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Blood, Sweat and Bullets – The Making of Reservoir Dogs

Written and directed by a video store clerk, Produced by a ballet dancer, starring six swearing men in black, several gallons of coloured syrup and one severed ear: It’s the violent, indie heist film, rescued by Harvey Keitel, that saved cinema from itself, here is the making of Reservoir dogs…

THE PLAYERS

Quentin Tarantino

Quentin Tarantino

Writer/Director of Reservoir Dogs
Was His first movie he directed at 29 years old.

Lawrence Bender

Lawrence Bender

Producer of Reservoir Dogs
His produced films have so far amassed 36 Academy nominations

Monte Hellman

Monte Hellman

Executive 
Producer of Reservoir Dogs

Film director, producer, writer, and editor

Harvey Keitel

Harvey Keitel

Co-Producer & Actor in Reservoir Dogs
Successful actor and producer

Steve Buscemi

Steve Buscemi

Actor in Reservoir Dogs
Successful actor, director, writer, producer and former firefighter

Greg Nicotero

Greg Nicotero

Freelance Special Effects on Reservoir Dogs
One of the world’s best special make-up effects artists

Tim Roth

Tim Roth

Actor in Reservoir Dogs
Highly successful British Actor

Michael Madsen

Michael Madsen

Co-Producer & Actor in Reservoir Dogs
Successful actor, producer, director, writer, poet and photographer

THE PLAN

Tarantino

I wrote True Romance and spent two years looking for money. I wrote Natural Born Killers, hoping to direct it myself, for half-a-million dollars. After a year-and-a-half, I was no further along. It was then out of frustration that I wrote Reservoir Dogs.

When I worked at the video store, we had this one shelf that was like a revolving film festival. Every week I could change it – David Carradine week or Nicholas Ray week, or swashbuckler movies.

And one time, I had heist films such as Rififi and Topkapi and The Thomas Crown Affair. I started taking them home, and it was in the context of seeing a heist movie every night that I got my head around what a neat genre it would be to redo.

Hellman

A lot of people have said that Reservoir Dogs is a great heist movie. But it’s so much more. It isn’t a heist movie at all, because you never see the heist.

Tarantino

I wanted Dogs to be about an event we don’t see. I wanted it all to take place at the rendezvous at the warehouse – what would typically be given ten minutes in a heist film. I wanted the whole movie to be set there and play with a real-time ticking clock, as opposed to a movie clock ticking.

Hellman

You only need to read the script to grasp how intelligent Quentin is and how unique his understanding of film. Were he French, he’d be considered a pantheon director. His structure and storytelling are a million miles ahead of anything else in Hollywood.

THE SET-UP

Tarantino

I was going to go guerrilla-style. I decided to write a film to do for $30,000 – 12 days, black and white, starring some friends.

Bender

I never wanted to be a producer. We see life very differently, Quentin and I. He’s always known what he wanted to do – I think, in his last life before he was born, he knew what he wanted to be. I’ve never known what I wanted to be, and I still don’t.

Tarantino

Lawerence was a real godsend.

Bender

We were both very broke. Quentin didn’t have a car, so he couldn’t drive over to my place. I didn’t have any money, so I wasn’t paying for Xeroxes. So I went over to his place and read the script, and I flipped over it. It was an extraordinary piece of writing. And I said, “Look, you gotta give me some time. I think I can raise some real money for this movie.”

Tarantino

I said; “No, no, no, no – I’ve heard that so much before.”

Bender

He gave me two months which, as I’m sure any sane person knows, is insane. It’s undoable, especially for two people who are complete unknowns. I ended up finding a video company with half-a-million dollars and then another investor up in Canada with half-a-million dollars, but only if his girlfriend could play Mr. Blonde! It was such a wacky idea that we considered it: I mean, it was 180 degrees off the wall.

Hellman

There was a brief period where it looked like I might direct Reservoir Dogs myself. I read the script, and I loved it. So I arranged to meet Quentin for an ice-cream sundae – although I don’t eat ice-cream.

