A cliffhanger literally mans a point where the hero is dangling off the edge of a cliff and we want to know how he gets out of it. That’s the type of suspense you must constantly build into every scene throughout your screenplay, which pulls the viewer along until the end.
In the old movies, theaters used multiple reels to show a single film. To keep the audience from getting restless while the projectionist changed the reels, the movie studios always made sure each reel ended with a cliffhanger, a point in the story where the hero is literally dangling off the edge of a cliff.
Suddenly the reel ends and the audience doesn’t move because they can’t wait to see what happens next. That’s the cliffhanger. The moment the next reel starts up again, the cliffhanger from the previous reel gets solved and the new reel creates a ticking time bomb effort.
That’s when something new is introduced and now the audience waits with baited breath to see what happens. A perfect example of a ticking time bomb is just that. The villain places a ticking tome bomb in a crowded subway station and walks away. Now that the audience has been satisfied by the cliffhanger, the ticking time bomb grabs their attention once more and keeps them riveted to their seats until this next reel also ends in another cliffhanger.
The next reel solves this cliffhanger and starts a new ticking time bomb and so on. The format for each segment is like this:
- Solve the previous cliffhanger
- Create a ticking time bomb (Inciting Incident)
- Show a struggle (Rising Action)
- Conclude with a cliffhanger (Climax)
Introducing a ticking time bomb keeps the audience interested. Leaving them with a cliffhanger makes them want to see what happens. Satisfying that cliffhanger satisfies the audience, but before they have a chance to wander off, introduce a new ticking time bomb and repeat the process all over again.
Do this eight times for each 15 minute segment, and you have the basis for the 15 Minute Movie Method.