Tarantino Takes Telluride

Tarantino on set, sometime before or after hooking up in the bathroom of a local bar (allegedly). Credit: Courtesy Samuel L. Jackson / Facebook

It was after midnight when Stuart Armstrong got the call. As the owner of Telluride's lone tire and auto-repair shop, he was accustomed to fielding late-night requests for towing. But when the caller mentioned the location — a road coming down from a nearby ranch — Armstrong knew immediately who was responsible. Three months earlier, a crew of 150 had descended on the insular town for the making of Quentin Tarantino's new western, The Hateful Eight, and in addition to racy theme parties and closing down the local dive bar, they had become notorious for terrible driving: One day, a local mountain guide counted 10 Suburbans and SUVs in the ditch along an iced-over Silver Pick Road. This time, though, it was a crew bus that had slid into a snowbank as it headed back to town. "They were driving like they were in L.A.," says Armstrong. "You don't leave a skid mark 50 feet long and then go off an embankment if you're going 15 miles per hour. That just doesn't happen."

Telluride, the onetime mining outpost turned ski-bum paradise nestled in the far end of a box canyon, has seen its share of what one local calls "Hollyweirdos." Starting with 1969's True Grit, starring John Wayne, half a dozen movies have been filmed in the area, and A-listers from Tom Cruise to Oliver Stone own or have owned property there. The town has a year-round population of just 2,400, and its longtime residents, who know each other's business like dorm mates, can be dismissive of tourists. But they can also latch on to the weekly infusion of new faces and out-of-state money when they need an escape. So it was no surprise that when the crew, with their hefty Hollywood per diems, arrived in the town in late 2014, things got a little out of control.

WATCH NOW: The Blood and Snow Filled Trailer for The Hateful Eight

Set a decade after the Civil War, The Hateful Eight, due out in December, features the usual coterie of Tarantino regulars — Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Tim Roth, and Bruce Dern, along with Channing Tatum and Jennifer Jason Leigh. A combination western and whodunit, it's largely set inside a haberdashery during a blizzard. "Quentin wanted a very jagged and steep, snow-covered mountain," says Hateful Eight producer Richard N. Gladstein — which led them to Telluride. "That's what we were looking for."


(The cast, including Kurt Russell, center, joins locals in appeasing the snow god with a bonfire. Photograph by Ingrid Lundahl)

When Colorado ponied up a $5 million tax incentive, the decision was easy. "Their interest in having us shoot," says Gladstein, "is because we spend a lot, eat a lot of food, and drink a lot of booze." But Telluride had other appealing aspects — namely four weed dispensaries. "The fact that you could legally smoke weed in Colorado helped seal the deal," says one local who worked with the crew.

Much of the filming took place at Schmid Ranch, a 900-acre property southwest of Telluride. A temporary sawmill was set up for the construction of a massive barn and old store used in the film. Then there was the food served on set. "It was like nothing I've ever seen in my life," says Brian Ahern, a resident of Telluride and the vice chair of the local Democratic Party, who helped work on the set. "The sun's not up, and you're saying, 'I'll have a lobster and avocado omelet, egg white, please.' The feeling was every man should be treated like a king."

The movie was filmed in 70 millimeter — Tarantino's preference — and, as per tradition, champagne was broken out after every 100th roll of film was shot. A theme bash would soon follow. One night Tarantino hired a mariachi band, according to attendees. On another he arranged for an Oktoberfest, complete with two Saint Bernards and barmaids dressed up in revealing lederhosen.

Although Telluride received heavy snowfall in the early months of production, the precipitation abruptly stopped in January, halfway through. Locals became restless, as they do when it doesn't snow, and because the movie's scenes required snow, the filming slowed to a crawl. Killing time, crew members grabbed shotguns and rifles and began shooting beer cans. But as the weeks wore on and the bills piled up, the stress mounted and talk briefly turned toward packing up and heading to Wyoming or Utah. To help boost morale, Tarantino, Jackson, Michael Madsen, and others joined locals in a longtime tradition to appease the snow god: the ski burn, a bonfire in the middle of town that's stoked with wooden skis. Whether it was luck, the ceremony, or a Native American hired to do a snow dance on the set a few days later, two feet of white stuff soon blanketed the town.


With the snow back, work resumed. But as Gladstein soon learned, the cars the crew rented didn't come with snow tires. "It was ridiculous," he says. Soon enough, they were sliding into ditches with almost comical regularity. Armstrong's Telluride Tire and Auto Service wound up selling about $160,000 in snow tires and chains.

As the filming wore on, the cast and crew were increasingly treated like locals. They'd frequent the town's upscale restaurant at the New Sheridan hotel or walk the streets for morning coffee. Russell, who'd grown a beard and long hair for his character, fit in the most. "Everyone in the crew just melted into the town," says the mayor, Stu Fraser. "They became part of it."

Nowhere was that more apparent than at O'Bannon's, one of the loudest, rowdiest dives in Telluride — "the rougher of the places in town," one of its bartenders proudly brags. For Tarantino and his crew, O'Bannon's was perfect. "You're not looking for the Four Seasons," says Gladstein. "It's very much a party when we aren't working." O'Bannon's, like much of Telluride, also promised discretion: As Tim Territo, a local location scout, says, "What happens in O'Bannon's stays in O'Bannon's." That was largely true of the rest of the town, too. "We're not like Aspen," says one official. "Celebrities can come here and do whatever they want."

So the crew, with their per diems, partied, especially during the lull. "They would give you a hundred-dollar bill and buy a couple of drinks and say, 'Keep the change,'" says O'Bannon's owner, Ann Marie Fitzpatrick. "And you'd say, 'Um, the tab is $28.'" Tarantino, who favored honey-flavored Jack Daniel's, signed O'Bannon's hats and even put up with patrons asking him for details about his movies. According to local legend, he hooked up with at least one woman in the bathroom and, living up to his foot-fetish reputation, is rumored to have sampled the toes of a few local girls.

When filming finally ended in March, the crew threw a wrap party at a local mine that's now a combination art space and sort of Burning Man exhibition. Dozens of Telluride locals turned out. "I made a couple of phone calls and had everyone come," says one resident who worked on set. As Territo watched, the lighting crew projected a 25-foot-high image of a martini glass above the entrance. "It was fun having all those guys around," he says a bit wistfully. "Man, it was the biggest thing in a long time."