No personal blog crapola.
Just one guy's quest to unlock the mysterious art of storytelling on screen.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Inglourious Basterds, or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying About Grammar and Love the Story

Whenceforth Comes This Shabby Creature Of The Night?

Fake. Had to be.

The grammatical horrors waiting between the covers were solid proof of a novice writer at the keyboard. Surely.

I read the first 10 pages: the linguistic horrors multiplied and then multiplied some more.

Ask anyone: screenplays this unpolished don't escape unscathed when crossing a Studio Reader's desk. Screenplays this unpolished earn extra wrath from Readers. A well-presented screenplay (good spelling, punctuation, formatting) with poor structure or story is inoffensive; a Reader will dutifully appraise it with the minimum amount of effort and then set it aside, perhaps concluding the writer knows their screenwriting craft but not their art of storytelling. If this screenplay did not have QT's name on it, and it fell into a Studio Reader's hands, you'd better believe the Reader's red pen would be boiling over with invective. That Reader would likely cancel lunch to devote themselves wholeheartedly to the task of writing coverage for this screenplay that would ensure the screenwriter's work never again soiled the desk of any agent, reader, or executive in the land.

But this screenplay was not destined to cross any Reader's desk. This screenplay would be skipping all the formalities.

I read another twenty pages and the writing errors circled and lunged, circled and lunged, snapping their jaws like ravenous, mangy wolves wearing down their prey.

And as I read, something entirely unexpected happened. No longer was I hearing the gnashing of teeth and feral growls. Realizing this, I looked up from the script, and around me the wolves had turned into golden-haired Labrador Retrievers. Harmless, dopey, playful. Stupid but fun.

Ye gods. I was reading the absolute worst presented screenplay in the history of screenplays... and I was loving it!

Cover me...

Let's go back to the beginning.

So I'm staring at the screenplay cover.

Knowing it's impossible for a middle-aged veteran screenwriter to accidentally misspell not just one but both words in his two-word film title, I decide, OK, so maybe QT did this on purpose. Inglourious Basterds. It positively reeks of uneducated, working class, don't-give-a-fuck characters.

Hmm. Viewed at that angle, it's kind of cool. And the QT sure likes to serve up a mouth-watering slice of cool generously slathered in dripping irony. Yeah. Kind of cool.

I remind myself: Only if he did it on purpose!

My eyes flick to the draft date: Last Draft, July 2nd, 2008. Interesting. If that's accurate, this thing leaked fast! Suspiciously fast.

(NOTE: I started this post about two weeks after that date. Yes, I've had this post in draft for quite a while. I only returned to finish it after Julie at The Rouge Wave mentioned she had got hold of the script.

According to this BBC report, Tarantino spoke of finishing the screenplay in June 2008.

I won't be reviewing the story, by the way. There are many reviews available now for the script, such as this one.)


And I start reading.

And it quickly becomes obvious: QT did not mispell for dramatic effect; QT has the writing skills of a college junior.

Let me follow that with a caveat. I'm quite certain this script was never intended for anyone other than QT and his inner circle. The presentation is so rough and tumble, it's inconceivable any industry screenwriter would be so contemptuous as to send it out as we see it here. This was a leak, plain and simple. (And let's discount the possibility this copy of the script was retyped by somebody who introduced all the grammatical issues.)

But... that does not change facts: the writing is abominable. Like Inglorious Bastards character Donnie Donowitz, QT takes a baseball bat to Spelling and shatters its spine, and then he pulverizes Grammar's skeleton to dust. It really is that stunningly amateur. Here we have a supposed craftsman of words giving us sentences such as the following. I preserved all spelling and formatting as it appears in the screenplay.

  • ... she hears a noise, moving the sheet aside she see's ...
  • ... brings a axe up and down on A tree stump ...
  • ... looks over his shoulder, and see's the Germans ...
  • She picks up a basin, and begins pumping, after a few pumps, water comes out splashing into the basin.
  • ... then continues without letting go of his hostess hand ...
  • The Farmer offers The S.S. Colonel a seat at the families wooden dinner table.
  • The Nazi Officer excepts the French Farmers offer ...
  • The mother of three, takes a craft of milk ...
  • COL LANDA: ... I say; Bravo
  • COL LANDA: Monsieur LaPadite, what we have to discuss, would be better discussed in private.
  • The Farmers Wife follows her husbands orders, and gathers her daughter's taking them outside ...
  • COL LANDA: To continue to speak it so inadequately, would only serve to embarrass me.
  • PERRIER: ... rounding up the Jews left in France who are ether hiding, or passing for Gentile.
  • He also extracts a expensive black fountain pen ...
  • As the Farmer loads the bowel of his pipe ...
  • COL LANDA: ... they've ether made good their escape ...
  • COL LANDA: Facts can be so misleading, where rumors, true or false are often reveling.
  • PERRIER: ... but we heard the Dreyfusis had made there way into Spain.
  • PERRIER: ... in the same community, in the same bussiness.
  • The S.S. Colonel takes in this answer, seems to except it ...
That's just the first nine script pages. I've omitted some grammatical errors that would be spoilers, and I've also omitted other minor errors.

