Lack of snow almost derailed the filming of Quentin Tarantino's 'The Hateful Eight'
Producer Stacey Sher talks about the challenges that arose from shooting "The Hateful Eight" on location at 9,600 feet above sea level.
In Quentin Tarantino’s new western, “The Hateful Eight,” Kurt Russell stars as a bounty hunter transporting a high-value prisoner played by Jennifer Jason Leigh through post-Civil War Wyoming.
He happens upon another bounty hunter played by Samuel L. Jackson, and a sheriff played by Walton Goggins. The group takes shelter from a terrible blizzard in a remote haberdashery, and that’s where most of the action — or should we say murder and mayhem — takes place.
But rather than shooting on a soundstage, the filmmakers decided to film almost all of “The Hateful Eight” on location, not far from Telluride, Colorado.
One producer familiar with Tarantino’s method and madness is Stacey Sher. She worked with him on “Pulp Fiction” and “Django Unchained,” and when she joined us at The Frame, she talked about working with Tarantino for years, the double-bind of being both a producer and a mom, and the challenges that arose from shooting on location at 9,600 feet above sea level.
One of the things that's particular about this film is that a lot of it was shot on-location. You have a story that unfolds in a haberdashery during a blizzard in the mountains — most directors would say, "Let's spend a week or two on location, get the exterior stuff, and then we'll go to a soundstage where we can control the production more." Quentin does the exact opposite, right?
Yes, and there certainly were debates about that. But every dime we might have saved, we would have spent a hundredfold, because the unknown element was snow.
And, for a while, it was the unavailable element, right?
For most of the time, the unavailable element was snow. [laughs] Had we not had this entire haberdashery up there to film, we would have been shut down and wasting money, just sitting on location with nothing to do.
As a producer who's used to trying to control as much as possible, what is it like for you when there are things beyond your control? How'd you actually solve the problem?
Georgia Kacandes, our line producer, and I came up with an approach — we prioritized the scenes that we needed in snow, and we broke it down three ways. Literally, the schedule was written down on Post-its, so there was an advance for every scenario that we could go to, and at the bottom of the call sheet it said, "If it's sunny, if it's overcast, if it snows..."
If it was sunny, we went inside of Minnie's Haberdashery and we did stuff that used it like a soundstage. When it was overcast, we went in the stagecoach. And when it was snowing, everybody was prepared to hit the road.
We brought in these extraordinary consultants from Canada, one who had worked on "The Grey" and one who'd worked on all of Frank Marshall's snow movies. We were going into tremendously remote terrain, and if somebody drives a snowmobile across your set, the set is ruined — no amount of raking or redressing will help, fake snow doesn't match real snow, and it was really difficult.
We were at 9,600 ft. altitude — which is about 5,000 feet lower than the base camp at Everest — so we had these guys cut these incredible snowmobile paths in that took us up the back way and wouldn't interfere with our shot. They had sleds and teams, because that was the only way we could get our equipment up there. We also had oxygen, warming tents, and all kinds of things, because everything froze.
You're one of the most successful producers in Hollywood, and you're also a mom. As a person who's both female and a mother — and you're shooting on location — are there special challenges or issues that present themselves to you that men may not experience in the same way?
As a working mom, I could be up on the top of the mountain trying to deal with some crazy thing while my husband is on the other side of my house, and my children will call me on my cell phone to solve some kind of problem. [laughs] I'm like, "Have you talked to Daddy?" It's just kids' instincts.
A friend of mine said that working moms' lives are filled with guilt, and stay-at-home moms' lives are filled with regrets, so there's a double-bind if you're a woman doing this. But it was great for me — my son came to the premiere of "The Hateful Eight," and it's the first time he's ever been able to come to a premiere of a film I've made.
Because so much of your stuff is grown-up.
Yeah, and I made "Matilda" before my kids were born. But they also have a relationship with so many of the crewmembers — they love Greg Nicotero and Jake Garber from the special effects makeup team. And Greg, of course, is the executive producer of "The Walking Dead." So when my son can go to school with a zombie bite on his arm, it makes up for the fact that I didn't bake cookies that day.