When I was a Junior in college I wrote my first short screenplay about a kid driving an urn of ashes across the country. It was a terrible, terrible piece of writing that featured classic screenwriting 101 bullshit that our friend Garryt (whom we mentioned last week) had to read. Out loud. In class. Poor bastard.
At one point I think my frustration at trying to piece things together breaks through the fourth wall in the form of a line of dialogue that does nothing to advance the script:
“Don’t really care.” – Yep. I wrote that. This script preceded Scott Thompson’s class, so consider him free from blame on this one.
The saving grace of the whole thing, to toot my own horn, was that the story ended in a way that you did not see coming.
This was mainly because I’d written the ending first.
The rest of the story was lost because it all had to culminate to this point. I had to plan the trajectory backwards. It became a matter of connecting the dots simply to get to the ending.
And I’m terrible at connecting the dots.
The reason I bring up my horrible screenplay is that this is one of those rare occurrences where the cart can come before the horse and it is totally okay.
(It’s totally not okay, but had I given the backwards building process more attention and care…who knows? It could have had more potential.)
And if you have a collaborator, so much the better.
Lately I’ve been witnessing that movies have no idea what the fuck they’re doing with their own last act. The third act barely coheres to the other two. Perhaps I’m better at embellishing other people’s stories, but you can’t just cop out on an ending.
That’s like you paying me to go on my rollercoaster with the last 3rd of track not done.
Doesn’t seem too fair, does it?
For an example of what I mean I’m offering you eight movies that completely go off the rails by the third act, and never fully recover. I’ve already felt that I’ve written too much, so I’ll find the exact moment that (in my opinion) the movie jumped the track and take a picture.
Or somewhere relatively close to the moment that the whole movie unraveled.
Spoilers ahead. You’ve been warned. I’ll try to give as little context as possible.
And for what it’s worth, I wanted to like these movies more.
• The Dark Knight Rises (2012): I have to get this one out of the way first because 95% of the time I love Christopher Nolan’s work.
• Oblivion (2013): Twinsies.
• Robocop (2014): Breaking protocol.
• War of the Worlds (2005): This incredibly unnecessary scene.
• Terminator Salvation (2009): When we’ve been waiting for the story to catch up with itself.
• The Simpsons Movie (2007): Pretty much everything Alaska.
• Hancock (2008): Connected space lover heroes slapstick stupidity.
• Looper (2012): The damn kid.
All I ask, future screenwriters of America, is to actually flesh out your story and know where it goes and ends before making it get too out of hand (looking at you too, tv shows). It’s cool to come up with the ending and work backwards if you have the time and the care. But it’s mostly about the care.
Huge credit due to writers who can maintain a consistent and solid three act process.