[28 January 2014]
PopMatters Contributing Editor
There’s a lot of talk going on about Quentin Tarantino, his recently announced project The Hateful Eight, and his reaction to the leaking of his first draft script to someone outside the circle he trusted to keep it confidential. Some have called the Oscar-winning auteur a whining crybaby for complaining about the very web-based world he helped foster while some see this as the ultimate betrayal of an artist and his intentions. Those taking his side argue that in this technologically advanced age, some semblance of professionalism and integrity needs to be maintained. The entire episode recently ramped up when Tarantino decided to sue the website Gawker for posting a link to the leaked script. While the legal standing is somewhat specious, the intention is clear: mess with a powerful Hollywood heavyweight and feel the wrath of his/her immense power and their hurt feelings.
Backing up, the story is a bit surreal. According to Tarantino, he only gave the unpolished first draft of his screenplay to six people, including actors Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, and Bruce Dern, as well as Django Unchained producer Reggie Hudlin (who showed it to an unnamed agent). In his mind, it was someone connected to the actors (though not Roth, who he vouches for) who handed this off to someone who in turn decided to spread it around town, and while he enjoys the process of seeing his work dissected and reviewed by Messageboard Nation (including scripts), he appears stunned that someone within his close circle of confidants would betray his talent and trust. The movie is now supposedly “off”, with Tarantino vowing to pick up one of “several” other projects he has percolating. He hasn’t given up on The Hateful Eight 100%. According to post-incident interviews, he’s just too “pissed” now to consider it.
Now, before you start scowling at the hypocrisy of Tarantino’s position, especially in light of (a) how powerful he is in Tinseltown, (2) how often he’s catered too and conspired with the web to build buzz for his previous projects, and (3) his often off-putting sense of self, let’s put things in terms that maybe make more everyday sense. Say you were given a project to complete for your work. It would culminate in a promotion, a chance to once again express yourself, and once polished, would become your focus for the next few years. You spend your days and nights brainstorming and coming up with ideas. You work tirelessly to realize your aims, and just before you are about to announce it to your boss, you hand it over to a “few friends” to gauge its success. You’re not really looking for feedback so much as a sense of closure and to gauge reaction for possible (and what you are convinced will be) revisions and corrections.
And let’s say, for the sake of argument, that one of those confidants defies your wishes and lets others in your office see it. Soon, someone goes so far as to release it to the business public, meaning your boss will now clearly be able to judge its value even before you had a chance to polish and complete it. You’d be angry, right? You’d wonder if the premature revelation of your ideas and plans would somehow adversely affect your overall job prospects. You’d want retribution. You’d want retaliation. Better still, you’d probably feel just like Tarantino and want to ditch everything you’ve done just to spite those who violated your trust. Of course, those of us working Joes (and Josephines) don’t have the venture capital background to stand on ethics and change career course. We will have to stick with the consequences, even if it costs us everything we thought we’d gain in the end.
In other words, welcome to the world you created, Internet. Like the parent who chides “this is why we can’t have nice things”, the desire to scoop, to be first, to see—and then, perhaps, celebrate (or critique)—something no one else has access to has become the Web’s number one raison d’etre, that and uploading pictures of cute animals and endless memes. Back when Harry Knowles and his Ain’t It News crew was building their reputation out of cozying up with their studio spies, many thought their actions would negatively affect the filmmakers, and artform, in general. Back then, the idea was rejected outright. Today, it seems like an upsetting sign of the shape of things to come.
Man of Steel hires its Batman and people go batshit. Then they hire a Wonder Woman and the web debates her lack of comic book curves (who did they want in the role, Lacey Wildd?) Plots and spoilers for films still in production are commonplace on even the most mundane of websites, and those with connections can actually show you elements (costumes, locations, casting calls) that few within the movie biz can buy. Thanks to the Internet’s innate ability to provide the mindless instant gratification we apparently can’t live without, and the current monetary strategy which ties clicks and page visits to possible revenue, you’ve got to give the surf lemmings their fix. Even if it ends up ruining the experience (name a movie with a twist ending…and the web ruined it months before opening weekend) the “me first” desire of these decisions become a boundary that, once crossed, can never be recanted or recalled.
As for Tarantino, he’ll be fine. His next film—and, again, he hasn’t said that The Hateful Eight is dead for good—will drum up the same level of prerelease (or pre-revision) hype that this one did, the detractors will decry his use of the Internet to hype his future film projects while his court case will either set a precedent or disappear under a veil of secrecy and settlement. And the Web? Well, the Web isn’t about to change - not when the only ones making money are those who cater to such spilled details. No, nothing will ever be a surprise anymore, not an actor’s involvement or firing, a film’s last act reveal or the dozens of deleted sequences (and characters, and property callbacks) that the eventual adaptation left out. For Tarantino, this may all be highly personal and painful. For everyone else in Messageboard Nation, it’s unfortunate business as usual.