The Story Behind Inglourious Basterds

QT goes to war with a long-planned epic…

Chapter One: Once Upon A Time In Italy

If Quentin Tarantino’s latest cinematic opus has a direct inspiration, it’s surely Enzo G Castellari’s 1978 Italian war pic Quel Maledetto Treno Blindato (AKA That Damned Armoured Train), and released in America as – guess what? – Inglorious Bastards.

The plot finds five American soldiers in World War Two being carted off to answer for various war crimes.

But a German attack on the convoy ferrying them to prison leaves the guards and most of their comrades dead, and the five head off on a commando mission to clear their names by stealing a precious piece of Nazi equipment.

Their target? A heavily protected train…

The film, along with other movies like The Dirty Dozen and Five For Hell, inspired a young Quentin Tarantino to make a men-on-a-mission pic back in the days when he was still just a video store employee.

"This will be our “Inglorious Bastards!” he and his friends would laugh as they plotted fantasy versions of the film. Something stuck…

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Chapter Two: Gathering Basterds Ain’t Easy

Tarantino’s take on the Bastards would have to wait for years, since the young filmmaker didn’t get a handle on what he wanted the film to be for years and even if he had, he wouldn’t have been able to raise the budget to make it.

Instead, he focused on building his rep and making the other movies that had been rolling around in his cine-obsessed noggin – Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction and Jackie Brown – and appearing in/producing friends’ pics.

But then, in 2000, after largely dropping off the filmmaking radar (though he cropped up in documentaries, cameos and as the 'presenter' of some films), it was reported that he was hard at work on a war film that would star, of all people, Adam Sandler.

Described as a gung-ho pic in the style of The Dirty Dozen, Tarantino enthused about it to The Daily Mail: "I've got a bunch of guys fighting the Nazis, and there's a part for Adam Sandler, and I hope he'll be crazy enough to do it."

Sandler, at the time, wasn’t exactly known for his dramatic work – he’d yet to star in Punch Drunk Love, so the idea raised plenty of eyebrows.

The film had originally been conceived as a Western, but had now evolved into a blend of Spaghetti Western and World War II.

The problem, though, was getting it finished…

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Chapter Three: The Long Hard Writing Mission

With what would become Inglourious Basterds consistently defeating Tarantino between 2000 and 2002, he announced that he was putting it on hold again.

"It was some of the best writing I've ever done. But I couldn't come up with an ending,” he told USA Today.

Briefly, he flirted with an idea that would eventually form part of the final movie – two maverick units of American soldiers with a habit of scalping Nazis.

Despite Tarantino regular Michael Madsen claiming that he’d be starring in the film and that it would be out in 2004, Tarantino shoved it to the back burner in favour of working on Kill Bill.

Madsen never seemed to let go of the idea, blabbing to FilmFocus in 2005 that he’d still be starring, alongside Sandler, Tim Roth and, er, Eddie Murphy. Nothing ever came of that version – though we’d still love to have seen it.

Once the long slog of working on Bill was over, QT told press types he’d be back to work editing down the massive, three-film-length war epic, describing the characters as “not your normal hero types that are thrown into a big deal in the Second World War.”

But it still didn’t happen…

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Chapter Four: After The Slaughter

Despite all the post-Bill talk of reigniting Basterds, Tarantino still couldn’t lock it down, and instead chose to work on developing a kung fu pic entirely in Mandarin and a little project called Grindhouse with Robert Rodriguez.

Getting to work on Grindhouse, Tarantino shoved thoughts of his army aside, but when the exploit-o-fest failed to do well at the box office, he went marching back.

Now intent on getting the film – formally announced as “Inglorious Bastards” – made, Tarantino began to talk specifics.

“I'm going to find a place that actually resembles, in one way or another, the Spanish locales they had in spaghetti westerns — a no man's land,” he told The Hollywood Reporter.

“With American soldiers and French peasants and the French resistance and Nazi occupiers, it was kind of a no man's land. That will really be my spaghetti Western but with World War II iconography.

“But the thing is, I won't be period specific about the movie. I'm not just gonna play a lot of Édith Piaf and Andrews Sisters. I can have rap, and I can do whatever I want. It's about filling in the viscera.”

And it wouldn’t be small, as he informed The Daily Record: "It'll be epic and have my take of the sociological battlefield at that time with the racism and barbarism on all sides—the Nazi side, the American side, the black and Jewish soldiers and the French, because it all takes place in France."

Things were finally moving.

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Chapter Five: A Bloody Battle For Money

While he was touring the world pimping Grindhouse, Tarantino began to write solidly again.

At Cannes 2008, the director announced that he had finished the first draft of the “final” script and would be starting in on the second. He also admitted that he hoped to have the finished film ready for Cannes 2009.

In July the same year, Tarantino’s reps began sending the screenplay around to various studios.

Though Grindhouse had largely been a commercial failure, The Weinstein Company was still supportive of the director. The company agreed to co-produce the film with Universal Studios, which signed on to provide a chunk of the finance.

Now that he had his dosh, QT was finally ready to get down to the work of casting and shooting the thing.

There was just one slight problem…

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Chapter Six: A Leaky Script Hits The Web

Even as Tarantino tried to gather a cast for his film – word had it he’s after Brad Pitt for the lead, a Nazi hunting GI known as Lieutenant Aldo Raine – the script, or what proposes to be a draft, arrived on the ‘net.

