Screenwriting : First 10 pages... but what about the last 10? by Erik Grossman

Erik Grossman

First 10 pages... but what about the last 10?

We hear a lot about the first 10 pages... yeah, they're important. We all know that, but I think the last 10 are just as important, if not more so. There is nothing worse than reading an awesome screenplay (or watching a movie) and then watch it crap the bed in the last 10 pages... that's just infuriating! I like the gut-punch ending, the one where the last few pages set you up, punch you with feels and then fades away. Like the ending to REQUIEM FOR A DREAM or INESCAPABLE. What kind of endings do you like? The "neat and tidy", the "happily ever after"?

Diego Lopes Silveira

I like endings that fit the rest of the movie. Sometimes the end may be bleak and vague, or perfectly wraps up everything - or maybe both. The ending of INCEPTION is vague, but wraps everything up at the same time. The ending to FIGHT CLUB is sarcastic and violent, but hopeful. I don't mind an ending that doesn't wrap everything up perfectly, as long as the movie we just sat through compliments that feeling. For example, the ending of a MARVEL movie is probably gonna be really neat and tidy, because that's the kind of movie we just saw. But you go for a Dennis Villeneuve movie, you get an ending like that WTF moment in the last few seconds of ENEMY. I tend to favor endings like the chaotic closing minutes of MULHOLLAND DRIVE, the entire wrapping up of 2001 or that heartbreaking last shot of THE SEARCHERS. They don't necessarily solve everything, but they leave with the feeling you got a complete experience that you can now debate upon.

Eric Christopherson

I like big twist endings, The Sixth Sense, The Usual Suspects, Psycho, etc., the kind that make you want to watch the whole film over again from this new perspective the ending provided.

Fiona Faith Ross

The only endings I dislike are unrelenting misery. I'm okay with partially resolved or bitter-sweet, but I really dislike tragedies and war films that end up with everyone dead, etc. Les Miserables, for example, classic it may be 'n all that, but I can't bear it. No relief at all in that story.

Craig D Griffiths

Sorry Fiona, just in case you get to read any of my work. I've killed more people than smallpox. I hate things that wrap up neatly. If you have a character explaining the end to another character I get sad that the writer thought I was a moron. Life is uneven and lumpy and hardly ever resolves neatly.

Keith A Jessop

Totally agree Craig. Life is just not like that and the one thing that makes me baulk is the Hollywood "happily ever after" cr@p. In real life, everything goes to ratsh!t every which way. I don't do happy endings but I love surprises and the unexpected.

Kyle Climans

It depends on the kind of movie I'm watching. The ending to It's a Wonderful Life is just as memorable for me as the ending to Gangs of New York. Both perfectly fit their movies and hit me hard every time I watch them. Meanwhile, a film like Warrior infuriated me because of how good the film was as a whole, setting up some really interesting conflicts, only to give us an abrupt, simplistic ending which didn't even try to address the aforementioned conflicts.

Fiona Faith Ross

And I don't do full of misery endings, so we're all happy. I agree "everything goes to ratshit" for most people, but you can have one or two win-win moments along with the ratshit, otherwise we'd all drink a bottle of vodka and jump off a cliff (which many people do, anyway). I don't like coming out of a movie theater/cinema on a downer, that's all. Having said that, last night I watched Sin Filtro (No Filter) The ending was a little disappointing for me, but the MC was happy, so the story ended up-beat, so in a sense it was a "win" after 100 minutes of relentless (hilarious) ratshit. I'll concede that vodka may not be the universal choice before you jump off the cliff.

Richard "RB" Botto

I'll tell ya what...Of everything I've seen this year, I loved the end of HELL OR HIGH WATER. On point, but slightly ambiguous. The viewer needs to fill in the blanks.

Christopher Binder

I like the ones that suit the story being told.

