Facing the Inevitable

Movies made from true events have one huge problem. Everyone knows how it ends.

In “Titanic,” everyone knows the Titanic sinks in the end. When my friend was working as an extra on the set of “Titanic,” he said everyone on the set wondered how the movie could possible maintain suspense and tension if everyone knew the Titanic sinks in the end.

Actually the problem isn’t knowing the ending of a story ahead of time. The real problem is making the story interesting from the beginning to the inevitable ending. In “Titanic,” James Cameron did this by creating an interesting story about Rose (the hero) and whether she’ll achieve her dreams of freedom or not. That’s the real tension and question that keeps us riveted to “Titanic.” Even after we’ve seen the movie once, we still want to see it again because of how enjoyable the experience is of watching Rose change from someone depressed and suicidal to someone who learned to embrace life on her terms.

In “The Walk,” everyone knows the real ending where the hero, a French tightrope walker, strung a wire between the World Trade Towers and walked across them without falling. However the real story isn’t the ending but how he managed to pull this feat off without getting caught. How he manages to enlist friends and helpers to gain access to the World Trade Towers is the real story, not the ending.

Although you want your ending to be powerful and surprising, don’t rely on gimmicks like a surprise ending to make your story compelling. “The Sixth Sense” may have a surprise ending, but nobody watches that movie over and over again for that surprise ending. They watch it for the story structure that leads up to that surprise ending.

The real strength of your story is never the ending but how the hero reaches that ending. Even in movies like “The Sixth Sense” where the ending is already known, the strength of the story itself is what makes people watch the same movie over and over again.

Imagine your screenplay turned into a movie. What would make someone want to see it over and over again? It can’t just be the ending, but the whole story from start to finish. Once you understand this idea, you’ll realize that every scene must be interesting. If every scene is interesting and every scene works together, then the whole movie will be interesting as well. A story’s ending is actually irrelevant. It’s the details of how the hero reaches the ending that actually matters.

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