Directors Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez tell Chris Nashawaty about their double-feature tribute to the '70s genres they love

Best friends since the early ’90s, daredevil directors Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez are currently shooting Grindhouse (due in 2007), a tribute to the zombie romps, slasher flicks, and women-in-prison extravaganzas the two were weaned on. Each will direct a one-hour film, and the two will be bridged by a bunch of fake trailers. EW got Tarantino and Rodriguez together on a conference call and asked them about their new film and the films that inspired it.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How did the two of you meet?

QUENTIN TARANTINO We first met at the Toronto Film Festival, and we talked for about an hour and a half in a crowded hotel lobby.

ROBERT RODRIGUEZ He had Reservoir Dogs, and I had El Mariachi. We were on panel discussions together about violence in the movies. And when we first met, he said to me, ”My next project, you’re gonna like. It’s called Pulp Fiction!” And then I got back to Sony and found we had offices next to each other. That’s how we hung out. He would read me stuff from Pulp Fiction, and I would show him storyboards for Desperado.

Where did the idea for Grindhouse come from?

RODRIGUEZ I used to go to Quentin’s house and he’d show me these movies in his home theater. He’d always program the night with some really great trailers from the era and then a feature, then a few more trailers, and then another feature. And I was like, ”Man, we have to re-create these nights for the rest of the world!” And right then, he was like, ”We have to call it Grindhouse!”

How did Harvey and Bob Weinstein (whose Weinstein Co. will release Grindhouse) react when you pitched it to them?

TARANTINO Truthfully, they’re always happy whenever we want to do another movie. [Laughs]

RODRIGUEZ It’s always hard for Quentin and myself to say What are we going to follow up our last movie with? Because he did Kill Bill, and I did Sin City. What was nice about this is mentally, we could get ourselves off the hook of a follow-up, because we were like, ”It’s an exploitation movie, it’s a double feature, it almost doesn’t count. It’s like a throwaway.”

TARANTINO And because we wrote it with that attitude, I was surprised, because I think it’s one of the best scripts I’ve ever written. This isn’t going to be like Twilight Zone: The Movie. This is a legitimate double feature. With the trailers we’re doing, it’s gonna be like an alternate film universe. Me and Robert are going to do some trailers, but also Eli Roth [Hostel] is doing a trailer, and Edgar Wright [Shaun of the Dead] is doing one.

RODRIGUEZ It’s like, ”What?! We get all of that for 10 bucks!?” It’s like five movies in one.

Why do you love the exploitation movies of the ’70s so much?

RODRIGUEZ A lot of these movies, when Quentin would show them, the prints would be in disrepair. So sometimes you’d miss key lines of dialogue, or you could tell whole scenes were cut out because the film broke there.

TARANTINO We were watching this Oliver Reed-Richard Widmark movie called The Sell-Out, and it was missing a reel right in the middle. And I’ve come to like it that way. I don’t even want to know what happens in the missing reel. I like having to figure it out. Richard Widmark has this girl, and you can’t tell if Oliver Reed had sex with her in the missing reel or not. Maybe he did, and that’s why they’re all mad at each other. It was Rick [Dazed and Confused] Linklater’s idea that we do the missing reel.

RODRIGUEZ We tried to use that stuff to our favor. In my film, we have a missing reel. A sign comes up in the second-half that says ”Missing Reel.” It’s like you went on a 20-minute bathroom break and you come back and all hell’s broken loose.

Tell me about each of your Grindhouse films…

TARANTINO Our original idea was to do a horror double feature. The genre I wanted to tackle was slasher films, because I’m a big fan of late-’70s, early-’80s slasher films. The only thing was, what makes them so good is the genre is so rigid. And I had an idea about a guy who kills girls with his car as opposed to a machete, and I put it in a slasher-film structure. Other than the big car moments, though, my thing could be a Eugene O’Neill play. These girls just talk and talk and talk. If it wasn’t for the car stuff, I could do my thing on stage.

So it’s like Christine meets Long Day’s Journey Into Night

TARANTINO Yeah, but with more slasher elements! [Laughs] It’s called Death Proof. I’m casting right now; more than likely the killer will be Mickey Rourke.

