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The Hateful Eight: Quentin Tarantino on location

Samuel L Jackon in The Hateful EightWhile most of us will spend Christmas Day slumped on our sofas attempting to digest large dinners, a lucky few will be watching the limited roadshow release of Quentin Tarantino’s hugely anticipated western The Hateful Eight.

The eighth film in Tarantino’s acclaimed career (he counts Kill Bill Part 1 and Part 2 as a single film), it features a star-studded cast including Channing Tatum, Samuel L. Jackson, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Kurt Russell, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen and Bruce Dern. 

The idea of a roadshow release harks back to the classic era of movie-going when blockbusters like Gone With The Wind and Ben Hur were launched with the same fanfare as live theatre performances. The audience was given reserved seats, a programme and an intermission in order to turn their trip into an event experience.

Tarantino’s decision to give The Hateful Eight the same treatment is down to the fact the feature has been shot in 65mm Ultra Panavision and will be projected in 70mm – which is at the high-end of film production quality. In the words of cast member Walton Goggins, Tarantino is “reminding people that the cinema is a place to be revered.”

The Weinstein Company, which is producing the film, has released a video explaining what makes a 70mm release so special. The most obvious benefit is that it allows Tarantino to create an image that is around twice the size of what the cinema audience is used too. But there are other benefits as well: “When you see the grain of 70, when you see the colour of 70, like the wide shot inside the barn or the close-ups of the faces, it’s beautiful,” says Oscar-winning director of photography Bob Richardson, who also worked with Tarantino on Inglourious Basterds, Django Unchained and Kill Bill.

Hateful Eight Russell and Jackson

Producer Richard Gladstein says the format of 70mm lends itself to this western landscape, because of the size and the width of the frame. This is echoed by cast member Kurt Russell, who says: “It did take a minute to get used to the width of what this could see, within that frame it’s just special.”

Bizarrely, the film was shot using lenses that have not been deployed since the movie Khartoum in 1966. Richardson stumbled across the lenses at Panavision’s HQ and asked if they still worked. When the answer came back in the affirmative, the fun began. “I took those lenses and we flew to our location in Telluride, Colorado, and the tests came back (inserts, close-ups, wide shots, landscapes, faces) - now it was up to Tarantino to look at them and say how he felt about it.”

The response was an enthusiastic yes, which meant that the production team needed to come up with a technical solution that would make the lenses work on a live production. “We had to retrofit cameras… rebuild them as if they were brand new cameras,” says Panavision’s Jim Roudebush, “so that we had the confidence that the first day they flipped the switch on these things they were going to run right until the last day.” The fact that the 50-year-old lenses held up is remarkable when you consider so much of the film was shot in freezing temperatures.

Although the film is actually set in Wyoming, Colorado was chosen for the shoot. It beat off competition from Utah and Wyoming for a number of reasons. Firstly because the beauty of its outdoor locations. Secondly, because it was practically guaranteed to snow – a key element  the film’s plot (which sees the central characters trapped together in a house during a blizzard). And thirdly, because of a very attractive $5m filming incentive package authorised by The Colorado Economic Development Commission and the Colorado Film Office (CFO).

If $5m seems like a lot of money, then the CFO is justifying it in terms of the returns. Not only is the film projected to bring 168 jobs and $25.05m to the state, it should have a knock-on effect in terms of tourism dollars. Commenting, Colorado film commissioner Donald Zuckerman said: “This is the biggest thing since True Grit, (the 1969 one) because it's all Colorado, because it's a western, and because it's Tarantino.”

Hateful Eight cabin exterior

Pre-production preparations began just before Christmas 2014 and were centred on the Schmid Ranch, 10 miles outside Telluride. Founded in 1882, the ranch is currently used for weddings and other events, but has previously been the backdrop for some iconic Marlboro TV commercials (shot by the late Tony Scott). For The Hateful Eight, the production crew built sets that were used solely for the duration of the 49-day shoot.

The shoot took place in the first few months of 2015, so the issue of cold was a very real concern for the production. When the cast was asked about this in a recent Q&A session at a Directors Guild Association (DGA) preview screening of the film, actor Bruce Dern explained: “We were at 10,000 feet from January to April. It was minus 5 degrees Fahrenheit outside and then in the house it was 22 degrees at the hottest time of the day.” Samuel L Jackson talked about how the cold became “a character”, creating an “urgency” in how the actors worked.

The DGA cast Q&A provided some interesting insights into some of the issues in the production. Goggins, for example, reflected on the fact that use of the Panavision lens in a confined space meant the actors were virtually always in shot – even when they weren’t the focal point of the action. So instead of being irrelevant to a particular scene, “we realised there are so many stories going on simultaneously. Whether there were three or four or seven people in the frame, it wasn’t just about what was in focus, it was about the people standing behind or in the distance. It was multi-layer visual storytelling.”

Leigh, playing Daisy Domergue, had a particularly challenging role, being required to learn guitar from scratch and also be on the receiving end of a beating by Kurt Russell’s character John Ruth. Jackson said it was “an amazing journey” watching her “cross over into Quentin-land” while Russell said “she was creating an animal you’re not going to see very often.”

Kurt Russell in Hateful Eight

Costume on the film was overseen by Courtney Hoffman, who also worked with Tarantino on Django Unchained. In an interview with Denver-based magazine 5280 she talked about trying to make sure no one got cold during the shoot. “Everyone was so scared about being cold that we added high-tech, wind-resistant fabric in between the layers of some clothes. We went out of our way to make sure the cast would be totally warm. Then we got here, and it was such a relatively mild winter that they almost were too warm.” 

Tarantino’s recent films have started to get pretty big in terms of budget, with Django Unchained costing around $100m. But with a lot of the new film based in the same tightly-constrained location, it has proved relatively cheap in terms of production design. This, combined with straightforward costume demands, means the budget has come in at a modest $44m.

Now it is time to earn that money back. While The Hateful Eight roadshow has been grabbing a lot of headlines, not many cinemas can accommodate the 70mm format. As a result, most of us will have to wait until 8 January to see what Tarantino believes could be his best-ever film. But with all of the pre-release buzz around it, there’s no question it is going to have a good run at the box office and maybe even snatch an Oscar or two.

For more on filming in Colorado, head over to our production guide

All images belong to The Weinstein Company.