Quentin Tarantino shot and edited his WWII drama “Inglourious Basterds” in just eight months, so he could make a May premiere at the Cannes Film Festival. Whether it's because his backers at The Weinstein Co. and Universal are hit-hungry, or because summer loves shorter movies, or because the film didn't win top prize on the Croisette, speculation had Tarantino under pressure to shorten his film. Fresh from locking his final cut, Tarantino refutes that rumor and makes it clear to BFD that the only inglourious basterds he encountered in the cutting room are the characters he'll introduce to the world when the film opens August 21.
BFD: What is the final running time on Inglourious Basterds?
Tarantino: I’ve heard these rumors that the studios told me to cut out 40 minutes. These are complete lies. The movie is actually a minute longer, in running time, than it was in Cannes. It was 2:28, without end credits, and now it’s 2:29, or 2:32 with end credits.
BFD: You told me in Cannes that you had final cut at 2:48, if you'd chosen to make the film that long. Still, rumors inferred you were sent to the editing room with orders to cut. Reaction?
Tarantino: I’m offended at the idea that these guys would be bossing me around. On the other hand, I’ve no right to complain. It’s a great situation. You don’t have to do anything under duress. It’s your movie, you’re the one who has to live with it, and you know you can’t make rash judgments you’ll regret later. But you’re more inclined to listen, because nothing’s being forced on you. Harvey Weinstein’s a nice guy, David Linde was wonderful to work with. They had worthwhile things to say. Some I agreed with, some I did not. I always tried their suggestions, because they have a lot of money invested. They’re not in the room when I try, and half the time they were wrong. But sometimes I’d find myself saying, “Goddammit, Harvey’s right. It’s better this way.”
BFD: What extended the running time?
Tarantino: I added a sequence between where Mike Myers and Michael Fassbender discuss Operation Kino [the plot to blow up a theater as Joseph Goebbels and other Nazi brass watch a film], and the shootout scene in the basement tavern La Louisiane. In Cannes, we went from one to the other. I’d shot another scene, right before that, where Fassbender meets The Basterds, before they go to La Louisiane. That’s back.
BFD: What about that laugh-out-loud funny moment that introduces Goebbels’s French translator, and cuts to a scene where she and Hitler's minister of propaganda are having raucous sex?
Tarantino: Oh, yeah, I put that back, and it sure got a big laugh when I screened it.
BFD: There were other worthy scenes in the script missing from the Cannes cut, like one that humanizes Sgt. Donny Donowitz (Eli Roth), the “Bear Jew” who beats Nazis to death with a baseball bat. A scripted scene that preceded the violence showed him buying a bat in his Jewish Boston neighborhood, and getting an elderly neighbor to sign it with the names of her Jewish relatives in Europe who were in peril.
Tarantino: We shot that, it was a cool sequence, but it got in the way of the big musical cue where we bring Donny out, with the bat. This and other scenes I shot, I’ll put in reserve. If I were to do a prequel, I can just use that stuff, it’s ready to go.
BFD: Do you have enough enthusiasm left for a prequel?
Tarantino: Oh, yeah, I definitely do. I’ve written the first half already. I’d have to finish it, get the Basterds back together, and insert a whole other group of characters, these black troops that come across the Basterds.
BFD: Are the Basterds game?
Tarantino: All through the movie, Brad Pitt and Eli Roth just kept saying, “Prequel. Prequel.” Brad would say, “Let’s talk him into doing a prequel.” The guys love the idea. I’ve got the storyline. Then again, I was going to do all these animated prequels to Kill Bill. I didn’t end up doing any of those.
BFD: Both The Weinstein Co. and Universal need hits. How much pressure did you feel to maximize your film's commercial potential?
Tarantino: Yeah, the guys are anxious about it, and I can see where that is coming from. But the movie is the movie. They read the script, they knew what they were getting into. From time to time, we’d be talking and I’d say, I hear what you’re saying, but I’m not going to make the movie any differently than I wrote it. It might sound weird that I added a minute, but you can add little things and actually quicken the pace, and we were very aware of keeping the pace up. To add the one scene, I reduced a couple scenes by a line here, a line there. I’d talk to the Weinsteins, and Universal, and they’d say, “This sequence is running a little long.” I’d say, I don’t think I can take more than maybe one line out of there, and they’d say, that’s fine. Then you have to find that one line. It’s cosmetic surgery. Harvey wanted me to add more music, he asked me to go through my music collection again and just find a couple more pieces. So, I found four cues, and one of them is the main theme from the Jack Cardiff movie "Dark of the Sun," which I'd always wanted to use.
BFD: You’ve never relied on stars in your movies. Now you have one of the biggest, at a time when studios seem to be questioning star value, especially after Todd Phillips did what you usually do, creating stars in "The Hangover"...
Tarantino: Even to the degree where those guys were so perfectly cast.
BFD: Is the star system still reliable?
Tarantino: There has been a kind of selective choice of evidence to decide whether stars are reliable or not. If you are pointing to that Russell Crowe newspaper movie, which I didn’t see, well maybe it just didn’t work out for that particular movie. Brad had a big hit with "Benjamin Button" and I think he was a big reason. Early in my career, I would get suggestions about using this or that actor, and I’d ask, why do you want these people? Do they really put asses in seats? I could look at a number of their movies and the answer would be no. I learned it wasn’t as much about asses in seats as it was marketing. This guy is famous, so we can get him on Leno, Conan, Letterman, get a magazine cover. I’m casting for what works best in the film. Rosario Dawson was the most famous girl I used in "Deathproof," and she was on all the talk shows. But she was also one of the best in the movie. There’s a reason why Leno wants to talk to her. She’s a terrific actress, she’s got tons of charisma. I’m not going to hire somebody just for the poster, and the integrity of my movies speaks for itself, as far as that is concerned.
BFD: How do your commercial hopes escalate, having Pitt?
Tarantino: I’ve normally relied on my name for the most part. The hope is, I’ll bring my fans and he’ll bring his. Overseas, Brad’s following is intense, just crazy, but so is mine. The hope is, us working together, that’ll be a draw. I can honestly say though that if Brad Pitt wasn’t a star and I’d found him in the casting process, I would have lobbied for him to get this role.
BFD: The adult drama is on shaky ground. What must be done to keep the genre viable?
Tarantino: I went to see "Public Enemies" on a Friday at The Vista, the 6:30 show, and the theater filled up and I thought, hmm, people turning out on a weekend to see a movie with a big star...I think I’m going to be okay. I was very encouraged. I would say "Public Enemies" is an example that showed the adult drama is alive and well. Universal marketed the hell out of it, and while it was risky to open summertime against "Ice Age 3," I think it did terrific for that kind of film. In a different month, "Public Enemies" would have opened number one. I remember several years ago, being in Austin while making "Deathproof," and seeing "American Gangster," this movie with two stars and a terrific director. It struck me, this audience that was equal parts black and white, and how you could tell they couldn’t wait to see the movie. If you’re going to make one of these, make sure your canvas matches the commercial potential, and be sure it is something people want to see. The tricky thing about commercial concerns is, it becomes easy to only think about the opening weekend, and forget that a movie is going to have a long life, like, until the end of time.
BFD: What's the fun part of opening in the summer under pressure?
Tarantino: As an artist, you can bemoan the whole roll of the dice that is opening weekend, but it is exciting, too. Your movie is seen by everybody in this one big `go,' and it becomes an event where everybody is heading out on opening weekend and filling up the multiplexes all over America. It is one of the things that makes movies vital.