Full Tilt Boogie (1997)


USA. 1997.


Director – Sarah Kelly, Producer – Rana Joy Glickman, Photography – Christopher Gallo, Music – Cary Berger & Dominic Kelly. Production Company – L. Driver Productions.

Full Tilt Boogie is a ‘Making Of’ documentary. As such, it proves to be one of the rare Making Of documentaries that was granted its own cinematic release. In this case, Full Tilt Boogie follows the making of the Robert Rodriguez/Quentin Tarantino collaboration From Dusk Till Dawn (1996). Full Tilt Boogie was made by Sarah Kelly, who had previously worked as a production assistant on Killing Zoe (1994) and on Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction (1994). Kelly later made her first fictional film with The Lather Effect (2006) about a group of friends from the 1980s getting together again.

Full Tilt Boogie is refreshing as Making Of documentaries go. Where most Making Of documentaries act as little more than extended infomercials for the film they are about, rarely ever offering any genuine insight into set tensions, production problems or the politics of a film set, Sarah Kelly fearlessly ventures into places that other documentaries of this sort never have the temerity to. For one, she seems far more interested in the people at the bottom rungs of the production ladder than in any of the celebrity names and spends some time interviewing the assistant directors, the personal assistants, the grips, the people from craft services, the drivers and so on. This provides insight into the vast unseen bulk of the iceberg that supports the average film production. Indeed, Full Tilt Boogie gives us an intriguing glimpse into the things we don’t usually see about the stage-managed celebrities that get all the attention in Making Of documentaries – Kelly charts the dog’s life of the personal assistants to both George Clooney and Quentin Tarantino whom we see dealing with such extraordinarily mundane trivia as having to run around and buy items for Clooney’s much renowned pranks, going home to pick up Tarantino’s favourite coffee cup, even going to Taco Bell for Clooney.

From Dusk Till Dawn was clearly a production where Sarah Kelly immersed herself with the lower-rung end of the crew – she even joins a host of guys from the crew in a spa pool near the end. Full Tilt Boogie is clearly also a girl’s picture – you might consider it Chick Flick Making Of documentary perhaps. Kelly spends quite a bit of time sitting down with various female production assistants as they engage in gossip about set romances and consider who the hottest guy on set is, even joins the women as they conduct a Best Butt competition. The long extended scene the film goes out on with all the crew giving each other rounds of hugs after wrapping the last shot clearly shows that this is a production where Sarah Kelly had a genuine affection for those involved.

The name actors are only around occasionally. George Clooney, Juliette Lewis, Michael Parks and Fred Williamson all allow themselves to be interviewed. Harvey Kietel does briefly, but only when it is Quentin Tarantino doing the interview – although when this happens, Keitel does manage to wax captivatingly philosophical about the acting profession. Oddly the one individual who stands out by their camera-shy absence is director Robert Rodriguez, although we do see several images of Rodriguez strumming his guitar in between takes. The one name who appears most throughout is Quentin Tarantino to whom Sarah Kelly was previously a P.A. Alas, whether by intent or accident, it is not a particularly flattering portrait of Tarantino that Full Tilt Boogie ends up making. Tarantino comes across as a complete geek. Whether it is him loudly sounding off against some grip who failed to order enough kegs of beer for a set party or boasting how Bruce Willis told him that he could bag any girl on set, Tarantino emerges as being full of himself and having an ego he could barely cram into his own trailer.

What Sarah Kelly also manages to capture is a number of the disasters that plagued From Dusk Till Dawn – how the exterior facade for the Titty Twister burned down, how shooting was halted by dust storms and the threat of union action over Robert Rodriguez’s choice to shoot with a non-union crew. Certainly, these are production disasters that pale in comparison to those charted in the similar Making Of documentary Lost in La Mancha (2002) and its recording the spectacular fall of Terry Gilliam’s The Man Who Shot Don Quixote. When it comes to the union dispute, you have to commend Sarah Kelly for having attempted to give fair time to all sides of the issue. She interviews a number of people on set who offer varying opinions, including one driver whose father was a union organizer but who comes out in favour of the non-union production. Kelly also travels to Florida to try and get an interview with IATSE (International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees) president Lyle Trachtenberg (husband of Whoopi Goldberg) and hear his side of the coin. That Full Tilt Boogie generally ends up putting a positive spin on the production’s side is not so much Sarah Kelly’s bias as it is the fact that Lyle Trachtenberg ends up coming out like one of the asshole execs in a Michael Moore documentary who starts calling for security the moment a camera is shoved in his face.

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