Directors Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez know a thing or two about music and the movies. Tarantino's soundtracks have become pop culture staples, while Rodriguez scores his own movies. We sat down with them recently to discuss their new double feature, Grindhouse, and how music affects their creative process.
New Times: Quentin, when do you begin to introduce music into your filmmaking process and what role does it play?
Quentin Tarantino: For the majority, for the killer tracks, I usually come up with [those] during the writing of the film. I have a room next to my bedroom my record room and I have a big record recollection. It looks like a little used record store. It's even broken down into genres and subgenres, with stuff in bins. So my thing is to actually dive into my record collection and what I'm looking for is the beat of what this next movie's going to be, the rhythm of it. I start with the opening credit sequence. If I can find the right piece of music and stylistic opening credit sequence for it, then I might actually make this movie. It's the tone-setter. It sets it off; I know the beat, I know the rhythm.
NT: Can you give examples?
Tarantino: In the case of, say, Jackie Brown, that movie moved to the rhythm of old-school Seventies soul. In the case of Pulp Fiction it moved to the rhythm of surf music. Also writing is hard. If you get a good idea for a sequence that will work with this piece of music, that's like my catnip. Whenever I get tired or I need a boost, I just go over to my record room and play that piece of music and imagine an audience sitting and watching the sequence I haven't shot yet to that music and how they'll ooh, ahh, this and that.
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NT: Robert, can you talk about how you began composing your own scores?
Robert Rodriguez: [I would think,] "I've been writing this movie so long, I don't want to just turn it over to a composer five weeks before the movie comes out." Then they just write a bunch of music and, hopefully, I'll like it all. [It was] Danny Elfman who inspired me to do more and asked me, "Why don't you write your own score? You play guitar."
NT: So how has scoring your own movies affected your filmmaking process?
Rodriguez: I found that it became exciting to write music as I was writing the script, like writing themes for characters. In the case of Grindhouse, before I even started my second pass at the script, I came up with the "Grindhouse Theme." That kind of informed everything. "Hmm, that sounds like a grind dance. I need to have a character dancing over the opening titles. Well, I should make the girl who loses her leg a dancer then." That's how much the music was informing the characters and scenes. You actually have music coming from the same place these characters come from. It's a really cool way to do it if you can do it that way.