The words “green screen” can not be found in Quentin Tarantino’s vocabulary. The director wouldn’t know a CGI if it walked up to him and tried to shake his hand. When he films, he films with practical props on physical sets, and he uses actual film stock. Old school? Perhaps, but it’s an approach that his fans appreciate and adore, leading to the level of support he gets on each feature film.
But when the director chooses to mount a loving tribute to his home city of Los Angeles in 1969, it presents major obstacles that have to be addressed by Tarantino and his creative team. The storyteller sets his new film Once Upon a Time in Hollywood on three specific days in 1969, where the trajectories of a fading character actor (Leonardo DiCaprio), a contemporary “cowboy” (Brad Pitt) and a rising starlet (Margot Robbie) eventually intersect.
Tarantino wasn’t about to fully recreate 1960s Los Angeles on the backlot of a studio – or worse, digitally de-age Hollywood to meet the needs of his story. He went around Southern California to seek out locations where portions of 1969 L.A. could still be found, with a little production-design help.
Tarantino was a guest on CinemaBlend’s own ReelBlend podcast recently, where he did a deep dive into the making of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood with the hosts (as well as touching on major components in his incredible career). When we asked him specifically about finding elements of 1969 L.A. in the contemporary city, Tarantino told us:
That wasn’t always possible, however. Times change, and locations evolve, and Los Angeles, in particular, has become a modern metropolis. So for long driving shots, where Tarantino needed Brad Pitt or Leonardo DiCaprio to glide through L.A. in their automobiles with period-specific signage and other cars all around them, that required drastic measures.
As Tarantino elaborated to ReelBlend:
There’s more of that then you might imagine. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood cinematographer Robert Richardson hopped on the phone with CinemaBlend to discuss the process of capturing a bygone era of Los Angeles for Tarantino’s film. These two have collaborated on every QT movie since Kill Bill Vol. 1, and in between, Richardson stayed busy by filming for Martin Scorsese and Ben Affleck.
When we asked Richardson how much of 1969 L.A. could be found on the modern landscape, he told CinemaBlend:
And when the locations that the team needed for Once Upon a Time in Hollywood did not cooperate in the slightest, Quentin Tarantino did have a few cool tricks up his sleeve. Not digital. Again, everything about Tarantino suggests he’s an analogue guy, who will come up with practical solutions for his production obstacles.
Take, for instance, a beautiful shot where Brad Pitt’s character, Cliff, takes a shortcut on his drive home through a local drive-in movie theater. Tarantino told the ReelBlend guys that the drive-in doesn’t exist at that location anymore. But he had an idea.
That’s what helps Quentin Tarantino stand apart from other filmmakers. He notices the differences, and he knows that his audience will, as well. For the full ReelBlend conversation with Tarantino, press play on the episode below:
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is in theaters as we speak. It’s a remarkable achievement for Tarantino, the movie that it feels like he has been building up to for his entire career. It’s off to a great start on Thursday night, and we hope that it will continue to pack in crowds all weekend long.
Managing Director at CinemaBlend. ReelBlend cohost. A movie junkie who's Infatuated with comic-book films. Helped get the Snyder Cut released, then wrote a book about it.
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