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Tarantino looks to add an Emmy to his Oscar
By Ray Richmond
You don’t interview Quentin Tarantino so much as attempt to regulate him. This was clear from a phone conversation last week pegged to his announced Emmy nomination for drama series directing on the harrowing two-hour “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” season finale.
But as is apparently the case with any Tarantino chat, it veered all over the map, touching on Roy Rogers and Trigger, Capt. Kirk and Mr. Spock, Little Joe and “Xena: Warrior Princess.” He also gives credit to legendary serials director William WitneyCQ – who died in 2002 but remains one of Tarantino’s heroes – for inspiring him to work on “CSI.”
“Witney did some of the best ‘Bonanzas’ and ‘Wagon Trains’ ever,” Tarantino exults. “By doing ‘CSI,’ I walked into Witney’s territory. I did it partly as an homage to him.”
“CSI” wasn’t the first TV experience for the director of “Reservoir Dogs,” “Pulp Fiction” (for which he won a screenplay Oscar and Golden Globe), “Jackie Brown” and “Kill Bill-Vol. 1” and “Vol. 2.” He also presided over an episode of “ER” 10 years ago. For Tarantino, however, it felt like the first time all over again.
“I wanted to make the ‘CSI’ feel like a movie, but it was also important that I not take more time than any other director,” Tarantino, who also had a hand in writing the script and who came up with the story idea, says. "TV is a lot precious about stuff. In a series, if you like the first take, that’s it, move on. It’s also such a different dynamic to be working with actors who have been playing the same characters for five years and know them inside-out."
He was surprised that his input was welcomed so readily. “I’d see the script for a scene and I’d take it, do some rewriting and kind of sheepishly sneak it back in. Then they’d be really excited to have me rewriting. That was, like, their game plan all along.”
“Grave Danger” actually started out as a typical “CSI” hour but evolved into a two-hour episode when the footage started running long.
“I hadn’t even known that was an option,” Tarantino admits. "Then everyone started sounding concerned as to whether we’d have enough material to fill it. And I’m like, ‘Hey guys, I’m Quentin Tarantino. Undershooting has never been my problem.’ "
Tarantino had such a good experience with the “CSI” folks that he’s already plotting his return trip to television. He hopes to put together a limited-run series where he writes and directs all of the episodes, "like one big arc/novel. Maybe around 12 episodes. I’m gonna look into that next year."
As for the Emmy nomination, Tarantino says he’s "so tickled, I can’t tell you. It means a whole lot because the people who do the nominations could have held who I am against me. They could have been like, ‘Oh, look at the big film guy, stooping to do TV.’ But it wasn’t like that. I have so much respect for the TV directors. I actually follow the work of them, like the Dean Parisots and the Sutton Roleys. The fact it was the TV guys who nominated me is just huge."
It happens that Tarantino is nominated in an especially tough and competitive year when there are seven nominees in the drama directing category. But he still holds out hopes of winning and, in fact, has to be seen as the favorite, considering who he is.
“Hey, I’d love to win,” he says, “but I’m going up against people like J.J. Abrams and his show ‘Lost.’ He is so The Man in TV right now. So I’m clearly not a lock. But damn, I’m just so honored to even have a shot at it. I have to think William Witney would be proud.”