Director Tara Wood talks strong women, #MeToo, and Tarantino ahead of QT8: The First Eight

Photo: QT8: The First Eight from Director Tara Wood.. Image Courtesy Wood Entertainment
Photo: QT8: The First Eight from Director Tara Wood.. Image Courtesy Wood Entertainment /

Director Tara Wood’s new film about Quentin Tarantino’s career takes on the good, the bad, the ugly, and the publicly controversial middle ground of the prolific filmmaker.

When I think of director Quentin Tarantino,  “women” would be maybe the 39th word to come out of my mouth in an association game. His films, his characters, his aesthetic, and his fan base are so famously male, his name has almost become shorthand for a very specific and very prevalent kind of film bro: the kind who corners you at parties and explains to you why his favorite movies defined cinema, why you didn’t “get” the last movie you didn’t like, and that, by the way, the last film he saw that was made by a woman was -4 years ago.

So when I learned about the new documentary, QT8: The First Eight (out Dec. 3), which takes a deep-dive into Tarantino’s career, I couldn’t imagine something that was made for me less. But then I learned the film was directed by a woman. And then I learned that this woman, Tara Wood, was actively making and working to distribute this movie as the Me Too movement emerged. And then I learned (and subsequently lost my mind over) the small and explosive fact that Wood — who had sold her film in 2016 to the Weinstein Company — had to battle to reclaim its rights, fight for her own film, and ultimately was able to release on her own banner.

This, I realized, was the only kind of person I was willing to listen to (at a party, during an interview, in a movie theater) when it came to Tarantino. A woman.

Admittedly, I’ve only seen half of one of his films, so my cred in the cinematic cultural landscape has long been dismissed by friends and fellow film students. But after seeing Wood’s documentary, a mostly educational, surprisingly light, never apologetic nor particularly biased look at the filmmaker as seen through his body of work (and the actors who’ve collaborated with him), I feel more confident than ever in my opinion of Tarantino. And that opinion, most shockingly to me, has shifted.

In its one hour and 40 minutes, the documentary reminded me that the filmmaker isn’t always responsible for his audience, and whether they’re representing his films correctly or, in his case, in a way that makes you never want to hear about him again. It really showed me the dynamic characters he’s written, even (and sometimes especially) for women — characters I’d only ever seen as Halloween costumes or in posters in boys’ dorm rooms.

And most importantly, it made me think: If movies are co-opted and aggressively worshipped by a certain group of people, does that have to mean that movie isn’t allowed to be for another group — a group that, perhaps, it had been made for to begin with? Of course not. It simply means that that group of people hasn’t been given the space to speak on, or be directly spoken to about, the subject yet. But not anymore.

I spoke to Wood about her interest in her subject, her decision to include even the messy stuff, and her power as a filmmaker in the Me Too era.

Culturess: Your last film, 21 Years: Richard Linklater, is a deep-dive into the career of another acclaimed and generally culturally beloved filmmaker. What is it about these filmmakers that fascinates you?

Wood: Linklater and Tarantino are both fascinating and masterful filmmakers who take daring chances with their career. Linklater directed Before Sunset, which became the lowest-grossing film to spawn a sequel, never mind a trilogy. I find it fascinating that Rick would choose to do this, obviously out of his love of those characters and belief in the story.

Tarantino has seemingly known the course of his career for many years; the way he creates his own universe with characters being related and appearing across several films and claiming that he’s only making 10. I don’t know of any other filmmaker that plans out their career so specifically. These are very unique aspects of these directors.

Culturess: How do you choose your next subject? 

Wood: Directors that are bravely taking on projects that challenge themselves and the audience, however that may manifest.

Culturess: What’s your history with Quentin Tarantino?

Wood: Pulp Fiction’s Mia Wallace and True Romance’s Alabama Worley both captivated me. They had a secure presence about them as they drifted among chaos. They are brave with a knowing naivety about them. I was enchanted by them. I quickly came to Reservoir Dogs in pursuit of their creator, which continues to be my go-to as my favorite Tarantino film, which in contrast, has no female characters of note. He was so masterful for a first-time filmmaker, it’s pure rawness is delightful. Michael Madsen stole the show for me with his role as the ear-butchering, dancing gangster.

Culturess: What were you most surprised to learn about Tarantino through this process?

Wood: That he is enamored with film, the look of it, the feel of it, all that is film, beyond what is presented in the press.  That dovetails equally into his passion for the human condition, constantly studying and finding new ways to present it in the most provocative ways possible on film.

Culturess: What’s one misconception about him as a filmmaker, cultural phenomenon, or just as a person that you most hoped to subvert with this film? 

Wood: His humility.  As proficient as he is in so many aspects of filmmaking, he is always striving to be better, to challenge himself and his audience. He doesn’t seem to sit back and be fully satiated.  You can also see this in his open-minded respect and support for other director’s work.

Culturess: One on the things I appreciated most deeply about this film was its refusal to shy away from the sometimes unsavory conversations that have surrounded Tarantino, namely the Uma/car controversy and the Weinstein affiliation. Can you walk us through your decision to include these moments in the film?

Wood: Many people shy away from a good fight (or controversy), but I have always believed that if you’re willing to walk through it and get to the other side, you have a fuller understanding of the other person and yourself and you’re all better for it. With regard to the doc, the audience needs to walk through the controversies surrounding Quentin in order to understand him more fully and not be left making their own decisions about difficult situations personally unknown to them. Quentin was heartbroken over his responsibility for Uma’s accident.  It was an accident that they both participated in and had to struggle to get to the other side of anger, guilt, and blame. And they did. It took time, but they got through it and are better today for doing so.

As for Harvey and Quentin, I don’t feel that we can discuss Tarantino’s filmography without addressing Harvey’s contribution to it and sudden disappearance from it.

The facts surrounding the Harvey scandal are horrific. It would have been much easier to leave it out, ignore the elephant in the room, and enjoy the exciting Tarantino ride. But that is exactly the kind of neglect that got us to this moment in time to begin with. It is irresponsible to ignore the facts that led up to the #MeToo movement. Especially after learning about Quentin’s natural respect for and inclusiveness of women in his filmography, the idea and dichotomy of having a partner like Weinstein who abused women over congruent years, the doc took on a new power, so we boldly addressed it.

Culturess: With the often hyper-male subject matter of Tarantino’s films, the interrupted distribution process of this film due to bad men’s bad behavior, and everything else that comes along with being a woman who lives and works in the world, what made you sure that this story needed to be told by a woman?  

Wood: I feel I concentrated on aspects that are important to women as well as men. I’ve met many women who avoided Tarantino’s films based assumptions and not understanding where Quentin comes from. I think more women will reconsider his films now knowing that he is a natural advocate who consistently creates the strongest female characters in Hollywood today, as well as working with women behind the camera and opening a more thoughtful conversation about Quentin Tarantino’s motivations.

Culturess: Who are some more of your favorite filmmakers?

Wood: Right now, I’m all about Susannah Grant.  I can’t get enough of her, especially after the recent Netflix series, Unbelievable.

Culturess: What is it about the documentary genre that speaks to you, or that makes you want to speak to us through it?

Wood: A little truth in this crazy world of rampant, thoughtless opinions.

Next. Interview: Griffin Dunne talks This is Us and the Practical Magic director’s cut. dark

QT8: The First Eight will be available on digital and on demand on December 3.