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Hateful Eight & Red Apple

JANUARY 1, 2016
Much of the action in Quentin Tarantino's latest movie Hateful Eight takes place in an 1870 Wyoming trading post called Minnie's Haberdashery.  While you’re viewing it – either in glorious 70mm or regular format – look past the cracking dialog, flying bullets and spraying blood.  There – in the background, on the shelves, and occasionally in the character's hands – you may glimpse a few cans and packages and other general store stuff.  For a few months last winter, I was lucky enough to help create a few of those things.
One of those was the Red Apple tobacco tin. Red Apple is an iconic Tarantino brand that has appeared in every one of his films since Pulp Fiction.  The Red Apple cigarette packages in those other films had an image of an apple with a cartoon worm popping out of it. When propmaster Don Miloyevich commissioned me to redesign the brand for this movie, we talked about doing something different – not just in terms of making it more fitting to the period but reimagining it altogether. I drew inspiration for the illustration from lush late 19th century chromolithographed tobacco packaging. The addition of Eve and the serpent gave it a classical look, and yet somehow a looming hint of something ominous.

Most of the things I made were designed on the fly during production, so sometimes I made different versions so the director and actors could see which they preferred. They knew they wanted the Red Apple brand to be loose tobacco, but weren’t sure about the packaging. I made both sacks and tins, and the tins were chosen.
I also made a counter display, which shows up in the background on the store shelves.

Loose tobacco needs matches and rolling papers. The matchboxes were each made by hand from thin basswood that was soaked overnight, then scored, cut, folded, and wrapped in the traditional purple tissue paper. The original version of the label said ‘safety matches’, since those were in common use at the time. But the director wanted to use light-anywhere matches, so I changed the label and made new larger boxes.

A couple of the characters are bounty hunters, bringing in various malefactors for justice and reward, so we get to see some warrants – printed forms that were filled out by hand. Most of the time it takes to make a period prop like this is spent researching. These are based partly on real Wyoming warrants from the period, but the engraved state seal is fancied up a mite and may offend the sensibilities of hard core Wyoming Territory warrant buffs.

It’s no secret that some of the characters are not who they seem. One may or may not be the hangman.

I hand set his card, execution invitations and other papers with period 1870s lead type and ornaments, and hand printed them on an old cylinder press.

Tarantino requested several brands of tobacco and cigarettes for different characters. He wanted one with an Indian motif, and suggested some actual tobacco brand names from that slightly less enlightened time period.  As with everything else, we were given little further information – just the way I like it. These were commissioned during the frantic filming process, and there was no time for any back-and-forth with sketches and approval. So I made three different versions so he could choose which he liked. I put the label graphics together from a mix of elements – type, hand lettering, ornaments, and images from period tobacco labels. “Machine rolled” cigarettes had appeared slightly later than the time period of our film, but we couldn’t resist using the term on these. Dozens of these packages and clamshell boxes were handmade by doughty intern Leo Magrani, who also rolled hundreds of cigarettes.

A mustache wax tin was also requested for a character. With some props you get some direction, but often you're on your own. For many of these I came up with the brand name, wrote the copy, designed it, fabricated it and shipped it. In the case of some, like this one, it was a same day turnaround.
This Abe Lincoln letter appears at several memorable points in the film.
For the text of the letter, I was sent a picture of QT's handwritten notes.

Part of a propmaster’s job is to anticipate what a director might need before they even know they need it. To that end, Don M. requested I make up some dime novels for the store.  Since they were likely only for background use, I tracked down some late 19th century mags and reprinted multiple copies of 8 or 10 of them with few changes. But for a couple of dime novels I couldn’t resist writing new title lines, and creating new covers from bits and pieces.   I guess I missed my true calling as a shlock dime novel author, writing under my nom de plume Colonel Roscoe "Buckskin" MacDonald. You might see some of these in the background, scattered here and there in Minnie's Haberdashery. Some were also hung up in the outhouse for frontier toilet paper. Luckily I printed these on paper that’s soft, yet absorbent.
There were other props that I worked on that aren’t shown here, like a Rough On Rats poison container, other tobacco packages, a can of peaches, etc.
Leo Magrani and Max Makowski helped design some tea and coffee tin labels, and a tonic label. I also helped the set decorating department with a glass-top pen display case, and some pens and nibs. I made a little pen nib box just because why not?  If you look real closely, you can see Michael Madsen using one of my gold and ebony dip pens and inkwells to jot his memoirs.
© 2024 Ross MacDonald