New York Magazine’s Culture Vulture gave it a read, and broke the plot down roughly. Spoiler alert for anyone trying to stay pure…

“The first chapter, set in 1941, introduces Shosanna and the film's antagonist, a Nazi officer named Landa who's known as the ‘Jew Hunter.’

“The second chapter introduces the Bastards and their tactics: They kill Nazis on sight, take their scalps, and — when they let one go — carve a swastika into his forehead.

“The third chapter, set in 1944, reintroduces Shosanna in Paris ("This whole Chapter will be filmed in French New Wave Black and White").

“The fourth sets up the Bastards' attack on the theatre.

“And it all comes together in Chapter Five, which plays fast and loose with history, to say the least.”

You can still find it here, though QT has apparently made some changes as shooting progressed, so don’t expect it to be identical to the final movie.

The leak did one other thing –it  finally revealed the Inglourious Basterds spelling, though that wouldn’t officially be confirmed until an October press release.

Now, it was really time to find some soldiers - not to mention the rest of the characters…

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Chapter Seven: A Big Bunch Of Basterds

August 2007, and the cast began to come into place.

Hostel helmer Eli Roth is the first person on board, playing Sergeant Donny Donowitz, described as “The Bear Jew”, a hulking, baseball bat-wielding brute who slaughters Nazis with glee.

Later in the month, Tarantino would announce that Brad Pitt had indeed agreed to become Aldo Raine.

Others who officially sign up include Mike Myers (playing a British general), Freaks & Geeks Samm Levine as one of the Basterds, BJ Novak as another, Diane Krueger as actress/double agent Bridget von Hammersmark and Daniel Brühl as main villain, Colonel Hans Landa, “The Jew Hunter”.

Rumours also fly about Simon Pegg leaping onboard to play a British soldier, but he has to drop out due to scheduling conflicts.

QT regular Robert Richardson would be providing the cinematography, and Eli Roth would, in addition to acting, direct a short Nazi propaganda film that becomes a target for the team.

Roth has since described it as one of the toughest things he’s ever made: “Quentin had two shots that were very specific that he wanted to do - but he was like, “For the rest of it, I need footage of people shooting. It’s a guy in a bell-tower shooting 260 Americans. I need footage of people shooting!’

“So I said okay. We got a second camera, and in 2 days we did like 130 shots and Quentin was so happy he gave me a third day.

We shot with the actor Daniel Brühl, and put together this Nazi propaganda film…[as we shot] I was thinking ‘God, I didn’t think I could be more offensive after Hostel 2, but how can I upset people more than that?’”

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Chapter Eight: And Now, The Shooting Starts

Inglourious Basterds shot around Germany, with a few scenes taking place in Paris.

Tarantino and his crew kicked off in the German state of Saxony on October 6th, in an area called the Elbsandstein Mountains and production will then moved to Babelsberg Studios in Potsdam near Berlin on the 13th.

October 17 saw the first official pic from the film emerge, showing Pitt as Raine, complete with the neck scar that is part of his character.

The director later reported that Pitt spent the entire shoot talking in the accent created for Raine: “'Aldo has this big, thick hillbilly accent — he's from Tennessee — so if I asked Brad a question, he would answer with Aldo's inflection,'' Tarantino tells EW.

''It was great. I could spend all day hanging out with the character I created.''

BJ Novak also recalled his shooting experience: “There was one night of filming in Potsdam on this beautiful old street in the middle of winter.

''Brad Pitt was there in a tuxedo. Quentin Tarantino was framing a shot. And I thought, I still don't know what it's like to make a movie.

“Because this is the movie version of making a movie. This is what making a movie is like in movies about making movies.''

And despite some German worries about their depiction in the film, the fact that the movie was allowed to shoot in the country speaks volumes.

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Chapter Nine: We Got Us Some Real Promotion

Shooting coincided with the release of more imagery from the film, including posters used within the movie, pics of the other Basterds characters and, finally one of several actual posters for the film itself (below).

At long last, QT’s fevered war dream was becoming a reality…



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Chapter 10: The Trailer Park Boys


Pics are never quite enough to satisfy the appetite – what people are looking for are the trailers.

Fortunately, with shooting going swiftly and Tarantino deep into editing, the first trailer arrived in February 2009.

Aside from brief peeks here and there, this was the first proper look at Pitt and co in the film.

Also arriving quickly – thanks to Tarantino agreeing to mentor the American Idol singers – was another footage snippet that showed more of the soldiers at work, including a glimpse at Mike Myers (see below).

Now, the waiting really begins…


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Chapter 11: Doing The Cannes Can And Beyond…

QT’s plan to get Basterds finished for Cannes has come through – and with character posters (like the one of Pitt above and Roth below) cropping up, the real work is at last finished.

It’s been a slog for the director, apparently: “It’s become very hard to concentrate on anything but the film I’m making,” he told the New York Times mag. “This was the hardest movie I’ve ever made.”

Why so hard? “I wanted to have a masterpiece before the decade’s out.”

Sounds like so much promo puff, but we can believe it from the man who made Pulp Fiction.

So what now? Considering that the film doesn’t hit these shores until August, a whole lot of patience.

Keep yourself locked to Totalfilm.com for our reaction at Cannes and full coverage closer to the release…