The Blake Snyder Beat Sheet: Inglourious Basterds
Lately I’ve been reading the screenplays of movies that I love. I started with Inglourious Basterds, which is an incredible film, then I read the screenplay for Inception, which is my favourite movie, and the next one on my list is Interstellar, also an incredible film and another Christopher Nolan gem.
Anyhoo, in a previous post I discussed the Blake Snyder Beat Sheet. The BS2 is a method of structuring and outlining your story so that you get the maximum effect and punch. It outlines where all your main plot points need to happen. In the book Save the Cat, in which Blake Snyder introduces the beat sheet, he explains why this structure is the way it is. It’s a book meant for screenwriting, but of course, it applies to novels too.
Since my aim is to write screenplays as well as novels, I thought I’d give the beat sheet a go with the Inglourious Basterds screenplay, which was nominated for Best Original Screenplay at the 2010 Oscars. The Save the Cat website has also done a beat sheet for this film, but I haven’t looked at it yet. I’ll compare once I’ve done mine.
1. Opening Image
We open on a “modest dairy farm in the countryside of Nancy, France,” in 1941. The subtitle on screen reads “Chapter One: Once upon a time in Nazi-occupied France.” The owner of the property is chopping wood, one of his daughters is hanging laundry, and a Nazi town car is coming up over the hill towards the farm. As the car approaches, the farmer tells his family to get inside the house, and he washes his face with water. The Nazis arrive and ask if this is the property of Perrier LaPadite. The S.S. colonel introduces himself as Hans Landa and asks to speak with the farmer.
The opening image sets the tone, mood, and style of the movie, and according to Snyder, “very often introduces the main character.” We’ll learn that that character is Hans Landa, though he is the main antagonist. In the film, Christoph Waltz does such an amazing job as Landa that we are immediately hooked.
2. Theme Stated
Inside LaPadite’s house, he says to the colonel, “But the meaning of your visit, pleasant though it is, is mysterious to me. The Germans looked through my house nine months ago for hiding Jews and found nothing.”
So now we know what this movie is about. I would argue that the theme is clarified further a few lines later by Landa: “Now, according to these papers, all the Jewish families in this area have been accounted for-except the Dreyfuses. Somewhere in the last year it would appear they have vanished.”
So we know that this movie is going to be about Hans Landa, Nazis, and the Dreyfus family. A possible thematic question for the movie could be: Will Landa succeed in his mission to exterminate the Dreyfus family?
3. Set Up
The set up usually happens in the first 10 minutes of the film, and sets up the hero, the stakes, the main characters, and the goal of the story. It is the calm before the storm. As we’ve seen, the opening image and the theme are part of the set up. I’d argue the set up for Inglourious Basterds is longer than 10 minutes, comprising this entire initial scene with Hans Landa and Mr. LaPadite. This makes sense since Inglourious Basterds is a two-and-a-half-hour movie.
We come to understand the Hans Landa is an extremely “polite” and meticulous colonel. He has earned the nickname of “the Jew Hunter”, and, very helpfully, proceeds to explain to Mr. LaPadite why exactly he’s so good at his job. We realize that he already knows that LaPadite is hiding the Dreyfus family under his floorboards and he’s simply giving LaPadite a chance to give them up, which he does. The scene is about 21 minutes in length, ending with Landa letting Shosanna get away as his soldiers murder her family.
Now, why would the Jew Hunter let Shosanna get away? This part is actually explained in the script but was cut from the movie. One of Landa’s soldiers asks Landa why he lets Shosanna go. Landa replies: “Not putting a bullet in the back of a fifteen-year-old girl and allowing her to escape are not necessarily the same thing. She’s a young girl, no food, no shelter, no shoes, who’s just witnessed the massacre of her entire family. She may not survive the night. And after word spreads about what happened today, it’s highly unlikely she will find any willing farmers to extend her aid. If I had to guess her fate, I’d say she’ll probably be turned in by some neighbour. Or she’ll be spotted by some German soldier. Or we’ll find her body in the woods, dead from starvation or exposure.”
