Screenplay Challenge Two: “The End”

Paranormal Activity poster

This Challenge Is Closed

** SPOILERS ** This screenplay contest assumes the entrant has seen the film Paranormal Activity, and knows how it ends. Virgins tread no further lest the cherry be popped.

UPDATE: Winner announced!

Is it too soon for this?

As you may know from my review of Paranormal Activity, I’m a fan of 98% of the film. The last 3o seconds, however? Not so much.

And I’m not alone. The film has developed into quite a phenomenon, and so has the heated discussion around the supposed “studio imposed” ending. This thread at Roger Really has information about two other alleged endings, and the comments section makes for good reading on the variety of reactions to all the alternatives. Likewise the IMDB forums for the film. Or HorrorSquad.

Those who dislike the ending seem galvanized on one point: The camera lunge. I likewise am largely fine with Micah being thrown at the camera – it’s a shocker, a great exclamation point on the excruciating tension the film’s worked so hard to build to that point. But that last part, when Katie crawls in, inspects Micah’s body, and then lunges (morphed like a shot cut from Jennifer’s Body) at the camera, followed by those insipid scrolling footnotes (“…and when the teenagers got home, there was a HOOK hanging from the car door!”) just did not seem like they were from the same film, and left me and many others sitting there thinking… “That’s it? It’s over? What the Hell? This movie was different. It was good. What happened?” (Raises his arms to the ceiling and yells “Spielberrrrrrrrg!”).

So here’s the deal. I hadn’t planned on launching another challenge so soon, but the discussion this movie’s ending has generated really got me thinking… and since it’s gotten its theatrical release now, and more folks can see it, it seemed like a good time to talk about endings.

I used to work retail (who didn’t). Worked my way up to management (by mostly showing up every day). Ended up training cashiers. And here’s what I told them: No matter what the shopper’s experience is in the store, good or bad, what they’ll remember is the last interaction they had. Bad shopping experience? Offset by that nice cashier who smiled and wished you a happy day. Wonderful shopping experience? Ruined by the rude college kid who wouldn’t look you in the eye, didn’t say thank you, and smashed your tomatoes.

So too with storytelling, the ending matters. A lot. Great endings make great movies (check out this list of the top 50 endings at AMC). And bad endings become the stuff of legend (here’s Hollywood.com’s top – er, bottom – 10).

Just as your opening pages have to grab the reader (or viewer) and get them hooked, the closing pages have to leave ’em satisfied. Just like each scene in your script should have a great button, so should your whole movie. Whether it’s a period, an exclamation point, an ellipsis or a question mark, the right ending, narratively, structurally, and psychologically puts the right closing punctuation on the story sentence.

Does that mean you’re obligated to thoroughly resolve everything? Nope. Tie everything up with a bow? Of course not (especially if you’re thinking sequel). Frankly, I like me a little ambiguity. But it’s about delivering with a style and conviction in keeping with the rest of your story. That’s what folks are complaining about with Paranormal Activity (those who are complaining anyway). That the ending doesn’t deliver on the promise of the rest of the film.

So here’s your challenge:

THE CHALLENGE:

WRITE A NEW ENDING FOR PARANORMAL ACTIVITY.

Challenge Requirements (read carefully):

This is, we acknowledge, a particularly subjective challenge.

Consider this more than just an exercise in “endings” but also an exercise in re-writes. As a working assignment writer, you may find yourself contracted to polish or fix an existing screenplay. In this case, imagine Spielberg had asked you to “fix the ending”, keeping the balance of the existing script in mind and intact. What would you have done?

This is not about a full final act. Not even really the final scene. It’s about that critical last 30-120 seconds that justifies or validates the entire preceding 88 minutes. And it’s not really about Paranormal Activity per se, so much as it uses that film as a contemporary example to experiment with.

The (next to) final scene stands. Katie gets a strange grin on her face, and convinces Micah that it’s fine to stay in the house.

What happens next?

Everything after that (Katie leaves the room, Micah follows, and all Hell breaks loose somewhere in the dark) is up for grabs. I’ll leave it up to you whether they leave the room at all, whether you use the “Micah gets thrown at the camera” moment, whether Katie addresses the camera.

Should the film end with a bang or a boo, smash cutting to black? Is it better served with a bang and a narrative epilogue? Do we need a title crawl? Or to get out of the house to give our audience a psychological escape? Think about the characters, their personalities, their relationship, what we’ve learned about them through the story, any clues or foreshadowing or props that might be leveraged, think about what kind of a story it’s been, and find an ending that makes elegant use of all that information for a satisfying ending.

The Rules:

  1. 1 scene
  2. 2 pages or less
  3. the scene should be in keeping with the balance of the film in tone, character and pace
  4. the scene should provide a satisfying conclusion to the preceding existing film
  5. proper screenplay formatting
  6. zero typos (esp. spelling, commas, and apostrophes) – including the character names!

Check our RULES page for more details.

Check out the FAQ page if you’re still confused.

HOW TO SUBMIT: Post your entry in the “comments” for this post. Use “Scrippets” tags to format your entry like a screenplay.

SUBMISSIONS LIMITED to the first 50 qualified entries (qualified = meeting the stated criteria) or 11-31-09 — whichever comes first.

WINNERS ANNOUNCED approximately two weeks after close.

COMMENTS WILL BE RESTRICTED TO ENTRIES ONLY. Other comments will be deleted (there’ll be time for comments and discussion later, promise). Contact Us if you have questions.

Who’s Judging

denise-gossettYour referee will be Denise Gossett. Denise is the founder and Director of the Shriekfest Horror and Sci Fi Film Festival, which runs in L.A. each October, and an actor. A certified Scream Queen in her own right, Denise has seen a lot of screenplays come through her festival, as well as of course having appeared in a few horror flicks herself. We appreciate her making some time in her extremely busy schedule!

