Book Review: Shoot Like Tarantino

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Publisher: Michael Wiese Productions

Release Date: Aug 01, 2015

Christopher Kenworthy’s Shoot Like Tarantino: The Visual Secrets of Dangerous Storytelling is a strange animal. It is a book written and arranged for burgeoning filmmakers in an effort to help them learn from Tarantino’s camera techniques. Kenworthy does an admirable job at explaining his intentions in the book’s introduction, and they bear repeating here:

“…This book shows you why the best moments in [Tarantino’s] films work so well, and how you can take that knowledge to make your own films work more effectively.

You don’t want to copy Tarantino. Hundreds of people copy Tarantino without understanding what it is that makes him brilliant and the result is usually a lot of swearing and pointless violence. When people copy Tarantino badly, it makes for an embarrassing mess.

You want to be an exciting and original filmmaker, but when you learn the shots, shortcuts, and creative setups that Tarantino has mastered, you will become a better filmmaker. An understanding of how he works should give you more opportunities to be creative with the camera… The films explored in this book show that no matter how good your actors or your script, you need to explore the magic of the camera to make your story work on the big screen.

The scenes chosen for this book range from unforgettable masterpieces to more functional moments, to show that a good storyteller must make the most of the shot, whether it’s the best scene or one of the minor plot points…

…By the time you have reached the end of the book you should have a good grasp of how Tarantino sees a scene, how carefully he sets it up, and how he films creatively. You’ll be able to shoot your own scenes with a better understanding of the visual techniques that make a scene come to life.” -Christopher Kenworthy (Introduction, Shoot Like Tarantino, 2015)

It is good that Kenworthy makes it a point to discourage the reader from merely using the information in the book in an effort to copy the director’s methodology. The book is meant to illuminate the visual language of the cinema and how Quentin Tarantino is able to filter this language through his own voice. It is the language that the reader is intended to learn. The voice that this language is filtered through should absolutely be their own. It is a similar concept to how great painters once learned their craft by painting the works of the great masters that proceeded them. Only after learning their craft could they filter this through their own unique subjective voice to create art. Luckily, for anyone with innate talent, their material will automatically be filtered through their own unique perspective without any pretentious effort on their part—but they will need to learn and understand the language, and this book is an extremely fun way to do this (even if it doesn’t cover the entirety of this language).

For those learning film direction, this book is best used as a supplement to more in-depth texts. This point should absolutely be stressed, but there is another audience for this book. Fans of Quentin Tarantino may very well find that the book is a great resource when it comes to gaining an understanding into this unusual director’s working methods. The book was originally released in August 2015—a few months before Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight was released into theaters, so this film isn’t covered at all in the book’s pages. Death Proof is also noticeably absent—although, this is likely due to the fact that the film is considered to be his weakest effort. What’s more, none of the films discussed are covered in their entirety as such an approach would require several volumes!

Kenworthy merely takes a few scenes from Tarantino’s canon in order to illustrate various intentions or tasks (each of which is given its own chapter and covers a single scene or sequence): “Raising Tension” (Inglorious Basterds), “Subtle Conflict” (Jackie Brown), “Anticipation” (Inglorious Basterds), “Unbearable Tension” (Inglorious Basterds), “Minimal Cuts” (Django Unchained), “Impending Violence” (Django Unchained), “Deliberate Anti-climax” (Kill Bill, Vol. 1), “Breaking Normality (Pulp Fiction), “Controlling Space” (Pulp Fiction), “Group Conversation” (Kill Bill, Vol. 2), and “Losing Control” (Reservoir Dogs). Those who have read his three volume Master Shots series will have a general idea of the basic structure and presentation of the book.

Obviously, certain readers might disagree with some of Kenworthy’s comments as to the intentions and effects of Tarantino’s shooting choices, but this doesn’t ultimately matter. The important thing is that it forces the reader consider these shots and how they are used in Tarantino’s work. Shoot Like Tarantino: The Visual Secrets of Dangerous Storytelling is well worth reading for both Tarantino fans and anyone attempting to learn the craft of filmmaking.

