There is one main reason why I wanted this post to be about Reservoir Dogs — Tarantino's original plan was to make the movie on a minimal budget on 16mm film, using friends in the cast, with himself playing Mr. Pink. The script was written with this in mind keeping the scenes simple. Sure, the final budget for the movie was $1.5 million and the movie would have looked rather different without it, but it’s still a great example that engaging movies can be done with a minimal budget.
How to keep it simple – Heist without Heist
Reservoir Dogs is a Heist film, but the actual robbery scene is not shown on screen. This decision by itself made the shooting of the film far less complicated. This definitely brought a fresh idea to the table and helped the director to embrace the restrictions and use them to their advantage.
Most of the action takes place in a warehouse. There are a few flashbacks from the past to fill in the blanks, but the central action takes place in the mentioned location. Again, this way Quentin kept the budget low. Notice that every scene takes place during the day (with maybe one exception) which made the production simpler in terms of lighting equipment.
Even when the action moves into a potentially pricey area, for example in a scene in a moving car, the camera doesn’t show the environment. The car interior is just another location where the main focus is on the actors. The script is written with a big shift towards the dialogs keeping the action/description sentences to a minimum.
From the very beginning of the movie the dialog is a significant part of the storytelling. The order of the events is not chronological and oftentimes we get to know what happened in the past from the conversations between the characters. Although putting too much dialog increases the risk of ending up with so called “talking heads” and audience getting bored, here this is definitely not the case. The movie became so successful partly due to excellent dialogs where Tarantino shines.
In Reservoir Dogs, Tarantino’s characters talk a lot, but they don’t tell us directly about themselves. Instead, they talk to each other and allow us to witness what feels like real, private conversations. Throughout these casual moments, we learn about the characters.
The next thing we can learn from this movie is that not everything has to be on screen. And I’m not talking about the robbery again, but have a look at the torture scene where Mr. Blonde cuts the policeman ear off.
Initially, the victim is covered by Mr. Blonde as he comes closer, and then when he actually makes the cut the camera pans away and shows the empty corridor. We hear the scream and this is enough to imagine what’s happening. If something cannot be filmed and shown very well it’s better to hide it.
Reservoir Dogs proves that regardless of what most people might say, it is possible to create a great movie with almost no resources. The budget doesn’t need to be a limiting factor but, on the contrary, it can inspire creativity. Looking back at some early work of todays famous filmmakers we can find more examples of such films. A good illustrations are El Mariachi by Robert Rodriguez, Following by Christopher Nolan and many more.