Bill Costantini

Hell or High Water is a beautifully sad story told at its finest. You writers who haven't seen it should see it. May the Cinema Heavens continue to bless Taylor Sheridan, who also wrote Sicario. I'm pretty sure both scripts were specs, too.

Richard "RB" Botto

Definitely a beautiful script, Bill. No question. Hard to write a story like that without falling into the cliche pit. He navigated the hairpin turns beautifully.

Jody Ellis

I love thrillers so anything that ends with an "oh my god!" gets me every time. The Gift was good that way. Oh and True Story.

Sarah Gabrielle Baron

I love a happy ending, but makes you think ...hmm...what next? These are the endings that lead you into dreaming about the story many nights later.

Erik Grossman

I keep hearing a lot about HELL OR HIGH WATER... we had the prod co. behind it in for a session too... to my queue it goes! @Eric I like those endings too... going back through a film with the benefit of seeing it all the way through can really make you appreciate it more. THAT SAID.... I found the opposite to be true with MR. ROBOT. If you know the twist with that going in, it doesn't seem to work nearly as well.

Dan MaxXx

Blah! Sicario is the most overrated script in years! Cmon! The movie is a perfect example of a great visual Director making a clumsy story into a cinematic movie. The border shooting is genius! Cinematically stunning. Sound & music. The last 10-15 pages of the script- WTF- it didn't work for me. Helluva easy struggle and anti-climatic. The Mexican Cop has to be there on the other side of the tunnel. Doesn't run off hearing gun shots. Emily Blunt is perfectly shot in the chest, saved by her vest. The Driver is on the road at the exact time del Toro is driving towards him. The Drug lord has to be home. Del Toro turns Jason Bourne- kills everyone at the house except the Maid? He leaves a living Witness. (What a nice guy). All this without the Main character, Emily Blunt? She's resting, waiting to be home invaded by del toro. (Emily cries in every movie). She had nothing at stake- she was just going for the ride. Who doesn't know the CIA is corrupt and in the drug business? Duh. :)))) But the directing is awesome!

Kenneth Ong

Erik, you're looking at this from the writer standpoint--instead of viewing this from the busy agent or busy development executive's perspective. Particularly if your script is being read by an prospective agent or development executive who has no existing client/professional relationship with you (the writer), then typically, they will only read the first 10-15 pages (long enough presumably up until the catalyst or hook of your story is evident); if they feel bored, or don't like the writing up to that point, then they will put the script down. Or else they've told an intern, reader, or assistant to read the script--but stop if they get bored in the first 10-15 pages. I should know, because I've also been on that end working for agencies/studios/producers where I've read hundreds/thousands of scripts (some unsolicited, that came through soft referrals). The writer can gripe that this sounds unfair, but no industry professional wants to spend 2+ hours reading a script (assuming that your script is an easy read)--when they have at least 10-20 other scripts to read that week that week or weekend. THAT is typically why the industry emphasizes that your first 10-15 pages better sizzle: demonstrate crisp writing, snappy dialogue, a likeable (yet flawed) protagonist about to tackle a problem/crisis. My response is not meant to sound cynical, but as a writer, I've been fortunate to see things from the other side of the fence, so I hope this insight sounds helpful.

Erik Grossman

Oh I'm very well aware the first 10 are important, very much so! That's why we offer the "First 10 Pages" read in our services. I think the first 10 are important for getting your script read and noticed, but when you're finally in there and the business to making the movie/pilot gets moving (once the execs are sold on everything), the last 10 are what count (especially for a TV show). @Dan I liked Sicario! But yeah... last 15-20 pages it suddenly becomes the del Toro show. It's a cool show! But it... kind of goes off the rails. And yeah, the border scene is GREAT.

