At this point, there are several familiar stages in the life-cycle of a new film by Quentin Tarantino. There’s the part the general public is part of, involving the trailers, the press screenings, and the eventual release. But well before that, another cycle has become somewhat set in stone, starting with the moment that each screenplay leaks.
It happened on “Kill Bill.” It happened on “Inglorious Basterds.” And it happened on “Django Unchained” at a speed that seemed to shock even Tarantino.
Now word has broken that the cycle was accelerated to a point that has infuriated the filmmaker, and as a result, it appears that “The Hateful Eight” will no longer be his next film. Right now, fingers are being pointed, and I can’t wait to see how this story unfolds because someone is going to end up being blamed for this film going down in flames before it even set a cast in stone.
The story broke this afternoon on Deadline Hollywood while I was sitting in a Sundance screening of the directorial debut of David Cross. Considering I had checked my e-mail moments before the screening began, the speed of this story’s development is somewhat shocking. Speaking to Mike Fleming, Tarantino explained that he gave the script to Reginald Hudlin, who co-produced “Django Unchained,” and Hudlin let an agent read the script at his house. Tarantino seems confident that the Hudlin copy is not how the leak occurred, pointing the finger instead at Michael Madsen and Bruce Dern. Tim Roth was the third actor who was given a copy of the script, but Tarantino seems confident it was not Roth.
Here’s the thing… I’ve certainly been responsible for leaking way more than my fair share of information over the last 15 years, and I have driven filmmakers insane at times. Even so, I have happily told any of them who have asked me that there is a way to stop the flow of information, and it’s not an answer that makes them very happy. Bottom line: don’t give an agency your script. If it is important to you to keep a secret, the number one primary source of all information leaks in Hollywood is from the agencies. Always has been. Every script I’ve ever seen leaked came directly from some assistant with access to a copy machine.
There is a way to keep something locked down. Ask Christopher Nolan’s team how they do it. If you need to audition actors for a part, write a scene that features the same dynamic between characters, the same emotional beats, but write it using characters who aren’t in your movie, and make sure there’s no information in the scene that has anything to do with your actual movie.
Beyond that? Watermark everything. That doesn’t always work, of course. I would imagine one of the things that infuriated Tom Rothman most during our various engagements over the years was that the script I had for “The Fountain,” a leak that alternately helped and upset Darren Aronofsky, had a big giant “Tom Rothman” printed on every single page. When I was on the set of the film, Darren and his co-writer Ari Handel signed the script for me, and they both took careful note of that watermark.
I would be perfectly happy working in a system where filmmakers kept their secrets and films arrived in theaters with all of their mysteries intact. I never set out to be the guy who has access to every single secret. Working in Los Angeles since the early ’90s, though, I ended up with information flowing steadily to me years before I even had access to the Internet. I have never consciously set out to crack a particular film or to chase down a particular filmmaker, and there have been times where I’ve written about things and later regretted the impact that I had on the development process.
With Tarantino, I’ve seen an evolution happen. “Pulp Fiction” was in production at a point when he was still considered a cult success at best. No matter how influential we consider “Reservoir Dogs” now, it didn’t set the box-office on fire, and it wasn’t a monster cultural sensation. Even so, Jersey Films locked that script down, and even the people working on it, many of which were friends of mine at the time, took the idea of keep the film’s secrets seriously. When Tarantino was gearing up on “Kill Bill,” he made a conscious decision to court the Internet. We were at a screening in Austin when he walked up, set the just-finished script on a table in front of Harry Knowles, and told him to enjoy the read. Before that film was even half finished, that script was everywhere, so much so that when the film was released, fans were upset that there were chapters cut out and substantial pieces reworked.
Both “Inglourious” and “Django” also leaked early, and I got the feeling that the “Django” leak bothered him in a way that the others did not. It happened earlier than he expected. He took the unusual measure on “Django” of commissioning a comic book adaptation of the first draft of the script so that even though he reworked it quite a bit while shooting, his first version ended up getting a sort of release.
It’s interesting that Tarantino pointed the finger at CAA and they immediately and, if Fleming’s categorization is correct, vehemently denied it. Of course, it is impossible that they could say that with any confidence. I’d be happy to let someone from CAA come by my garage sometime to stare at the hundreds of CAA script covers I have on things that leaked without their knowledge or permission. Then they can look at me and with a straight face tell me they know what leaves their building.
Quentin is facing a possible shift in his career, anyway. I know Fleming’s story mentioned that he was about to sit down to talk to Harvey Weinstein about the film and how they’re going to make it, but considering QT’s drive-in tastes and Harvey’s recent comments about how he won’t be making movies that have stylized or extreme violence anymore, I don’t see how they stay in business together. At this point, I’m sure any studio in town would be happy to make films with him after the money that “Inglorious” and “Django” made worldwide, Sony and Universal would gladly step up to let him make whatever he wants, whatever way he wants.
If he does indeed decide not to make this film, that would be a shame. He’s obviously had his love of filmmaking rekindled over the last few years. He’s writing faster than ever, and he seems excited by the ensemble cast he keeps building. I would say this directly to Quentin, though… as someone who is awash in the particular streams in which these things get out, I haven’t seen the script yet. None of the usual suspects have it, so I would guess the leak is not as bad as he seems to think it is. There’s one blogger who is offering to send it to anyone who asks, but I know for a fact he’s got something else entirely, which is just funny.
Whatever he ends up doing, I hope it is because it is what he wants, and not just as a reaction to a betrayal that I’m sure genuinely bothers him. Tarantino’s last few films have been a treat, and I want to see whatever else comes out of this burst of creative energy. I don’t want the shitty behavior of one agent or one assistant to throw off his entire game plan.
In the end, it’s the audience that loses in that scenario.