How do you Write a Great Ending?

Updated: Apr 25

The End

  • · Resolve the conflict (final main plot point)

  • · Provide emotional fulfillment for the audience

  • · Tie up loose ends

  • · Fulfill the theme

The end is where the conflict is resolved. This is the final main plot point. In feature length films, it occurs only after many scenes, following plot twists that slowly draw the audience deeper into the story. In a short film, this must come much sooner, but if you keep the middle short and to the point, the end will appear when it should, only a minute or two before resolution is resolved. The conflict resolution plays the same role in both full-length feature films and short films. The resolution provides emotional fulfillment for the audience. For the main character, this may be good or bad. The main character might feel happy or sad about the resolution, or even wind-up dead. The point is that the emotional fulfillment for the audience is different than it is for the main character. The audience may empathize with the main character and feel their feelings, but the audience has their own emotional reaction, and they fully feel it when the conflict is resolved.

In Casablanca, Rick gets everyone to meet at the airport then pulls a gun on the police chief and forces him to let Ilsa escape with her husband. Then he shoots Strasser, the German officer when he arrives to arrest Lisa’s husband. Although Rick has just lost the love of his life, watching her fly away with her husband, he feels good about himself having rediscovered his lost patriotism, and gained a certain wisdom about love, life, and the meaning of happiness. In Back to the Future, Marty returns to the present, where he finds that everything had more or less returned to normal, except now his parents have been transformed because of his actions, into the kind of parents he always wanted and could look up to.

Again, in a short film, the resolution need only take a minute or two. In our imaginary film from out last post, our store clerk may confront her boss and break him down, forcing him into a tearful confession of his own shortcomings… and perhaps even an apology. Short films are not less emotional or enlightening, simply because they are short. A great ending will always move an audience, a reaction that puts the seal of approval on any film.

To write a great ending, begin with a great conflict. An ending can only be as good as the setup you create at the start of the film. When you start writing your short film, think through your plot and visualize how the film is going to end. If it doesn’t seem that powerful to you, rework the conflict you create at the beginning of the film, making it more emotionally charged, or increase the payoff at the resolution. In Saving Private Ryan, the hero, Captain John H. Miller, dies in the final battle scene. The audience is naturally, deeply moved by his death. It is only then that we learn that the man at the opening scene of the film is not Captain Miller, but is in fact, Private Francis Ryan, the man that Captain Miller was sent to save. This poignant ending drives home with a final, hard learned lesson about war. Those who survive and those who die are all victims.

Films, and stories in general, are about our lives. Great endings can be found in the most powerful events in life. That includes both our highest moments, and our lowest ones. Build your story around a moving life event, and even a short film can have a great ending.

Consider joining us for our Summer Film Class and take a deep dive into the art and science of filmmaking. You will work as part of a team, creating, producing, filming, and editing our 2022 Student Film. You will be listed in the film credits, and you can bring your family and friends to the premier, which we will hold at the Star Cinema Grill at the end of the summer.

Learn more at about our 2022 Summer Film Class.

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