Monday, January 6, 2020

Why Tarantino was wrong

I came to Tarantino late. I didn't see my first film of his until 2012 when I rented his heist-gone-wrong drama Reservoir Dogs, 20 years after it was released to theaters. And the only reason I saw that was because I was going to be reviewing a theatrical adaptation of the film for the local newspaper and I wanted to familiarize myself with the story.

Well, I was hooked. The media loves to focus on the over-the-top violence in Tarantino's films, but I saw that they offer do much more. His characters are complex. His dialogue is fresh, smart--and often hilariously funny. And his musical choices are, well, transcendent. I quickly made a point of seeing the rest of his films (thanks, Netflix!).

Yeah, I'm a big fan. So last night, I was thrilled to see him win his third Golden Globe for Best Screenplay (he won it for Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood).  But there was something that bothered me about his acceptance speech. Here's what he said:

"Normally the thing is when I win a writing award, I--you don't share the script with somebody else, you write it by yourself-- kind of don't have anybody to thank. I did it."

That's kind of true. In the whole process of moviemaking, the screenwriter is the only one who creates something out of nothing.

But that misses the point. The Best Screenplay award is not a writing contest. The 89 journalists who make up the Hollywood Foreign Press Association don't read the scripts. They experience them through the performances that the actors give, and the director guides, and the costume designers dress, and the composers embellish, and so on, and so on.

So the excellence of the screenplay can only be viewed through the filter of the entire film.

Of course, Tarantino's comments were meant to be tongue-in-cheek. And he did go on to thank his actors for adding "a slightly different layer that what was just on the page".

But I think his comments speak to something that a lot of writers feel, that we are the most important part of the moviemaking process. Which is why we need to keep something in mind whenever we get too full of ourselves.

Sure, we may begin the process. But we don't complete it. And our value, our success, our very existence as writers is dependent on all those other creatives who we collaborate with to make something good and meaningful and lasting.

For without them, our words on the page will remain just that. Words. And that's not what movies are about.

But it would be nice if we were paid more.

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