The First 15 Minutes

Watch the first 15 minutes of any movie and then stop. If the story is structured correctly, you should have hints of how the movie will ultimately end. That’s because the beginning must always mirror the ending. That means the beginning must subtly hint how the end will finally occur.

To do this, the beginning needs to introduce the villain, the villain’s goal, the hero, the hero’s goal, and the basic conflict of the whole story. The opening scene of “Star Wars” shows two starships fighting, which basically foreshadows the end with a massive battle in space. This opening scene also introduces Darth Vader as the villain and a hint of his goal of capturing Princess Leia for something she’s hiding, although we don’t know what that is initially. Later we’ll learn about Luke and his goal of getting off his uncle’s farm so he can have an adventure, which he’ll eventually do in the end.

Pick any good movie and you should see how the beginning mirrors the end. The opening of “Avatar” shows the hero (a paralyzed Marine) landing on an alien planet with an avatar body of an alien. As soon as the hero rolls on to the base, he sees arrows sticking out of the wheels of a vehicle coming back to base, which hints of the conflict between the humans and the aliens.

The opening of “Everest” shows the doomed climbers heading towards Everest. Then it flashes back to how they all got there. The opening of “Wild” shows the hero, a woman hiking alone, ripping off her boots that are tearing her feet apart. That summarizes her struggles in a nutshell although we don’t know it at the time.

Before you outline the structure of your story, figure out your ending first so you’ll know where you’re going. If you start at the beginning, you’ll risk wandering all over the place and create a disconnected story with too many characters and events that have no relation to each other. When you know your destination from the start, you’ll know how to set up the beginning to foreshadow that ending in a creative and interesting manner.

“Harold and Maude” begins with the hero faking his suicide by hanging. Guess how it ends? With he hero faking his suicide by driving his car off a cliff.

In “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl,” the opening scene starts off with the hero talking about how his senior year of high school was wrecked. Then in the end, we see how his senior year in high school got wrecked. Everything in between simply connects the beginning to the end so the end feels inevitable and emotionally satisfying.

Study good movies and you’ll see how the end defines the goal and the beginning foreshadows that goal. Then everything in between acts like a stepping stone taking the audience one step closer to the end. By doing this, your story will feel focused and unified. Without knowing your ending, you’ll risk creating scenes that have no purpose and characters that pop up and disappear for no apparent reason.

Good movies always hint of the ending so make sure your screenplay does the same thing.

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