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BENDER, LAWRENCE: KILL BILL

NAILING TARANTINO
Lawrence Bender has produced all four of Quentin Tarantino’s feature films, as well as several for other directors. In Sydney to promote Kill Bill, Bender tells Andrew L. Urban who nailed Tarantino to the floor, Uma Thurman’s real-life role as muse and how easy it was to split the film into two parts.


As a collaborator with Quentin Tarantino over several years and projects, how do you describe him, his methods and your relationship?
OK, that’s a pretty big question! I think the relationship has evolved over the years. And it’s like a true partnership or marriage, where the relationship is greater than the individuals. My job with Quentin is to help him see his vision through, like most producers do with most directors, except when you have such a close relationship with a director it’s in some ways easier; there’s a shorthand between us. We’re not on a first date; we’ve been married some time, and we finish each other’s sentences. I do know what he’s looking for a lot of time… and a lot of times I don’t, and have to find out, of course. And I’m a kind of shield to filter out things so he can stay focused. It’s changed a bit … when we made Reservoir Dogs he’d joke he was the least experienced on the set [laughs]. That’s no longer the case …. 

And what about Quentin …how’d you describe him and his work method?
A lot of energy. He loves to have fun on the set. Great fun. He’s always playing practical jokes – and others on him. 

Like?
Oh, let’s see. Well, Bob Richardson, [the cinematographer] once managed to hammer a nail into the back of the heel of Quentin’s sneaker as he was watching something. Or when there was a visitor on set, I’d say, “Quentin, this is John…did you know it’s John’s birthday’ and everyone would start singing Happy Birthday! Silly things like that. The other thing about Quentin is he’s very specific in what he wants, and people sometimes just don’t believe it. Like the shot of a plane flying against a big orange background. Quentin had said he wanted a really strong orange background, and people would bring him blues, and beautiful pink, classic sunsets . . . And Quentin said, ‘Look, what part of orange don’t you understand?’ and he’d go and get the movie he’d seen that colour…. 

How was it decided to split Kill Bill into two ‘volumes’ and how heated were the arguments?
Unfortunately this isn’t as exciting an answer as you might be looking for. It came about a month before we ended shooting, and it was really a simple thing. Quentin had written the script in chapters so it was easy … he’d figured out how to do it in about an hour. Then all of a sudden the rumours started flying … but we didn’t change anything, just kept shooting the movie. Then about six weeks into the editing process we called Harvey Weinstein into the room and said, ‘OK, let’s just have an open mind to see if it is one movie, or is it half of a movie’. After watching it we all agreed, ‘It rocks! It’s a full meal.’ It may even be too much to see another big shot… so there was no argument. It took a couple of minutes. And then we said let’s watch what he first scene would be for the next movie. And wow! That’s a great opening scene. The only thing we waited on was … Harvey wanted to time the announcement.

I don’t know if you discussed this, but what is the target audience, considering it was always going to be restricted – as in Australia it’s an R (18+)? (In the US 17 without an adult.)
Our audience is probably 15 to 30 or so. Here in Australia I guess you’re not supposed to see it if you’re under 18. So 18 to 32, 34 is our core audience, and obviously guys. But we really want women to see it. It’s a female empowerment movie… female revenge movie.

Well, that was my next question: how did that come about? The fact that the action hero - and some of the villains – is a female, and a bride AND pregnant….
Well, Uma actually was talking to Quentin about how she’d love to play a bride character and Quentin was talking about a revenge motif. . . and this happened a long time ag, right around Pulp Fiction days. As a matter of fact Robert Rordriguez has 30 pages of this that Quentin wrote in 94 or 95 and Robert has a tape of Quentin talking about this . . .reading Robert the dialogue. That was before he made Four Rooms . . . Uma brought it back up to Quentin about three years ago at an Academy party and they started talking about it. So Uma inspired Quentin about this, she was a muse, a confidante on this ….

With its budget of US$56 million, what’s the important box office point to reach for this movie?
I think we already have reached that, with the opening weekend over US$22 million, and we expect Australia to do well. And since the movie’s been cut in two, so I think the box office will accumulate and we’ll be fine. We’ll make our money back and everyone’ll be happy. We obviously want to have as big an audience as possible, but for us it’s always relative to the budget. So if the budgets are kept restrained, it means we’ll have a lot more creative control, and you also need less at the box office to be successful. A lack of money means you have to solve things creatively – but that doesn’t mean if you have more money you’re not going to be creative.

And finally, about the violence: does the excess of it in Kill Bill make it somehow less potentially damaging? 
Well, it’s funny . . .politically I’m a kind of dove. I grew up with my mum and dad taking me on marches against the Vietnam war … but this is movie violence and there is a certain cathartic energy that comes out when young people watch an action movie, or a violent movie. You know it’s not real, we’re not really killing people and obviously it’s comic effect; although sometimes it hurts and you’re supposed to feel the violence. Obviously, I don’t have an issue with violence in cinema, and for Quentin it’s one of the colours of the palette he paints with. Violence happens to be very cinematic. I remember once playing this war game where you shoot people with paint bullets. And my mum screamed at me “How could you? You’re a peacenik, how could you play war?’ And I said, ‘Mum, the key word is playing…’”

Other stuff about Lawrence Bender:
Bender holds the distinction of being the only producer to have two films in simultaneous competition at the Berlin Film Festival: Good Will Hunting and Jackie Brown (both 1997).

In addition to his feature film and television work, Bender has enjoyed success in producing commercials and music videos with his production company, A Band Apart. The company has produced commercial spots for such directors as Tom Burton, John Woo and McG. In 2001, the company shot 75 commercials and music videos and garnered 13 MTV Music Video Award nominations.

The story of Kill Bill – Volume 1:
Assassin team member Black Mamba now known as The Bride (Uma Thurman), comes out of a four year coma following the ambush and massacre of her entire wedding party by her colleagues. She was pregnant but left for dead. Intent on revenge, one by one she tracks down her former colleagues, of the elite DiVAS (Deadly Viper Assassination Squad), each codenamed for a different species of poisonous snake – planning to leave the leader, Bill (David Carradine) to last. First, she heads for Pasadena to clash with Vernita Green, codenamed Copperhead (Vivica A. Fox). On her way to Tokyo for a confrontation with O’Ren-Ishii or Cottonmouth (Lucy Liu), The Bride stops in Okinawa to acquire a handmade new sword from master swordmaker Hattori Hanzo (Sonny Chiba). In Volume 2, The Bride continues her journey of vengeance.

Published October 23, 2003

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Lawrence Bender

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