Clearly, Lands doesn’t believe Shosanna will survive. However, for such a meticulous “hunter,” this seems quite out of character for him, and, indeed, this arrogance will be the cause of his undoing.
The catalyst is the knocking down of the world as we know it and the call to action to enter the new world. In Inglourious Basterds this starts with Chapter Two, aptly titled “Inglourious Basterds.”
Here, we are introduced to the rest of the main characters. These are the Basterds, comprising Lieutenant Aldo Raine, Brad Pitt’s character, and his team. We are graced with his famous introductory speech: “My name is Lt. Aldo Raine, and I’m puttin’ together a special team. And I need me eight soldiers. Eight Jewish-American soldiers…We’re gonna be dropped into France, dressed as civilians. And once we’re in enemy territory, as a bushwackin’, guerilla army, we’re gonna be doin’ one thing, and one thing only-Killin’ Nazis.” This famous speech is also the part where he says, “Every man under my command owes me one hundred Nazi scalps. And I want my scalps.”
This scene illustrates a literal call to action; Aldo Raine is calling his soldiers to action, telling them what the plan is for this very special mission. They are going to leave America and enter France behind enemy lines, the “new world.”
Normally in a film the beats all feature the same protagonist. The protagonist goes through the catalyst, the debate, the fun and games, the digging deep to finally learn their lesson or solve the problem. But in ensembles films such as this one, it seems Tarantino has kept the structure of the beats while applying them to the different groups of characters.
The second half of the catalyst is our introduction to Donny Donowitz, the “Bear Jew”, who kills Nazis with a bat. It’s the scene that starts with Hitler shouting, “Nein, nein, nein, nein, nein!” He’s had enough of Aldo the Apache’s team killing his honourable German soldiers. One soldier who survived, Private Butz, has an audience with Hitler to tell him about what happened when the Basterds killed his unit. The Basterds mean business and they want Hitler to know it. We’re also introduced to German soldier Hugo Stiglitz, who has joined the Basterds in their mission. As Private Butz relates what happened to his unit, he shows the Führer the swastika the Basterds carved into his forehead.
In the debate section, the hero asks himself or herself if he should stay, or accept the call to adventure, and go. The debate section must ask a question. In the movie, the debate section is in “Chapter Three: German Night in Paris.” Here, we’re re-introduced to Shosanna, now a few years older and living under a fake name, Emmanuelle Mimieux, in Paris running a cinema. A German soldier, Fredrick Zoller, starts chatting her up as she’s removing the letters from the marquee, but she’s certainly not impressed by German soldiers. Later, Shosanna gets called to a restaurant with Fredrick, Joseph Goebbels, and, surprise surprise, Hans Landa. Fredrick convinces them to have the premier of his movie, Nation’s Pride, at her cinema. This scene is truly a debate because they are discussing changing the venue of the movie premiere to Shosanna’s cinema. You could also argue that this is actually the catalyst for Shosanna since it’s a major change to her world.
Later, Shosanna discusses a plan with her boyfriend, Marcel. Since they are being forced to host the German film premiere at their cinema, she wants to fill it with as many Nazis as she can and burn it to the ground. Since this is a debate scene, Marcel naturally objects, but Shosanna won’t take no for an answer.
6. Break into Two
This is where the hero makes the decision to leave the old world behind and march into the new world, into the adventure. The hero must make the decision himself or herself.
I would say the Break into Two is when Shosanna decides to burn down the theatre during the German movie night that she’s forced to hold. Up until now, she’s been living her life as the owner of the movie theatre, basically on the down low, hiding her Jewish heritage and past. Her world has been what it is since Landa murdered her family and she ran away. She’s been living in hiding for many years now. She could simply hold the movie night, not do anything, and continue living her life after that. But she firmly decides to get her revenge, not just on Landa but on all Nazis.
