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Quentin Tarantino: Hero of the Homevideo Business

His career arc extends from VHS store worker to A-list Hollywood director

Quentin Tarantino — Variety’s 2013 Home Entertainment Hall of Fame honoree — could be a poster boy for the home-entertainment industry. After all, it’s well-known that the Oscar winner and key influencer of industry trends began his film career at the counter of a video store.

This year, his “Django Unchained” has become a prime example of the growing success of digital distribution just when whetting consumer appetites for digital is the industry’s top priority.

In the U.S., “Django” has been an extremely strong performer, backed with an early electronic sell-through (EST) model and retail pre-sales, says Bill Clark, president of Anchor Bay Entertainment, which distributed the Weinstein Co. title.

In other world territories, “Django” was equally successful, says David Bishop, worldwide president of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. “It overperformed in many markets to become SPHE’s biggest international digital title yet, including the highest share of HD Digital transactions across residential VOD and new media to date,” he says.

On DVD and Blu-ray, Tarantino’s major films as a director — “Django Unchained,” “Inglourious Basterds,” “Death Proof,” “Kill Bill Vol. 2,” “Kill Bill Vol. 1,” “Jackie Brown,” “Pulp Fiction” and “Reservoir Dogs” — have generated U.S. consumer spending of more than $600 million, according to entertainment industry measurement firm Rentrak. When his other films — including those on which he served as producer or writer but not director — are included, that total grows to more than $850 million, according to Rentrak data.

But just as Tarantino has had an impact on home entertainment, the industry has influenced him, going back to his time as a clerk at the Video Archives rental store in Manhattan Beach, Calif. Tarantino has referred to the now-defunct retailer where he worked while writing “True Romance” and “Natural Born Killers” as his film school. The store’s shelves were broadly and deeply stocked with fare ranging from Hollywood blockbusters to documentaries, foreign-language and cult pictures.

Tarantino soon went on to direct “Reservoir Dogs” and “Pulp Fiction.” The latter won the Cannes Film Festival’s Palme d’Or and the Academy Award for original screenplay. So began Tarantino’s influence on home entertainment, both as revenue generator and a tastemaker.

What’s more, Tarantino made “Reservoir Dogs” with the backing of home-video company Live Entertainment, an arrangement that would end up having a strong impact on business models.

“It was an important film not only for Tarantino, but for the industry as it showed that financial input in a feature from a homevideo entity could lead to acclaimed films with a sizable theatrical audience,” says film writer Irv Slifkin, who’s also professor of journalism and film at Temple U. “It also proved that such investments could help burgeoning young filmmakers.”

In addition, Tarantino’s interest in material outside the mainstream shone a light on genres and films that might otherwise have remained in obscurity for all but the most devoted cinephiles.

“Whenever a Tarantino film opens in a theater, it seems to pique interest in its inspiration,” Slifkin says. “ ‘Inglourious Basterds’ prompted people to check out other war-mission films on video. ‘Django Unchained’ opened the window for studios to release spaghetti Westerns of a similar mold, and the ‘Kill Bill’ movies brought attention to samurai movies and martial arts-themed pictures.”

Slifkin also credits Tarantino with helping pioneer the DVD sequel business with the creation of popular straight-to-video follow-ups to “From Dusk Till Dawn,” which, like the original, were executive-produced by Tarantino.

Video stores like the one where Tarantino started out may be a thing of the past, but as the “Django” example shows, the iconic filmmaker’s influence easily transcends bricks and mortar.

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