January 25, 2024

Reservoir Dogs: Tarantino's $30k Gamble

When you think about when you first heard the name “Quentin Tarantino” you probably think of “Pulp Fiction.” The 1994 film was a huge success and immensely influential. It’s not where it all started for Tarantino, though. Before “Pulp Fiction,” Tarantino made another film steeped in genre with “Reservoir Dogs.” Without “Reservoir Dogs,” we don’t get “Pulp Fiction,” which means we don’t get “Kill Bill,” “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” or whatever Quentin has left before his purported self-imposed retirement. Here are some facts about the movie that put the young, upstart director on the map before he was put “on the map.”

“Reservoir Dogs” is Only Sort of Tarantino’s Debut Film

Ostensibly “Reservoir Dogs” marked Tarantino’s debut as a feature filmmaker. That’s technically true, but it almost wasn’t. When he was still working at a video store in California he co-wrote, co-produced, and director a 1987 amateur film called “My Best Friend’s Birthday.” It was originally 70 minutes, which would have made it a feature-length film. However, a fire caused a bunch of the film to be lost, and what was left is a spliced-together short film that’s 36 minutes long.

This Was Almost Another Amateur Movie

The original plan for “Reservoir Dogs” was for it to be another of Tarantino’s films made on a whim. His plan was to make it a 16mm black-and-white movie with less ambition, and a budget of only $30,000 dollars. It was just going to be made with his friends, including Lawrence Bender, who ended up producing “Reservoir Dogs.”

Harvey Keitel Was Vital to the Film

You never know what chain of events will occur in a film’s production. Bender gave a copy of Tarantino’s script to his acting teacher. That teacher gave it to their wife, and their wife gave it to Harvey Keitel. Keitel, an established actor, signed on as a co-producer, resulting in a budget somewhere between $1.2 and $3 million.

Shockingly, Tarantino Had Some Movie Influences

Tarantino is known for his love of film, and for using a lot of influences, homages, and what have you in his moviemaking. He had a few influences for “Reservoir Dogs,” the primary of which was “Kansas City Confidential.”

The Naming Convention of the Film is Also a Reference

The crew that puts together the robbery in the film doesn’t use their actual names. Instead, they are referenced by colors, such as Mr. Pink, Mr. Blonde, and Mr. Green. This is directly lifted from the original “The Taking of Pelham One Two Three,” where the criminals do the same thing.

One Member of the Cast Knew the Lay of the Land

Eddie Bunker plays “Mr. Blue” in the movie. He had a few notable movies under his belt and wrote on the films “Straight Time” and “Runaway Train.” That was a bit of a second career for Bunker. In his youth, he was repeatedly jailed for crimes, including robbery.

And Yet Bunker Was Not the Problem on Set

Lawrence Tierney had a lengthy career in Hollywood. Read any stories on him and you begin to wonder why. Tierney was often drunk and violent, and he was arrested dozens of times in his life. He was also immensely difficult on set, and Tarantino said that he and Tierney got into a physical altercation. Also, while filming “Reservoir Dogs” the actor was arrested again. Why? Because he got drunk and shot at his nephew.

We Don’t Know What the Title Means

“Reservoir Dogs” is certainly an evocative title, but what does it mean? Well, we can’t tell you, mostly because Quentin won’t tell us. People have their theories online, but Tarantino has never given an explicit answer, and it was not an existing phrase.

One of the Most Famous Names in the Movie is Just a Voice

Tarantino makes use of diegetic sound in the film, which is to say the music comes from sources within the film. This includes radios tuned into K-Billy’s “Sounds of the Seventies.” We hear the DJ do their patter here and there, and you might know the voice. The DJ is none other than standup Steven Wright.

Mr. Blonde is Related to Another Tarantino Character

Mr. Blonde’s psychopathic tendency to violence causes a lot of problems during the movie, but he’s also one of the members of the crew whose name we know. Blonde is Vic Vega, and that last name may be familiar. Vic is the brother of Vincent Vegas, John Travolta’s character from “Pulp Fiction.”

There are Multiple Reasons We Don’t See the Heist

Notably, “Reservoir Dogs” is a crime film where we don’t see the crime at the center of the story. The heist happens off-screen, and we only see the lead-up and the aftermath. Tarantino has said that he thought of stories like “Glengarry Glen Ross” which also features a robbery we don’t see. He wanted it to be clear the film was about other things. Also, Quentin has also admitted that not showing the heist made the movie cheaper to do and kept it on budget.

“Reservoir Dogs” Had a Successful Sundance

You’ll hear about a movie screening at the Sundance Film Festival and being so well-received that it gets picks up on a big deal. “Reservoir Dogs” was one of the first notable success stories. It became the talk of the town and got picked up by Miramax which got the movie a wide release. The movie made $2.8 million at the North American box office but did even better in the United Kingdom.

The Film Got a Lot of Walkouts

The violence of “Reservoir Dogs” can be pretty grim, even if one of the most upsetting things happens just off-screen. This led to walkouts, including a purported 15 at a screening at the Sitges Film Festival. Two of the people who walked out allegedly were Wes Craven and Rick Baker, known for their work in horror movies. That could be Tarantino embellishing for the sake of telling a story, but we do believe there were definitely plenty of walkouts.

A Lot of the Costuming Came From the Crew

There was not exactly a real costume budget on “Reservoir Dogs.” A lot of the clothing worn by the characters was from the personal wardrobe of the actors. This includes the tracksuit that Chris Penn’s Nice Guy Eddie wears.

The Warehouse Was an Old Mortuary

Much of the film takes place in a big, empty warehouse, in part because they couldn’t afford much in the way of set rental. In fact, Mr. Orange’s apartment was staged upstairs in the warehouse. That warehouse had previously been a mortuary, fitting for a set that featured a few deaths.

Tarantino Seeded a Future Film in the Movie

On the radio, you might hear an ad for Jack Rabbit Slim’s. You later see Jack Rabbit Slim’s in “Pulp Fiction.” It’s the ‘50s-themed restaurant Vincent and Mia go to for expensive milkshakes (that are worth it) and Steve Buscemi as a waiter dressed like Buddy Holly.

A Lot of Money Went into Securing One Song

Tarantino spent the entirety of his soundtrack budget on one song: “Stuck in the Middle with You” by Stealers Wheel. It’s vital to the scene it is featured in, so we can see that. The director got his song, and Stealers Wheel forever became associated with ear violence.

Madonna Disagrees with the Movie’s Take on “Like a Virgin”

In classic Tarantino fashion, the movie begins with the crew having breakfast while Mr. Brown, aka Tarantino himself, expounds graphically on what he believes Madonna’s “Like a Virgin” is about. While Madonna liked the film, she disagreed with the ribald assessment of her hit. She reportedly sent Tarantino an autographed copy of her album which included a line that points out her song is about love; not what Mr. Brown thinks it is.

All That Blood Caused Problems for Tim Roth

Poor Mr. Orange spends the bulk of the movie in a pool of his own blood after being shot during the heist. Tim Roth’s character is quite bloody, and in fact, a paramedic onset was used to make sure the amount of blood he was losing was consistent and accurate. And yet, there were still complications. The fake blood repeatedly dried out during films, leaving Roth to be peeled off the ground, which was a difficult process.


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