Here's where I start speculating wildly. I think we are looking at a copy QT himself printed out, hence the handwritten title page and the handwritten page numbers. There's a page numbered 12.a followed by page 12.b. If anyone other than QT had put in those page numbers by hand you'd expect it to be numbered sequentially. It feels like QT was in a big hurry to get this out. The unpolished presentation reeks of rush job.

But why the rush job? Supposedly Tarantino worked on this script for a couple of years, off and on. Based on this 'last draft' screenplay, it feels like Tarantino spent the majority of that time crafting the story and only recently did he sit down to hammer out the full screenplay.

Given this very unpolished presentation, I'm guessing this copy was not intended for industry eyes. I'd guess it went to a friend or colleague for feedback, and somebody got hold of the copy and scanned it without the original recipient's knowledge.

However this leaked, I expect it is both a gigantic embarrassment to Tarantino and an even bigger triumph.


This is QT's Epic Fail for spelling and grammar. It makes him look like an idiot. It makes no difference if this version of the script was never intended for wide circulation. Any writer who produces a first draft this riddled with language faults should be labelled a hack. Let's not consider how many drafts came before this 'last draft' version.

Chapter Five: Revenge of the Giant Face

How good would the story and characters need to be to overcome such a massive handicap as this in a screenplay? How engrossing, how visual, how delightful would it need to be to cause the reader to overlook such a constant, clumsy, unapologetic assault on comprehension and literary style?

Let me tell you. It would need to be at least as good as QT's Inglorious Bastards.

I read screenplays. Not as much as a Studio Reader, but a lot. I don't know how long it's been since I punched the air after turning the final page of a screenplay, but it's been a long while. When I arrived at page 165 of Inglorious Bastards and read the final line ("They ghoulishly giggle.") I punched the air and let loose a mightly FUCK-YEAH!

I FUCK-YEAHed for two powerful reasons:
  1. Because QT had done it. He had done what M. Night Shyamalan can only dream of doing. QT delivered a final line of dialogue so balls-out, so self-referential and conceited, so "Yeah, that was pretty fucking awesome, and I hardly broke a sweat, but don't hate me because I'm beautiful" that audiences are going to ROAR their approval when the credits roll. Not only that, the line perfectly bookends the character, the story, the whole goddamn Inglorious Bastards experience! All is forgiven, QT, all is forgiven!

  2. Because in the space of a few hours, QT showed me that all those things I hold dear -- grammar, spelling, technique -- these things are not as important as getting the story right. That's what QT did: he got the story right, and to hell with slowing down to get the writing right. This shabby, drunk, unapologetic screenplay called Inglourious Basterds don' need no steenkin' dictionary to get the job done. This screenplay nicely illustrates that psychological trick where the brain can corpmehned jlbmued wrods so lnog as the fisrt and lsat letetrs are cerroct.

    NOTE: Um, for all of you about to fire up your wordprocessors and give your latest script a Basterds dumbing down, I will point out that this technique of Story First, Presentation Last has so far worked only for Tarantino. If you are not Tarantino then your Basterds-ized screenplay is going to be read by exactly nobody in Hollywood. Let's not get too carried away, people.
So thank you, Quentin, for pulling off a trick I thought was not possible. Believe me when I say, I cannot wait to see Inglorious Bastards.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Two fun examples of dialogue-less storytelling

Any day is a good day for zombies.

The best day for zombies will be when Left 4 Dead hits the PC. On that day I will be transported to Zombie Heaven.

Ironically, Zombie Heaven is right here on Earth: the Land of the Living. Where the warm-fleshed, juicy-brains-carrying humans are abundant and conveniently packaged into cramped apartment blocks with no exit strategies. Where humans fear the night and zombies do not fear the day. Where humans still believe a zombie holocaust can happen only on screen.

And so, I present for your viewing pleasure two animated short films featuring zombies. The stories have a beginning, middle, and end and are told completely without dialogue.


Beyond the wonderful claymation, I love, love the Casio-quality sound effects in this one. And there's a chuckle early on that would feel right at home in any Wallace and Gromit move.


This delightful riff on Carpenter's The Thing is a music video from indy electro band Zombie Zombie. This is the film you wanted to make on your Super-8 camera back in 1982, but your older sister had already kidnapped your G.I. Joe figures, dressed them in Barbie hotpants, and arranged them at the table with the Troll Dolls and the My Little Ponys for a Sunday tea party. Or did that only happen to Steven Soderbergh?