The Hateful Eight Producer: Nothing Arbitrary About Filmmaking for Quentin Tarantino

By  · Published on January 7th, 2016

Whenever you think about some of your favorite movies, Stacey Sher’s name should come to mind. The producer worked on Pulp Fiction, Gattaca, Get Shorty, Out of Sight, and plenty of other great titles. Sher has collaborated with some of today’s finest filmmakers, and 20 years after their first partnership, she’s once again worked with director Quentin Tarantino for his eight feature film, The Hateful Eight.

Sher, born in New York, grew up with character-driven dramas, the kind of films that have certainly influenced her career. “My father was a real cinephile,” she tells us. “Even though I didn’t grow up in California and didn’t know there was a career like the one I have, I grew up in the 70s, this great time for the mainstream auteur. I liked Star Wars like every other kid, but my family was the kind of family that went to see Raging Bull opening weekend. The films of Hal Ashby, Sydney Pollack, Howard Hawks, the MGM musicals, Preston Sturges, Billy Wylder, Hitchock, and Billy Wyler all made an impact on me, but I have to say, the first film that made me understand what cinema was Clockwork Orange. I was probably 14 or 15, and I saw it when I was in Florida. I was home alone watching that movie a lot. For me, from an existential standpoint, you can have this loathsome character and still root for their freewill – that was mind-blowing.”

Funnily enough, what Sher touches on regarding Clockwork Orange is prevalent in The Hateful Eight, in which Tarantino makes the audience root for some nasty bastards, played by Kurt Russell and Samuel L. Jackson, to name a few, to make it out of this suspenseful and uproarious Western alive in one piece.

Sher’s first credit wasn’t a nasty little piece of cinema, like The Hateful Eight or Clockwork Orange, though. “The Heartbreak Hotel was my first associate producer credit, but my first film was Adventures in Babysitting, which was Chris Columbus’ first movie,” she says. “I have a special thanks on that, so it was my first credit. Both are Chris Columbus films, though. Adventures in Babysitting was the script that got me my job. I knew the writer, David Simkins, who told me he wanted to write After Hours for kids.”

To this day, as she speaks fondly of those first two credits, she keeps in mind a valuable lesson she learned from that time in her career. “The lovely Debra Hill, my first boss, told me, ‘There’s no above or below the line. You are all just a member of the crew, moving forward to get your day made,’” Sher recalls. “She’s the godmother of indie film. She did Halloween, Escape From New York, and started as a script supervisor in the streets of San Francisco. It’s that kind of approach that has influenced my entire career. I really learned about the development process from that first job. Also, I met Shane Black (Kiss Kiss Bang Bang) and Scott Frank (The Lookout) my first weeks of working, and Shane Black taught me how to write story notes from a writers’ point-of-view. He actually helped me write my story notes on Adventures in Babysitting, weirdly. That was kind of the beginning for me.”

Sher went on to work with Oliver Stone, Steven Soderbergh, and, of course, Quentin Tarantino. “I’ve found the best filmmakers to work with often want to hear the truth from the people they trust, that are always striving to be the best they can be,” she explains. “Look, the way I approach producing is like part book editor, part cheerleader. There are times where you have to hold it altogether, so they know they can get through it, like when you’re working in the snow or on a mountain and all of these things. Our job is to create a safe place for these people do their best work.”

Looking over the producer’s filmography, she’s clearly drawn to filmmakers with immediately identifiable voices. “There’s nothing arbitrary about filmmaking for Quentin; it’s a life’s passion and a religion,” she continues. “I think what, for me, really distinguishes Quentin is – he’s a true auteur but also an audience member. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone who is capable of maintaing those two positions all the time. People will say his films are controversial or talk about his unconventional storytelling choices – the narration in this film or the briefcase in Pulp Fiction – but those are the things that really make it fun for him and the audience member. That’s his voice, and it’s exhilarating.”

Tarantino and Sher are both huge fans of genre films that can send a message without stuffing it down an audience’s throat – which is exactly what The Hateful Eight accomplishes. “Quentin and I are roughly the same age,” she says. “We grew up at a time where the greatest filmmakers were saying things about the human condition through genre. Having the Hitchcocks and all those films, they make the point more succinctly. If you watch Sullivan’s Travels, you get the message that I’m giving to you: yes, you want to say these things, but making people laugh to tell those things, that’s the hardest thing.”

When she’s on the set of a Tarantino or Soderbergh film, there’s a tangible electricity – the kind of energy that raises everyone’s game. “On a Quentin set, there’s focus, but an incredible supportive, warm, spirited, and fun atmosphere,” Sher says. “Steven is also an absolute dream to work with. He has an astonishing level of an efficiency, and a tremendous respect for everyone on the crew. It’s always fun and I’m always learning something, and the same is true for Oliver. They’re all passionate filmmakers who care about the art of cinema, and I think that inspires everyone around them to do their best. You’re not punching in your time cards with them. It’s not: ‘let’s get the master, a couple of singles, and let’s go home.’ Every single one of those people – and I would also add Scott Frank and one of my first real auteur experiences with Terry Gilliam – has an electricity on all their sets.”

Next: Walton Goggins: The Hateful Eight is Like An Incredible Bottle of Wine

You can’t say this for a lot of producers, but Sher has a quality over quantity kind of career. As both a fan and maker of auteur-driven pictures, The Hateful Eight producer admits a truth we’re all, sadly, aware of: these types of films aren’t easy to make anymore. “One of the exciting things about television is the films that I made in the 90s play on the small-screen now,” Sher concludes. “At a certain point, you take a kind of by any means necessary approach, as evident by how we went to Kickstarter with Zach Braff’s second film. I think we unfairly took hits for how we financed that movie, and I think we should’ve been applauded. It’s tough now. The $10m film has become the $5m film, the $15m has become the $9m film, and the $5m film has become the $2m film – and that puts pressure on the filmmakers and us, with casting and foreign sales. The cost of marketing puts a tremendous amount of pressure on that. There’s also how crowded the schedule is. All of these things have made it very difficult.”

The Hateful Eight is now in theaters.

Longtime FSR contributor Jack Giroux likes movies. He thinks they're swell.