Posted by: steveonfilm | September 7, 2008

The Ending That Won’t End

Each time I sit down to try and put the end on Bystander, I end up extending it another few scenes. A variation on a twist here. A change in scenery there. Two steps forward. One step back.

That’s not to say I’m not making progress. I most certainly am. But I’ve just been surprised to find myself having such trouble wrapping this up. Especially on my 6th draft, when I’ve been able to end the story 5 times before.

In my opinion, not being able to finish a screenplay falls into two categories. Either they don’t want to let the story go, or, they don’t know how to finish it.

People who don’t want to let the story go have trouble with finishing a screenplay because deep down inside they don’t want to. This has ben part of their lives for days, weeks, months, even years. Finishing it is like being forced to break up with someone you still care very deeply for, but is sucking the life out of you. They’re not able to see past the task in front of them.

I’ve been here before. Not with Bystander, but with other projects of mine, such as Moving On. I’d grown so attached to the characters I didn’t want to write what I had to in order to finish the story. I didn’t want to let their story go. I wanted it to keep going on. But that wasn’t the task at hand. The task was telling part of their story. And then ending it. It took a while for me to realize that. And when I did I was able to complete my first draft of Moving On and well….move on.

I’ve also had instances where I didn’t know how to end something. When I sat down to write my first draft of Marianas I had a clear idea how to end two of the three stories. But that third one perplexed me. I couldn’t figure out a way to end the story in a way that did it justice. Everything I came up with fell short of that.

Had I know then what I know now, I would have decided on the ending before I started writing, as Syd Field suggests, but I was still new to writing and not very good at structure. Eventually, with enough trial and error I settled on something I was comfortable with. But those last six pages took an eternity to write. It was frustrating. It was darn near maddening, but it taught me a lesson…just go with it.

Syd mentions this a lot in The Screenwriter’s Workbook. Go with what feels right. You can always come back and change it. But if you don’t try something out you’ll never know if it’s going to work or not. So I did, I just went with it. And eventually, I found what works.

In my 5th draft of Bystander there is a scene after the “airstrip event” that pretty much wraps thing up. But the scene never really sat well with me. I felt it was too easy. To convenient. I’ve scrapped that scene, and with the introduction of The Commodore character, decided on implementing him in the final resolution.

But this has caused me a significant problem. I’ve had to reconfigure the resolution of the movie around this new character. That’s not to say I’m pushing it here. His story arc makes sense. But it’s been difficult. I was faced with how to resolve something in a setting I wasn’t satisfied with, in a manner I wasn’t yet comfortable with.

Up until this point Kyle knew he was going to be faced with a choice. I’ve been building toward it. The Commodore’s character allows him to finally make that choice. To finally take the leap he’d been so scared of taking. Doing what he’d paid so much lip service to over the course of the story, sacrifice.

I kept trying to force what needed to happen. It didn’t feel right. It didn’t sound right. And it wasn’t working. So I listened to myself, took a step back, and just went with how I felt it needed to go. I decided to just go with it and see what happens.

Who cared if I took it past my soft line of 110 pages. That didn’t matter. I can trim that down easily. There’s a lot of stuff I can cut. Make more efficient. I can’t be scared of taking a risk on an ending that can add significantly to the strength of the story. So I did. I went with it. And now here I am at page 105 of page 108, about to throw down the final scenes in the story.

I want to finish this today. But if I don’t I won’t consider it a failure. I’ve wanted to finish several times in the last month or so. It’s going to end when it ends. I’ll know it when it happens. And when it does that just means I’ll move on to the next step in the process.

There’s no such thing as losing in screenwriting.

Enjoy.
-Steve

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