Screenwriting : How do you know when you’re Quentin Tarantino? by Craig D Griffiths

Craig D Griffiths

How do you know when you’re Quentin Tarantino?

Whenever someone talks about how they need to go outside “the rules”, they are told “you can do that when you are Quentin Tarantino”.

So when do you know?

I have always disregarded something’s that have never helped me tell my stories. I use things like “we” when I have to, I even write things that can’t be filmed.

I have my style and I am comfortable.

But for others starting out. Rather than tell them “they can’t” let’s tell them when they can.

I’ll start “focus on story telling. tell the best and most compelling story possible. everything else is secondary. crap no matter how well formatted is still crap”.

Kay Luke

Tarantino got to do what he got to do because he made a three-way deal to sell a script everybody wanted to buy but nobody actually wanted to produce, and nobody wanted him to direct. That script became True Romance (written by credit to Tarantino) another film Tarantino wasn't involved with, and Tarantino's big break-- Reservoir Dogs.

So the answer is write a script everybody wants. Piece of cake!

Sometimes, you get struck by lightning, but it's a fool who stands in the rain waiting for it.

As far as CAN'Ts-- you can do whatever, or you can do what's required to build a career.

Everyone who doesn't make a living in entertainment but is serious about wanting to would be wise to listen to those of us who already do.

And here's a tip -- it's not your ability to tell your OWN story, it's your ability to tell ANY story that matters.

Craig D Griffiths

So there wasn’t a qualifying period?

He wrote something good. Which is the point I am making. There is no one throwing good work across a room because of poor formatting. In fact people are making three way deals to get hold of a good story.

No one is putting good work in a dumpster because of formatting or spelling.

So we should be encouraging people to work in their craft and not worrying what page something happens on.

So how would we do that. I try my best. Any suggestions?

Stephen Floyd

Swagger. The answer to your original question is swagger. When you can write a high-concept story that gives someone a James Dean-style strut just by reading it, you have become Quinten Tarantino.

Craig D Griffiths

Stephen Floyd So we need to help people find their swagger. I am 500000% down with that. We need to find what makes Swagger and steer people in that direction.

Doug Nelson

Craig - If you present a script in some wacko format, it just won't get read - good story or not. Format is much more important than most seem to think - it's what gets you through that first door. Getting past the second door requires a dam* good tale on top of reasonable physical structure. Actually, quite a lot of 'good' work goes into the dumpster because of bad formatting/spelling - that's just the way it is.

Swagger is based on your self confidence - belief in your product and yourself.

Craig D Griffiths

Doug Nelson for the sake of argument. Are you saying this work would be produced if only the format was correct?

I will also suggest (for the sake of debate), books, newspaper articles and even Tweets are purchased to be made into films. These have no format whatsoever.

A script is not “first to see will buy”. In my mind it is like a bizarre (marketplace). You have your goods on display and many hundreds walk by looking. Some may pick up and item and put it down. But one person will buy it if it is good quality. All the bad quality remains unsold.

Perhaps the Doors/Gates as people call them are manned by people who can’t see quality, only formatting. So would it not be better to educate them, rather than drop quality to cater to the uneducated - for argument sake.

Pete Whiting

I'd settle for being a John Badham.

Karen Stark

I have a question? Did Tarantino write True Romance in a style outside of his usual style to conform to the industry? Or was the script everyone wanted still written La Tarantino way? If it was written in his usual style then the hypothesis that good story prevails over formatting wins. If not then as Kay says formatting wins and good story is lost if it's not conformed too. It's that simple. Did he sell True Romance regardless of his writing style or did he change it to sell the script? It's my opinion that he wrote what he wrote in the late 80's and times were different then. He writes what he writes now, because he's freekin Tarantino! We sadly are not.

Brian Shell

In 1997 when I lived in Seattle with Legends of the Fall hair, 2 bimbos in a bar approached me, "Has anyone told you that you look like Brad Pitt?" I replied, "I think he looks a lot like Brian Shell." Bimbo 1: "Who's that?"" Bimbo 2 elbows her in ribs. Lol C ya!

Julian Martin

Simple answer is you know when your next film is greenlit and financed before you write it.

Then again I spent most of the last twenty years creating a hypothetical career in my mind instead of trying to make one happen, so I wrote as if my last screenplay was successful and it was time to define the next phase of my career. I also added action and horror scripts in between the weird indie dramas to do the "one for them, one for me" thing. But I loved my style and wanted to keep pushing new boundaries, and in my imaginary career people were eager for the next Julian Martin project and no producers were telling me, "Are you f'ing nuts nobody will pay money to see this!"

