How Much Did Roger Avary Contribute To The Pulp Fiction Script?

Roger Avary - Pulp Fiction

Quentin Tarantino’s legacy is firmly cemented in the annals of film history, but did you know that he’s only a co-writer of 1994’s Pulp Fiction? In fact, most of his early movies were co-written by Quentin’s best friend Roger Avary.

Avary’s contributions to Pulp Fiction are documented in a recent video published by CinemaStix, a film documentary channel created in 2022 that’s quickly gaining popularity due to its compact nature and its smooth narration style.

Avary and Tarantino first had the idea to create a “pulp fiction” style movie when they worked at a video rental store together in the early 90s. They knew that it would be easier to make a short film than a feature, so they wanted to tie three short films together into a single movie. In theory, each short would be made by a different filmmaker.

The Three Short Films

Roger Avary - Pulp Fiction

The first idea that would be part of the film is Quentin’s storyline about a henchman taking out the gangster’s wife. That would eventually become the Travalto/Uma Thurman arc that we know today.

The second short film was the one about the gold watch that includes the iconic “Zed’s dead’ line from Bruce Willis. That story was written entirely by Roger Avary. According to the Tarantino Archives, Avary wrote the sequence for an unproduced script titled “Pandemonium reigns.”

The third segment was supposed to be made by Adam Rifkin. Rifkin, at the time, was much more established than Quentin or Roger. This was more of a curse than a gift because Adam never got around to writing his part of the story, a decision Rifkin regrets to this day.

So, Pulp Fiction got sidelined for four years. The writing duo made Reservoir Dogs during that time. The movie was a hit at Sundance and Tarantino’s name was high in demand. People wanted to see the director’s next movie, but Tarantino wanted a break. He took off to Europe for the summer.

He couldn’t be without his writing partner for long and Roger joined him in Amsterdam after a few months. Together, the two took Pulp Fiction off the shelf and started brainstorming. During the process, they took scenes that Avary wrote for the movie True Romance and moved them into Pulp Fiction. This material includes the miracle scene and shooting Marvin in the face.

In totality, Avary is every bit as responsible for the success of Pulp Fiction as Tarantino. It’s doubtful that the movie would have ever been made without Avary’s contributions. However, things started to change after the movie’s release.

Breaking up the Band

Roger Avary and Quentin Tarantino

Hollywood loves directors more than screenwriters, and the town fell in love with Tarantino as Avary became more of a footnote. Tarantino continued to rely on Avary during his rise to fame, including when he was trying to get financing for “Natural Born Killers.” According to Avary, this was a turning point in their friendship:

He told me that he just couldn’t bring himself to write it, so he turned to me….the next thing I know people are telling Quentin that the scene is the best thing in the script but Quentin would just nod when they told him how good it was, and he never told them I wrote it. That caused a bit of a rift in our friendship, because I thought it was kind of low of him. Whatever…it’s water under the bridge. I’m sure he had his reasons.

You can tell that Avary felt like he was being used without due credit. During the same Question and Answer segment, Avary was asked about Tarantino’s appearance in the movie Sleep with Me. In the lengthy cameo, Quentin pontificates his theory about the movie Top Gun. Avary reveals that Tarantino got the material from him.

“That’s what you get for trying out your material with other writers,” Regrets Avary, putting some of the blame on himself.

While some criticize Tarantino for his ego, others minimize Avary’s contributions as a co-writer and point to the differences in their careers after they parted ways. But as Avary mentioned, it’s ‘water under the bridge’ and the two storytellers are still friends to this day. They even started a podcast together in 2021, so people who make a big deal over the professional rift might be spreading pulp fiction.

Mariska Lee

Mariska is a recovering attorney who gave up her professional job to discover new perspectives of life while traveling in a 2009 Ford Transit. She has been living the van life for 3 years and has not looked back since.

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