3 Things Wrong with The Hateful Eight Script

What’s the best thing you can do when crafting a screenplay? Read other screenplays and learn from their mistakes (or successes). The latest film from Quentin Tarantino, The Hateful Eight, is a perfect example to learn from. In studying both the first and final drafts of the script, I have identified three main things to discuss.

If you have not seen the film, beware, because there are spoilers. This blog is to help identify the structure of existing and produced screenplays so we, as writers and filmmakers, can study and observe.

Today, I will discuss the following things “wrong” with The Hateful Eight screenplay:

  • Camera Directions Inside Screen Action
  • Death by Exposition
  • Breaking Structure Rules

1) Never write camera directions or actor’s thoughts in your script. On the second page of both the first and final draft is the following sequence:

Now, still in big super CINEMASCOPE 70MM filmed gloriousness, we follow along with the lone STAGECOACH DRIVER fighting and guiding these horses to shelter.

We follow alongside the HORSES, working out way from the back horse in mid-stride, to the tip of the lead horse’s nose.

We follow along the twelve horse hooves as they rear up and spit out snow and dirt.

We take the DRIVER’S POV down the hurtling six horse team.

Unless you plan on directing the film yourself, the camera directions or notes of how each frame will be shot is not up to you. The writer is never in charge of which shot will be the “point-of-view” (POV) of a character or how the horses may be filmed.

In your own script, you can expect to write something like this:

EXT. – STAGECOACH (MOVING) – SNOWY DAY

The STAGECOACH with its SIX HORSES continue down the snow-covered mountain in haste. The horses struggle against the deep snow with each gallop. The DRIVER clicks his tongue and whips the reigns to spur them on their path.

I have left the visuals there to get an image in your head while reading. If the writer dictates every single shot and angle, the cinematographer can feel like they have no creative freedom and are not allowed to bring forth any ideas they may have.

The Coen Brothers (Blood SimpleNo Country for Old Men) are well-known for not allowing outside ideas into their films. While planning Raising Arizonathey storyboarded each scene, so when Nicolas Cage came forward with suggestions, he was shot down (and to this day, is still peeved) on every one except for his hair style. Cage’s creative process was stunted because he could not develop the story with the writers/directors.

Along the same lines, a writer should not write character thoughts. You run the risk of turning your actors into robots who merely deliver the lines as dictated rather than becoming the character as they would play it, or even more basically, it could alter the continuity of the character.

For example, in The Hateful Eight on page 18 of the final draft, the screen action says:

Daisy Domergue spits some blood from her mouth into the snow. She touches her freed wrist. She watches John Ruth walk off the pain in his shoulder. “Aww, he hurt his arm, ain’t that too bad”, she thinks to herself.

Telling your character what to think is not the writer’s responsibility. It is up to the director and the actor. Here, Tarantino is writing with the intention of directing, so in his script, it can be forgiven. However, he has not given Jennifer Jason Leigh the chance to think her own thoughts as the character, Daisy.


2) Show, don’t tell. This is one of the biggest rules broken by screenwriters, and my biggest pet peeve. When you’re sitting in a movie theater, you expect to be shown the action rather than being talked to. After all, this is not a radio play.

In The Hateful Eight, whether or not for nostalgic or throwback reasons to 1970s B-movies, there were many times where I was told backstories. I call this “death by exposition.” 

In the second “chapter” when four characters are getting to know each other in the carriage to Red Rock, the camera sits facing Major Marquis Warren and Chris Mannix in a static two-shot.  Chris turns to Daisy Domergue and says:

CHRIS
Do you know who he is?

DOMERGUE
Do I know about the thirty thousand dollar reward
the Confederacy put on the head of Major Marquis?
I had kin at Wellenbeck. Yeah, I know about Major
Marquis and his head.

Then we go into a long block of dialogue of Chris explaining exactly who Major Marquis Warren is and why he is so important.

CHRIS
For hillbillies, the head of Major Marquis was a new farm,
or a ranch, or a business. Or twelve good horses, the
kind you could start a proper stable with. A herd of long
horns and a prize bull.
(to Maj. Warren)
Them hillbillies went [expletive] head hunting but they
never did get ’em the right [expletive] head, did they?

