Hot on the heels of the box office bomb of “Grindhouse,” filmmaker Stephen Tramontana has come out claiming that Tarantino ripped off his 2003 movie, also entitled “Grindhouse.” Is this a case of like-minded filmmakers coming to the same creative conclusions, or blatant thievery?
Tramontana’s film “Grindhouse” was reviewed by Film Threat’s very own Dan Wible back in January of 2004. Seemingly similar in tone to Rodriguez’s half of the current, more famous, “Grindhouse,” the film lacks a few other similarities, such as the fact that it is neither a double-feature nor is it edited up and effect-“enhanced” to look like an old grindhouse theatrical experience. Instead, it is just a grindhouse-style film. What is also interesting is that our own Wible refers to Tarantino to help describe Tramontana’s work, making one wonder: who is influencing who here? Does having the same title and the same, very basic idea equal stolen film? Keep reading…
Calling his website TheRealGrindhouse.com, Tramontana has posted the following letter. It has not been edited from its original version:
“Will I Be Watching Tarantino’s Grindhouse? No.
Quentin Tarantino is a thieving piece of s**t and he knows it. He stole Grindhouse from a bunch of kids who were just asking for his help and he helped them by stealing their title and concept.
Let me explain. For those who don’t know, I made a film called Grindhouse in 2003. We actually started shooting it in 2002, but went to the festivals and got reviews in 2003, winning BEST HORROR FILM in the New York International Film and Video Festival. We also got many favorable mentions from established publications such as Fangoria and Rue Morgue. The movie was low, low, low budget. Which made sense, because that’s what Grindhouse films were – really low budget movies that had little artistic merit. Most of the reviewers got that. They realized what we realized – if you’re going to make a horror movie with $4,000 – the smart bet is to redo a Grindhouse film where the low budget and all that comes with it are celebrated.
We approached Tarantino twice during the life of Grindhouse. The first time is when producer Lenny Shteynberg and I were at the premier after party for Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back in Westwood. Tarantino was there, and to his credit, he was very approachable. I told him that we were going to shoot a new kind of Grindhouse movie, and asked if we could show it to him when we were finished. He politely declined, and
we parted friends.
It would be two years later – November 2003- after we finished production (and won our award), that we again approached Tarantino. We knew the movie was too tiny for a theatrical run, but thought maybe we could get a direct to DVD deal. Through industry contacts, I found the business address for his production company, and Fed Ex’d a copy of the film and the poster. It was signed for by a “C. Hill.” or Chill. I knew he received it, and just hoped that got what we were trying to do. Kill Bill was on the radar, so I thought it was good timing for us. We never heard from Tarantino or anyone in his production company.
Cut to 2005. I was now working for a production company as a Post Coordinator. I picked up an issue of the trade publication Variety, announcing: Tarantino was making a film called GRINDHOUSE. Not our Grindhouse, something he was teaming up with Robert Rodriguez on.
I was heartbroken. One of my heroes had ripped us off. And it wasn’t like we were anybody. We were nobodies, trying to get ahead with our tiny film like he had almost a decade before. I had our entertainment attorney call Dimension Films, where Tarantino was setting the film up. I tried to stop them from using the title Grindhouse because I own it. I am the only person with the title Grindhouse registered with the copyright office. Dimension came back and said that Tarantino’s was called Death Proof, not Grindhouse. Yes, we retorted, but you’re not releasing it as Death Proof, you’re releasing it as Grindhouse. They came back with, essentially, take us to court and see what happens to you. I didn’t want to take them to court; I wanted them not to use the title.
It sucks, because now I’m that guy. I’m that guy stating that a big Hollywood player ripped off my idea. We all know how that looks. But, a. I made the movie – anyone can see it. and b. he’s constantly referenced the day in 2003 when he got the idea to make a movie called Grindhouse. My bet is that it was the day he opened my Fed Ex. Maybe he didn’t even watch the movie, but he had to have seen the poster, and maybe that was all it took.
Tarantino has f****d over people before – just ask his old writing buddy Roger Avary, whom he destroyed and left for dead in his post-Pulp Fiction rise. But I never thought he would turn on other indie filmmakers. And what’s sad is, there were sacrifices on our end, too. My Grindhouse cost me two long-standing friendships over a business dispute. That was a regrettable situation, and one that burns me even more now that we really have nothing to show for it, and probably won’t be able to. It takes away from their hard work, as well as everyone who sweated out weekends and endless time to try and make our little movie work.
People could say that there have been numerous movies with the same title. Gladiator comes to mind. To me, there’s no way on God’s green earth, that two movies called Grindhouse devoted to the idea of those old films, could be released. And it’s weird that it happened after our film was released and got a fair amount of press in the genre circles.
So am I going to see it? No. Do I want you to not go see it? No. If you want to see it, please do. I knew someone who worked post on that show, and for what they went through to deliver Tarantino’s film, I hope the movie does well. They deserve it. What Tarantino deserves is to be called out for the thief that he is. He’s a complete piece of s**t with no code of ethics for the industry that gave him his start – the indie industry.
If there’s any justice in the world, he’ll fall out of favor and have to watch as his long, long-gestating World War 2 epic, Inglorious Bastards, gets handed over to Lloyd Kauffman to produce and Uwe Boll to direct.
So, Was He Ripped Off or What?
There are certain things at work here that question the credibility of the situation. For one, Tramontana is obviously promoting the newly available download-on-demand release of his 2003 film, and like the best indie filmmakers out there, has a flare for the marketing necessary to get his film into the public eye (when everyone is talking “Grindhouse,” why shouldn’t they be talking about Tramontana’s too… of course, he probably should’ve thought twice about trying to associate himself with a film that just tanked). Plus, the award he won at the New York Film and Video Festival doesn’t help either. Why? Well, let’s just say that festival does not have the best history as far as credibility goes either. Finally, Tramontana himself states in his letter that Tarantino did not want to screen his film (no doubt trying to protect himself against this sort of thing), and yet Tramontana STILL sent it to him (and it wasn’t even signed for by QT either). What gives?
Both films are named “Grindhouse,” yes, but neither film is similar to the other except in very basic concept (making grindhouse-style fare), and titles are not copyright-able. Much ado about nothing? Where does coincidence disappear and motivated theft appear? If Tramontana’s film feels influenced by Tarantino, as hinted at in Wible’s review, does that mean Tramontana stole from Tarantino?
At the same time, it’s not like Tarantino is 100% in the clear either. Film Threat reported on his early career copycat of Ringo Lam’s “City on Fire” to make “Reservoir Dogs,” and that’s become cinema history. Tarantino himself has even been quoted as saying that “Real artists steal, hacks do homages.” So, is it outside the realm of possibility that there’s some truth to Tramontana’s story?
What about Robert Rodriguez? If he and Tarantino came up with the idea together, why isn’t he being accused of stealing? He’s as much a creative force behind “Grindhouse” as QT and, of the two films in “Grindhouse,” RR’s “Planet Terror” is the vaguely closest thing to the content of Tramontana’s film anyway.
In the end, decide for yourselves (if you even care, not like many of you went and saw the new “Grindhouse” anyway). Maybe I’m too cynical, but it feels way too much like a perfectly-timed publicity stunt to me (um, perfectly-timed if you like hitching your wagon to a falling box office star, that is) or a disgruntled filmmaker with an ax to grind. All told, there’s always three stories: Tramontana’s side, Tarantino’s side and the Truth…
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