Inglourious Basterds: Shooting Tarantino’s WWII Picture in Sequence

After years of on-and-off writing the script and a fourteen-week pre-production, filming of Quentin Tarantino’s “Inglourious Basterds” began on October 9, 2008 in the small German town of Bad Schandau, near the Czech border.

The film was shot almost entirely in sequence, beginning with the terrifying standoff between Perrier Lapadite and Hans Landa at the Lapadite Farm.  The location was chosen for the rolling landscape and the unusual presence of buttes, which are also characteristic of the topography of the American West.


The Lapadite Farm interior, the cinema interior, and the “La Louisiane” interior were all built on stages at Berlin’s Studio Babelsberg.  The ninety-seven-year-old studio was home to UFA (Universum Film AG), the studio behind many of Germany’s most famous films.  The studio enjoyed a rebirth in the mid-1990s, when stages were refurbished and new buildings were erected.   The studio had became the hub of European film production.  In 2000, “The Pianist,” which was filmed at Babelsberg, won three Oscars.  Notable productions like “The Constant Gardener,” “The Bourne Supremacy,” “The Counterfeiters,” and “The Reader” followed.


Shosanna’s theater was also recreated at Babelsberg.  Both the Los Angeles Theater and the Vista Theater were inspiration for the resulting space with a modernistic, Deco look which was en-vogue in the 30’s.  “We morphed it all together, but we were doing a French cinema. The exterior was constructed on Babelsberg’s back lot, and the lobby and interior were created on the Marlene Dietrich stage.  A duplicate of the stage was also created at an abandoned cement factory an hour outside of Berlin.


“Babelsberg is an exciting place for filmmakers.  We offer wide range of services from stage construction to prop rental but also to co-productions and investment opportunities for filmmakers,” co-producer Henning Molfenter says of the facility. 


Following their time at the Lapadite Farm, the production relocated to Berlin.  “I first got to Berlin and checked out all of the sites from the war which are all still intact.  There are still bullet holes in the walls of buildings.  You can still see remnants of the war everywhere.  Some of the places that we used as locations were real Nazi forts that Hitler built,” Doom says of his experience in the city. 


Scalp Promises


We see The Basterds in action in a wooded area that was part of Fort Hahneberg, which was built in 1888 but never actually used.  The space was closed after WWII and reopened in 1990.  The overgrown, wooded ravine was the perfect setting for the Basterds to confront their enemies and make good on the “one hundred scalp promise” that gains the Basterds their reputation.


Laurent, Brühl and the crew traveled to Paris to shoot a small scene in a French Bistro just before the production took a break for the holidays.


“One of our references for the search was a Claude Chabrol movie called “The Blood of Others,”, which Tarantino had us look at. Well we ended up finding the location that the director used for that movie, and that was the clincher.  It was a homage to Claude Chabrol.”


“I must say I was very happy to be part of the only scene shot in Paris,” Brühl says.  “You can tell that it’s real—that it’s not a movie set.  It’s one of the most beautiful cities I know in the world.  The atmosphere was just great because it was before the Christmas break so everybody was happy to be there for a couple of days. And the food was excellent. The French catering was spectacular.”


On the heels of that very cool party, the crew parted ways for the holidays and reconvened in 2009 for the film’s breathtaking fifth and final chapter.


“We shot in these extraordinary stages that have all this history,” producer Lawrence Bender says of the studio where Fritz Lang’s seminal sci-fi “Metropolis” Josef von Sternberg-Marlene Dietrich’s “The Blue Angel” were filmed.  “The films of Hitler’s period shot there as well, so it has a weird, interesting energy.  We’re shooting right where Goebbels shot his movies.” 


International Espionage


The “men on the mission” find themselves brutally re-routed when a story about scalping fascists ultimately dovetails into an international espionage plot to take down The Third Reich.  This shift takes place in the intense “La Louisiane” sequence.  The actors occupied the tiny space for three weeks after two and a half weeks of rehearsals. 


Everyone knew that sequence would be memorable.  Tarantino says, “The ‘La Louisiane’ scene is like a reduced version of RESERVOIR DOGS, but with Nazis and Germans, but instead of that warehouse, they’re in a basement bar.”  He knew rehearsing the sequence was the best way to be ready when the cameras were ready to roll.


“By the time we got to shoot the scene, it felt like we were in a play,” Kruger remembers.  “I knew my lines.  I dreamt about my lines.  I could have said them in my sleep. Everything was in place.  One of the things that make Tarantino a great director is that even when you’re just in the background, he watches you.  You know you can’t get away with anything, and you don’t want to because you know as an actor he appreciates what you’re doing. You know he sees everything. You never as an actor feel underestimated or not appreciated.”


“‘La Louisiane’ is hopefully going to be one of the biggest scenes of the movie,” says Kruger.  “It’s when Brad and my storyline really takes off.  You’ve seen him, and you’ve followed Shosanna, and you know what she’s planning, and then ‘La Louisiane’ makes the movie all come together. You know the master plan, but it falls apart and we have to come up with Plan B.”


Brad Pitt Kidnapped


B.J. Novak recounts, “Maybe the coolest night for me filming we shot in this truck, a scene where Brad Pitt and I were kidnapped, in handcuffs with bags over our heads.  It was just an establishing shot.  I showed up and all I had to do was be handcuffed and have this bag over my head.  Brad Pitt is there in his white tuxedo jacket, and Tarantino, my all time hero is there behind the camera, and I realized there’s no way I can mess this up. I have a bag over my head, I’m handcuffed, I have no lines, there’s nothing I can do to mess this scene up.  I just kinda looked around between every take and just marveled at my good luck. It was the most glamorous thing. I mean not only Brad Pitt, but like in a white tuxedo, and a moustache, and an accent, hamming it up and absolutely convincing, and taking you back to the 40’s.  It was the most transformative film experience that I couldn’t mess up.  I kept thinking ‘I can’t believe I’m here.’”


Much of the film’s final sequence required the expertise of stunt coordinators Jeff Dashnaw and Bud Davis, who worked with 160 stunt people from throughout Europe.  The team had one set at Babelsberg, then a second “burn” set that was in an abandoned cement factory that was literally charred.  Well over one hundred stunt people were “running” out of a burning building in a mass exodus, crowding and stepping over each other.


Working with Fire


Tarantino always said “the less VFX the better.”  So they turned to a pro stunt coordinator, Jeff Dashnaw.  He explains, “I’d like to say I don’t get nervous about fire, but fire to me is the ultimate danger in our business because, as far as I’m concerned, there’s not a small accident when you’re working with fire. If there’s an accident, it’s a big accident.”


Omar and Eli actually shot their own stunts in the sequence. “Quentin wants everything to look and feel and be as real as possible,” says Eli.  “When you see fire, that is fire.  He wants it to feel organic.  I think that’s part of what makes the film work.  It takes the best people to know how to do that safely and still make it convincing, and really sell it.  Jeff Dashnaw is incredible that way.”


Eli Roth’s film within a film


The surprise short-within-the-film is the mock propaganda film called “Nation’s Pride.”  Shot by Eli Roth and his brother Gabriel, “Nation’s Pride” stars Daniel Brühl.  The short had about 120 set-ups and runs about 7 minutes in length in total, though is it not all featured in the finished film.  Says Brühl “I think that this film is hopefully going to be a feature on the DVD so that there’s a chance to see it—the whole film because really good.”  Eli Roth laughs, “He’s got the Jewish director to make the Nazi propaganda.”