What have we learned here? We know that Major Warren is a man with a price on his head. We were told that rather than shown. Being told this information adds nothing new to the scene. We are watching a static shot of Chris and Major Warren not moving–just talking. Visually, this is not dynamic and can quickly slow any scene.

About a quarter of a page down, it continues:

JOHN RUTH
What’s Wellenbeck?

CHRIS
You ain’t never heard of Wellenbeck prisoner of war
camp, West Virginia?

JOHN RUTH
No Reb, I ain’t never heard of it!
(to Maj. Warren)
You bust out?

Maj. Warren nods his head, Yes.

CHRIS
Oh, Major Marquis did more than bust out.

And then Chris tells us the story, still in that static two-shot, of how Major Warren broke out of the prisoner of war camp. This is the extent of the action in this scene, and again, we were just told the action rather than having experienced it.


3) Know the rules before you break them. This point is not so much something wrong in the film but rather something unconventional that if not done skillfully can end in disaster. 

Most films follow a basic three-act structure: a beginning, middle, and end.

3Act

In The Hateful Eight, Tarantino has employed a more thematic approach by employing a five-act structure over the course of five (actually six) chapters in the film. This style of writing dates back to Horace, a Roman lyric poet from about 32 BC. He said, “A play should should not be shorter or longer than five acts.” This structure is now known as “dramatic structure” under Freytag’s Pyramid.

freytagpyramid

If Tarantino has/had designs on making The Hateful Eight a stage play, his structure is calculated and absolutely correct. [And for the record, the film absolutely feels like a stage play with its long takes and fluid camera keeping the action alive in the back- and foreground.]

For example, here are the act breaks for the full film:

  1. Major Warren gets on the carriage with John Ruth and Daisy Domergue.
  2. The carriage arrives at Minnie’s Haberdashery.
  3. John Ruth dies.
  4. The plot is revealed.
  5. Daisy Domergue is hung.

Everything changes when John Ruth dies making this the climax even though this is the midpoint of the film. Plenty of action occurred before and will continue to happen after this point, but the film is never the same.

But, the complexity doesn’t stop there. Tarantino has not abandoned the three act structure by employing the basic beginning, middle, and end to each chapter creating a mini-story within the story.

To break down the first “chapter,” it looks like this:

  1. Getting Major Warren on the carriage with Daisy and John.
  2. Major Warren punching Daisy in the face hurtling her and John out of the carriage.
  3. Seeing a man (Chris) running toward them in the distance.

Tarantino changes the structural dynamic by creating rising action and mini-climaxes every 30-45 minutes. For a film that is nearly three hours long, keeping the rise and fall of emotion and action is key to keeping your audience engaged.

But if Tarantino didn’t know the rules before he broke them, the film could easily fall flat for a whole 45 minutes (or more) creating a lag in the action and boring your audience.


There is a lot to learn by reading this script, and I hope this has helped you with your writing. Leave a comment below and let me know what you thought of the film!

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8 thoughts on “3 Things Wrong with The Hateful Eight Script

  1. 1. Tarantino is known for some of his shots. I don’t know that knowing when you’re right or good is a bad thing. If the ultimate goal is the finished product, then it doesn’t really matter where ideas come from, does it? I can’t say I remember all of those scripted shots being in the movie, but it’s been a month since I saw it. I also don’t know how writer/directors communicate to their cinematographers, but I don’t know that putting shots in a script dictates they will be in the movie or that that’s the only way they will be done. I have less conviction (and knowledge) about this point than I do the second one…

    2. Part of the charm you get from the story-telling the characters do in the stagecoach is that you don’t know if it’s all true. You just have three guys telling stories (I don’t think Daisy told any stories). Samuel Jackson tells a story, too… and it turns out it wasn’t true! The falsity of that story had purpose, but we couldn’t have known until later in the movie. It could have been that the sheriff’s story was false instead… and then it could have given meaning to the story later on. Tarantino isn’t afraid of flashbacks (RE: Kill Bill) to tell his story, and I think he made the right choice there. If he had flashed back to the camp, it would have led audiences to ask why he didn’t show Lincoln writing the letter. And if you flash back, audiences usually assume the things they see are true (not a dream or fantasy or lie).