What You Win

Thanks to Denise, the lucky winner will get a Shriekfest t-shirt, a free 200-word ad in their newsletter (use it to pimp your film, your screenplay, your writing services, etc), a link on the Shriekfest site, and a free festival pass for 2010 Fest. How’s that?

Ready? Go!

— Disclaimer! This website, its operators, its sponsors and entrants have no affiliation with the film Paranormal Activity, its creators or its distributors. We make no claim to the story or characters and present this screenplay challenge only as a critical and educational tool for screenwriters, storytellers and movie fans. Paranormal Activity remains the property of Paramount Pictures Corporation and Oren Peli dba Solaka Films.

6 thoughts on “Screenplay Challenge Two: “The End”

  1. INT. KATIE AND MICAH’S BEDROOM – VIDEO CAMERA POV. – EVE.

    Micah and Katie are asleep in bed. The footsteps of the apparition are heard entering the bedroom. The covers over Katie are slowly pulled back from off of her. Invisible hands grab her hands and pull her from the bed and out toward the doorway.

    Katie SCREAMS out for help and Micah hears her. He quickly jumps out of bed and tries to pull her back into the room, but the apparition’s strength is too strong and Katie is pulled out of the doorway and into the hall.

    Micah rushes after her, into the darkness.

    There is a scuffle from downstairs followed by a male SCREAM.

    After a moment, Katie returns to the room. She is covered in blood. She climbs back under the covers and prepares to go back to sleep.

    A few moments later there is the sound of footsteps from the apparition as it enters the room. Katie looks toward the sound of the footsteps.

    Katie’s gaze follows the footsteps as they come around to Micah’s side of the bed. The covers lift up and a form lies down under the covers. Katie lies there very still for a moment, looking at the invisible form beside her. The invisible form turns on it left side, away from her. Katie slowly moves in close to the form and then drapes her right arm around the form and snuggles up behind it.

    KATIE

    (in a whisper)

    You win.

    The two of them lie quietly together. Katie rests her head on the shoulder of the form. There is a slight smile of contentment on Katie’s face; it’s over.

    The tape on the recorder runs out and there is nothing but a blank screen filled with static.

    BLACK OUT.

  2. INT. KATIE AND MICAH’S BEDROOM – VIDEO CAMERA POV. – EVE.

    Micah and Katie are asleep in bed. The footsteps of the apparition are heard entering the bedroom. The covers over Katie are slowly pulled back from off of her. Invisible hands grab her hands and pull her from the bed and out toward the doorway.

    Katie SCREAMS out for help and Micah hears her. He quickly jumps out of bed and tries to pull her back into the room, but the apparition’s strength is too strong and Katie is pulled out of the doorway and into the hall.

    Micah rushes after her, into the darkness.

    There is a scuffle from downstairs followed by a male SCREAM.

    After a moment, Katie returns to the room. She is covered in blood. She climbs back under the covers and prepares to go back to sleep.

    A few moments later there is the sound of footsteps from the apparition as it enters the room. Katie looks toward the sound of the footsteps.

    Katie’s gaze follows the footsteps as they come around to Micah’s side of the bed. The covers lift up and a form lies down under the covers. Katie lies there very still for a moment, looking at the invisible form beside her. The invisible form turns on it left side, away from her. Katie slowly moves in close to the form and then drapes her right arm around the form and snuggles up behind it.

    The two of them lie quietly together. Katie rests her head on the shoulder of the form. There is a slight smile of contentment on Katie’s face; it’s over.

    KATIE

    (in a whisper)

    Goodnight.

    The tape on the recorder runs out and there is nothing but a blank screen filled with static.

    BLACK OUT.

  3. INT. KATIE AND MICAH’S BEDROOM -- VIDEO CAMERA POV. -- EVE.

    Micah and Katie are asleep in bed. A loud BANG wakes them up. Katie jumps out of bed and runs out of the room, Micah quickly following. We see flashes of light, more noise, a loud male scream. A THUMP.

    Fade Out.

    INT. KATIE AND MICAH’S KITCHEN -- EVE.

    At the kitchen table, Katie sips brandy across from the Paranormal Researcher (who we’ve seen before), with a glass of brandy in front of him as well. A bottle and telephone lay on the table between the pair. Micah is sprawled lifeless about 10 yards from them.

    PARANORMAL RESEARCHER

    Finally!

    Katie sips her brandy. (beat) Paranormal researcher scratches his head.

    PARANORMAL RESEARCHER

    So he didn’t think his “heart pills” tasted sweeter than normal?

    KATIE

    Nope. I switched them gradually.

    PARANORMAL RESEARCHER

    (proudly)

    Ahh. That’s my girl.

    Katie blushes.

    KATIE

    I was taught by the best Pop!

    She looks at Micah, face down.

    KATIE

    Nice butt.

    PARANORMAL RESEARCHER

    Nicer policy... (beat) Idiot.

    They both laugh. Paranormal researcher looks at the kitchen clock.

    PARANORMAL RESEARCHER

    Ready?

    Katie sombers up. Starts to sob. Picks up the phone. Dials 911.

    KATIE

    (sobbing)

    Hello? Micha.. my boyfriend... He’s not breathing. Oh, please help me. Send an ambulance!

    FADE OUT.

  4. Hi, Pam… see the link at the top of the post… winner was announced two days ago.

    Yes, we’ll be having more… we’re reaching out to qualified referees — screenwriters, professional readers or analysts, producers and directors, etc.

    Keep checking back…

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