Quentin, what’s your favorite slasher movie of all time?

TARANTINO Well, since mine is a hybrid of a slasher movie and a car-chase flick, I’ll give you one of each. The benchmark for this kind of car-chase flick is Vanishing Point. And as far as slasher films go, of course, I love Halloween and all those. But as time’s gone on, I think My Bloody Valentine may be my favorite.

Robert, tell me about your film.

RODRIGUEZ Mine’s a zombie movie called Planet Terror. It feels like a John Carpenter movie that took place between Escape From New York and The Thing. I wanted to do a zombie script a while back because there hadn’t been any good zombie movies in a while. I got about 30 pages into it, and then all these zombie movies came out. So I thought, Well, I don’t have to make them zombies — there could be other reasons why they’re like this. They’re infected people. Quentin, what’s that story?

TARANTINO There was this Umberto Lenzi zombie movie in the ’70s called Nightmare City, and a while ago some friends of mine were going to meet him in Rome, and I told them to tell him how much I loved Nightmare City. And they told him. And he goes, ”Zombies? What’s theees zombies? They’re infected people!

Robert, since you’re doing a zombie movie, what’s your favorite zombie film?

RODRIGUEZ I still love Romero’s Dawn of the Dead.

When did you develop your love of these movies?

TARANTINO When I was little they’d have TV ads for these movies on Saturday mornings. You’d be watching Soul Train and then a commercial would come on for a blaxploitation movie like Three the Hard Way or Brotherhood of Death. And as soon as I got old enough to look like I could get into an R-rated movie, I’d go to the ghetto theater in my neighborhood — the Carson Twin Cinema in Carson, Calif. — and I saw every kung-fu movie that came out from ’76 on, every Italian horror film, pom-pom girl films. I would sit through movies I didn’t even care for three times. Even as a kid I knew I would get things from The Girl From Starship Venus that I wouldn’t get from the Hollywood films.

RODRIGUEZ What made these exploitation movies great is that they were low-budget, they were trying to compete with major studios, they couldn’t afford big stars. So they had what you would call ”exploitable elements” like sex and violence. And then you would see it in this grind-house setting where they’d have two or three movies showing at once. The people going to those theaters got a whole different sense of American filmmaking because they were seeing things that weren’t in the mainstream. And Quentin, of course, saw all of them.

So is the point of Grindhouse for the two of you to make the best ”crappy” movie you can?

TARANTINO You’re bringing all the judgment there. That’s your adjective. I never use the term crap. Ever! These are not so-bad-they’re-good movies. I love this stuff! And that’s what we want to re-create. For lack of a better word, we want Grindhouse to be a ride. I think we could both go out with our movies and have them stand on their own. But what’s so good about this is it’s two movies, and trailers, and bad prints, and if a little bit of gang violence breaks out in the theater, all the better! It just makes the whole experience more interactive!

Are you working on each other’s Grindhouse films at all?

RODRIGUEZ Quentin’s directing second unit on mine and I’m going to be his DP.

The two of you have collaborated in the past — Quentin directed a sequence in Sin City and acted in From Dusk Till Dawn and Desperado, and I know you show each other the scripts you’re working on. How important is it to have a friend and collaborator like that?

RODRIGUEZ We’re really great friends first and we just happen to make movies second.

TARANTINO One of the things that’s really nice about it is we’re great audience members for each other’s movies.

RODRIGUEZ I almost just make movies now so I can see them at Quentin’s house.

Do you give each other criticism? Are you honest and ever say, ”This sucks”?

RODRIGUEZ I probably would have to be honest with him if that ever came up.

TARANTINO If I ever said that to Robert, he’d go, ”Great, rewrite it!”

RODRIGUEZ When Quentin read my script for Four Rooms, he added a bunch of lines and was like, ”I hope you don’t mind.” And then it became expected after that. Now, I’m like, ”Hey, when you read my script, if you have any ideas, pry them in there!” There was one big speech in Planet Terror that I was trying to write to lure an actor for the part, and I just wrote in the script ”To be rewritten by QT.”

[Both crack up]