Reservoir Dogs broke a great many rules in regards to conventional screenplay approaches. The opening scene, however, almost mocks the rules of screenwriting. While writer/director Quentin Tarantino chose to embrace such a unique creative approach, it becomes difficult to see the average producer reading the scene and liking the drawn-out dialogue. Most producers probably would resist allowing such a scene to be shot. Lawrence Bender clearly isn’t the average producer. His list of accomplishments includes winning an Oscar for Best Documentary for An Inconvenient Truth. When making Lawrence Bender Reservoir Dogs wisely didn’t pressure Tarantino to cut such a “meandering” opening scene.
Why is the opening scene so controversial? The sequence doesn’t even remotely try to get the plot moving forward. The scene makes no attempt to establish the proceedings. In Syd Field’s classic work on the art of screenwriting, the first ten minutes of a movie should set up the “Who, what, and where” of the plot. With Reservoir Dogs, the opening diner scene explains who the movie is about and where it takes place, but does nothing to establish a clear narrative.
The scene mimics an indulgent section from a potboiler novel. Novels wallow in meandering because, honestly, meandering doesn’t hurt the reading experience. An author can write 400 pages or more without a problem. A motion picture usually has 90 to 120 minutes to tell its tale. The plot must move forward quickly without any tangents.
Reservoir Dogs starts out with a ten-minute dialogue riff featuring a bunch of men finishing up their breakfast. They argue with one another, tell strange tales, and discuss the merits of tipping. None of this has anything to do with the plot. The prologue does nothing but other than providing humorous-but-unessential dialogue. The film does make the characters memorable, which makes the film compelling when the actual plot starts.
Producers commonly come off as business-centric. Lawrence Bender certainly doesn’t ignore the business side of producing, but his background as a dancer early in life shows his creative and artistic side. Lawrence Bender likely followed his creative side when supporting Tarantino’s decision to film such a scene.