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One of the few Hollywood auteurs whose name is as recognizable as the stars that flock to his projects, Quentin Tarantino is currently shooting what is shaping as the most highly anticipated film of his career, Once Upon A Time in Hollywood. The director has teased, “It takes place at the height of the counterculture explosion, at the time of the hippie revolution…at the height of new Hollywood.” So what do we know about the Pulp Fiction auteur’s latest…?

The LA industry began buzzing in July 2017, when Tarantino (via his representatives at William Morris Endeavour) announced his latest project - his first original script, five years in the writing, to be based on real events. The narrative was initially described as an account of the infamous Charles Manson murders. The cult leader (once a song-writing hopeful who lived with Beach Boy Dennis Wilson) ordered his followers to slay the residents of a home in Benedict Canyon; on August 8, 1969, five died, including actress Sharon Tate, wife of Roman Polanski and eight months pregnant at the time of her brutal death.

Under the work-in-progress titles ‘Tarantino 1969’, ‘Manson Family Murders Project’ or simply ‘#9’ (a reference to it being the director’s ninth film), top-tier talent began circulating for a myriad of roles. Jennifer Lawrence (as Tate) and Tom Cruise (as an LA County prosecutor) were initially attached; the director’s frequent collaborator Samuel L. Jackson met with Tarantino in mid-2017. With the departure of Lawrence, Australian-born Oscar nominee Margot Robbie firmed for the Tate part (pictured, below; Robbie and Tate); by November, Django Unchained star Leonardo DiCaprio publically declared his intent to work with Tarantino again, accepting a lead role well below his pay grade. When Inglorious Basterds leading man Brad Pitt (pictured, right; on-set with DiCaprio) confirmed his interest, the Hollywood suits closed the deal and fuelled a bidding war between studios and financiers (Tarantino detached himself from longtime production partner The Weinstein Company, with David Heyman replacing the disgraced Harvey Weinstein in the primary producer’s role).

Plot details began to emerge. With the turbulent social change that was the late 60s as its backdrop, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood tells the story of television star Rick Dalton (DiCaprio) who, with his stunt double Cliff Booth (Pitt) by his side, navigates the Los Angeles film industry landscape hoping to re-energise his profile and crack bigscreen fame. Tarantino now posits the murders as a defining event in the narrative but not the all-consuming focus, silencing initial concerns that the film would be his typically blood-soaked take on the horrific crimes. Recent reports suggest the film will adopt a portmanteau structure a la Tarantino’s 1994 masterpiece; at CinemaCon in April, he hinted his latest is “probably the closest to ‘Pulp Fiction’ that I have done.”

This more expansive story line explains an ensemble cast list that positions the already high-profile project as an event film (despite the departure of Cruise and Jackson). Dakota Fanning plays Manson disciple Lynette ‘Squeaky’ Fromme; U.K. actor Damian Lewis has been cast as superstar Steve McQueen; as murdered hairstylist Jay Sebring, Speed Racer star Emile Hirsch; Hollywood icon Burt Reynolds as ranch owner George Spahn, who leased his land to Manson and his cultists; and, as talent agent Marvin Schwartz, the legendary Al Pacino (pictured, right; on-set, with his director).

An all-star line-up fills out key roles, including Kurt Russell, Scoot McNairy, Luke Perry, Clifton Collins Jr., Timothy Olyphant, Nicholas Hammond, James Marsden, James Remar, Martin Kove, Brenda Vaccaro, Zoe Bell and, as martial arts icon Bruce Lee, Mike Moh. The shoot will also reteam Tarantino with his Reservoir Dogs’ co-stars, Tim Roth and Michael Madsen. No announcement has been made as to who will play Charles Manson.

Sony Pictures had beaten out 21st Century Fox, Universal, Warner Bros., Lionsgate, and Annapurna to secure production and worldwide distribution rights. Tarantino spun the partnership as being the work of SPE boss Tom Rothman, who impressed the director with his in-depth film knowledge; other reports suggest the film came to Sony on the back of a deal that afforded Tarantino a US$95million budget, rare ‘final cut’ autonomy and a 25% gross-dollar bonus.

With cinematographer Robert Richardson lensing alongside Tarantino on their 6th collaboration, shooting began at Universal Studios and key location across the City of Angels (including, pictured above; the iconic Cinerama Dome, outfitted for a 1969 film screening) on June 18 and is set to wrap in mid-November. The release date had been set as August 9, 2019, the 50th anniversary of the Manson-Tate murders; it has been subsequently changed to July 26.

Compiled with thanks from reports originally published on The Hollywood Reporter, Screen Rant, Variety, Deadline Hollywood and Indiewire.

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