Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon A Time…In Hollywood was announced in July 2017. This was approximately 10 years after the idea for the story had begun to form in his mind and onto the page.

Story and Script

Set in 1969, the inspiration for the story about an undisclosed actor and his stunt double came to Tarantino from a real-life experience. While directing a movie earlier in his career, an older actor in the cast approached Tarantino about their own stunt double, who the actor had been working together with, exclusively for around 9 years,

The actor approached Tarantino and asked him if they could maybe use the stunt double for a scene they were about to shoot. This was in order to give the stunt double something to do in the movie. Tarantino would later reflect on this:

“You could tell that there was a time where this guy was a perfect double for the actor. Perfect. I mean, you could have shot close-ups with the stunt guy, and they would have passed. This time…was not that time. This was maybe the last or second-to-last thing they’d be doing together.”

Tarantino said that as he watched the two actors – who were both dressed in the same costume – have a discussion, he could see their entire 9-year working relationship. Tarantino also could see that this is the tail end of it. He thought about what this friendship would look like, when “one is working for the other.”

The director took this relationship, as well as the relationship that actor Burt Reynolds and his longtime stuntman Hal Needham had, in order to forge the characters of Rick Dalton and Cliff Booth, respectively.

The first character that Tarantino developed was stuntman Cliff Booth. He spent a considerable amount of time developing a backstory for the character. Almost none of this backstory would make it into the finished movie. The next character that was fleshed out was the actor Rick Dalton.

Tarantino was inspired by the Steve McQueen western series Wanted: Dead or Alive. The director made the decision to have Rick Dalton be the star of a similar series that was entitled Bounty Law. Tarantino would subsequently write five full complete episodes of this fictional series.

When Tarantino began to write it, he did so primarily as a novel with a handful of scenes. Such as the meeting between Dalton and Marvin Schwarz at Musso and Frank. This was written as a play. Schwarz was written specifically for Al Pacino, who accepted and played the role in the movie. This writing process lasted for over 5 years. Tarantino stated:

“I wasn’t in a hurry to sit down and write a movie script. Even my very first couple of years writing on it, I wrote it as a novel, or at least a couple of chapters as a novel, in an exploratory way.”

As the story evolved, Tarantino had made the decision to have Dalton be the late actress  Sharon Tate‘s next-door neighbor. Because of this, he came up with the ending to the movie first, and worked the overall plot backward from there. This was the first and only time Tarantino has ever worked this way.

To prevent leaks of the story and a repeat of what happened with The Hateful Eight, Tarantino had only three complete copies of the script produced. Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, and Tarantino himself had these three copies. After filming was complete, Tarantino burned his copy of the script.


When the film was announced on July 11, 2017, it was believed that Brad Pitt had been cast as a detective investigating the Manson murders. It was also widely reported that Tom Cruise was being considered for this role as well.

Tarantino let people who were around Hollywood during the 1960s –  including Burt Reynolds and Kurt Russell – read some of the script, in order to ensure that the screenplay felt right. The director also wanted to pay tribute to the time and place that the story was set in. Tarantino in an interview with Sight & Sound magazine stated:

“Burt Reynolds read the script, and he knows a lot of stunt guys. And Burt said, ‘So Brad Pitt is playing the stunt guy?’ And I said, ‘Yeah…Burt says, ‘You gotta have somebody say, ‘You’re kinda pretty for a stunt guy.’ And the thing is, Brad doesn’t like making his looks a thing in a movie, but he couldn’t say no to that, because it was Burt Reynolds’ line! And watching Brad grin and bear it is really great. Because he doesn’t really dig it. But the fact that But Reynolds came up with it – he can’t say shit!”

Tarantino had cut ties with the Weinstein Company due to the sexual harassment scandal that was unfolding. In a massive bidding war for the film, Sony beat out studios, including Paramount and Warner Brothers.

The famed director would go on to receive a $95 million budget, as well as final cut privilege. He was given “extraordinary creative controls,” 25% of first-dollar gross, and eventual ownership rights to the movie. A lucrative deal.

In January 2018 Leonardo DiCaprio was cast in the other lead role. The final lead role of Sharon Tate went to Margot Robbie that March. The rest of the cast for Once Upon A Time…In Hollywood was filled with a variety of actors including Burt Reynolds, Timothy Olyphant, Luke Perry, and Kurt Russell.


Principal photography for Once Upon A Time…In Hollywood ran from June 18 to November 1, 2018. There was a considerable amount of location shooting that needed to take place. However, since it was a period piece, it had to look like 1969. Barbara Ling, production designer on The Doors was tasked with getting the look right. Tarantino stated:

“A substantial portion of 1969 was built by her (Ling). Certainly Hollywood Boulevard, parts of Sunset, et cetera. Many of the locations, like for example, when Brad is opposite the Capitol Records building and he’s picking up Margaret (Qualley), they re-fabricated that building behind them and she did it. But that building doesn’t exist. There’s nothing like that. So much of what is on film is her production design, and so much, of course, is enhanced by the costume design.”

