storytelling lessons of the hateful eight

Characters don’t have to be likable.

The eight are indeed hateful. Even with Major Warren, who is positioned as the “hero” (sort of), Tarantino makes sure we know some pretty evil stuff about him — end not just Han Solo-type scoundrel stuff, either.

O. B., the stagecoach driver — and not one of the eight — seems okay, but we learn almost nothing about him, and his (at least relative) niceness doesn’t help him much.

But so what?

Shakespeare didn’t worry about whether his characters were likable (at least as far as I can tell). For a more recent example, see Chinatown. That’s a great movie, and everybody in it is awful.

 
All questions don’t have to be answered.

Is Chris Mannix really the new sheriff of Red Rock? Are there really fifteen more members of the gang? Did the death Major Warren describes really take place? Did it take place in the way he describes?

You can theorize, and come up with some estimates of probability, but you don’t know for sure.

In trying to figure out the answers to the questions above, you can try to rely on following who knows what, and when, but Tarantino explicitly informs us that the characters are having conversations that we’re not privy to. Which makes it even more challenging. And fun.

 
Don’t break a rule partway.

One key to breaking rules is to break them right out in the open. If you try to break them sneakily, you will get caught.

In the classic Western Stagecoach, John Ford had to set up a few shots of the stagecoach that broke the “360 degree rule” (see below). When people pointed this out, Ford became, to say the least, testy (even more testy than usual, I mean).

In the early parts of this movie, Tarantino shows the stagecoach going from left to right in one scene, and then going the other way in the next. He does this more than once — just so you can tell that he’s doing it deliberately.

So much for the rules that they teach in film school. 🙂

 
The 360 degree rule: As I understand it, in portraying three-dimensional action on a flat screen, you have to allow for the viewer’s perception. For example, you’re going to film an actor going through a doorway, going outside. You’re going to show him both inside and outside the house. For the shot inside the house, you set the camera on the actor’s right, so that he’s moving across the frame from left to right.

In that case, you have to set up the camera for the outside shot in the same position, in the actor’s right. If you set up the second shot on the actor’s left, the audience’s perception will be that the actor is now going on the opposite direction (right to left).

Some people try to extend this rule to cover all sorts of other on-screen movement, like a stagecoach racing across Monument Valley, but, as Tarantino shows us very deliberately, it doesn’t apply that broadly.

(Orson Welles used to tell about the first day he heard about this rule, when he was making his first movie. He was so stunned that he shut down production for the rest of that day so could go home and think about the implications of this. Coming from a background as a stage (and radio) director, it had never occurred to him.)

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4 Responses to storytelling lessons of the hateful eight

  1. Maggie says:

    “All questions don’t have to be answered.” It is very hard to get away with that when writing fiction. Readers will always notice when something’s been left open or hanging. There definitely is a way to get away with not answering every question, but I certainly haven’t mastered it. 🙂

  2. This made me think a bit more about how I’ve done this in the past, and it occurred to me that in at least a couple of cases I’ve actually inserted the question into the story, and then had a character — a character the reader would (I hope) consider authoritative — decide that the question did not need to be answered.

    This doesn’t apply in all (or maybe even most) cases, but I may do a blog post about it. It’s always weird to realize that I’ve developed a technique without being aware of it.

  3. SB Roberts says:

    I’d like to see a blog post about unanswered questions as well. I’ve never figured out how to handle that either.

    The whole 360 degree rule in film is very interesting. Some friends of mine and I have dabbled in film, and that was one of the first things we were taught while we were setting up scenes. If you’re filming an action scene, there’s another cool trick that they use that you might find interesting that helps viewers through actions scenes. An episode of Frame by Frame (a YouTube series) explains it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6wCrdINidls&index=16&list=PLHLoLiL1nL8GdoFpQumt3sLa46TGzZiFP

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