Inglourious Basterds: Lawrence Bender interview

Inglourious Basterds producer and long-time Quentin Tarantino collaborator spares some time for a chat...

With Inglourious Basterds coming out on August 21st, we got the chance to have a chat with producer Lawrence Bender. A close collaborator with Tarantino, Bender is credited as producer on all the writer-director’s projects, apart from 2007’s Grindhouse, but has also found success with producing the likes of From Dusk Till Dawn, Killing Zoe, The Mexican, and the Academy Award-winning Al Gore documentary An Inconvenient Truth.

He speaks here about his quirky, yet tight working relationship with Tarantino, the pressures behind filming Inglourious Basterds, and his period as a Global Warming awareness activist.

Lawrence, we’ve seen your name at some of the best, geekiest films of the last 20 years. As a producer, how do you work? Of course, some producers work in different ways – but do you collaborate closely with Quentin? And how does that feed into how you made Inglourious Basterds?

Well, as a producer it’s always different depending on who you’re working with. With Quentin, Quentin is an auteur, so my job is really to support him and his vision. He obviously writes a script, he hands a script that usually says ‘final draft’ on it, and usually, during the process, he reads me scenes – it’s not like he gives me pages, he doesn’t usually give anyone pages, but what he does is he tends to enjoy sitting you down and reading you stuff, it’s like Tarantino Theatre in a sense.

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There’s this wonderful moment where you hear him tell you, or read to you, a movie and it’s always wonderful, because his dialogue is so wonderful and his characters are so great. But, in this particular movie, he called me on July 3rd [2008], and said he was finished with the script. And I hadn’t spoken to him in a few months, and I had no idea that he was this close. I had no idea – I almost dropped my phone machine. I actually saved the message. We’ve known each other for 20 years or something, and I don’t think I’ve ever saved a message of his – kinda feel like I wish I did now – but I actually saved this message, because I was like ‘Wow! What?!’.

One of his first questions was ‘do you think we can make Cannes?’. And I said I think we can, but it’s going to be quite difficult – and I really mean quite difficult, and I’m going to lay out how we’re going to do it. And thirteen and a half weeks later, from that moment, we started shooting in Berlin. We’d never been to Berlin together – I’d been to Berlin for the World Cup, certainly not to make a movie!

And so, a week later he went and met with Brad Pitt; two weeks later we flew to Berlin; two days later, I had hired my line producer; three days later, we’d hired a production designer and sent him to Berlin to start location scouting. It was really working round the clock, and what was great now compared to – in Reservoir Dogs, it was just one of those things, where it was almost like you’d just started dating someone, you’d meet, and start working together for the first time.

But with Dogs it just really worked out – we really trusted each other, and we protected each other in a sense, and we helped each other, because it was all about making the movie. Then I guess that is why our relationship has lasted so long: at that point, we were probably the least experienced people on the set. Now, we’ve been making movies for a while, and what’s great is that, not only do we trust each other, but we know each other.

And so, in order to be able to work this fast – I said to him, ‘we’re going to start shooting in a really short amount of time, and we’re going to make mistakes’, because he’s got so much on his plate, he’s got to cast 60 actors, we’ve got a crew of a hundred or some odd people, we’ve got to fly to another country, he’s got to see all these new locations, we have to rehearse, we have to create all these structures – there’s an enormous amount to do, and I think that we trust each other so well, is the reason that it worked out.

So as you know each other so well, is it fun and exciting that he will drop a script on you after 10 years of work? He is notorious for teasing projects that never come to fruition. Or is frustrating?

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No, it’s not… [laughs] Yeah, sometimes you go ‘Come on, dude! Come on! When are we making another movie?’. That was a long time ago. Now, it’s just life – that’s just the way it is. So, no, it’s not frustrating at all. But when it does happen, when that script drops on your desk, it always feels like it’s the first time again.

How does working with Quentin compare, or contrast, with your other production work – on films like The Mexican, Anna And The King, or An Inconvenient Truth? Were they very different?

Sure, An Inconvenient Truth was my first documentary. What a wonderful experience. I saw Al Gore doing his slideshow presentation, and had this nutty idea that we had to make a movie out of it. And it was weird, I almost got out of the film business for, like, a year. And what I ended up doing was – yeah, there was a big chunk of time when we were making that movie – and all us of, we spent so much time with him; he’s really a great man, a phenomenal human being, he’s incredibly smart, I learned an enormous amount from him. And we made a wonderful movie. And it was wild to be part of a movie that helped changed the world, or had such a huge impact.

Being with Al Gore on the red carpet in Cannes was exciting – he’s like a rock star unto himself! I was with him in Oslo, when he received the Nobel Peace Prize. I was up on stage with him during the Academy Awards, when we won. It was amazing! What was also interesting, was being so politically involved, I ended up going down to Bentonville, Arkansas, where the headquarters of Walmart is, and helping to create one of the first global warming conferences that Walmart had.

I was with – he wasn’t the President then, but – Barack Obama, when he was running, in Washington, during Black Congressional Caucus Weekend, and did a panel about global warming with him. It was almost as if I switched careers for a while, and became a political activist. And it was a phenomenal experience. And then Quentin called! [laughs]

Thanks for speaking with us, Lawrence!

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Inglourious Basterds is released on August 21st. Our review is here.