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First Draft: Best “Plant and Payoff” Scenes Screenwriters Can Learn From

First Draft: Best “Plant and Payoff” Scenes Screenwriters Can Learn From

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The Shining/Previous Caretaker

Jack learns of the previous caretaker’s fate through a story told by the hotel manager.

As most know, that fate matched Jack’s in the end.

The Sixth Sense/Subtle Plants, Big Payoffs

This film is a clear masterpiece in suspense, as well as in the art of subtle but effective plant and payoff—all of which leads to one of the greatest movie reveals in history.

Watch the storytellers behind the film talk about the rules they made for themselves to present these clues so that when audiences watched the film for a second time, they didn’t feel cheated.

Sleepless in Seattle/An Affair to Remember

Throughout this romantic comedy, there are constant references to the film An Affair to Remember. Later on, we see the ending mirror that of the iconic images found within that film.

Signs/Water and “Swing Away”

This may ruffle a few feathers, as the ending of Signs has proven to be very polarizing for many. You either love it or hate it—or forgive it because the suspense leading up to it was a good ride.

Regardless, the plants he uses are compelling and keep us engaged. And they surely lead to a concrete payoff.

The first plant is the continual issue with the little girl and water. Every glass of water tastes contaminated, leading to her leaving full glasses of water all over the place. Is this just a character tick, or is there something more? In the end, it saves them.

A secondary plant is the story that the father shares about his dying wife’s last words—swing away. After losing his faith, he looks upon this moment as meaningless. Nothing more than dying brain cells shining on a past memory of watching her brother play baseball. But perhaps there’s more to it than that?

The Thing/The Wolf 

This is another example of a plant existing in the guise of a pivotal story point.

The film opens with a wolf being chased by a helicopter. They’re trying to kill it.

The Americans come out of the research camp and watch as the chase is leading the wolf directly to them. They have to eventually kill the gunman trying to shoot the wolf, after an errant bullet hits one of their own. But why were they chasing the wolf? If they were just hunting it—illegally or not—why did they shoot into the crowd of Americans while screaming warnings at them? Since the Americans couldn’t speak Norwegian, they didn’t understand the warnings that foreshadowed what was to come.

Watch this clip with the English translation of what they were saying. The payoff is the rest of the story as we later realize the dangers of this wolf and what it carried within.

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    Tom Luca

    September 19, 2017 at 4:04 pm

    Love this! Great choices of films to use as examples. Especially Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Thank You for sharing Ken and MovieMaker Magazine

  2. Avatar

    Tom Luca

    September 19, 2017 at 4:10 pm

    Oh you know? I didn’t know there was five pages! Love them all!

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