The scenes shot in the Playboy Mansion were all shot on location. Ling and Tarantino negotiated with the current owners for several months in order to gain permission to shoot there. The owners granted Ling permission to dress the vacant mansion, front courtyard, and backyard for the party scene.

One location that needed to be created for Once Upon A Time…In Hollywood was the drive-in movie theatre. This was done via miniatures. As well as with the aid of special effects artists. Tarantino told ReelBlend:

 “The marquee (of the drive-in) was real. And we had a frame for how big the drive-in screen would be. Okay? So he really drove, and he turned and he went around this way. And then the camera moved up towards this kind of frame. Then John Dykstra — the great John Dykstra — built a miniature of the drive-in screen. And me being me…. when we get over the drive-in screen, I don’t want CGI cars. I want toy cars. I want physical toy cars. Cars that can move a little bit, but a physical (car). And he goes, ‘Well, that can get kind of expensive and no one’s going to notice the difference.’ I go, ‘I’ll notice the difference, and come on John, so will you.’”

The Lancer scenes in Once Upon A Time…In Hollywood were all shot on the Universal backlot. Some of these scenes also had improvisational aspects that were suggested by DiCaprio himself. Tarantino spoke about this at his Los Angeles theater, the New Beverly Cinema, joined by DiCaprio, Pitt, and Robbie:

That whole section kind of evolved as we were shooting the movie…Leo had a whole thing. At some point it was like, ‘Look, I need to fuck up during the Lancer sequence, alright? And when I fuck up during the Lancer sequence, I need to have a real crisis of [confidence] about it, and I have to come back from that to some length.

My immediate response is, ‘What, you’re going to fuck up my western sequence? That’s my western, alright? I get two for one with this movie! I’m trying to sneak a western in here when nobody’s fucking looking. Don’t fuck it up!’ And so almost like we did with him fucking up his hand in Django where it was like, ‘Well, I don’t know if I want to do that.’ So we did the Lancer scene without the fuck up, and then we did it with the fuck up. And then once we did it with the fuck up it was just so amazing, alright, that of course we’re going to use it.

Then it was like, ‘Well, now we need a little bit more than that, if we’re going to really build up… you’re having your gunfight at the OK Corral, but it’s with yourself as you walked back to the Lancer set.’ I think I described it exactly this way. I think we shot it exactly this way. It was like, ‘It’s gotta be like Travis Bickle when he’s in his apartment by himself.’ And that was literally our stop and start with the whole damn thing.”

An unforeseen event during the filming of Once Upon A Time…In Hollywood was the passing of Burt Reynolds. He had died before he had started filming his scenes. Bruce Dern was subsequently brought in to replace him; portraying ranch owner George Spahn.

One of the aspects that seemed to get widespread acclaim for this movie was the poster art. The illustrated posters for the film were drawn by Steven Chorney, best known for his poster for Labyrinth (1986). Additional drawings were done by Renato Casaro, who did the poster for Octopussy (1983).

They were tasked with creating 6 different prop movie posters that were to be used within the movie. all of them would be featuring the dashing Rick Dalton. Chorney also created the official “one-sheet” for Quentin Tarantino’s ninth theatrical release. In an interview after the film’s release, Chorney would state:

“I wanted to have that Once Upon A Time in Hollywood logo treatment in the center, and then everything surrounding it, with all the characters, but I took a departure in the way we portrayed the main stars…to make it simple and put the three heads really big, and then we can add those Hollywood klieg lights behind them. I was referencing an old TV show from the 60s called The Mod Squad. It reminded me of that.”


Although the final cut of Once Upon A Time…In Hollywood came in at 2 hours and 40 minutes, the original cut of the film ran at approximately 4 hours and 20 minutes. According to Margot Robbie, they shot enough footage, and various scenes, (that didn’t make the cut), that they could have released a 20-hour long version. Robbie stated:

“There’s a 20-hour cut of ‘Once Upon a Time in Hollywood’ that would… there’s so much more that you didn’t get to see, that we shot that was amazing, and for a million reasons obviously, can’t make the cut.”


Mary Ramos was the musical supervisor on Once Upon A Time…In Hollywood. The film’s music and song selection was supposed to represent the types of songs that you would hear on KHJ Boss Radio. This was an AM radio station that was based out of Los Angeles in the late 1960s. As per Mary Ramos:

“(Tarantino) wanted KHJ to be the tapestry of the sound of this movie. He wanted to really give the visceral feeling of being in 1969.”


Once Upon A Time…In Hollywood premiered at the Cannes Film Festival on May 21, 2019, where it won the Palm Dog Award and was also nominated for the Palme d’Or. It was released theatrically in the United States on July 26, 2019. the film grossed $142.5 million in the United States and Canada and $374.3 worldwide.

Once Upon A Time…In Hollywood received ten nominations at the 92nd Academy Awards, and winning two. Brad Pitt won for Best Supporting Actor, and Barbara Ling and Nancy Haig also won for Best Production Design.

Quentin Tarantino remains in the rarified air of being one of the few auteurs in Hollywood who is able to make whatever he wants, and film it on a grand scale. When you watch Once Upon A Time…In Hollywood, this is clearly evident as the film is an ode to Tarantino’s childhood in California, as well as his love for the film industry.

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