We talked, and he said he’d liked some of my movies, and I told him I liked his script. Then he said, “I’m sorry to waste your time, but I want to direct this movie myself.” I said I could appreciate that but that I’d like to be involved in the film in some capacity. That’s how I became an executive producer.

Bender

Monte was like our godfather. He came in and baby-sat the production. Then, no sooner have we got him on board, then we get Harvey Keitel. I’d got the script to an acting coach, Lily Parker, who knew Keitel and gave it to him to read.

OLD DOG, NEW TRICK

Keitel

Lily Parker called me up with the script. I read it, and I was very stirred that there was a new way of seeing the ancient themes of betrayal, camaraderie, trust, and redemption. I was particularly impressed by the screenplay’s Hemingway-esque code, which guided the characters in a world without meaning. So I called Lawerence and told him I’d like to help.

Bender

Keitel just called up and said: “Consider me in. I want to do it, but I also want to be one of the producers. I want to help get it made.”

Tarantino

All of a sudden, we weren’t just a couple of kids with a script.  We had Harvey Keitel!

Bender

Harvey Keitel is like a God. He’s not only a star but an actor’s actor. The fact that he was going to be in the movie, I knew that was the thing that would help us get it made. His presence gave us more weight.

Tarantino

Harvey had been my favorite actor since I was 16. I’d seen him in Mean Streets and Taxi Driver. I didn’t write the part for Harvey because I thought it’d probably be, you know, my Uncle Pete in the role.

Bender

Harvey and I can talk maybe more than other people in our position. We know the same acting teachers in New York, plus we know a lot of the same styles of work. I understand the method that he uses – he’s taken it just a little further than me!

THE GANG’S ALL HERE!

Tarantino

We were based in LA, but Harvey said: “We owe it to ourselves to get a shot at the New York actors.” He bought our plane tickets, put us in a hotel, and set aside the weekend for a casting director friend to see actors in New York.

Keitel

I was impressed by the fact that Quentin and Lawerence did not just accept my recommendations.

Hellman

Some big-name actors were up for the roles in Reservoir Dogs. George Clooney was up for a part, but he wasn’t very enthusiastic. Samuel L Jackson almost got the part of Holaway (Mr. Orange’s guru). James Woods was offered a role, but there was some problem, and he never read.

Woods

I was offered Reservoir Dogs. The agency, CAA, never told me. I never fucking knew because they didn’t want me to do a fucking movie for $50,000. They wanted me doing some piece of shit in Europe for three million or something.

Keitel

All of the characters looked like they were going to be fun to play. They weren’t pure; they were all complex. Half the time, you were rooting for them, half the time you didn’t like them, but they were always interesting.

Tom Sizemore

It came down to me or Steve Buscemi for Mr. Pink. Blonde was cast with my buddy Michael Madsen. And I wanted to play Pink, but I didn’t win it. I wish I had been in it still: sometimes it bugs me.

LETS GO TO WORK

Buscemi

We had a two-week rehearsal period when we talked about a lot of things. It was one of the best rehearsal periods I’ve ever gone through. It was in-depth, and we explored every aspect of the script. We even rehearsed scenes that weren’t in the script.

Keitel

I just presumed that Quentin’s father, brother, or uncle was associated with these kinds of people, a cousin, or perhaps himself. I was astonished to discover that he had gathered it all from watching movies.

Edward Bunker

I think I was bought on board to act as a crime advisor. Quentin knew my books and thought that my advice and presence might add a degree of credibility to the project. As it turned out, the criminal activities in the film were ridiculous. All those guys dressed identically, having breakfast in a diner; there isn’t a thief alive who would work like that. And as for all that Mr. White, Mr. Blonde shit… it goes to show that Quentin doesn’t know a hell of a lot about the world of real crime.

Keitel

He had eight different acting styles, these different personalities to contend with, all very dynamic men. And Quentin won their confidence and trust from day one.

EAR EAR!

Tarantino

Violence is one of the most fun things to watch.

