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Filmmakers Quentin Tarantino and Richard Kelly were brought together Friday at the Los Angeles Film School in Hollywood by Jeff Goldsmith of The Q&A podcast and Backstory digital magazine to remember the life and career of director Tony Scott. The tribute, titled “Writing for Tony Scott,” featured a discussion and screenings of True Romance and Domino, Scott films penned by Tarantino and Kelly, respectively.
In a theater packed with film students and movie fans, Goldsmith made the announcement that Scott had been buried earlier that day. Less than a week after Scott took his own life by jumping from the Vincent Thomas Bridge, the mood in the theater could easily have been somber, but the audience erupted with cheers and applause as the lights went out and “A Tony Scott Film” flashed onscreen and the opening bars of Charlie Sexton’s “Graceland” heralded the beginning of the director’s gritty fairy tale True Romance.
After the credits rolled, Goldsmith brought out guests of honor Kelly and Tarantino to discuss their experiences writing and working for Scott.
Tarantino admitted he was pleased to see the outpouring of support and love immediately following Scott’s death. “One of the things that’s actually been kind of gratifying about reading all of this Internet stuff, where everyone’s talking about their favorite Tony Scott movie and stuff, is people were not saying that in 1990,” he said. “People used to [say] ‘Oh, he’s a commercial hack. His stuff is bullshit.’ And I loved his shit. I thought it was fantastic.”
True Romance has achieved cult status and is beloved today, but Goldsmith recalled that the film was actually besieged by detractors and negative reviews when it was released. “Even when True Romance got good reviews, they wouldn’t give Tony the credit for the good reviews,” Tarantino added. “They would actually say that he glossed up my script — that he made it too pretty. He made it too vivid.”
Tarantino went even further, comparing Scott to another director who didn’t receive the appreciation he deserved during his lifetime. “He’s just like Douglas Sirk, man. Douglas Sirk never got any respect in the ‘50s,” he said. “His movies were considered too commercial. Everybody put him down and now they teach classes on him.”
When Goldsmith asked Tarantino about Scott’s restructuring of his original True Romance script, the influential writer/director downplayed the changes. “It was so easy to restructure that I think they just did it with a Xerox machine,” Tarantino joked before hinting that an alternate cut of the film, which follows the structure of his original draft, is rumored to exist. “From what I’ve heard, he tried my structure but went nuts with it — went far beyond what I did. So apparently there’s this really metaphysical avant-garde cut of True Romance floating around out there somewhere.”
Speaking of avant-garde, Scott had been a fan of Kelly’s Donnie Darko, and brought the young director in for a meeting when the conversation finally turned to Domino, a project Scott had been trying to get off the ground for more than 10 years. Kelly described his experience writing for Scott as very collaborative. “Usually the screenwriter isn’t really welcome on set or he’s sort of only invited on certain days or it’s a very ‘keep your distance’ sort of a situation, but this was the opposite,” Kelly recalled. “It was a wonderful, wonderful experience.”
Known for his over-the-top visual style, Kelly explained that Scott inherently understood that cinema is about the overall experience for an audience. “I remember that in a movie like The Fan, people would complain, ‘When it rains at night, they cancel the baseball game,’ and Tony was like, ‘I don’t care. I want it to be raining.’ He understood that they’re movies, and it’s about the experience.”
“It’s easy to talk about Tony and just get lost into the whole visual thing,” Tarantino continued, “But Tony was one of the best director of actors that there was. Him and Denzel Washington’s relationship was one of the best actor/director combinations of our time.”
As prominent directors in their own right, Goldsmith asked about the experience of writing for a director like Scott. Tarantino admitted that his version of True Romance would have been more cynical, and Christian Slater’s character Clarence would have died at the end. “I wanted to do that. I wanted to make you fall in love with Clarence and then I wanted to blow his fucking head off. I wanted to do that to you,” Tarantino said, gesturing to the crowd. “Tony didn’t want to do that to you.”
“He fell in love with Clarence and Alabama, and it became — in fact, I think he loved them even more than I did,” he continued. “I think I took them for granted a little bit because Clarence was kind of me, so I could be brazen with me. I could blow my head off and that would be kind of a punk-rock move. Tony loved him and Tony loved Alabama, and it was very important to him that they get away.”
Tarantino admitted he had accused Scott of “wimping out for commercial bullshit’ when he changed the script to give Alabama (played by Patricia Arquette) and Clarence a happy ending, but the director held firm. Launching into a vivid Scott impression, Tarantino said: ‘Quentin, I’m not doing it to be a commercial fuck, I’m doing it because I love those fucking kids.”
Kelly also recalled Scott having a similar sensibility while the pair worked on Domino. “I’m someone who — I kill all my characters. My movies are depressing and confusing and esoteric and they test horribly, and I’m basically the worst nightmare for like a studio test audience,” he said. “So it was great to get that endorsement from Tony, that while we were holding on to the radical nature of the screenplay, we could have a happy ending that was still honest and it was earned.”
Goldsmith wondered whether working with Scott had influenced either director and, if so, what they had learned or taken from him. “For me, it was the importance of research. Tony was a meticulous researcher,” Kelly said. “I’d never seen anyone push that deep into the research, and it was amazing. I carry that with me forever now.
Tarantino admitted that while his own style is often diametrically opposed to Scott’s, he appreciated the director’s visual aesthetic, and he even went to him for advice after his 2007 feature Grindhouse flopped. “I felt like the planet Earth broke up with me,” Tarantino said, explaining that Scott was there to console him.”Just remember how lucky you are,” Tarantino recalled Scott saying, “How lucky you are that you got to make the movie you wanted to make and you got to make it the way you wanted to make it. People backed you. People supported you and you did it.”
At one point in the evening, Goldsmith read a quote from Scott that can be heard on the commentary track of Domino, which reflected many of the characters the director brought to life in his long and impressive filmography: “I’m always attracted to people going to the dark side who manage to get back and when they get back, they’re different human beings, but having touched those places, it makes them interesting people.”
The entire “Writing for Tony Scott” discussion will be made available through Goldsmith’s podcast The Q&A.