When Opposites Attract: Quentin Tarantino’s Unlikely Mentor

By Mike BergelsonJune 4, 2014

If you were asked to guess who Quentin Tarantino’s mentor was, you’d be unlikely to pick Tony Scott. The British director was best known for slick blockbusters like Top Gun and Days of Thunder, seemingly a world away from Tarantino’s more offbeat offerings.

But Tarantino paid tribute to his mentor after Scott’s death in 2012, saying he cried during a screening of his movies, and that Scott didn’t get the respect he deserved. Here’s the story of their relationship.

True Romance

Before the successes of Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction, Quentin Tarantino was just another young writer/director searching for his Hollywood break.

He was also a huge fan of Tony Scott, and repeatedly sent him his scripts. Unlike other big names, Scott actually took the time to meet the aspiring director and read his work.

“He was probably the first Hollywood heavyweight to be nice to me and to actually show an interest in my work,” Tarantino recalled in an interview. “This was before everything.”

Scott was impressed by what he saw, and decided to make Tarantino’s script True Romance into a movie.

Even then, though, the process wasn’t smooth. Scott changed the script to give it a happy ending, leading Tarantino to accuse him of “wimping out for commercial B.S.” But Scott was able to convince him that he was doing it not out of commercial instincts, but out of compassion towards the characters.

After that, Tarantino’s career quickly took off with the success of Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction, and more big hits were soon to follow.

Tough Times

But a decade later, Tarantino experienced his first major flop with the movie Grindhouse. The person he called was his old mentor, Scott.

“I was feeling pretty bad,” he recalled. “I felt like the planet earth had broken up with me.”

Scott told him he’d recover from the experience and go on to make other movies that would be more successful, and he’d appreciate their success more because of the failure of Grindhouse.

Scott also reminded him how lucky he was to be able to make movies the way he wanted to make them: “Maybe people don’t show up. But you’re able to do the work you want to do.”

The advice reinvigorated Tarantino and helped steer him towards the right career decisions. Though Grindhouse had flopped, he started getting offers to direct big Hollywood blockbusters. He was tempted to take the safe option and accept, but instead decided to do what Scott had reminded him of, and make the movies he wanted to make. The result was commercial and critical success, first withInglourious Basterds and then with Django Unchained.

“I was a little insecure, but I didn’t quite bite,” Tarantino said in an interview, referring to the Hollywood studio offers. “That Friday before Inglourious Basterds opened, I remember being so glad I had stuck to my guns.”

Lessons from Tarantino and Scott

Here’s what we can learn from the unlikely pairing of Quentin Tarantino and Tony Scott:

  • Good mentors aren’t necessarily people you have much in common with professionally. Tarantino’s movies bear little sign of Scott’s style or influence, but he still readily turned to Scott for advice.
  • Although mentors can help protégés get started in their careers, protégés often become much more independent when they experience success of their own.
  • The value of a mentor often becomes clear when times are tough. Tarantino turned to Scott after his movie flopped, and Scott helped him reframe the issue and regain his confidence.
  • Good advice can help protégés take the right career option when difficult situations arise.

Could you be mentoring the next Quentin Tarantino? Share your wisdom with rising talent.

Mike Bergelson

Mike Bergelson

CEO at Everwise

About the Author

Mike Bergelson is the CEO and a co-founder of Everwise, a talent development startup that connects employees to the people, development resources and experiences they need to thrive at every stage of their career.

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