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Book Review: Tarantino – A Retrospective

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Publisher: Insight Editions

Release Date: October 03, 2017

Born in Knoxville, Tennessee, in 1963, Quentin Tarantino spent many Saturday evenings during his childhood accompanying his mother to the movies, nourishing a love of film that was, over the course of his life, to become all-consuming. It is just as well, because he would grow up to be one of American cinema’s most celebrated filmmakers. Known for his highly cinematic visual style, out-of-sequence storytelling, and grandiose violence, Tarantino’s films have provoked both praise and criticism over the course of his career. They’ve also won him a host of awards—including Oscars, Golden Globes, and BAFTA awards—usually for his original screenplays. His oeuvre includes the cult classic Pulp Fiction, bloody revenge saga Kill Bill Vol. 1 and Vol. 2, and historical epics Inglorious Basterds, Django Unchained, and The Hateful Eight. This stunning retrospective catalogs each of Quentin Tarantino’s movies in detail, from My Best Friend’s Birthday to The Hateful Eight. The book is a tribute to a unique directing and writing talent, celebrating an uncompromising, passionate director’s enthralling career at the heart of cult filmmaking.

Make no mistake about this, Tarantino: A Retrospective isn’t merely coffee-table fluff with a lot of great photographs and artwork (although, there are plenty of great photos to be found throughout the book). This is an informative examination of the director’s career! Tom Shone’s text is a seamless mixture of career biography, retrospective appreciation, and film criticism. Surprisingly, there aren’t many essential books available about the director. This makes Shone’s text all the more essential for fans of the director, but it almost seems a bit premature when one considers the fact that Tarantino has consistently insisted that he will only make ten films before he retires from making movies. With eight films under his belt, one wonders why Shone didn’t wait a few years to release the book so that it could include those two new projects. We can’t answer this question with any authority, but we can say with absolute certainty that fans will be very happy that they didn’t have to wait!

Book Review: Pulp Fiction: The Complete Story of Quentin Tarantino’s Masterpiece

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Publisher: Voyageur Press

Release Date: November 11, 2013

Pulp Fiction: The Complete Story of Quentin Tarantino’s Masterpiece by Jason Bailey is an extremely engaging work about what is probably Tarantino’s most popular film. The cover states that the book features “film stills and behind-the-scenes photos from the archives of Miramax and Quentin Tarantino.” While these photos are forthcoming, the book is instead mostly made up of Pulp Fiction inspired pop art. One shouldn’t consider this a flaw. On the contrary, the fan art contained in these pages is a testimony to the film’s impact upon pop culture. Since Tarantino’s film was heavily influenced by pop culture, the cycle seems to be complete.

What is even more pleasing is Bailey’s lucid text, which is comprehensive and enlightening without becoming mere dry commentary. Pretension is kept to a bare minimum as he discusses the creation of this influential film, and the impact that it has had upon contemporary cinema. In addition to Bailey’s text, there are a number of essays contained in this volume that cover everything from the history of Pulp literature (“Putting the Pulp in Pulp” by Adam Rosen, the film’s structure (“Pulp Fiction’s Modern Classical Structure” by Kevin Howley), the film’s eclectic music (“Pulp Music” by Gary Graff), the history of the F-bomb (“Pulp Fiction and the F-Word” by Mark Peters), and Tarantino’s blaxploitation influences (“Pulp Fiction and the Black Cool” by Alisha Harris). There is even a chart that puts each scene in chronological order! Tarantino fans should certainly clear a place for this book on their shelves. However, cinemaphiles should be aware that the book is extremely difficult to put down!

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Review by: Devon Powell

Book Review: Me and You and Memento and Fargo: How Independent Screenplays Work

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Publisher: Bloomsbury Academic

Release Date: March 15, 2007

J.J. Murphy’s Me and You and Memento and Fargo: How Independent Screenplays Work is a study of the screenplay structure used in twelve successful independent films (Stranger than Paradise, Safe, Fargo, Trust, Gas Food Lodging, Me and You and Everyone We Know, Reservoir Dogs, Elephant, Memento, Mulholland Drive, Gummo, and Slacker). Murphy compares the structure of these films to the ‘traditional’ three act paradigm that is taught in the manuals. Syd Field, Linda Seger, Robert McKee, and other notable manual writers are discussed and quoted at length. Murphy often does this in order to compare the structure of these independent films to traditional structure that is taught by screenwriting manuals. These quotes are often associated with the films discussed in the book, but while the manuals tend to explain why these diversions from typical structural paradigms are a mistake, Murphy argues that these diversions are actually responsible for the success of the film. Murphy claims that these unusual diversions from the structure taught in manuals subvert audience expectations in original ways (and actually add resonance to the themes covered in these films).

While this book isn’t a screenwriting manual, it has the potential to serve future scriptwriters by validating the desire to digress from traditional paradigms. It makes a nice companion to the more rigid manuals on the market. This text will also be of interest to fans of the various films discussed in these pages. Before reading Murphy’s book, this reviewer had only seen seven of the twelve films discussed. It created a strong desire to watch the other five films, and managed to raise my appreciation for the seven films that I had previously seen.

Review by: Devon Powell