American filmmaker Quentin Tarantino has been described as “the single most influential director of our generation.” Having created seminal masterpieces like Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction which shaped the evolution of cinema in the 1990s, Tarantino has continued to make critically acclaimed gems like his 2019 film Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.
Before breaking onto the scene as a promising filmmaker, Tarantino had written screenplays for other cult classics like True Romance. Growing up in California, Tarantino had worked at a video store where he was introduced to a wide variety of resources – ranging from classics and TV shows to criminally neglected foreign films.
Tarantino had been writing his own screenplays since the age of 14, and he developed his screenwriting talents further by enrolling in an acting class instead of a writing class. “I actually realised I had a bit of talent at it [by] going to acting class. And I was always doing bizarre scenes in acting class. Little by little, I started adding more and more and more to the scenes and that was me learning how to write dialogue.”
The filmmaker insisted that he never attended any seminars on writing and didn’t even take a pamphlet for such a class. “Everything I’ve learned as an actor, I’ve basically applied to writing,” he said. In order to be a great writer, Tarantino advises aspiring artists to “keep it personal.” Just like an actor borrows from personal experiences to bring out the emotions, a good writer will access the same place for convincing material.
“I was put on Earth to face the blank page,” Tarantino declared. According to him, the writing process has to be organic and improvisational. Instead of fixating on certain ideas, the writer has to let his thought processes flow from one destination to another in order to reach a truly unexplored territory. By placing the ideas from classic sources of inspirations in new genre contexts, a reinvention of cinematic conventions becomes possible. “Before I make the movie, I watch the movie,” the filmmaker insisted.
Tarantino emphasises the concept of visualisation, claiming that it is extremely important for the writer as well as the director to have the visual narrative ready in their heads. Tarantino also advises against underestimating the audience, stating: “I don’t think the audience is this dumb person lower than me, I am the audience.”
While thinking like an actor can help a writer with dialogue, Tarantino also stresses the importance of literary structure. By reading novels, he realised how cinematic a non-linear narrative structure can be. “In a novel, you can start in the middle of the story. They’re doing something and it’s moving in the forward momentum… And now it comes to Chapter three and Chapter three happened two years before.”
Adding, “I always thought that if you did it the way they did it in novels, that would be inherently cinematic. The cross-cutting would be neat. [Putting] it all in chronological order was inherently not cinematic. It was drab.”