, he’s just the most charming human being I’ve ever met in my life. And so, it’s like, half the time I look at him and I’m just laughing, ’cause he’s so funny. And the other time I’m just bursting into tears.”

“And those are both great.”

“Yeah.”

Of course, work is still pretty great, too. His book is likely the first of many, but he says his next film will be his last.

Smith asked, “Do you have a sense of what that 10th film is going to be?”

“No. I don’t have a clue,” he replied. “If I had to guess, I would think ‘Once Upon a Time in Hollywood’ is sort of the epic at the end of the career. If I had to guess, I would think the 10th film would be more epilogue-y.”

What’s epilogue-y?  “Well, it’s just, it’s not an epic. You know, you’ve told the big story, and then there’s the little thing at the end.”

You could say that’s classic Quentin Tarantino: an artful ending that leaves you wanting more.

READ AN EXCERPT: Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”

     
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Story produced by John D’Amelio. Editor: Steven Tyler. 


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