The Hateful Eight: Quentin Tarantino’s Staged Reading Shows Promise, Problems

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“Do you think the person who leaked the script is here?”

It was a valid question from an attendee of Quentin Tarantino’s staged live read of The Hateful Eight. You know, that script Tarantino wrote, then announced he’d never make once it leaked online after his first meeting with actors. (Tarantino is subsequently suing Gawker for $1 million for copyright infractions for pointing readers to exactly where they could snag themselves a copy of the leaked script).

Attendees were (probably) largely in attendance for the exclusivity of the moment: view Tarantino’s unproduced film and weep for cinema’s loss (except you actually had to immerse yourself in the dialogue, as cell phones were not allowed into the gothic, newly renovated United Artists theater … A true horror movie set-up: no live tweets!). Most in attendance paid $200 to bear witness to this event.

However, that exclusivity was quickly re-shaped by Tarantino who, dressed in a black cowboy outfit, announced that this was his first draft. He was working on a second draft, and a third draft would likely follow. His ending (“Chapter Five”) was going to entirely change, so this would be the only performance of that leaked script. Early Easter morning, it was reported by The Hollywood Reporter that Tarantino intends to start shooting one of those tighter drafts next winter.

So to recap: Tarantino finished a draft of a script and met with a handful of actors to do a table read at his house. Very soon after the script was leaked online. Tarantino felt betrayed and announced it’d be relegated to a dusty drawer and only he held the key. Then he sued Gawker. Then Harvey Weinstein publicly supported Tarantino’s allegations of online journalism’s predatory nature. Then, in an unprecedented move, Tarantino staged a rock concert level event where a 1,200 individual mix of fans, wannabe actors, journalists, industry curios (I spotted X-Men scribe David Hayter, and a should-be-a-Tarantino-Player, Jennifer Jason Leigh) and mega-moguls (the Weinsteins were center orchestra) were present to let him hear where they laughed, where they groaned and where they were silent.

His performers, who’d only rehearsed for three days, were: Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Tim Roth, Walton Goggins, Amber Tamblyn, Michael Madsen and Bruce Dern (with additional character turns from James Remar and Dana Gourrier from Django Unchained, Denis Menochet of Inglorious Basterds and recent frequent Tarantino contributors James Parks and Zoe Bell as the horse-drivers).

One thing is certain: Jackson and Dern are ready to shoot this fucker right now. Their roles are already perfectly Tarantino tailor-made.

When Jackson, playing a bounty hunter, post-Civil War, explains his joy of killing former rebel white folks in any manner he can, the audience exploded with laughter and applause. (In this setting, it was fun to witness Jackson occasionally breakaway from his typical hard-as-nails character and laugh at certain Tarantino sentences that tumbled out of his mouth. The biggest culprit? A monologue he delivered to Dern about making his son suck his “black prick.”)

Early in the evening, Tarantino (who acted as both script narrator and event hype-man) halted the reading the first time a character identified Jackson’s character with that elephant-sized n-word. “That’s the first time ‘nigger’ is used,” Tarantino gleefully pointed out to the crowd. “It’s page 7 and there’s about 322 more of ‘em to come.” To which Jackson laughed and Tarantino instructed Tamblyn to say the line once more with more feeling.

It’s when Dern, who played an aged Confederate general looking for his lost son, spells out the word, with hate in each letter and each space between, that attendees witnessed a performer preparing himself to actually perform this piece.

So what is The Hateful Eight? Surprisingly, it lends itself very well to a stage because it’s largely a chamber play. It opens with Jackson’s bounty hunter looking to hitch a ride for himself and the frozen bodies he’s trying to collect a reward on, during a Wyoming blizzard. In true Tarantino fashion the refuge he’s offered comes from a stagecoach with another bounty hunter inside (here played like John Wayne by Kurt Russell) who’s chained to a woman (Tamblyn) he’s escorting to Red Rock to be hanged.

Goggins also needs a ride to Red Rock because he’s been called in as the new sheriff. They stop at a trade-post/bar/coffee joint to wait out the blizzard. The bounty hunters know something is awry, as the woman who runs the joint is missing and the four strangers’ (Roth, Madsen, Menochet and Dern) stories don’t add up.

It’s Tarantino meets Agatha Christie. It played like a very good, but still a little rough, first draft. The introduction is incredibly tight and sound. The dialogue crackles, but while it’s a hardass hoot, the payoff is still missing.

From the intermission (for those who’ve read the script, that’d be the closing of Chapter Three) onward that tightness starts to meander a little bit: heavy in set-up to locations of certain deadly items and flashback motivations that perhaps aren’t the most sound.

There was booze at the event and this is an old theater (the largest building in LA, back in 1927) so the seats are close together. Already facing an epic evening (the total run time, with introduction and intermission was three and a half hours), Tarantino started back from intermission while the theater was half-filled. As patrons returned to their tight seating arrangements, the sounds of swirling empty plastic coffee cups filled the theater.

As if they were put into a plastic trance, on cue, the actors started to meander a little bit. Tarantino fought against it and directed his actors to “stop co-writing” and stick to the script.

It’s actually quite profound to hear, live, the actual difference between Tarantino dialogue and a minor ad lib. There’s such a structure in beat and punctuation, it’s a little jarring when it’s sidestepped.

We here at CraveOnline are decidedly anti-spoiler, so even though Tarantino announced that his fifth and final chapter will be different, we are not sure how much different it will be, so we’ll leave that unturned. All that I can say is that it could use some tinkering, especially as it’s so similar to his previous endings. But we know that Tarantino is up to the challenge. Remember how early write-ups of Django Unchained scripts included characters and scenarios that were never in the final film? (Including Goggins’ final character, a merger of two entirely different characters.) Screenwriting is a long process. Particularly for someone like Tarantino who loves a good monologue and back-story, but still needs to tell an engaging story in under three hours.

What we got last night was both a solid potboiler and a delightful comment on cinemagoers thirst for exclusivity, while a director also got audience feedback.

During a weekend that saw regular cinemagoers shun the newest Johnny Depp megafilm, one theater was filled by folks who paid upwards of ten times a theater ticket price, under the guise of a work in progress. Be sure that Weinstein and other movie types took note. As the film experience gets larger and larger, and studios look to keep filmgoers engaged in a project more than a year before it screens, perhaps Tarantino’s experiment provides a new pipeline to fandom: publically tinkering through performance, with promises of later change.

In his rock star table read it probably was apparent that his first three chapters could go untouched, and that Jackson will once again have a fan favorite character. The energy drop in the audience in the final section will be addressed, and here’s the beautiful thing: when The Hateful Eight does eventually screen, the ending could be a surprise to everyone. That is how it should be. While Tarantino writes his new drafts, please, fervent fans, let’s try to keep the process sacred.

Tarantino has a January 2015 court date with Gawker. Expect a Hateful Eight release date announcement sooner. Internet, how you handle his subsequent drafts is in your hands.


Brian Formo is a featured contributor on the CraveOnline Film Channel. You can follow him on Twitter at @BrianEmilFormo.