7. B Story
The B Story starts with the movie’s “Chapter Four: Operation Kino.” The B Story introduces us to the B characters and the secondary storyline. It also carries the theme of the story. In this case, the B Story starts with the scene with General Fenech, played by Mike Myers, telling Lieutenant Hicox, played by Michael Fassbender, about Operation Kino. Operation Kino is a plan by the British Government to kill all of the SS High Command during the movie premiere of Nation’s Pride, the very same plan Shosanna is hoping to execute (pun intended).
Lieutenant Hicox will meet with the Basterds (A Characters) in France in order to execute Operation Kino. They will be helped by a German double agent, the actress Bridget von Hammersmark. Hammersmark is going to get the Basterds and Hicox into the German premiere.
8. Fun & Games
The Fun and Games beat of a story is the promise of the premise and where many of the scenes for movie trailers come from. The premise of Inglourious Basterds is bloodshed and Nazi-killing, so that’s what we find here. In the movie, this beat is also a literal fun and games section because we see Hicox and the Basterds meet Hammersmark in a small tavern to rendezvous with her about Operation Kino. When we open on the scene, Hammersmark is playing a card game with German soldiers in the tavern as she waits for the Basterds.
Hammersmark tells the Basterds that the venue has been changed to a smaller cinema (Shosanna’s cinema) and that it turns out that the Führer himself will also be there. However, during this scene they keep getting interrupted by the drunken German soldiers.
The midpoint of a movie, or any story, is the moment when the stakes are raised, and we get a false victory for the characters or a false defeat. In Inglourious Basterds, I’d say this is when one of the drunken German soldiers remarks that Lt. Hicox’s German accent is quite strange and asks him where he’s from. Hicox, remember, is British, and though he speaks German perfectly, his British accent is quite noticeable.
10. Bad Guys Close In
The stakes are raised even more when Major Hellstrom, a very high-ranking German officer, whom we’ve seen a bit before, comes out of the shadows of the bar where he’s been reading to also remark at Hicox’s unusual German accent. Hicox says he comes from a small village at the bottom of a mountain, and it seems like he’s convinced the Major, who then joins them at their table. He’s literally a bad guy closing in.
Hicox then gives himself away that he’s not actually German when he asks the bartender for three glasses, showing “three” with his index, middle, and ring finger, the British way, rather than “three” with his thumb, index, and middle finger, the European way.
Hellstrom now knows that Hicox and the Basterds are not really German soldiers, and so, in classic Tarantino fashion, the bloody shootout commences.
11. All Is Lost
The All Is Lost beat of a story is exactly what it sounds like. All is lost for the characters. It’s a false defeat for their plan. In Inglourious Basterds, All Is Lost is when Hicox and Stiglitz are killed in the tavern shoot out. They were supposed to accompany Hammersmark to the movie premiere to execute Operation Kino since they also speak German and could impersonate German soldiers. However, now they’re dead and it seems the plan is kaput.
12. Dark Night of the Soul
The Dark Night of the Soul beat is a moment where the characters are wallowing in the fact that all is lost. It doesn’t have to be long. It’s just the moment before they think of their final plan to continue on with their mission. In the movie, this happens when Hammersmark relates to the Basterds that the venue for the premiere has been changed and that the Führer himself will also be attending. Given this development, Aldo says Hammersmark must still get them into the premiere, to which Hammersmark replies: “Can you speak German better than your friends? No. Have I been shot? Yes. I don’t see me tripping the light fantastic up the red carpet anytime soon. Least of all by tomorrow night.”
13. Break Into Three
The Break into Three is when the heroes decide against all odds to continue on with a new plan. They’ve come too far. Lost too much already. Aldo suggests that he and the Basterds take the place of the British soldiers as Hammersmark’s dates to the movie premiere. They’ll pretend to be Italian and will do their best to keep their mouths shut so as not to give themselves away. Hammersmark agrees and we launch into Act III.
Act III, or the finale of the movie, is heralded by the subtitle “Chapter Five: Revenge of the Giant Face” on screen. According to the Beat Sheet, a good finale has five components, which I’ll outline below.
