Quentin Tarantino has created some of the most memorable scenes in film history. However, none are quite so impactful, tense, and amazing as the Inglourious Basterds opening scene.
The scene lasts for just under 20 minutes, but during that time, Tarantino employs a vast array of framing techniques and angles to help tell the story to its fullest potential. In this post, we’ll run through some of the different techniques he used and how you can incorporate them into your own films.
Watch: Suspense in Inglourious Basterds Opening Scene
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Tarantino Shot List
Modulate with moods
As a filmmaker, you want to prevent your audience from getting bored, especially during long conversation scenes. One way you can do that is by changing up your framing based on changes within the conversation taking place between your characters.
In the case of the Inglourious Basterds opening scene, we see this early on. When Hans Landa first sits down, the camera is set on a medium-wide, and the camera is focused on a corner in the room. After some close-ups of the farmer and his daughter, we return to Landa, but this time, the camera’s at a lower angle. This conveys Landa’s power in the room, and it denotes a shift in tone within the scene. This may be the farmer’s home, but Landa holds all of the cards.
You can see something similar in Psycho. During Marion’s conversation with Norman, a good deal of the scene has very basic medium shots. However, when Marion starts to disrespect Norman’s mother, the angle changes. Norman is forced to defend his mother, and now, an owl with wings flown out is in the frame. He’s on the defensive, so the camera angle requires a change.
Frame characters for power
Next, you want to consider how you can use camera movements to convey to the audience what they need to pay attention to. We’ve established that Hans Landa is the most important and powerful person in this farm scene conversation. What else does Tarantino do to show that Landa is the one we need to pay attention to most?
For starters, when Landa first meets the farmer’s daughters, the camera pans across the room as he goes to take one of their hands. This shows us that he’s in full control of the situation.
In contrast, consider the moment when the farmer gets up to grab his pipe. He gets out of his chair and walks across the room, but the camera doesn’t follow him. Instead, Landa remains the focal point because he is still in control of the conversation.
For a more detailed breakdown of what you can accomplish through camera movements, check out this video essay from The Nerdwriter.
The essay showcases numerous shots from Fincher’s films to show how the camera moves perfectly with the characters. It guides our eyes to tell us what we need to look at.
As is the case with the opening scene from Inglourious Basterds, the camera almost always remains on Landa whenever he’s in the frame. It lets us know that what he’s saying and doing is of the utmost importance, and we shouldn’t take our eyes off him for a second.
Tarantino Directing Style
Cross 'the line' to disorient
At one point in the scene, the camera orientation changes. Up until this point, the farmer is on the right-hand side of the screen while Landa is on the left. When the farmer goes to sit back down after getting Landa a glass of milk, the camera angle changes. So now, the farmer is on the left while Landa is on the right. Tarantino has crossed the 180-degree line.
What is the 180-degree rule?
In cinematography, there is a rule that states that two characters in a scene must remain in the same left/right relationship. There exists an invisible axis that many directors will not cross over. This is referred to as “crossing the line.”
After crossing the line, the shot becomes a reverse angle. Many filmmakers avoid doing this because it can distract and disorient the audience. However, when disorientation is your goal, it can prove to be quite effective.
When watching the scene, it’s clear Tarantino wants the audience to be on edge. Hans Landa asks the farmer if he knows what the people of France call him. His sinister nickname is aptly, “The Jew Hunter.”
The audience has just seen that the farmer is hiding a Jewish family underneath his floorboards. Viewers now realize this is no ordinary SS officer in this man’s house. This is a man who’s very good at his job, and now, the Jewish family is in even greater danger.
Raise stakes with close-ups
Finally, we reach the climax of the scene. Hans Landa closes in on his kill, and this moment is punctuated with a tight close-up of him. Throughout the scene, Landa has acted jovial, almost as though he’s on the farmer’s side. But now we see his true nature. He’s vicious and brutal. And we clearly see the look on his face that this is not a man to be trifled with.
Similarly, we get a close-up on the farmer and see something very different. We see a broken man. We see someone who did everything in his power to protect his neighbors, and he has failed. He will surrender them to protect his own family, and it tears him up inside.
Close-up shots have the power to put us directly in a character’s shoes, which is what our video about close-ups dives into further.
Directors often zoom in on an actor’s face for emotion. Throughout most of this scene, the audience has functioned as an outsider looking in. We’ve watched two men have a conversation, and toward the end, Landa makes it clear he knows the Jewish family is in the house. He has won, and through close-ups, we feel the farmer’s defeat and sadness.
Quentin Tarantino’s Style
Add flourishes to the story
There are numerous filmmaking techniques you can use to tell your story. For the most part, you want to use shots that help advance the story and clue the audience into what they should pay attention to. However, that doesn’t mean you should avoid having a little fun.
During the part where Landa asks about the Jewish family’s ages, the camera pans left, completely unmotivated… or is it? Through such a tactic, Tarantino lets the audience know this is a story. There is more going on than just what we see. This is why the rotation precedes the revelation that the family hides under the floorboards.
In general, you want to avoid making the audience aware they are watching a movie. However, under certain circumstances, it can work to your advantage. In this instance, the scene has gone on for a while, so the audience needs a new source of tension. Tarantino delivers, and the remainder of the scene becomes all the more dire.
Quentin Tarantino's Directing Style
Quentin Tarantino is one of the most innovative and exciting directors working today. Film students and even established directors can learn a lot from his style. Read on to learn even more about the vast array of shots Tarantino uses in his films to great effect.