If you want to write screenplays that you can sell and get produced, you might want to consider writing your ending first. What? Yeah, well, check movies out that get produced. You know, those you pay $8 to $10 to see in the theater depending upon where you live and what time of the day and week you go to see them, and then read about the millions of dollars they made at the box office each weekend.
In almost every one of these movies, inevitably, the end is the defining moment in top box office movies. It is where the main character experiences an epiphany. The main character is challenged to confront and conquer his fatal flaw or go down to defeat. If you want to write screenplays that you can sell and get produced, you must build your screenplay to this moment in the movie. The tension must be wound so tightly that it feels as though everything is going to pop, like the drawn string releasing from a bow. SNAP!
How can you create this kind of tension that is so necessary in great drama unless you know where you are going in your screenplay? The villain (in fiction, the villain represents evil) or the antagonist (in fiction, the antagonist can represent someone or something that is not evil, but who or what is competing with your main character or protagonist for the golden ring) must represent your main character’s fatal flaw. In other words, what your villain or antagonist seeks or has is what your main character has been seeking to overcome (your main character’s goal)throughout your screenplay. So, you must have your main character defeat the villain or antagonist in order to overcome his fatal flaw and win.
The movie, “Ransom”, starring Mel Gibson is one of many examples. Mel Gibson plays a good person. His son is kidnapped by an evil man. Through a series of events, Mel’s character has to become less and less nice with others if he is to save his son until he is confronted with defeating the kidnapper or losing his son forever. He is forced to kill the kidnapper, and in true Hollywood fashion, not only kill him, but obliterate him. Not that I condone this kind of violence in movies, because I don’t, but the example is there. When Mel’s character finally overcomes his “niceness”, it is only then that he saves his son.
Another example, in “Warriors of Virtue”, a $56 million MGM movie for which I was a writer/consultant, Ryan, the main character seeks to conquer his disability, he wears a brace on one leg. In order to accomplish this, he has to overcome his fear of being too weak to succeed in physically achieving in entity. It all happens in the climax when he is confronted by evil itself, Komodo. Will Ryan win, or will Komodo win? It all circulates around Ryan’s disability which is really in his mind even though he has a disabled leg. Komodo wants to destroy to Ryan. How will Ryan escape? Or can Ryan stand his ground and defeat Komodo?
How did nine writers and four producers arrive at this ending/climax? By determining beforehand how we wanted the movie to end. We spent days and weeks obsessing over this. The question was, what was Ryan’s goal and how does he achieve it? How could we attract an audience and incorporate this story idea? A teen boy. Did he smoke? Shoplift? Beat up other kids? Or run away from fights? Was he physically strong or physically weak? What kind of boy was Ryan? With his disability, we knew we had to come up with something that gave him no possible way to achieve his goal because that’s what high concept movies are all about, to have the main character overcome all odds and win. One of the producers came up with the suggestion that Ryan is afraid of life because of his physical disability.
How could we write a story where he could learn how to overcome his fear of life because he is physically disabled, and thus, inept with respect to physical activities of most all teen boys? Well, I suggested, let’s first look at how he will be after he wins at the end of the movie. I suggested we create a character transformation arc. In order to this, I suggested that we take Ryan from a fearful boy to a confident young man. Between that kind of beginning and that kind of ending, I suggested we build the arc. So, I asked, how will Ryan defeat his fatal flaw and Komodo?
The producers told us to each write the ending/climax. A combination of endings appeared. It wasn’t easy. Actually, writing the ending first felt like trying to empty the Pacific Ocean with a coffee cup. After several hours of musing over the endings which the writers wrote, the producers sent off two writers to write the screenplay with a couple of endings they selected. Eight months later, they called me to rewrite their draft. The first thing I looked at was the ending. The first thing I did was rewrite was the ending.
Three years later, “Warriors of Virtue”, was released in over 2,000 theaters in the United States. The Sunday afternoon I slipped into the theater with my wife to see the movie, the theater was packed with kids and parents. I watched the audience more than I watched the movie that Sunday afternoon, particularly when the ending/climax appeared. Guess what, I felt a special thrill when I noticed the audience sliding closer and closer to the edge of their seats as Ryan’s transformation evolved. At the end/climax, many of them crouched from their seats to cheer Ryan on as he defeated his fear and Komodo in a most unusual way. It was at that point I was convinced that writing endings first in my screenplays is one way to write screenplays that sell and get produced.