Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Crappy Endings

Tom McCurrie's latest article for Hollywoodlitsales.com , The End of the Screenplay, says that there are three endings for a screenplay:

(1) Happy Ending
(2) Unhappy or Downer Ending
(3) Bittersweet Ending

He also says "...with falling ticket sales and fragmenting audiences, Hollywood wants stellar word-of-mouth more than ever. So if you're a new writer without a box-office track record, go for as happy an ending as possible."

Huh? What does one have to do with the other?

He goes on to say that "one reason box-office is falling is because movies are becoming too predictable, and a Happy Ending is nothing if not that. But if you make the journey to that Happy Ending entirely unpredictable, you will challenge and delight audiences in equal measure."

So, basically, unproduced writers need to make sure all their stories have unpredictable, but happy endings?

This goes into my nitwit bad advice pile along with "every single character in every story must have an arc". And, are there really only three endings? Couldn't there be an "open ending" where much is unresolved in lieu of a sequel?



is that so wrong? said...

Is it too much of a stretch to say that the most fulfilling movies tend to be those without happy endings? Every genre is different though, so some movies inherently require a happy ending. I'm all for the unpredictable journey, but that happy ending advice is dumb.

MaryAn Batchellor said...

I don't know. This particular article says "bittersweet" is most rewarding for an audience. Pffffft. But that would depend on the individual person watching, wouldn't it?

Robert Hogan said...

In defense of McCurrie (who I've been reading for over a year now and I feel has the best advice for writers as anyone on the internet) what you are presenting is an abbreviated review of his article.

Earlier in the article it explains that producers rely a lot on word of mouth to sell movie tickets. Happy endings results in good word of mouth, downer endings result in bad word of mouth and bittersweet endings result in mixed word of mouth. Therefore, producers are drawn to the happy ending scripts in order to assure that good word of mouth.

And on the bittersweet thing, McCurrie makes the point that bittersweet endings are more true to life which makes them more satisfying. For instance, if the hero loses the big race but wins the girl.


MaryAn Batchellor said...

I'm not sure that I can present the article in its entirety without copyright infringement, but I did read it thoroughly, several times actually, to make sure I understood his points. I've since read it another time based on your comments. Still, I think its very bad advice to tell unproduced writers that they need to write as happy an ending as possible because that requires an assumption that the generalizations McCurrie poses in the article are true for most producers, most audience members, and most stories.

It reminds me of a line in "Two Weeks Notice" where the Sandra Bullock characters says something like "you are the most annoying person on the planet". The Hugh Grant character responds, "Well, that's just silly. Have you met every person on the planet?"

Additionally, I am convinced that while nobody really knows all the reasons for the box office declines, laying it squarely in the lap of writers by blaming "predictable endings" just is just downright irresponsible.

End of rant.

McCurrie is probably a great guy and my comments should be taken as the unqualified ramblings of a wannabe.

Konrad West said...

"...with falling ticket sales and fragmenting audiences, Hollywood wants stellar word-of-mouth more than ever. So if you're a new writer without a box-office track record, go for as happy an ending as possible."

That's completely and utterly ridiculous. Word-of-mouth and type of ending may correlate, but not to the extent that you can geniunely affect word-of-mouth simply by having a happy ending.

Good word-of-mouth comes from audiences being satisfied with a film. As has been mentioned, it doesn't take a happy ending for an audience to be that; bittersweet and even sad endings can make audiences want others to go see a film too.

Anonymous said...

what is really assinine and stupid about his comments is that by the time the unhappy or happy ending rolls around, you've already paid the $8 and finished off the popcorn, it makes no frigging difference.. does he actually think we read stupid reviews on movies to make our judgements for us? how do we know what kind of ending it has until we see it

Anonymous said...

Just how many movies have "Screenply by Tom McCurrie" ?
NONE! His reviews contradict themselves quite regularly and it's one more case of someone who has never had his work turned into a movie handing out advice.

MaryAn Batchellor said...

Well, anon, I think No Country For Old Men would fall into that "open ending" category that I wrote about TWO YEARS ago and was it happy?

Oh wait. He was referring to unknowns.

Okay, Diablo Cody then. Hmm. Did Juno have a happy ending? I guess that depends on how you look at it. The issue was resolved but the poor girl was in a lot of emotional pain over giving up a baby, the adoptive family's breakup, etc. But it ended with a song, so maybe that's all it takes. PFFT.

I guess I'm agreeing with you for the most part but at the same time, I can't throw a baseball but I know a bad pitch when I see one.