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Tarantino: Man with sure hand on his brand

Britannia Awards 2012: John Schlesinger Award - Quentin Tarantino

The Quentin Tarantino brand is world famous for genre-bending, time-twisting scenarios, not to mention profane and compulsively quotable dialogue.

Yet the John Schlesinger Award for direction that Tarantino will receive at BAFTA/LA’s Britannia Awards acknowledges him as more than just an innovative, risk-taking scribe. He’s got a knack for getting his audacious personal visions up there on the screen.

“There are only a few other directors — Hitchcock, Spielberg, Cameron — who are known around the world by name,” colleague Eli Roth points out, “and who are beloved by numerous different generations.”

Roth and fellow “Inglourious Basterds” thesp Diane Kruger agree Tarantino is compulsive about his homework.

“The preparation process with him is very meticulous,” she says, citing an early readthrough at which everyone from Brad Pitt on down was required to be present.

That discipline extends to a finely tuned daily shot list. “A lot of American directors will shoot every angle, every distance,” Kruger says, “but Quentin has a point of view and he knows exactly what he’s shooting.”

At the same time, “he’s not so rigid that he won’t see what’s right in front of him,” Roth adds.

“The first thing he does is clear the entire set of all crew, and you just run the scene until you’ve got it down, and everyone feels their movement and behavior are natural in the space,” Roth says. “His movies are so detailed and beautifully composed, you feel like he has a graphic novel in his head. But it’s the opposite. All the camerawork is determined by the actors.”

Kruger describes his communication style as “very expressive and present.”

“I’ve never heard him say ‘Try it like this, more angry this time,’ ” Kruger says, “but he gives you room to fly. It’s just him, and he’s staring right at you, no producers around and no monitor.”

That kind of helmer concentration comes at a price, Kruger admits.

“He really keeps actors on their toes,” she says. “He knows when you’re giving it away or just not paying attention, and he can be furious if you show up without a plan. He’ll stop and get angry if you forget a word. Yet when you do well, he’s the first one to be excited and happy.”

To hear his thesps tell it, Tarantino’s penchant for inserting homages to other auteurs — the “Kiss Me Deadly” glowing suitcase in “Pulp Fiction,” the Ethan Edwards doorway shot from “The Searchers” repeated in “Kill Bill Vol. 2” — is in no way arbitrary.

“He had me read a biography of Josef von Sternberg,” recalls Kruger, whose double-agent role was clearly inspired by Marlene Dietrich. “I think he got really excited that I actually read it. And then he did a shot, a closeup of me that he said was an homage to Sternberg. It was an actor’s dream.”

Indeed, Tarantino has ingested so many movies that he developed an encyclopedic shorthand for achieving interesting effects. Roth remembers their screening on 16mm an obscure 1968 actioner in which a bar burns down amid machine gun fire.

Four months later, during the climactic inferno sequence of “Basterds,” “he had a camera move, and his only direction to me was: ‘Dark of the Sun.’ And I knew exactly what he meant. He didn’t rip off the shot but it was a mood, a feeling, and we realized that that was what we were looking for.”

The mood on a Tarantino set varies. On his “Death Proof” half of “Grindhouse,” Roth says, “It was like a party.” On “Inglourious Basterds,” conversely, Tarantino was “a man on a mission.” Either way, Roth says that Tarantino “always fosters an air of a great place to be creative.”

And one thing never varies: The area is cellphone-free.

“Not just phones,” Roth adds. “No BlackBerrys, no computers, nothing. If you want to do that stuff, you do it in your trailer, you do it in the office. In Germany, in fact, we had a ‘Checkpoint Charlie’ where you had to check your cellphones. Crew members, too. One day a phone went off and he shut down shooting for the day, he was so ticked off about it.

“He even gave a speech about it. ‘I know this is hard, I know it’s inconvenient, but I don’t care. We’re here to make the movie, and that’s it.’ ”

Britannia Awards 2012
John Schlesinger Award – Quentin Tarantino | Stanley Kubrick Award – Daniel Day-Lewis | British Artist of the Year – Daniel Craig | Charlie Caplin Award – Matt Stone & Trey Parker | Albert R. Broccoli Award – Will Wright
Britannia Awards discovers jolly-good TV home

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