If you had a chance to meet a young teenage Quentin Tarantino, it’s unlikely that you’d be able to predict his path to Hollywood success. Here’s the story on how Tarantino went from a high school drop out to one of the most admirable directors of our time. And believe it or not, a small acting job on the 1980s TV show The Golden Girls helped make his 1992 feature-length directorial debut Reservoir Dogs possible.
Tarantino’s Early Years: From A High School Drop Out To A Movie Rental Clerk
At the very young age of 15, Tarantino dropped out of Narbonne High School in Harbor City, Los Angeles. After dropping out, Tarantino held a series of random jobs throughout the 1980s including being an usher at the Pussycat Theater, an adult movie theater in Torrance, California, and a recruiter in the aerospace industry.
But Tarantino didn’t come into his element until he took a job at a movie rental store called Video Archives on Sepulveda Blvd in Manhattan Beach, California. One of the perks of that job was being able to watch movies at work. He spent five years at Video Archives and amassed a masterful amount of knowledge of all types of films. He had a reputation at the store for being able to get customers to rent anything. Customers often felt it was more fun listening to Tarantino talk about the moves than actually watching them.
Tarantino’s First “Hollywood” Job Was Picking Up Dog Poop
In 1986, three years before he would create the legendary reality TV show COPS, director John Langley gave Tarantino and his co-worker from Video Archives, Roger Avary, production assistant jobs on the Dolph Lundgren exercise video, Maximum Potential. Langley was a regular customer at Video Archives and knew how badly Tarantino and Avary wanted to do film work. So he hired them both as production assistants for the project.
Avary and Tarantino both had a variety of odd jobs on the production. But one of Taratino’s tasks is now part of Hollywood legend. One of the scenes in the exercise video was a lawn area in Venice Beach. It was a popular area for people to walk their dogs and it was littered with dog poop. The poop had to be removed before the shoot. So one of Tarantino’s first “Hollywood” jobs was to pick up dog poop for Dolph Lundgren.
One of Quentin Tarantino’s first “Hollywood” jobs was to pick up dog poop for Dolph Lundgren.
Tarantino’s First Film Projects: An Abandoned Script And A Firey Disaster
Tarantino’s initial attempts at filmmaking were disastrous. His first script, a 1970s themed action movie was abandoned. His second movie attempt, an amateur film called My Best Friend’s Birthday, was almost completely destroyed in a fire in 1987. Only 36 minutes of the film’s original 70 minutes still exist.
However, several years later, elements of My Best Friend’s Birthday’s screenplay later became part of the 1993 Tony Scott directed film True Romance, starring Christian Slater, Patricia Arquette, and Dennis Hopper.
How Playing An Elvis Impersonator n The Golden Girls Helped Get Reservoir Dogs Made
While working at Video Archives, Tarantino started attending acting classes at the James Best Theatre Company. One of his first paid acting jobs was playing an Elvis impersonator in the “Sophia’s Wedding: Part 1” episode in the NBC TV series The Golden Girls in 1988.
“It became a two-part Golden Girls. So I got paid residuals for both parts. And, It was so popular they put it on a Best of The Golden Girls, and I got residuals every time that showed,” Tarantino told Jimmy Fallon on The Tonight Show. “So I got paid maybe, I don’t know, $650 for the episode, but by the time the residuals were over, three years later, I made like $3,000.”
Things were slowly starting to come together for Tarantino. He had written his first script, My Best Friend’s Birthday, done production work (aka dog poop pickup) on Maximum Potential and now was earning residuals from acting work on The Golden Girls. And those residuals were extremely important to Tarantino’s career. “That kept me going during our pre-production time trying to get Reservoir Dogs going,” Tarantino further explained to Fallon.
Acting residuals from playing an Elvis impersonator on The Golden Girls helped support Quintin Tarantino during the pre-production for Reservoir Dogs.
A couple of years after playing Elvis in The Golden Girls, Quentin Tarantino met producer Lawrence Bender in 1990 at a Hollywood party. Bender was just starting his production career himself. At the time, Bender had recently completed the Sam Raimi horror film the Intruder which he co-wrote and co-produced. In that conversation, Bender encouraged Tarantino to write a screenplay. Tarantino took Bender’s advice and wrote the script for Reservoir Dogs.
NERD NOTE: Quentin Tarantino got the idea for the film title “Reservoir Dogs” from a customer at Video Archives, the movie rental store that he worked at. A customer who wanted to rent French director Louis Malle’s “Au Revoir Les Enfants” mispronounced the word “revoir” as reservoir. The idea stuck with Tarantino and years later he used it to title the film.
Harvey Keitel Gets Involved With Reservoir Dogs
After reading the script, Bender agreed to produce and act in Reservoir Dogs. It’s not uncommon for scripts to get passed around in Hollywood, and such was the case with Reservoir Dogs. Bender showed the script to his acting teacher. Then his acting teacher showed the script to his wife. The wife then gave the script to her friend, Harvey Keitel.
Originally, Bender and Tarantino were planning on producing Reservoir Dogs with a small $30,000 budget. But after Keitel agreed to star and co-produce the film, they were able to raise a $1.5 million dollar budget.
Reservoir Dogs: Sundance Film Festival Debut
In 1992, Reservoir Dogs made its debut at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, UT. Reservoir Dogs was the most talked-about film of the festival and was immediately picked up for distribution by Miramax Films. Life changed for Tarantino after Sundance.
From Reservoir Dogs To Pulp Fiction
The success of Reservoir Dogs put Quentin Tarantino in major demand in Hollywood. He wrote and sold scripts for True Romance (1993), Natural Born Killers (1994) and was a contributing writer on both Crimson Tide (1995) and The Rock (1996). But when considering his next big project, Tarantino turned down both Men In Black (1997) and Speed (1994) and instead decided to write and direct Pulp Fiction, a move that forever solidified his place in Hollywood royalty.
Quentin Tarantino: From High School Drop Out To Oscar Winner
And as they say, the rest is history. Over the years Tarantino has won numerous awards including Oscars, Emmys and Golden Globes for his writing and directing work. Not bad for a high school drop out whose first job in Hollywood was picking up dog poop. But without the financial support of residuals from his acting work on The Golden Girls, none of this might have happened.
NERD NOTE: The British film magazine Empire declared Quentin Tarantino’s film, Reservoir Dogs, one of the “Greatest American Independent Movies” of all time.
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Frank Wilson is a retired teacher with over 30 years of combined experience in the education, small business technology, and real estate business. He now blogs as a hobby and spends most days tinkering with old computers. Wilson is passionate about tech, enjoys fishing, and loves drinking beer.