The judge has made it to the very end of your screenplay. For the past ninety or so pages, their focus has been on your script, your story. This is your chance to wow them so that your place will be secured in the winner’s circle. Something happens, your story is dumped into the recycle bin! What happened?
It’s tragically simple really, you let them down. You didn’t deliver the goods you promised. Your story ended, but not in a manner that allows the judge to walk away with your scenes still dancing in their mind. Your script was good, until it wasn’t.
A screenplay has to be excellent all the way through. It’s a high-octane race to the end. This is not to be confused with a high-octane movie, not every script has to be about explosions or car chases. Your characters have to be propelled through the entire story, by the use of scenes and dialogue, right to the finish line. Don’t let up. Don’t let your characters rest until after the final punctuation mark.
Often times, a problem with endings is that the actions aren’t in proportion to the rest of the story. For example, you can’t have a mild-mannered office manager suddenly become a raging serial murderer by the end, unless that is what the story is about. This worked in Falling Down because that story was about a man slowly coming unglued.
But would it work with Wall Street or Boiler Room? Most likely, no. The outcome of the entire story has to make sense in relation to the rest of the script. Don’t get caught up in trying to have a big, flashy finish at the end. In Little Miss Sunshine, the fact that she loses the contest makes you realize, that’s not what their journey as a family was all about.
Finally, recognize that your story could’ve suffered because it didn’t end when it should’ve. What does that mean?
Lord of the Rings: Return of the King, comes to mind. And when I speak of LOTR (see, I was into them, I even know the shortcut for the title), I confess that seeing those films was an epic movie experience. However, can anyone really argue that the ending of the final film in the trilogy went on for a bit too long? And by “a bit too long” I’m being kind.
Don’t flog the story to death. There comes a point where you’ve had your chance to enrapture the judge. You’ve dazzled and amazed them. At some point, it gets to be too much and you have to recognize that your story has ended.
This happens a great deal in movies offering a stand-off. The good guy and bad guy have matched wits and they offer pithy exchanges and slick one-liners before the good guy finally gets the upper hand and barely wins the fight.
Tell a great story all the way through. Remember, the Third Act is the most important act in the entire script…..except for the First Act, and the Second Act. Get back to writing, we all want to see your name as the winner of the next screenwriting contest.
Have you really instilled a great want or goal in your character? Without something any judge can root for, your script doesn’t stand a chance. A Good Want is Hard To Find. Recognize that what your screenplay lacks, may be keeping you from being a winner.