What it’s like to shoot a Quentin Tarantino movie, according to Oscar-winning cinematographer Robert Richardson who has done 5 of them


Once Upon a Time in Hollywood Andrew Cooper Sony

  • Legendary cinematographer Robert Richardson talked to Business Insider about what it’s like to shoot a Quentin Tarantino movie.
  • “Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood” marked the fifth Tarantino movie Richardson shot.
  • But the Oscar-winning DP said this was their most ambitious collaboration yet because of the different formats they shot on and the unique shots Tarantino wanted.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.


Two years ago, Oscar-winning cinematographer Robert Richardson was sitting casually in Quentin Tarantino’s dinning room jotting down the occasional note as he read through the director’s epic script for what would become his next movie, “Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood.”

Occasionally, Richardson would look up and see the energetic director pacing back and forth, watching Richardson’s every movement. This went on for the next three and a half hours as Richardson read through the script cover to cover.

Richardson loved what he read, but had a simple question for Tarantino when he was through: “Quentin, where is the ending?”

Tarantino was taking no chances this time. After the script to his previous movie, “The Hateful Eight,” leaked online, the director had momentarily vowed to scrap the entire project (he didn’t). So this time around, Tarantino wasn’t going to let even his closest collaborators read how he wanted to end his latest movie. Yet.

Read more: Quentin Tarantino nets his biggest opening weekend ever with $40.4 million take for “Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood”

Fast forward to midway through the production of “Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood,” two months before Richardson was to shoot the ending. That was when Richardson was finally told he could read the ending.

“While were were in the production office, we went in a room with the ending,” Richardson told Business Insider. “It was taken from a safe and they handed it to only those people who require it to be able to perform their tasks that are necessary.”

Richardson found none of this strange. He was well aware that since “The Hateful Eight” leak, Tarantino was more paranoid than usual about his material. And two months was more than enough time to scout, prep, and shoot the ending.

This is the wild ride of making a Quentin Tarantino movie: “Quentin is very specific,” Richardson put it simply.

And Richardson knows a little something about directors who like control. He won one Oscar working with Oliver Stone (“JFK”) and two with Martin Scorsese (“The Aviator,” “Hugo”).

once upon a time in hollywood“Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood” is Richardson’s fifth time (counting “Kill Bill” vol. 1 and 2 as a single movie) working with Tarantino. In that span, he’s done beautiful work in bringing Tarantino’s vision to the screen — from a mother’s blood-soaked quest for revenge in the “Kill Bill” movies, to the vastly different vistas in the Westerns “Django Unchained” and “The Hateful Eight” (for both of which he garnered Oscar nominations).

But the legendary DP said making “Once Upon a Time” was one of the most ambitious undertakings yet with the auteur.

Visually, the movie will make even the biggest movie-format snob sit back and give respect. To bring late 1960s Hollywood to life, Richardson gave the movie a texture that only film can offer. He shot on black-and-white 35mm for the opening promo footage of a reporter interviewing Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his trusty stuntman Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) on the set of “Bounty Law.” In fact, all the black-and-white footage of the TV show was shot on black-and-white 35mm. Other formats were also used for shooting the other TV shows Dalton is on, as well as the cheesy 007-like spy movie he stars in. Richardson even slipped in some Super 8 footage for the behind-the-scenes shots of Dalton’s time making Spaghetti Westerns in Italy.

Read more: How the scene of Leonardo DiCaprio in a classic movie during “Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood” was pulled off

But the real challenges came for Richardson and his team on some of the shots Tarantino wanted done at Dalton’s house in the Hollywood Hills and the house of his neighbor, actress Sharon Tate (played by Margot Robbie).

The setup of the houses is such that Tate’s house actually sits higher on a hill than Dalton’s, a perfect visual for Tarantino to show how one career is higher up the food chain than the other.

In one instance in the movie, we watch as Dalton is floating in his pool struggling to learn his lines for tomorrow’s scenes on a TV pilot, then in one fluid motion the camera goes over Tate’s roof and settles down on her driveway to reveal the actress and her husband, director Roman Polanski, getting in their car to drive to a party at the Playboy Mansion.

Richardson said that shot was one of the most difficult to pull off for the movie.

Robert Richardson Quentin Tarantino Sony“There are few pieces of equipment that are large enough that will allow you to reach out over the top of a roof and actually make a smooth move,” Richardson said. “So we looked over the equipment, I sat with the key grip, we went through the options. And then we showed Quentin what we could do and he made a determination.”

A similar challenge also came at the end of the movie when Dalton walks up Tate’s driveway. In that instance, everything had to be timed perfectly so that Dalton and the camera, placed on a crane so it would move above the trees, get to the top of the driveway at the same time.

But these shots are the perfect example of why Richardson loves doing a Quentin Tarantino movie. The process is never dull because what comes out of Tarantino’s mind is rarely conventional.

“Like the ending of the movie,” Richardson said. “I didn’t know what it could be, but it had to be good because it was being held back from us. When I read it I was very happy what he did, it was such satisfaction.”

“Quentin knows what he wants,” Richardson continued. “He has the idea and then we accomplish that.”

“Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood” is currently playing in theaters.

SEE ALSO: Sony movie boss Tom Rothman explains why he bet big on Quentin Tarantino’s new movie and sets the record straight about a rumored deal term

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