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Posts Tagged ‘Broadcast News’

This screenwriting tip comes from this week’s book, Screenplay by Syd Field:

A lot of people don’t believe that you need to have an ending before you start writing. “My characters,” people say, “will determine the ending.” Or, “My ending grows out of my story.” Or, “I’ll know my ending when I get to it.” Sorry, but it doesn’t work that way. At least not in a screenplay. Why? Because you have only about 110 pages to tell your story. That’s not a lot of pages to be able to tell your story the way you want to tell it. THE ENDING IS THE FIRST THING YOU MUST KNOW BEFORE YOU BEGIN WRITING.  Why?  Everything is related in the screenplay, as it is in life. You don’t have to know the specific details of your ending when you sit down to write your screenplay, but you have to know what happens and how it affects the characters.” — Syd Field

I couldn’t agree more with this idea. Screenplays are stories. Stories convey morals and ideas. Morals and ideas are conveyed by showing the RESULTS of actions chosen by a protagonist at the start of a story. If you don’t know where your story is going, then you don’t REALLY KNOW what your story is about. Why would I want to read a story whose author had such a weak grasp of their own ideas that they didn’t even know what they wanted to say when they sat down to write? Great scripts contain echoes of early dialog and actions in their climax — everything that’s come before culminates in an ending that is the thesis of the film.

Take the nearly perfect film “BROADCAST NEWS”.

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One of the first scenes shows Jane, the protagonist, giving a speech to her fellow journalist about the dangers of entertainment passing for news.  To make her point, she shows them a clip from the evening news that’s embarrassingly lowbrow and the audience of journalists gets way too into it. She chastises them…

JANE: I know it’s good film. I know it’s fun. I like fun. It’s just not news!

By the end of the film, she has succumb to the charms of Tom, a handsome but empty-headed anchor. And when she confesses to her best friend Aaron that she may be in love with Tom, he gives her a speech that perfectly mirrors the one she gave at the opening of the film…

Aaron: I know you care about him. I’ve never seen you like this about anyone so please don’t take it the wrong way when I tell you that Tom, while being a very nice guy, is the devil.

When James L. Brooks sat down to write this classic screenplay, he didn’t just start writing stuff that happens to Jane and hope he’d stumble upon a brilliant turn of plot. No. He decided that he would write the story of a principled woman who would be seduced by mediocrity. And at the end, she would have to decide to give up her love for her principles. HE KNEW THE END.  And once he knew the end, how would he start his story? By having her state the very principles she would later be tempted to throw away.

Thanks for reading. Tune in tomorrow for another tip from Screenplay that I’ll be discussing. And feel free to leave your own thoughts in the “Comments” section!

— Benjamin

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