Ask anyone for a list of the most prolific and artistic filmmakers, and Quentin Tarantino will most likely be on it. His work is so distinctively identifiable that anyone who views one of his films will instantly recognise it as his. In addition to the artistic use of violence on display throughout his works and his way with characters and dialogue, the way he shoots his scenes puts an unmistakable “watermark” on each of his films.
“A huge part of Tarantino’s storytelling comes from his screenwriting and the way he directs actors, but he has such an advance understanding of screen language that he’s able to tell stories more efficiently than most directors.”
In Christopher Kenworthy’s guide, Shoot Like Tarantino: The Visual Secrets of Dangerous Storytelling, Tarantino’s tricks for elevating tension and action are exposed for the reader’s pleasure. Kenworthy, the author of the best-selling Master Shots books, chooses to dive into the visual techniques of Tarantino by analysing some scenes from several of his famous films.
Kenworthy makes a point to say that he didn’t try to learn any background information regarding the scenes he chooses to include. He didn’t want to read about other theories; he just wanted to analyse the scenes as they are and truly discover the technical aspects behind the shots. He also realises how easy it can be to be sucked into the entire film and gloss over the scenes in question, so he recommends that readers switch off the sound and take in only the visuals.
Before jumping into the first scene, Kenworthy makes sure to disclose the fact that the book will undoubtedly spoil the movies for those who haven’t seen them. Nothing is worse than overhearing a spoiler-filled conversation about a film you were dying to see or scrolling through Twitter only to find that the “twist” ending is no longer going to be one for you. Kenworthy understands this, and he is insistent that readers actually watch the films first before reading the book.
Getting to the actual “meat” of the book is where it gets fascinating. Readers can choose to go the traditional route and read it from start to finish or they may choose to bounce around reading only the chapters of interest. But filmmakers who need this book as a source of inspiration for building unbearable tension in a scene or including a deliberate anticlimax are those who benefit most. They can choose to read only the chapters that address these techniques and quickly get back to shooting their film.
For example, if a reader really wanted to know how to film a group conversation, they can turn to page 105 and read up on how Kill Bill: Vol 2 featured a perfect one. Kenworthy makes it super easy to understand the details that make each scene work by including stills so readers can clearly see what he is getting at.
In the case of Kill Bill: Vol. 2, he breaks down the famous flashback chapel scene. This scene, which has been shown in glimpses throughout the film, isn’t meant to be a surprise. It’s meant to be a culmination of what the viewer already knows is inevitable. The art of this scene comes from the interaction between the characters and how they are placed.
“When two groups are talking, shoot the main characters from several positions, but shoot the minor characters from one angle. This will help the audience identify with the main characters.”
By following this method, the audience will feel closer and more connected with the main character, while the characters shot from one angle feel more distant and disconnected. The way this scene was shot put an emphasis on showing the characters in what may seem to be a normal situation, but slowly building a sense of unease. The unease is heightened with the introduction of a new character.
“When you’ve established a group conversation and dynamic, cutting to an additional character who interrupts the flow of the scene can increase the sense of impending doom.”
Kenworthy’s analysis of this particular scene is just one example of what is found in the book. There are great insights to be read and any filmmaker who wishes to even embody an ounce of Tarantino’s mastery can benefit from the information found inside. By no means; however, are the scenes in this book meant to be copied. They are provided only to serve as a starting point or a source of inspiration.
Shoot Like Tarantino: The Visual Secrets of Dangerous Storytelling is a great resource for filmmakers looking to improve the visual impact of their scenes. It allows filmmakers to understand how certain scenes succeed in their efforts and how they can shoot their own. Once a filmmaker reads this book, their ability to craft their own great scenes should greatly improve. And who knows? They may just become the next Tarantino.