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…
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
OLD DOG, NEW TRICK
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.
THE GANG’S ALL HERE!
LETS GO TO WORK
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.