Full Circle — Beginnings and Endings

The beginning of a screenplay must be related to the ending somehow. This can be showing the main character in a similar situation but a changed person, or showing how the main character has progressed from the beginning.

In every movie, the beginning is related to the ending. In “Star Wars,” the opening is a battle in space. At the end, there is also a battle in space. In “Jaws,” the opening is about a shark attacking someone in the water. At the end, a shark is attacking someone in the water. In “Harold and Maude,” Harold fakes his suicide at the beginning of the movie. At the end, Harold also fakes his suicide by driving his car over a cliff.

Beginnings and endings are closely related so that all movies act like a circle. If you know how you want your screenplay to end, you can create a way for it to begin. If you know a great way to open a movie, you can use that great beginning to define how you want your story to end.

Every story is about someone starting on a journey, experiencing ups and downs, and then winding up in nearly the same place where they started, but a changed person from their long journey.

As audience members, we’ve gone along for the ride, feeling the emotional ups and downs along the way until we too feel that the end of the movie has changed us in some way.

Sometimes beginnings don’t physically correspond to the end. For example, “It’s a Wonderful Life” begins with several people praying for George Bailey. At the end, George Bailey finds himself among all of those people who had been praying for him. Not exactly a mirror image beginning and ending like in “Jaws” or “Harold and Maude,” but the beginning is still related to the ending because the beginning causes the ending with Act II of the movie showing us how we got there.

In “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” the movie begins with Butch scouting out a new bank with the latest security measures. The bank’s new technology to foil bank robberies foreshadows Butch and Sundance’s doom at the end. If banks are too hard to rob, then the robbers will eventually die off.

So when writing your screenplay, remember that beginnings are related to the end. You can have a mirror image type of beginning and ending like in “Star Wars,” or you can have a cause and effect beginning and ending like “It’s a Wonderful Life.” What you can’t have is a beginning that has no relation to the ending because that destroys the symmetry of a screenplay.

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