Filmmaker Maruno Talks Up Polanski, Tarantino and his Pulp Fiction Villains & Backup Plans
“If I let fear stop me, I wouldn’t have filmed anything. I’ve built a career, for better or worse, that shows that fear is not a player in what I do. I was definitely not scared in following up Pulp Fiction.” — Quentin Tarantino, legendary filmmaker
When growing up, award-winning filmmaker Tsubasa Maruno, was inspired by the work of celebrated writer/director Quentin Tarantino for a number of reasons. Maruno, whose own short movie, LOOP, earned several awards and official selections on the film festival circuit, says Tarantino has crafted a cinematic career like no other. Those feature films include Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, Kill Bill, Inglorious Basterds, and the director’s ode to the film business, in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.
Passionate filmmaker Maruno says Tarantino’s lack of fear is key to filmmaking: “I admire Tarantino’s natural optimism. He just seems not to dwell on failures and hiccups and moves on, and enjoys even mistakes as the life of a filmmaker. Coming from someone who takes cinema really seriously, that lightness towards filmmaking is truly admirable.”
Indeed, Maruno, who has a broad credit list in both commercial and narrative filmmaking, sees parallels in what Tarantino says about having “no fear” with his own experiences in filmmaking, honestly recalling, “When I was shooting my short film, SCUM, I had very high expectations, and invested so much energy, time and money. But the production wasn’t going well as I faced all sorts of challenges, and I found the experience depressing. Then I thought about being so fortunate to be involved in this awesome creative business and I decided to try and enjoy everything that happened during and after the shoot — all the delays, mistakes, unforeseen events, etc. I also began to realize if you haven’t gone through failures, or made mistakes, then that means you’re not challenging yourself, which may be worse than making mistakes.”
Subsequently, Maruno’s other films beyond LOOP, have earned all sorts of official selections and nominations, including: She’s Electric Best Drama nomination at the Los Angeles Independent Film Festival Awards; Official Selections for his film Romantic at the Hollywood Reel Independent Film Festival and LA Comedy Festival; LOOP, itself, earned the Spotlight Gold Award at the Spotlight Horror Film Awards, and the Award of Distinction at the Canada Shorts Film Festival. Additionally, his short film, Waiting for Jane was featured in a Japanese feature film 658km Youko no Tabi directed by Kazuyoshi Kumakiri and starring Rinko Kikuchi.
So, from all these projects, he has learned that having no fear and going for it is encouraged and almost required to be successful in the filmmaking business. So, Maruno advises, “Keep making mistakes. Something I tell myself every day that mistakes are part of a process to reach our goals. Worst thing is not taking ideas or action just because you’re afraid of falling on your face or being embarrassed. The worst enemy to any creative is freaking out when things sometimes don’t work out when you try new things. So, be patient. Mistakes are an inevitable part of the process for me to reach the right choice and goal. If you do fall on your face, just move on, keep trying.”
Born and raised in Tokyo, Japan. Maruno grew up obsessed with Manga comic books and their visuals. When his entrepreneurial brother founded his own video DJ services for clubs and events, he advised his younger brother: “He once told me, ‘You can’t wait till you become ready. That’s a luxury you can’t afford. If you want to do it, you better start now.’ I always kept that in mind.” So, Tsubasa took advantage of the available computer and camera equipment, and started shooting wedding videos, learning how to film and edit. But he really got jazzed when he moved to Los Angeles and started attending American Film Institute shoots that he says were “really great opportunities to learn the craft of filmmaking and meet awesomely talented people from the industry.”
Maruno says he’s been influenced by other celebrated filmmakers, including: Roman Polanski and his movies Repulsion and Chinatown, suggesting, “the way he uses the camera to tell a scene is just masterful”; and, then he praises George Miller, who “made some of his best work, like Mad Max: Fury Road, later in his career.” Maruno also praises director Jim Jarmusch’s Down By Law, recalling, “I watched the movie when I was feeling suffocated living in Tokyo and had no clear vision what to do. The last scene of the movie propelled me to want to go to America.”
But Maruno goes back to Tarantino’s influence on his narrative film career.
“I see the movie in my mind. Before I make the movie, I watch the movie. I’ve got a genuine vision. That’s how I see it.” — Quentin Tarantino.
Likewise, Maruno likes to prep in advance, not being a fan of working it out on-the-fly, offering, “I am meticulous in pre-production, being very thorough. Sure, being spontaneous is a big part of being a filmmaker but I strongly believe in pre-production work. I usually don’t like it when people say ‘We’ll figure it out!’ Especially with smaller productions like I do, it is crucial to go into a production with a plan.”
Or, even a plan B and C, as he continues: “When we were filming my short film Waiting for Jane in Bombay Beach on the Salton Sea in California, the weather turned bad quickly and it looked like a storm was coming. So, we had to change our shooting plan. We moved to a different nearby location with some walls and buildings to escape from the winds, adjusted the script a bit and kept on filming. The cast and crew looked at me like I came up with that plan right there and then, but actually, I just had my backup plan ready.”
Which is real smart.
And, another angle he picked up from filmmaker Tarantino, who’s famous for his one-of-a-kind characters, is about juicy villainous characters: “I used to imagine expanding the stories of villains or minor characters, wondering what would happen if a whole movie was about this contract killer guy who appears only for five minutes — wouldn’t that movie be awesome? But then bingo, I saw Pulp Fiction which was all about those compromised characters. I thought, ‘Wow, these guys aren’t supposed to be main characters! They are just cool minor characters!’ But there it was. In Pulp Fiction, they are the leads, and I was mesmerized. I just felt the movie was meant for me. What is great about Tarantino is he makes A movies with lots of influence from B and C movies.”
As for what’s upcoming, Tsubasa Maruno is open to being a filmmaker for corporate brands like he’s worked for previously like Sony, Mitsubishi UFJ Bank and Honda, saying, “I enjoy shooting commercials and I am absolutely grateful to have had those opportunities. But my goal is always to shoot narrative films. I really love working with actors, talking about characters and scenes inside-out.”
And, now he’s inspired by the “Daniels,” Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, the duo who recently won the Oscar for best director for Everything Everywhere All at Once at the Academy Awards. He enthuses, “The last Oscar was very emotional to me because I was following ‘the Daniels’ since they were just making small indie music videos. It is truly amazing now they are making a movie with that scale. Also, a filmmaker like Sean Baker is very interesting to me. He consistently kept making micro-budget feature films but now the scale of the project he does is growing. And there’s a lot of people I’d like work with, including, Keanu Reeves. I’m a huge fan of John Wick. I want to work with them all.”