Exclusive: ‘Once Upon a Time in Hollywood’ Is “Spooky” and “Playful”, Says DP Robert Richardson

     October 30, 2018

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Even for a Quentin Tarantino movie, there is a considerable amount of interest surrounding Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. Perhaps it’s because the film teams up two of the world’s biggest movie stars, Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt, in the starring roles. Or because it features Margot Robbie as Sharon Tate and chronicles the Manson Murders. Or maybe because it gives Tarantino the opportunity to dig deep into the Hollywood of 1969, complete with a fake Western TV show.

For all these reasons and more, folks are really eager to see this new Tarantino movie, but so far information on the film has been kept under lock and key. What we know for sure is that DiCaprio plays an actor famous for his role on a popular Western TV series and Pitt plays his longtime stunt double, and both face a changing world as the landscape of cinema (and the nation in general) is at a turning point.

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Image via The Weinstein Company

This Hollywood-set period piece, complete with a stacked ensemble cast, is ripe with opportunity for a filmmaker like Tarantino, so when I recently got the chance to speak with cinematographer Robert Richardson about his work on the powerful upcoming true-story drama A Private War, I had to ask about what people can expect from Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. While I’ll have that full, in-depth conversation up soon, I wanted to share what Richardson had to say about the new Tarantino film first.

Richardson has been working with Tarantino since the Kill Bill movies and the DP “no jinx” believes Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is shaping up to be a “fantastic” film. It’s a long shoot—they were on Day 89 when I spoke with Richardson last weekend—but Richardson couldn’t contain his excitement about framing up two of the world’s biggest movie stars in the same shot:

“It’s beautiful. To work with Leo together with Brad… It’s Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, sort of the contemporary versions. These are two massive stars, and they’re so talented. Margot [Robbie] is also phenomenal and wonderful to be around. There are a number of people that you will see within the film that haven’t had as much exposure that are remarkable. We’ve got Dakota Fanning in the movie and she—phew, is she a powerhouse. It’s a great cast.”

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Image via Sony Pictures

While Tarantino has a signature tone that’s kind of a bit of everything, I asked Richardson if Hollywood fits into one specific tonal arena. He admitted it’s tough to describe as they’re still filming, but offered up some tantalizing teases:

“I think the tone of it is—it’s difficult to describe because it’s very fresh, but it oscillates between humorous, serious, spooky; it’s playful. It’s not easily describable, but it’s very Quentin. Very, very, very Quentin. Of course Al Pacino was in it and you’ve got remarkable monologues, but you also have remarkable small set pieces. It’s going to be a tremendously unique film.”

The Oscar-winning cinematographer delighted in getting to shoot portions of the Western TV series for which DiCaprio’s character is famous, so we’ll get to see Tarantino and Richardson’s version of a 1960s TV series in earnest. And while the duo worked with the 70mm film format for their last feature The Hateful Eight, Richardson explains why they didn’t go with 70mm this time around:

“We’re doing anamorphic 35, but we didn’t trespass into the 70mm realm for financial reasons, principally. The budget is—there are a hundred sets or something so they needed to cut back somewhere, and the added cost of 70mm is quite remarkable and it also has tremendous limitations like no zooms, and Quentin wanted zooms in the film so it required us to go to 35 anamorphic.”

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Image via Miramax

Richardson also mentioned the House of Blue Leaves sequence from Kill Bill Vol. 1 as a comparison point for the many set pieces in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, while adding that the film is deeply personal for Tarantino:

“Some of what you see in terms of the very cinema approach—whether it’s the House of Blue Leaves, whatever it is—you’re going to find inside of [Once Upon a Time in Hollywood] a little bit of that. Maybe not the massive time of the House of Blue Leaves, but the set pieces are unique and they’re also extremely personal to Quentin in terms of his life in Los Angeles. Not his life in 1969—he was too young—but his life in terms of living and where he went and films that were important from that time period. Like 2001 will be sitting there, and Romeo and Juliet you’ll see on the screen has been there for eight months. That kind of thing, to be able to see these films up on the Cinerama Dome, that’s what he did, he recreated the time period pretty accurately in terms of film. So for those who are film nerds, they’re gonna love it.”

Indeed, this film sounds like it’s going to be a delight to take in, and I can’t wait to see what Richardson and Tarantino have put together when Once Upon a Time in Hollywood hits theaters on July 26, 2019.

Look for my full, lengthy chat with Richardson—which also touches on the death of FilmStruck and The Aviator—on Collider soon. A Private War opens in select theaters on November 2nd.

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