Zlatan Mustafica

Well, the last ten are almost even more important, I think, in terms of leaving the paying audience satisfied and surprised and amazed as they have watched a movie. In many cases, a produced screenplay with an awesome and sometimes an unexpected ending is a marketing tool for the Picture in itself sometimes. I mean, if the ending sucks the word spreads fast, like a plague and the ticket sales go down. So, if as a writer, you write a bad ending, that can definitely kill your entire script or at least make the once interested party not as interested anymore. First ten should grab you by the b...s (pardon my French) and the last then should squeeze those (the earlier French word) with a promise of letting go but no assurances.

Dan MaxXx

These days studio released movies have a budget for reshoots and test screenings. And who knows if the Writer on the page is actually the Writer during the shoot? There are many credited and uncredited Writers on a production, plus changes by Director & Actors. Write on the set by committee. And that s before the Editor comes in.

Zlatan Mustafica

True that, Dan M. That´s why it´s also important to learn business parts of this business as much as possible even though we´re "only" writers.

Linda Perkins

Screenwriting pulls me in at the beginning, intensifies throughout then releases the connection at fade out. It may be naive of me BUT I hope to be a part of the writing production crew.

Stephen Barber

I enjoy watching/feeling many, many different movies. I like dark drama, comedy, thriller etc. I like almost everything that makes me think. As far as ending's go, I think Forest Gump was the "cleanest" / "feel-good" of an ending that I experienced. The first time I watched that movie and it ended, I felt satisfied. That is hard to do.

Debbie Elicksen

That's a great question, Erik. I'm sure we've all seen a few movies where the ending was meh, while the rest of it was good. Or visa versa, such as with Phoenix, starring Nina Hoss. I thought the whole movie was 3/5 stars, but with a five-star kickass ending. :)

Ruth Maramis

@Debbie – I LOVE Phoenix, it's an indie gem and that ending left me breathless! @Eric – I like different kinds of endings so long as they're well thought-out. I'm generally wary of open-ended films, esp if I suspect the writer(s) simply don't know how to end the film so it feels like a cop out. I know most people seem to get cynical about happy endings, but I have no problem with it, and many of my favorite dramas end happily. It all depends on the story.

Stephen Barber

Spoiler Alert*** I just watched The Accountant last night. I can tell you that the movie had both of these parts, "first 10 & last 10" pages down! However, the second act was blah... I left the movie thinking that my satisfaction was robbed because of it, regardless of how good they opened and ended the story. IMHO

Tamara LeClair

The ones that leave room and an appetite for more...

Jean Buschmann

I like endings that surprise me, or make me think, feel, or "rewind" scenes in my mind to put cleverly camouflaged pieces together (a la THE USUAL SUSPECTS, THE SIXTH SENSE, and many others). I guess it depends on the genre, but the common denominator for me is satisfaction. Nothing worse than wishing you could have those 2 hours of your life back after leaving the theater.

Dionne Lister

It depends what mood I'm in. I like HEA, especially for romantic comedies, but if it's a thriller or drama, an ambiguous ending can be good. It leaves you wondering and discussing what the different scenarios could be. Sometimes the message in the story has already been conveyed just before the end, and so you still get the point of the story even if the ending hasn't been defined in a tangible way.

Roxanne Paukner

I like both. "Requien for a Dream" is a terrific movie. But when it's a happy ending, I'm always disappointed if they stop immediately after the good news! Come on, can't we have a couple of minutes to bask in it with the characters before the credits roll?

Dan Guardino

The beginning and end are the two most important parts of a screenplay.

William Martell

From my Sept 2001 article in Script Magazine... "You've probably read about the importance of your first ten pages, but your LAST ten pages are equally important. They are the last thing the reader will actually read, and will form the greatest impression upon them."

Stuart Wright

Sicario was joy IMHO. I loved how Emily Blunt's character was thrown into a situation and realising how bad it is when it's too late worked very well. More important it was an original screenplay. No book, comic or old IP being rebooted. This was what we all want to be doing. Writing and selling original work and getting it in the hands of a master director

Stuart Wright

Good Hell or High Water analysis by Write Your Screenplay podcast

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