I have gone back and moderated some of the self-indulgence of those "for me" scripts, but I still believe in them as beautiful works of art and now that I'm sharing and getting reviews (mostly on Talentville) I've gotten a bit of validation for going all in on my artistic instincts. Plus they're low budget and unique, so I still hold hope that they will be able to stand out and command interest one day. But if they can't generate interest on their own, I still have the action/horror road to get in, score some box office and earn the chance to get my stranger stuff made. And those are also very unique and personal stories, just with more marketable elements.

So I totally agree, the artist must be true to themselves and seek to create a beautiful piece of art, and give consideration of what people will like later. Most of our greatest filmmakers made their mark by doing exactly that, and found that audiences respected their artistic vision.

Good luck!

Dan MaxXx

so who here has sold a spec script and made into a movie with worldwide theatrical distribution? Please tell us how movies are really done with established Directors, Actors, Corporations.

Evelyn von Warnitz

Be unique in your stories. And be your own Quentin Tarantino. Second, follow the rules of screenwriting business. Great post!

Beth Fox Heisinger

Tarantino is a filmmaker. He never really wanted to be solely a ‘screenwriter for hire,’ unlike many members on this site who do. He wanted to make movies. Direct. Act. Write. Create. If you think his script formatting choices—not the actual substance nor his many other influences and experiences and built-up life-long connections and his talent—had or has some sort of “power” over how and why his career developed, you’d be missing the point. Lol! Many factors together formed his craft, career and work. Plus his “beginnings” happened in a different era and over many many years—his first job in “Hollywood” was as a P.A. back in 1986. Anyone here actually read books written about his life and work? Watch interviews? He started writing scripts at age 14. His professional career and craft well expands and developed over 30 years. Using him as some sort of justifiable comparison or example or equivalency for superficial formatting choices in spec scripts and whether or not that equates to “success” and “industry acceptance” is a false one, is it not? Creates a false myth and ignores much of Taratino’s real life and actual work and career. It also ignores the true complexity and depth of the craft itself and its wonderful subjective, intangible qualities. But, hey, if he influences you and your creative endeavors, great, more power to you. Whatever helps and works for you is always a good thing. ;)

Bill Costantini

Well said, Beth.

For writers who aren't should go without saying to concentrate on story-telling. There are elements of drama and conventions of writing that all great writers embrace. These elements never prevent a writer from "being themselves." To the contrary - they help writers develop themselves, and become better writers, and even great writers. And probably better thinkers, too.

Following Craig's lead, then, I encourage writers to "master the craft" that will help them become good and even great story tellers. If you want to compete with the pros - there are thousands of them out there in Writer Land - then you have to understand story and write like the pros. Start with an interesting and marketable premise. Become very proficient in structure; conflict; complex/memorable characters; dialogue; theme; rising action; A/B/C story-telling; intended/unintended consequences; twists; subtext; irony; metaphor and other literary devices; tone/voice/attitude; verisimilitude; resolution; visual writing; and audience engagement.

In your world-building and logic flows - make sure it is so well thought-out and written, that disbelief can truly be suspended if necessary, and that no reader is going to say "bullshit!"

Become so proficient in your craft that you can "hook a reader on page one," and make them not wnat to put down your script until they've finished reading it. Write succinctly, purposefully, and evocatively. Think and write visually. Spin a tale on time-tested subject matters and themes, but with new settings and characters.

Those are most of the elements to great story telling. The only really new element to all of that is, of course, you - your own unique imagination, style and voice - and how well you can tell a story that will make someone say "man...that is a great story and a great writer!"

And, oh yes, knowing how to properly format a script really helps, too. You should know how to do the easiest part, too.

All of that is easier said than done, of course. Best fortunes to you all in your creative endeavors!

P.S. - I just looked at the last two pages of "Screenwriting" topics here. Three out of 20 topics are actually about writing. If you are interested in learning more about some of the elements I have referenced above while you are here on Stage32, check out some of Laurie Ashbourne's or William Martell's topics (or some of my old ones or Beth's old ones), which actually focus on elements of screenwriting.

Dan Guardino

If nobody is paying you then you can do whatever floats your boat and live OR DIE with the results.

Dan MaxXx

Karen Stark QT's first sold spec screenplay was Natural Born Killers, a studio distributed picture directed by Oliver Stone.

At Sundance Lab, QT sharpen his directing skills and learned he's not a good actor :)

Cumberlain Rattlesnake

Billy Wilder MUST have been one of the FIRST Q.Tarantinoes, no? ;)

Brian Shell

In 1995, my drum teacher (in LA) discussed "having your own thing" and said, "Parrot performers who impress you and then put in persistent perpetual practice. Eventually, you stop parroting and begin to play in your own voice."

