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Visual Screenwriting of Quentin Tarantino Essay

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Updated: Sep 1st, 2022

Screenwriting has a long history preceding the invention of cinema. It is quite intuitive to say that it has its roots in theatrical screenplays – however, retaining most of the dramatist’ tools and techniques, the industry that now utilizes the craft of a screenwriter demands a higher standard. The elements of the archetypal story never changed, essentially, the plot would always present the audience with a central figure, a protagonist, that the story is about. Usually, not long after that, the main character encounters a problem, then a chain of events unfolds that this problem sparkled – in the end, there is always a resolution, (however, it can take a number of forms).

With the rising popularity of cinema in the last century, to say nothing of the number of people engaged in this entertainment enterprise nowadays, watching films or television series, the standard for screenwriting has changed. Cinema proposed a new story-telling device, the one that traditional theatrical play lacked. It is a strong emphasis on visual language, as the cinematography implies full immersion of the audience into the film. Screenwriter, too, has to be concerned with visual storytelling, beside him being a writer, his profession propels him to be a visual one.

Tarantino is talented in many fields concerning cinematography. He became a cinephile early on, but it was during the long hours he spent watching classic films that he became brilliant with visual language. His films appear differently to a trained eye: the visual references that he uses are very direct. For example, the references moments from The Warriors (1979) and Band of Outsiders (1964) in Pulp Fiction (1994), Lady Snowblood (1973) and Samurai Fiction (1998) in Kill Bill (2003) (Indiewire). There are countless other instances of this, however, the underlying theme remains – Tarantino’s impeccable visual language repertoire comes from the richness of cinematographic history.

Besides being a visionary, Quentin Tarantino is also famous for his great writing skills. Speaking in his own words, his writing style is usually quite spontaneous, with the plot and the characters evolving in the process of writing. Quentin admits that “by the time I actually get to the middle of the story… it’s become something so completely different than what I could have imagined before I started writing” (Kalfrin, 2019). Tarantino is also known for exceeding at writing great dialogue – the way he does it is by promising the audience that something interesting will happen later in the film, thus building anticipation and keeping the viewer’s attention.

Tarantino was born in Tennessee in 1963 and moved to California at the age of 4 (Biography). He developed his passion for films early, by the age of 22 being already an experienced, long-time film lover. He landed a job at video rental, where he wrote screenplays for Natural Born Killers and True Romance.

While writing scripts for others and editing other writers’ lines of dialogue, he started to excel at screenwriting. His writing skills are most evident in the instances of dialogue – nearly every conversation of his characters implies some kind of conflict, which is a major reason why his films hold the viewer’s attention from start to finish.

Leigh Whannell’s films are considered to be “impressive visualizations of New Extreme Gore” (Weissenstein, 2016). It is a collective name for horror films that are not frightening to the viewer per se, but instead utilize imagery that is “troubling, shocking, or excessive” (Weissenstein, 2016). Here unfolds the talent of Whannell as a visual screenwriter. He understands the impact that such imagery can have on the audience and sews it into the fabric of his film, thus making it the most successful film in the New Extreme Gore subgenre. The Saw franchise is hard to watch: Whannell uses bodily violence, with machines so frightening and so powerful, that can make permanent damage to a victim’s body. He understands the close connection and the allusion that the viewer makes when watching such scenes; inevitably, one associates the events on the screen with his own sensations.

Leigh Whannell was born in Melbourne, Australia. Just like Tarantino, he developed a passion for storytelling at a very young age. After graduating from Melbourne Institute of Technology’s prestigious Media Arts course, he landed a role in a teen TV Show by the name of Recovery (1996), where he met and interviewed grand film personas like Tim Burton, Russel Crowe, and George Clooney. He was not satisfied with being a show host, but instead was planning to make his own film. With his university friend, James Wan, he wrote his first film – Saw (2004) after 9 months. The film starred Leigh and his long-time creative partner James Wan directed it.

The notion that the horror genre is usually weak in terms of plot is not universal, Whannel says “All horror movies are not created equal” (2020). In his recent feature The Invisible Man, the writer-director exemplifies great mastery over the manipulation of the audience. In a recent interview (2020), he said that “Misdirection is important to me. Audiences think they know where the scares are coming from and I like to mess with them.”


Indiewire. (2016). Tarantino’s Best Visual Film References… in Three Minutes! [Video]. Youtube.

Weissenstein, C. (2016). Negotiating the non-narrative, aesthetic and erotic in new extreme gore. [Master’s thesis, Faculty of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences of Georgetown University].

Leigh Whannell: Biography. (2020). Internet Movie Database. Web.

Go Left When The Audience Thinks You’re Going To Go Right” Leigh Whannell Discusses ‘The Invisible Man’. Web.

Kalfrin, V. (2019). Timeless Screenwriting Wisdom from Quentin Tarantino. Screencraft, Web.

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