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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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Twelve Monkeys/Dream Sequence

Within the film, the time travelling prisoner on a mission, Cole, continues to dream the same dream. It starts as images of a child watching a man being shot. We see a little more every time we watch it. We start to see the clothes, the hair, the woman, etc. We’re meant to believe that the child is Cole (it is), but by the time we reach the finale, it is revealed that there is an added element that leaves us shocked. And we’re shocked because the constant plant brewed the question of, “What does this dream or memory mean?”

As we see more within the dream, we’re led to different possible conclusions. We think the man little Cole sees may be Brad Pitt’s Jeffrey.

This leads to the final scene where we see what this all means and who is being shot.

Shutter Island/Gun Troubles

This film is full of plants. One of the more subtle ones is Mark Ruffalo’s Chuck character and his inability to properly holster his sidearm when it is given to him, despite the fact that he’s supposed to be a cop. There are many more beyond this subtle detail (showcased below) but it’s another perfect example of how screenwriters can pepper their screenplays with such set-ups.

And finally, we feature perhaps one of the greatest and most unique usages of plant and playoff… 

Adaptation/The Third Act

People often get frustrated by the film’s third act as it veers off into something more Hollywood. What they don’t understand is that is the brilliance of this film’s third act. Why?

Early in the film, Kaufman (Nic Cage) explains how he doesn’t want to end his script.

“I don’t want to cram in sex or, uh, guns or car chases, you know, or characters, you know, learning profound life lessons, or growing, or  coming to like each other, or overcoming obstacles—succeeding in the end… life isn’t like that, it just isn’t.” 

It’s a brilliant plant statement because that’s exactly what ends up happening (i.e. the  payoff) in the third act of the film. Guns, car chases, sex, growing, and overcoming obstacles.

The real Charlie Kaufman wrote himself into his screenplay because he didn’t know how to adapt the book The Orchid Thief. And Charlie clearly doesn’t write typical Hollywood cliches and tropes in his scripts. The final script and film is irony at its best.

These are plants and payoffs handled in a way only Charlie Kaufman would attempt. MM

This post originally appeared on the blog ScreenCraftScreenCraft is dedicated to helping screenwriters and filmmakers succeed through educational events, screenwriting competitions and the annual ScreenCraft Screenwriting Fellowship program, connecting screenwriters with agents, managers and Hollywood producers. Follow ScreenCraft on TwitterFacebook, and YouTube



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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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