Craig D Griffiths

Karen Stark I don’t know. But I think if he had success conforming he would continue to conform. It doesn’t make sense to say he would revert to a style that had no success. So I believe he has stayed true to himself.

Dan MaxXx theatrical release these days is disappearing so your point has less and less weight. Many of the 20-30 Million companies have closed. What used to be considered limited theatrical is now streaming. So hands up, who sold to a streaming or VOD lately?

I struggled so much on who to point at. I could have said Tony Gilroy, Stephen Knight, Peoples pretty much any of 100 screenwriters. Choose QT seems to get people fixated on his career. My mistake.

Bill Costantini

Let's also not forget how Quentin Tarantino, when speaking about any of his films - from subject matters to characters to shots, sound and vision - makes references to the many other films that inspire his art, or that he's paying homage to. He makes no bones about any of that. And all of his stories have beginnings, middles and ends, and follow all of the well-defined elements of drama.

Great artists do that across the board, and in all art forms. They can hide "convention" and "conformity" very well in their own work.

With regards to True Romance, he wrote it in a linear way, which is unlike a lot of his work. His original ending was drastically changed by director Tony Scott. You probably wouldn't like Alabama too much if you saw Tarantino's version of the ending, and heard Alabama's original ending monologue. Tarantino even agreed (conformed) to Tony Scott's take on the matter, and felt that it fit the film, as made, better.

Dan MaxXx

Craig D Griffiths What does it pay? Hit us with real salary numbers. Can you qualify for WGA union? (Ironically Tarantino refuses to join WGA). I know lots of filmmakers selling their finished films at American Film Market. They barely break even streaming.

Brass tax - it comes down to money. Your writing is worth whatever strangers & corporations will pay. Tarantino was able to sell scripts and quit his video clerk job and make movies full-time.

Brian Shell

Orville Wright did not have a pilot's license.

Frazier in Cheers - "I am running with scissors!"

Craig D Griffiths

Unfortunately if QT works for a WGA shop he is in regardless. That is the union rules. You cannot join and you cannot NOT join if you qualify.

I do believe Dan MaxXx you are agreeing with me. So many production companies going broke. Annapurna, A24 all in financial problems (could even be gone).

Streaming is the new direction for small to middle sized productions. That just means budgets and methods will have to adapt to meet the new world. It is that simple.

The American Film Market is for overseas markets, not your domestic. So if they break even at AFM then they have the largest market in the world to generate profit - good for them.

Craig D Griffiths

Dan MaxXx you are 100% correct, you say it is worth what people will pay. So talking WGA minimums here is a little redundant.

I stand by my original thesis. There is nothing more important than story and the ability to tell it. Everything else is secondary.

I know this upsets people, even makes them angry. Perhaps they feel secure sticking to rules and I am threatening their security - I don’t know.

I just encourage people to ask “can i make this line any better” before they ask “it is in the correct format”.

Louis Tété

I don't think screenwriters should tell to themselves "i'm gonna write like QT" or "i'm gonna break the rules like QT" and so on. Firstly there is only one QT like there's only one "you". Secondly, thinking like that is a way to never find and have your own voice and that's what producers are interested in, if they want a QT script, well they'll go to QT and not a pseudo QT. Like Craig D Griffiths justly said, just have your own style, your own brand, just be YOU and eventually things will come along.

Stefano Pavone

Simple answer? You don't. There will always be someone better, someone smarter, someone prettier, someone more talented and capable... but they'll never be you. That's what Freddie Mercury said - words to live by. Be you - write your story YOUR way.

William Martell

When everyone wants to read your next script. if nobody wants to read your next script, you aren't there yet.

Dan MaxXx

Craig D Griffiths QT is in the DGA union because they pay more. Not sure what your point is but if you think you know more than Annupura & A24 companies, then get a job here in the USA and show us.

So how do you know when you're QT status? Or PW-Bridge Status. Or JJ Abrams level? The simple answer is when media corporations pay you millions because they think your stories/Imagination can make them billions.

Same as the LA Lakers paying LeBron James $40M a year to play basketball. Employers know some talents are worth the money.

Craig D Griffiths

Dan MaxXx I am not saying I know more than those companies. I am saying “as reported in the film press”, those companies are closing.

Based on some basic analysis. Companies making those sorts of films are not having success in theatrical release. That is obvious to see. Sorry if obvious things offend you. Companies like Netflix can have theatrical success because they have a second channel of disruption. I think is also obvious.

My WGA knowledge comes from comments made on Scriptnotes. Both John and Craig have served on the WGA in various roles. They talk about the compulsory nature of the WGA all the time.

Dan MaxXx

Craig D Griffiths i am not offended. It’s just opinions. All good.

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