Wednesday, May 17, 2006


What’s that over there? There, just coming into view. It’s as clear as day. You can see it from a mile off. It’s… it’s… the predictable ending to a film.

If openings are easy and the second act is hard, then endings are a total bitch. And what’s worse is that in this day and age, audiences have become so sophisticated (armchair storytellers if you will) that they can anticipate dialogue and key events a good half hour or more than the scenes are supposed to appear on screen.

They’ll run through all the possible endings in their head and quickly analyse all of the different story routes through the logic of what’s been presented to them so far. A lot of spec screenplays make their endings, or key twists, very predictable. As soon as the story establishes one certain story expectation, the audience is already filling the blanks and wants to see their anticipation challenged at the very least.

Even if the script is as predictable as a rom com (where the guy & girl will get together) or a cop thriller (where the good guy will catch the baddie), the way it achieves these resolutions is the key to audience satisfaction. There are certain endings or story developments that are unavoidable but that doesn’t mean that they should be predictable.

Let’s make a brief mention of Seven. Morgan Freeman and Brad Pitt out to catch bad guy Kevin Spacey. They’re going to get him, right? They’re going to save the day. Well, yes, and no. Spacey gives himself up. Who saw that coming? And then he delivers Pitt’s wife head in a box to complete his murder masterpiece. What an ending. What a finale. Miserable as hell but riveting and unpredictable.

Rom coms have a hard time coming up with the goods because it’s easy to deliver a by-the-numbers script rather than genuinely challenge the characters and story to avoid a predictable outcome. Yes, we want to see the romantic couple get together but it doesn’t have to be too conventional or unsurprising. Shake it up a bit. Even the most predictable of outcomes can be acceptable and entertaining if the characters EARN the resolution rather than have it handed to them on a contrived plate.

It’s all about twists and turns. Leading the story one way before twisting it another. Keeping the audience on their toes so that even if they see something coming, they’ll accept it once it arrives because the characters and scenes will have worked hard to get it there. ‘Twists and turns’ doesn’t mean breathtaking dramatic developments, it just means keeping the plot alive to the characters so that they face, and create, increasing conflict in their individual desires and goals.

And then, when the ending comes, everyone goes home happy.


Lucy V said...

Sometimes, because an ending IS a tad predictable, it can give satisfaction I think - makes the audience feel clever. Some movies are so incomprehensible it just annoys people...Apparently The Da Vinci Code is doing just that at the moment, tho I've yet to see it. I didn't like the book tho, so I can't imagine I'll like it. Plus I hate Tom Hanks. So actually, might be worth saving my money ; )

Robin Kelly said...

Working out an ending because you're clever and working it out because you've seen the exact same thing thousands of times before is different I think.


I read the Da Vinci Code and it works fine except for the need for a twist at the end and the need for everything to go back to normal. I didn't really believe the reasons the characters gave for both. I'm still watching the midnight screening tonight though. (Forget Hanks, ooh la la Tautou!)

One major problem with twists in thrillers is that we know it's not going to be the main baddie so it must be one of the few other characters. If as a writer you choose the most unlikely, then sure, it's a surprise but I think the character has to have a very good reason and it needs to be foreshadowed.

The first worst examples that come to mind are Valentine and, ironically, Twisted.

Lucy V said...

Didn't see Twisted, but definitely agree with you on Valentine Robin. That ending SUCKED! I mean, what was that nosebleed thing anyway??