    3. I hate that every (almost every) film follows this paradigm, and it’s refreshing to see films that don’t.

    My overall criticism of this movie, though, is that it felt like Reservoir Dogs in the old west. A friend of mine ranked this his least favorite QT movie. I thought some of the language was unnecessary. I also felt that QT might have spent too long before the Tatum/actual owner flashback.

    1. You have some awesome points. A lot of what I found “wrong” with the film is up to Tarantino’s style, so I was approaching this as lessons for a novice or new writer. What he does for his films, not everyone can or should do–handle with care, if you will. So, your note about the shots in the script is absolutely correct. He has a very particular style, and it makes sense that he makes these notes inside his pages. But for a novice writer working on a spec, it’s not generally recommended.
      2. I have the same train of thought with the second point. Tarantino can get away with this because he does have a continuity of style between his films. But long blocks of dialogue can be boring. And in the case of The Hateful Eight, I rolled my eyes at the multiple, “You didn’t know this? Well, let me tell you all about it…” It happens more than once making the second chapter rather slow and, frankly, boring. This style of exposition is better suited for a play, which bleeds into the structure point. This is also what I thought of: https://youtu.be/u3RnRDuOMcI?t=17s
      3. I do agree with you that I felt refreshed with the different structure for the film (it challenged me as a reader/viewer), but it would be so easy to screw it up for someone who doesn’t understand it. After Reservoir Dogs and Kill Bill, I believe Tarantino has gotten a better grasp at his style, which is fitting for this film. Without practice and understanding of structure, it could have easily fallen apart (which I argue a bit with that dull second chapter).

      I actually enjoyed the film more than I thought I would have. I love westerns, and with them so rare on the screen these days, it was fun to have the backdrop and accents again (I adore Walton Goggins). The language and violence didn’t bother me as much because it’s the woman who turns the tables more than the men, so the violence inflicted on her is a way of putting her on the same playing field as the men, which is easy to overlook since she takes the brunt of it.

      1. I agree that all of the “you didn’t know” stories dragged. A lot of the stories were kind of superfluous, but again, the fake letter was kind of the climax of that (and later revealed to be fake). I’m not sure we would have lost that much by telling virtually none of the stories they told, other than losing some of the build-up for the protagonists and antagonist.

  2. This was an extremely engaging read. Personally, I enjoyed the Hateful Eight. It was a pleasant change from movies that had the fate of the world hanging in balance, or sordid romances, or weak comedies. I felt like that a whole lot of build up was created for Daisy’s crimes, and then it sort of just fizzled out or was forgotten towards the end. But again, I’m no connoisseur of cinema, just a casual observer.

    1. That’s true. I hadn’t thought about the ending quite like that. But do you think that at that halfway mark, the whole film shifted because the only person who cared about her past crimes was John Ruth? With him out of the picture, the others can focus on what’s at hand rather than her past. Or, do you think that her crimes of the past were committed by the other outlaws in the room, too, making the situation even more complex since it’s Warren and Mannix versus the gang?

      1. I think that sometimes there should be a little black and white left in the picture. After the midway mark the movie’s characters all lapsed into various shades of grey ( can’t even use that phrase without cringing any more, bah). Like we didn’t need to empathize with Daisy, nor with her gang’s situation. The interaction between Warren and Mannix built up nicely, and the dark humor simmering through the whole thing was a sort of comic relief, but the proceedings got very indistinguishable towards the end. So the gang gets punished for their crimes, Warren gets his bits blown off, and Mannix miiight just survive.. what’s the message there? Is there one at all, or is the entire movie just closed with a random ending, just something that happened in a room in a blizzard long ago?

      2. One thing I noticed that I still have questions about was when at Minnie’s, in a background shot, Daisy has her head on John Ruth. For a split-second, I thought maybe they would explain it. Was this a love/hate relationship? If John had made it to Red Rock, would he have had second thoughts or wanted to save her? Their dynamic was fascinating to me, and sadly, never explored. When Daisy explodes over John’s death, was it out of something more than her freedom? The romantic in me almost hopes there was another layer, but the film critic in me sees the “black and white” of the situation.
        But to your point, I like the idea that it’s just a story of something that happened in a room and that’s that. You could say that’s the case for most of Tarantino’s films, so he is consistent if nothing else.

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