Posts Tagged ‘Movie endings’

Every once in a while I’ll hear on a podcast or read someone saying about movie endings “the end should be implied in the beginning.” It’s sound advice, but it’s advice that’s been kicking around the movie industry for over 80 years. Oscar winning screenwriter Frances Marion (The Champ) bridged the gap between the silent film era and the Hollywood heyday of the ’30s and ’40s, and was once the highest paid screenwriter.

And that exact quote—”the end should be implied in the beginning”—is in her screenwriting book first published in 1937.

It is possible to start a novel without having a specific ending in mind, but both purpose and ending of the film story should be clearly in the mind of the writer before it is written because the story naturally ends when its theme is proved. The ending should not suggest that the story has stopped at a certain scene merely because someone cut the film at that point.

Theoretically the end of a story cannot be altered without changing the story because the end should be implied in the beginning; but in one sense all endings are artificial. Life presents few moments, if any, when all a person’s hopes and aims are achieved and the ends of his and others’ affairs neatly tied up as a story ending demands. The ending, then, is merely a cutting off and a tidying up at the most satisfactory point. Finish the story as soon as possible after the ‘big’ scene, as soon as the main problem is solved, the difficulty overcome.”
Screenwriter Frances Marion
How to Write and Sell Film Stories (1937)
page 85

To reinforce knowing your ending before starting your screenplay, both Paul Schrader (First Reformed) and Alfonso Cuarón (Gravity) said recently that they can’t start writing their screenplay ideas unless they know their ending.

And if you’ve never seen it before, check out Oscar-winning screenwriter Michael Arndt’s video Endings: The Good, the Bad, and the Insanely Great.

Scott W. Smith




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“Can success change the human mechanism so completely between one dawn and another? Can it make one feel taller, more alive, handsomer, uncommonly gifted and indomitably secure with the certainty that this is the way life will be? It can and does.”
Moss Hart

My favorite scene in playwright/screenwriter Moss Hart’s autobiography Act One is the day after he knew he had co-written a Broadway hit. It centered around what happened the next morning when he returned home to his family.

The day before had started with Hart not knowing what his future would be if the play failed. When the final curtain closed that night it appeared the play was going to be a hit. He stayed up all night with a friend and waited for the reviews to be printed before dawn. The reviews of three papers were read to him.

“The notices of Once in a Lifetime as I listened to them were a blaze of glory—each word incrusted with a special luster of its own. . . . When the last notice had been read, I took that second drink, for I knew now that my life was indeed changed forever—and I drank a silent toast to the new one.”
Moss Hart

If Hart’s life were a movie you could end with that scene. A close-up of Hart’s face totally content knowing that he’d achieved his goal of being a successful Broadway playwright. (There was actually a movie done in 1963 based on Act One, but I don’t know how it ended.)

But I wouldn’t end it there. There is a more satisfying ending. After having the reviews read to him Hart decided as the sun began to rise to take his”first ride to Brooklyn above ground”—meaning he had money now for a taxi to go from Manhattan to Brooklyn rather than taking the subway.

He arrived at the one bedroom apartment in the slums where he lived with his mother, father, and brother. They were all still asleep when he arrive so he made himself a cup of coffee, looked at the frayed carpet, and came up with a plan. He woke up his family and as they read the reviews he declared, “We’re moving into New York [meaning Manhattan] today—as soon as you have a cup of coffee—and we’re not taking anything with us . . . not even a toothbrush, a bathrobe, pajamas or nightgown. We buy it all in New York. We’re walking out of here and starting fresh.”

He was greeted with stunned silence. When they asked how that was possible, he told them that he was going to be making a percentage of the box office that he estimated at $1,000 a week. And astronomical amount in 1930. They loaded family photos and some mementos into one suitcase in less than half an hour later they left poverty behind.

And here’s how I’d end the movie (WordPress won’t let me use screenwriting format).  .  .


All four members of the Hart family are crammed Tom Joad-style into the back of a yellow cab. Moss looks out the window as his brother Bernie reads a newspaper review.

…judging from the audience response last night, it looks
like veteran playwright George S. Kaufman and newcomer
Moss Hart have this year’s hardest ticket to buy. They might as
well call the Music Box Theatre the Cash Box Theatre.

As the taxicab begins crossing the Brooklyn Bridge, the early morning sun hits the dazzling skyline of Manhattan. For a moment this talkative Jewish family is speechless.  The only movement is Moss Hart’s mother fumbling for a handkerchief and wiping her eyes.

They were not, I suspect, tears of joy for my success. They were
not tears for the beginning of something, but for the end of
something none of us could name.


Aerial shot of the Hart taxicab in the distance as it blends in with the other westbound cars and completes the transition from Brooklyn to Manhattan.


Sure those last two lines of VO are a little maudlin, but those are actually Hart’s words in the book–and I think he’s earned that ending.

I don’t know if producer (and former president of United Artists) Lindsay Doran ever met screenwriter/playwright Moss Hart—she was only a child when he died in 1961. But there’s a chance that her father D.A. Doran crossed paths with Hart when he was producing plays on Broadway in the 1930s at the same time Hart had plays on Broadway. Or later when they both worked in Hollywood.

But Lindsay did a TED Talk in 2012 where she talked about some of the top inspirational films (Rocky, The King’s Speech, Dirty Dancing, The Karate Kid) and how they really aren’t about the goal the protagonists are chasing (a goal they often fall short of achieving), but how those movies end with the main characters sharing their experience with ones they love.

“Positive relationships trump positive accomplishments.”
Lindsay Doran

“If there’s no positive accomplishments at the end of those movies, and no victory to be celebrated afterwards, then what makes these movies so inspirational? Why are people still jumping up and down on the Rocky steps 36 years later if Rocky lost the fight? And I think the answer is what’s being celebrated at the ends of those movies is something else. And it’s not as enormous as saving the world, and it’s not quite as simple as kissing the girl. What’s being celebrated at the ends of those movies is each other. It’s the tenderness and the kindness and the comfort of each other.”
Producer (and former president of United Artists) Lindsay Doran
2012 TED Talk, Saving the World Vs. Kissing the Girl 

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Here’s her entire talk for you to enjoy and contemplate.

Scott W. Smith



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