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First Draft: Lessons in Screenplay Plants and Payoffs from Chinatown and The Orphanage

First Draft: Lessons in Screenplay Plants and Payoffs from Chinatown and The Orphanage

First Draft

Plant/Payoff Six

Simon reads Peter Pan and asks about Neverland and whether his mother would come to rescue him if he went there. When the spirit-orphans welcome Laura back to the afterlife, they comment that she has grown old, like Wendy in Peter Pan.

Also in this scene, Simon declares that he will never grow up and grow old. At first, this seems like a boy’s playful identification with the “I’ll never grow up” ethos from Peter Pan, but, in fact, Simon knows he will die.

Wendy as an adult with Peter in Peter Pan: Return to Never Land.

Plant/Payoff Seven

Simon becomes belligerent in wanting Laura to see “Tomas’ little house,” which later becomes the secret basement in which Simon falls to his death. During the same argument, Laura causes some heavy pipes to dislodge in the small antechamber that leads to the secret basement. In propping the heavy pipes back up against the wall, she has unwittingly blocked Simon’s path back into the house, and this is the way in which Laura unwittingly caused his demise.

After Laura slaps Simon when he becomes belligerent, an angry Simon dresses up in the clothing of his new friend Tomas, with the sack over his head. As such, Simon is wearing a whistle around his neck when he disappears. It is this whistle that he blows just before he dies and is heard by Laura in a dream that awakens her.

Plant/Payoff Eight

When the whistle awakens Laura, she has no idea where it came from, but then hears a crash in the wall (which later turns out to be Simon’s fatal fall) and when she goes to investigate she finds a small female doll in Simon’s room. Here, the dead orphans are already playing with Laura, and they have left that doll as a sign that she, herself, is the missing component in the spirit world. Laura completes the orphans, and must be together with them in the afterlife to restore order.

This is exemplified in a beautiful scene in which Laura finally begins to see what the orphans want when she finds an old toy box with dolls representing the other orphans, and places the “Laura doll” back with them, completing the grouping of old friends.

The box of dolls from The Orphanage.

Plant/Payoff Nine

When Laura goes to hear a psychic speak, the psychic declares that to glance at one’s doppelganger, or supernatural twin, means, “without any doubt, a passport to the other world.” When the adult Laura dies and holds her son in the afterlife, she looks out the window to see (illuminated by the now-working lighthouse from the past) herself as a little girl, staring up at her and then running away, her spirit free.

Plant/Payoff Ten

The film’s final image is of Laura’s husband Carlos returning to the orphanage after losing his wife and son, and finding, in a crack in the floor, the St. Anthony medal that Laura had been wearing around her neck for much of the story. In fact, it was Carlos who gave Laura the medal, claiming that he did not believe in it, but that it would work if Laura wore it. Carlos instructed Laura to “give it [the medal] back when we find Simon.”

As Laura dies, she rips the medal from her neck and it falls into the floorboards. She left the St. Anthony medal behind for Carlos to know that she had, indeed, found Simon.

All great scripts contain lessons for screenwriters to apply to their own work. You may not be writing a ghost story or horror film, but in watching the ways in which writer Sergio G. Sánchez allowed so many details to keep referring endlessly back to themselves, it is not hard to see how carrying such threads through one’s own work can enliven any genre you care to name. MM

fbbanner (2)This article originally appeared on the website Creative Screenwriting. Creative Screenwriting is “the best magazine for screenwriters” (The Los Angeles Times), publishing daily interviews and craft articles from the foremost writers in film and TV.

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