Quentin Tarantino and the 30 page rule

I had no idea Quentin Tarantino had novelised his own film Once Upon a Time in Hollywood until I saw a pile of paperbacks at the front of my local bookstore. I grabbed one on a whim. Didn’t even bother flicking through a few pages.

That could have turned out badly and, who knows, maybe it will. But I’m pretty pleased with it so far. I loved the movie, but having tried my hand at screenwriting now I had some idea of the difference between the two forms. I was curious to see whether Tarantino understood the different demands of the older media and, I guess, to see whether he might be a bit shit at it.

There were times in the first few pages were I thought, “Holy crap, this really is bad.”

But I have a rule that when I start a book I will give it at least thirty pages to grab hold of me. Tarantino breaks a whole bunch of writer rules within the first two pages. He shifts POV. He writes in the present tense. He deliberately alienates the modern reader with arcane phrasing and psychology.

“When the door to Marvin’s office opens, his young secretary, Miss Himmelsteen, steps in first. She’s a twenty-one -year-old woman of the hippie persuasion.”

He acts, that is to so say, like a very successful artist from one realm assuming he can just pimp roll into another, demanding respect and indulgence.

But…. The thirty page rule is the thirty page rule.

So I pressed on.

The opening chapter is a meeting between Leonardo DiCaprio’s washed up cowboy actor Rick Dalton, and a hammerhead shark of a movie agent Marvin Schwartz. Marvin, you may recall from the movie, is looking to revive Rick’s career by placing him a in bunch of spaghetti westerns. Clint Eastwood style.

As difficult as it was adjusting to the abrupt POV shifts and the Borscht Belt dinner theatre dialogue, by the time I reached the end of the chapter I was hooked.

Two things did it. Tarantino dragged you deep into the broken psychology of a washed up actor, and he offered a fascinating history lesson about some of the untold stories of Hollywoods Golden Age.

I’m in for the long haul with this book, and it only took 24 pages.