The release of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood has been a generally disappointing event for me, as I’ve always taken pride in the fact that I lack the Tarantino Derangement Syndrome that seems to plague young men in film school. I like his films enough as entertainment, but I’ve never considered anything he’s done to be brilliant. So the fact that I love his new movie as much as I do has wreaked havoc on the sense of superiority I’ve been able to develop in recent years.
As is the case with any art I love, I’ve consumed myself in research about everything that went into making the movie. And one detail struck me as a fascinating look at what separates good writers from great ones.
In the film, Leonardo DiCaprio plays a television actor who starred on a cowboy series called Bounty Law. And in a recent interview with Quentin Tarantino, the filmmaker said he’s considering turning the fictional show into a real one, possibly for Netflix. As part of his character development process, he wrote eight episodes of the show, to help him better understand DiCaprio’s character. None of the material made it into the movie, but he thinks it’s strong enough to stand on its own.
Writing eight episodes of anything is a lot of work. It’s like writing another entire movie. And if he thinks the scripts are good enough to be shown on TV, he clearly wasn’t phoning them in. I can’t think of another writer who prepares that much for anything. It’s one thing to write little character biographies for your own personal use, but Tarantino took his preparation to another level. But for this kind of movie, which values character over plot, you don’t have a choice. Maybe that’s why I like the film so much. While so many other hang-out movies feel empty, he put in the work to make his world feel rich and believable.
But the real lesson here is that hard work and extra preparation are rewarded. In addition to a great movie, Tarantino now has what could be an excellent TV show on his hands. I’m sure he didn’t plan it this way, but by going above and beyond for his art, he stumbled into another creative goldmine. When you put yourself into the arena and do more than the bare minimum, you’re going to open yourself up to opportunities that nobody else finds.