Nicotero

I created the blood from red and yellow powdered food coloring and Karo syrup. But the way that Quentin had scripted it, we had real-time blood and flashback blood. He wanted the real-time blood to have a different color to the flashback blood. It doesn’t come out in the film, but there was a significant difference when we were shooting.

He wanted to have a “cartoony” quality for the flashbacks; we put more white in that.

Roth

After a scene, I’d usually have to ask someone to free me from the blood. That shit was stickier than treacle.

Nicotero

I remember them calling from the set, saying: “We need more blood.” And we’d say: “But we just gave you five gallons yesterday.” They’d reply: “We need more!”

Madsen

I went as far out to the edge of cruelty and hard-headedness as you can go with Mr. Blonde, and I’m glad I did it. But it was pretty rough.

Sizemore

Michael’s a friend, but I wouldn’t want to fight Michael.

Tarantino

Michael’s not aware of how much he resembles a movie star. He has a peculiar, neat quality; he brings to mind an older style of acting – like Dean or Brando.

Roth

Michael’s very good friends with my son, Jake, actually. He’s a sweet guy, great with kids, friendly to people. He just happens to make a very good psycho.

Tarantino

I try to explain to people that I didn’t sit down and say: “OK, I’m gonna write this bitchin’ torture scene.” When Mr. Blonde reached into his boot and pulled out a straight razor, I didn’t know he had a knife in his boot. I was surprised. That happens all the time when I’m writing.

Madsen

There’s nobody whoever got a traffic ticket who’s not going to enjoy the torture scene someplace in their mind.

Tarantino

I love that scene. To me, it’s the most cinematic scene in the whole movie. I’m proud of the fact that it’s funny until the point that Mr. Blonde cuts the cop’s ear off. While he’s up there, doing that little dance to “Stuck in the Middle With You,”

I pretty much defy anybody to watch and not enjoy it. And then when he starts cutting the ear off, that gets you laughing again. Now you’ve got the coolness and his dance, the joke of talking into the ear and the cop’s pain; they’re all tied up together. And that’s why I think that scene caused such a sensation because you don’t know who you’re supposed to feel.

Nicotero

The main effect was the torture scene with Michael Madsen. I went down when they were rehearsing the film. I met the actors, including Kirk Baltz, the guy who got his ear cut off, and watched them block the scene. I remember thinking how horrifying it was.

Madsen

I realized that not only would it be advantageous for Kirk to know what it would be like to be in the trunk of my car, it was also good for me. Now I could get a feeling of what it was like to have somebody in my trunk.

So I just took a drive. I drove around for half an hour. I went up and down these bumpy alleys, and I had the radio on, and I was entirely into my character. I think that’s when it all came together for me.

Bunker

I was on set when Michael took Kirk (the Cop) for a drive. Madsen was gone for ages. Quentin was quite worried.

Madsen

Poor Kirk was in terrible shape. He was all sweaty, and I had this junk in my trunk that had been banging him in the head. He didn’t look too good.

Nicotero

We made a two-piece application: one of them I glued over Kirk’s ear, and we would blend it with a hairpiece. The second piece was an ear that can be easily sliced up from the outer part. What’s impressive is that two little pieces of rubber sent people out of the theatre. The impact is incredible. It shows how powerful people’s imagination is because you don’t see Michael slicing up the ear.

Tarantino

At the Barcelona Film Festival, Wes Craven – who directed Last House on the Left, for God’s sake – walked out. Stuart Gordon, the guy who did Re-Animator, was burying his head in his hands.

Keitel

I have a significant problem with violence used to draw an audience. When it’s done for that reason, it does damage – violence for violence’s sake. But there is violence for a reason, and if we explore the idea, it’s worthwhile portraying.

Tarantino

It’s the most natural thing in the world to take a stand against violence because it’s horrible in real life. But in literature or drama, I don’t think there’s anything wrong. If you don’t like it, then don’t see it. Saying you don’t like violence in movies is like saying you don’t like dance sequences. My mother doesn’t like slapstick comedy. If I were Buster Keaton, she’d like my stuff because I’m her son, but she wouldn’t appreciate it. I love the Three Stooges, and other people don’t. To me, it is black and white.

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