‘Once Upon A Time In Hollywood’ Producers Shannon McIntosh And David Heyman Break Down The Film’s Deeper Meaning


Shannon McIntosh has worked on numerous Quentin Tarantino movies in the past, and serving as a producer on Death Proof, Django Unchained, The Hateful Eight, and now Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. David Heyman’s producing credits are vast – with entries such as Gravity and every Harry Potter film – but this is his first time working with Tarantino.

Ahead (and there are many spoilers ahead), McIntosh and Heyman take us through what it’s like to work with Tarantino, what it was like to try to market this film specifically, and the two break down the deeper meaning of the film, including the ending.

So how do you two find out Quentin has a new movie idea?

Shannon McIntosh: Well, this is David’s – I’m going to quote you David – David’s first dance. We get done making Hateful Eight, and Quentin, at some point, went under and just started writing. And then got incredibly enthusiastic about this. Some of the material existed for years, and the idea has been there for a while, but he finally dove under after Hateful Eight and brought this one to life. But there are some things he noodles for a long time, and in time it comes out.

What does “went under” mean? I’ve heard rumors he goes to a secluded cabin with only an old cassette-based answering machine.

McIntosh: That sounds like superhero quality there. I don’t think it’s a cabin on the edge of the woods, or at the end of the earth, but he gets very focused, and that’s what he’s doing. And we know we can’t reach him very much.

David Heyman: He’s not easy to reach at the best of times, because he doesn’t really use a mobile phone. He doesn’t really use the internet. I think it’s one of the things that contributes to his brilliance, because as Shannon said, he gets really focused and he’s very singular in his approach. So, I flew out to L.A., and it was quite nervewracking. Because I flew out, went to his house, and there he was – very welcoming, had a cup of coffee. And then he put me in a room and left me with a script. And that’s quite a pressured situation, because what happens if you don’t like it? I was reading the script and a couple of hours later he comes in and says, “Are you done yet?” And I was so angry and in the moment, and I said, “Get out. Get out of here!” Because I was in the third act and I was on the edge of my seat.

So what’s it like on your side of things with him? Because my only experience with him was, after calling Christoph Waltz’s character’s plan in Django a “harebrained scheme,” he wanted to debate me. Which we did. On this side of things, that kind of spontaneity is great, but I wonder if it gets challenging to, let’s say, keep up?

Heyman: Well, I mean, the thing about Quentin, one of the things that has been one of the real revelations to me, and maybe it shouldn’t be unexpected, but he’s one of the most authentic people you could meet. What you see is what you get. There’s no BS. He’s really direct. If he doesn’t like something, you know it. If he likes something, you know it, and he’s just very open in that way. So there’s no agenda. It’s just he’s incredibly honest and forthright. So yes, if he has an idea like that, if he hears you saying it’s a harebrained idea, he wants to talk about it. He wants to discuss it. By the way, he may get quite feisty and testy about it, because he’s very passionate, but that doesn’t mean it’s just about that. So I’d have really robust discussions with him about the script at a certain point, and he defends really strongly, or he attacks really strongly. But then you move on and you go onto the next thing. He enjoys that. But he’s very practical as well. We had times where we had to manage the budget and we had to make some cuts, and he was really incredibly collaborative about that. But he most certainly has his opinions, and he’s distinctly Quentin.

Were there any plot points, or moments, that either of you looked at and went, “We cannot do this.” And it didn’t happen?

Heyman: Not really. I mean, the plot was never in question. It was very clear, it made perfect sense. I had a really intense discussion with him about Rick’s character at one point, because I felt pity for Rick in some ways: that he had to go to Italy, and that wasn’t his dream. His dream was something else. And to Quentin, he thought of it differently. He said, “Come on, what’s so bad about going to Italy? You know? That’s a great thing, great opportunity. He gets to work with some top people. How bad can that be?”

Ultimately, I actually think obviously he was right. What’s become really clear to me, and I think it’s really beautiful, is that in a way, what the film is about is it’s about gratitude and acceptance. And once Rick finds that place of accepting his place in life and being grateful for the friendship he has and what he has, the doors open up for him, literally and figuratively. And you see at the end of that evening, on the last moments of the film, that he finally gains access to Polanski and Tate’s home. He’s invited in, and you sense a feeling of peace in him after that. Before that moment, after the fight with Cliff, you feel that friendship, which has already always been there. But you feel that now he appreciates the value of it so much more.