Gathering the Team
The finale starts with Shosanna getting ready the night of the premiere. We also see a few flashbacks of how she prepared for her plan with Marcel.
Storming the Castle
Since Shosanna and Marcel are already at the cinema, it falls on Aldo Raine, Donny Donowitz, a third Basterd, and Bridget von Hammersmark to “storm the castle” as it were, arriving at the cinema. The plan is now fully in action.
High Tower Surprise
Again, since is an ensemble film, the beats feature alternating characters, mainly Shosanna, the Basterds, and the B Story characters, which by this point is only Hammersmark together with the Basterds. As such, we have more than one High Tower Surprise in the finale.
The first is when Hans Landa, having found Hammersmark’s shoe in the destroyed tavern the night before, takes her into a small room in the cinema and presents her with it. Hammersmark knows she’s busted and that Landa knows she’s been working as a mole for the British government. In a true High Tower Surprise, Lands then proceeds to strangle the life out of Hammersmark. After he’s done so, he calls his men to capture Landa and the Basterds.
The second High Tower Surprise is when Landa insists on making a deal with Aldo to help them end the war by allowing them to succeed in their plan in exchange for amnesty. It’s both a surprise and not a surprise when you think about Landa’s character.
The third High Tower Surprise is when Shosanna and Marcel are about to execute their plan but Zoller interrupts Shosanna in the projection room, still trying to flirt with her. Right before this, Marcel has blocked the exit of the main auditorium so people won’t be able to escape and Shosanna has changed the film reel as the final part of her plan. After one too many rebuffs, Zoller storms into the room, frustrated at the constant rejection. Shosanna shoots Zoller in the back when he goes to close the door. In classic Tarantino fashion, Zoller then shoots Shosanna, killing her.
Dig Deep Down
The Dig Deep Down moment is when the character or characters must pull out all the stops to finish their mission. I’d argue that Inglourious Basterds doesn’t really have this moment in the final cut. In the script, this moment occurs when, with her last dying breaths, Shosanna changes the film reel to the reel that has her face on it delivering her message to the Nazis right before she instructs Marcel to burn the cinema down.
However, in the final cut, the reel change happens before Zoller enters the projection room, making it more imperative for Shosanna to change the reel before she dies. I’m not sure why this was changed in the final cut but I think it takes away from this dig deep down moment.
There’s a quick moment when Donowitz and another Basterd shoot the guards outside Hitler’s box, so when the mayhem inside starts, they burst in and kill the Führer, but I’m not sure how “dig deep down” that is.
Execution of the New Plan
As the cinema burns down, the two Basterds add to the mayhem buy killing everyone with machine guns. Their previously placed bombs also go off.
15. Final Image
The final image of Inglourious Basterds mirrors the opening image with a van coming down a forest road. It contains Hans Landa, Aldo Raine, and a Basterd named Utivich. They let the Basterds out of the van and Hans Landa officially “surrenders” himself to Raine as part of their previously discussed plan.
In a callback to when we’re first introduced to the Basterds, Raine cuffs Landa and asks, “When you go to your little place on Nantucket Island, I imagine you gonna take off that handsome-looking SS uniform of yours. Ain’t you?”
Landa knows already what awaits him here.
Raine continues: “If I had my way, you’d wear that goddamn uniform for the rest of your pecker-suckin’ life. But I’m aware that ain’t practical. I mean at some point you gotta hafta take it off. So I’m gonna give you a little somethin’ you can’t take off.”
Raine then carves a swastika into Landa’s forehead so everyone will always know he’s a Nazi. In the final line of the film, Raine says, “You know what, Utivich? I think this might be my masterpiece.”
We can argue that this scene is the opposite of the opening image because in the opening image Landa is the one in power and then proceeds to interrogate LaPadite, filling him with terror. Now, Landa is the one being questioned and tortured. We also get an answer to our thematic question. Will Landa succeed in exterminating the Dreyfus family? (If that was the correct thematic question.) The answer is no, Landa has failed in all his plans.