Short Film Structure: The Ending Part II

This week we’re back on short film structure. Still talking about the ending – the twist-less ending.

It’s a popular theme in short film (or short stories) to have a twist (spoken about here) at the end of the film. Of course, not every short film has a twist – some have a naturally progressive ending like most feature films. These endings can be just as tricky to write – as I’ve said before, the ending is the key to any film. If you don’t pull off the ending, the entire film can fall over. It doesn’t matter how amazing your beginning is – the audience will say ‘Started well, but not sure what happened toward the end.’ You can have beaten the second act into submission – the audience will say ‘The rest was great, but what was with the ending? And, of course, the dreaded ‘Looked great, didn’t really get the story.’

I recently came across a short film called ‘Side by Side’ through Twitter (made by Jamie Hooper and the Fingercuff gang) and thought it was a fantastic little film. The thing I liked most about it was the ending.

It’s a very simple story of two unlikely friends. There’s no ‘twist’ that it was all a dream (which, arguably, isn’t a twist, just lazy writing), there’s no sudden death of one of the characters – it’s an innocent portrayal of two people enjoying themselves. And the one moment of conflict is resolved at the end, seconds after the main conflict happens.
The small gesture of the Man revealing that the unicorn was fine after all is all the story needs to reassure the audience that everything is going to be okay. This is, ultimately, what films and books and plays and stories are designed to do. To reassure the audience that they’re going to be okay. At the end of a Shakespearean tragedy, they’re still going to walk out of it okay. Even though the Girl has a pretty horrible home life, she has a friend in the Man and it’s all going to be okay.
By giving the characters what they need, rather than what they want (although, in this case, it’s the same thing – the Girl wants/needs a father figure, the Man wants/needs a friend), it reassures the audience that life moves on and that they’ll get through it.
Never forget that the most important part of any film is leaving the audience satisfied. If they’re satisfied, they’ll tell their friends about it, then their friends will go and see it and so on and so forth and then, before you know it, Steven Spielberg will be knocking on your door.
What do you mean, that’s not how it happens? Of course it is. How else do people get films made these days?

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