Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs is one of the most renowned directorial debuts in film history. It established all of the director’s trademarks – graphic violence, excessive profanity, nonlinear narratives, dozens of pop culture references, a soundtrack full of pop music etc. – and took the world by storm following its Sundance premiere, both in terms of widespread controversy and cult success.
Empire magazine has since declared it the greatest independent film of all time and it has inspired countless indie filmmakers to go out and shoot their own Tarantino-esque crime thriller on a similar shoestring budget. Here are 10 Wild Behind-The-Scenes Stories From Reservoir Dogs.
Everyone knows that Quentin Tarantino used to work in a video rental store called Video Archives, which has since become legendary, and it’s given a lot of wannabe filmmakers romantic ideas about working in a video store and learning about movies and then going on to become a god of cinema.
He used to recommend foreign movies to customers and once recommended Louis Malle’s Au Revoir les Enfants to a customer who misheard him and replied, “I don’t want to see no reservoir dogs!” There are many theories about what the title of Reservoir Dogs means, but as it turns out, it doesn’t really mean anything – it’s just a phrase that Tarantino once heard and liked. And there’s a good chance this story isn’t even true.
We all know that Quentin Tarantino has a habit of putting himself in his movies – sometimes in a minor role, like the answering machine voice in Jackie Brown, and other times in a larger role, like the monologue-laden part of Jimmie Dimmick in Pulp Fiction – and his directorial debut was no different.
He wrote the Mr. Pink character with himself in mind, but Steve Buscemi wanted to play him. Tarantino told Buscemi that the only way he could take the part from him would be to give a really fantastic audition. Buscemi was up to the task, and Tarantino ended up conceding the role to him and playing Mr. Brown instead.
Quentin Tarantino revealed in a recent interview that he spent Reservoir Dogs’ entire soundtrack budget on securing Stealers Wheel’s “Stuck in the Middle with You.” He knew that it was the perfect track to use for Mr. Blonde’s torture scene, so he didn’t mind if it ended up being the only song in the movie.
The only reason the film contains other songs is that the producers managed to get a record deal for the soundtrack album. It was worth it, of course, because the juxtaposition of “Stuck in the Middle with You” against imagery of Michael Madsen torturing a cop has become iconic.
When Tarantino and his producer Lawrence Bender were doing the rounds in Hollywood, looking for investors to fund the production of Reservoir Dogs, they encountered a couple who had some unusual requests. One offered to give them $500,000 on the condition that his girlfriend could play Mr. Blonde (which Tarantino and Bender actually considered for a while).
Another offered them $1.6 million – more than the movie’s eventual budget would be – but only if they would change the ending to have an asinine plot twist where everyone who died was revealed to be alive and it was all a big scam.
According to the DVD commentary for True Romance, which was written by Quentin Tarantino and directed by Tony Scott, Scott read two of Tarantino’s early scripts – True Romance and Reservoir Dogs – and wanted to direct Reservoir Dogs. However, Tarantino told him he could direct True Romance if he wanted, but not Reservoir Dogs, because he was determined to direct that one himself.
Scott ended up linearizing the nonlinear storyline of Tarantino’s True Romance script, so Reservoir Dogs probably would’ve been completely different in Scott’s hands. Maybe he would’ve even secured a large enough budget to show the heist, which would inadvertently ruin what makes it so great.
A lot of Reservoir Dogs takes place in a warehouse. It’s often mistaken for a movie that takes place entirely in one location, like Saw, when the film actually jumps around from location to location across its nonlinear timeline. Still, many of its scenes do take place in the rendezvous warehouse.
The location used for the warehouse actually wasn’t a warehouse; it was an old, abandoned mortuary. A lot of viewers think that Michael Madsen is leaning on a crate when Mr. Blonde first arrives at the warehouse, but it’s actually an old hearse from the building’s forgotten mortuary days.
Mr. Blue was played by Edward Bunker, a former career criminal who used to rob banks before he became an actor. Bunker found the script to be unrealistic while he was filming it. He claimed he would never have done a job with a bunch of guys he didn’t know, because he wouldn’t know if he could trust them.
And he wouldn’t have breakfast with them publicly, all distinctively dressed, because witnesses would undoubtedly remember them. Funnily enough, that diner scene at the beginning was only written in to give Bunker some lines, because until then, he didn’t have any.
Lawrence Tierney is one of Hollywood’s best-known tough-guy character actors, but a recurring theme from on-set anecdotes that involve him is that he was utterly crazy. When he guest-starred as Elaine’s dad in Seinfeld, he reportedly stole a knife from the set.
Within days of shooting Reservoir Dogs, he got into a heated argument with Tarantino and got himself fired. (Tarantino eventually relented and invited him back.) Plus, the movie’s stars have described going out drinking with him – he ended up with his pants down outside the bar. He also apparently forgot most of his lines and appeared drunk on the set.
Due to the film’s budget being so low, most of the actors just used their own clothes as their wardrobe. The most famous of these is Nice Guy Eddie’s tracksuit jacket, which was Chris Penn’s own.
The characters’ black suits, which are now arguably the most iconic part of the movie (and of Tarantino’s visual style), were provided for free by the designer, because she was a fan of American gangster movies and wanted to see her work on-screen in one. Instead of a pair of suit pants, Steve Buscemi wore his own pair of black jeans with his suit.
Reservoir Dogs is a low-budget movie, but originally, Quentin Tarantino was going to shoot it with an even lower budget. His initial plan was to shoot it on 35mm black-and-white film for just $30,000. However, producer Lawrence Bender gave the script to his acting teacher, who gave it to his wife, who gave it to Harvey Keitel, who liked it so much that he signed on to star as Mr. White and co-produce it.
With Keitel in the lead role and tackling some production duties, the movie was able to secure a $1.5 million budget in no time, allowing for much higher production value.