I’ve seen people call this a love letter to Hollywood, but I feel like it’s going to redefine how we think about Sharon Tate, because I feel like a lot of people only know her because of the brutal, sensational murder that ended her life. It feels like he’s saying, “Well, in my alternate reality, this didn’t happen. And you’re going to remember this lovely person for who she was, and not be remembered merely as Roman Polanski’s wife who got murdered by the Manson family.”

Heyman: I think it’s interesting when it’s called a love letter to Hollywood. In some ways, it is. I’d say 70 percent is love, and there’s a portion of it which is not such a love letter, it’s more negative. I think that’s really important for Quentin. It’s not all one thing or the other. And I think what you said about Sharon is 100 percent correct. She was really a very fine actress, and unfortunately she’s remembered for being murdered, rather than for her acting talent.

McIntosh: Coming into her prime, right? At that time, right? So she was really about to hit that next level of her career.

It feels like this movie is trying to reestablish her legacy.

McIntosh:: Yes. Her memory, for sure.

Heyman: And also, I think that she, in this film, represents a sort of purity. Supposedly, she was the loveliest of people and a really good spirit. And I think that was, in this film, one of the most important things to get across is that warmth and that innocence and that purity. That’s what she represents, that’s what she was. She was the light in this film.

There’s a pretty loose structure to the plot. It’s like just hanging out in L.A. for a couple of days in 1969. I love the shot of Rick and Cliff watching FBI together with Cliff giving commentary like, “Here comes trouble.”

Heyman: Well, that’s interesting, Quentin says that he could have put much more plot in this, but what he wanted to make was really a day in the life kind of thing, exactly as you say. It was a day in the life, but ultimately it’s three days. And I think that approach, when you have a sense of what is coming, is very powerful. You’re drawn into their lives and the detail, as you say. I can imagine Quentin sitting around with his friends watching a show and saying, “Oh, yeah, that’s a good guy, that’s not a good guy.”

The way the Manson family is introduced sporadically throughout was interesting, because that’s probably what it was like then. Asking, “Who are these people living on that ranch? Wait, Dennis Wilson hangs out with them?”

Heyman: I think that’s completely true. That’s life, isn’t it? Until you have these incredible events, people are just people. But of course, it takes something as horrific as the Manson murders to bring it to focus and to make these people into the devils that they are in our minds.

Was it difficult to market this movie? On the surface, the subject matter is delicate, but you can’t just tell people how it ends to put people’s minds at ease.

McIntosh: Yeah, I mean, I think when the speculation on this movie came out it was all completely off-base and wrong, and I’m not even sure how it first broke out there. There were so many stories, and everyone saying that he’s making a Manson movie. He was never setting out to make a Manson movie.

I think there was one that said Brad Pitt was a detective investigating the murders.

McIntosh: Those were all amazingly crazy speculations. We really drilled down while we were casting, trying to get out that this was not a Manson movie or a Manson murder movie, but yes, Sharon Tate was in it, but it’s about these two guys. So it really was quite a thing, changing people’s expectations. We tried to manage it during casting and production. What I would say to people is like, “Could you imagine Quentin really making a Manson murder movie? Does that sound like something he would do?” And most people go, “Nope.” So you’re like, “Okay, moving on.”

One last thing, Nicholas Hammond — who plays flamboyant director, Sam Wanamaker — is great in this movie. He was the original Spider-Man!

McIntosh: What a happy casting. He came in through town right when we were beginning our casting process. And Quentin had been thinking potentially of some other people, but we heard he was going to be here and just set him up with the meeting with Quentin. And from there, he knew it had to be Nicholas Hammond. And how lucky are all of us to have him in the movie? He’s wonderful.

Heyman: And he is such a spirit. He’s flown all over, he was in Cannes, he’s here. He’s just so thrilled to be a part of it and so proud of the film. And as Shannon said, he is magnificent in it.

You can contact Mike Ryan directly on Twitter.

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