‘Once Upon A Time In Hollywood’ Cinematographer Robert Richardson Walks Us Through The Film’s Amazing Shots

Senior Entertainment Writer


Robert Richardson, Quentin Tarantino’s cinematographer on Once Upon a Time in… Hollywood, has one of the most impressive resumes of any filmmaker working today. First of all, he’s won three Oscars for his work on JFK, The Aviator, and Hugo. And he has worked, multiple times, with filmmakers like Oliver Stone, Martin Scorsese, and Quentin Tarantino.

So, with so many accolades and time enough to ask one additional question not related to Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood, where does one even begin? Well, we went with Breakin’, of course. But before we get to Breakin’, we asked Richardson to take us through a few memorable scenes in Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood to explain to us mere mortals how some of those incredible shots were achieved.

Let’s start with Brad Pitt driving the Volkswagen Karmann Ghia down an extremely curvy road.

Well, first of all, that was Brad driving. He also is the one who pulled out, when you get that great music cue that pops in there. He just left Leo behind and switches to the other car, to the Karmann Ghia. He pulls out and then it just hits us, that beautiful music. But then the camera’s mounted behind him. The truth of the matter is, Brad is a stunt person. Let’s get real. Down Hollywood Boulevard, I’m not gonna say this for sure, but I’m betting he’s in the 50 mile an hour zone.

He looks like it’s going pretty fast.

It’s flying down that road. We were struggling with a camera car to keep up with him. That’s how fast he’s driving, but he’s fully in control. It wasn’t anything that was even vaguely a question mark. I mean, when Roman and Sharon drive to the Playboy Mansion, they’re also driving that road very rapidly. I think Brad is — well he’s obviously a stunt man in the movie. He wasn’t going to let somebody else drive it. Although, we had somebody to drive it if he wished to have that way. But he was so in control of the car that it was not a problem.

Then there’s this amazing shot of 55-year-old Brad Pitt sauntering up on a rooftop to fix a TV antenna. I suspect there’s nothing special about it from your side, but it’s still quite a shot.

Nothing special, but I think you’re absolutely right. Quentin and I were kind of joking about it later, saying it’s about the closest Quentin’s ever come to doing anything homoerotic. Brad just, you know, the way he pops up on top and walks to the antenna, the rhythm, he just looks so good. I was with this friend of mine, I don’t know, she’s 28 and she goes, “Oh my god, is he hot!”

She’s never seen Fight Club then, huh?

You know, actually, it’s a good question! I didn’t ask her. Look, we all know Brad’s hot. There’s no question about it. But that image is iconic now I think. Let’s talk about Austin Butler for a second, who plays Tex. That horse ride…

Thank you for bringing it up, that was next on my list.

Austin didn’t have a great deal of experience riding prior to this film. And he got hired and he did a lot of training — he is an extraordinarily serious actor. I think he’s also a name to watch in the future, without question. And what he did was, he was taught by wranglers to ride with one hand, which makes it even more special. I did a rehearsal with Quentin and I had already done a run before he’d gotten there to make sure that the camera car could do it, and we did it with the horse wranglers. And we did it in more slow motion and we did it faster. Then when Quentin got there, we showed him what he’d wanted to see and we did it at a really high speed with a really good rider. Then he goes, “It’s fabulous, but can Austin do this?” And we just said, “Yeah, Austin can do this.” I think we only did two takes of it because he nailed it perfectly. Flying down there and dropping over that hill and racing down at full gallop is remarkable. So yeah, no stunt people for that one.

He looked great. I think most actors look kind of stupid riding a horse. Bobbing up and down, looking uncomfortable. But he looked like he knew what he was doing.

Well, you’re absolutely right. He didn’t really know how to ride a horse prior and he learned how to do it and he did it in what is such an incredible way. I mean, that’s a fierce ride. I think it takes a very good rider to get to that point. And obviously, he had incredible coaching.

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