Friday, November 4, 2011

The Power of Distance

Sometimes I love getting sick. When else can you loaf around in bed, do nothing, and get sympathy for it?

The other day, feeling horrible, I was faced with all the possibilities on Netflix. Would I watch an action thriller? A romantic comedy? I immediately was drawn to horror and started to watch BURIED with Ryan Reynolds. About five minutes in, when I realized he was never going to leave the coffin, I bailed.

I was about to put down the PS3 controller when I accidentally toggle sticked to “Movies Based on Books.” Hmm… how about a whole day of Edith Wharton? Anyone obsessed with Masterpiece Theater knows there is a certain narcotic value to watching these period pieces where lives are destroyed over finger sandwiches. And so I settled in for THE AGE OF INNOCENCE, which I’ve seen approximately nine times.

Daniel Day Lewis, check. Michelle Pfeiffer, check. Fabulous fancy food, check. Impossible love, check. In this film, Michelle plays the Countess Olenska, a beautiful, but sullied woman, married to a cruel man in Europe, and due to the conventions of her time, unable to get a divorce. Daniel DL plays Newland Archer, a good guy, about to marry the young, beautiful, but vapid Mae (Winona Ryder.) As Newland tries to protect Olenska from scandal (she’s the cousin of his future wife) they begin to fall in love, and no matter how hard he tries to hurry up his marriage to Mae, nothing can stop their love. Nothing, except Society. Painful shots of them staring at each other at dinner parties, him unbuttoning her glove during a stolen moment in a carriage, them trying not to kiss. Newland begs her to come to his place, Olenska says yes, then returns his key when Mae tells her she’s pregnant.

As I watched all this “apartness” I realized what great dramatic tension can come from the power of distance in a story.

Of not letting people be together. Of keeping them separate for the sake of maintaining exquisite rising conflict in the narrative.

At the end, I was sobbing furiously (as I had been the previous nine times.) I wanted to shout at Newland, “Go up those stairs, Dammit! I don’t care if you’re old fashioned. You’re only 57 years old!!” But no, he walks away. The much more dramatic choice, I’m aware. It maintains the power of distance.

Exhausted, I grabbed some Kleenex and toggled to another Edith Wharton fave, ETHAN FROME. Liam Neeson stars as Ethan, a poor farmer who dreams of being an engineer, but makes the mistake of marrying the nasty Xena (the fabulously gaunt Joan Allen.) When pretty young Mattie (Patricia Arquette) comes to take care of Xena who’s ailing, guess what happens? Of course she and Ethan can’t be together. He’s married. So he stares at her. She stares at him. Xena tries to pretend nothing’s going on.

When Xena leaves to go see a doctor, all hell breaks loose. The family cat shatters a treasured dish, Liam touches the embroidery Mattie is working on, then later, they kiss.

When Xena comes back early and tells Mattie she has to leave, Mattie and Liam decide to kill themselves on a snow sled (why can’t we have climaxes like this in today’s movies?) Anyway, they race down the hill, head for a tree and BAM.

We cut to the future. Now Liam is hunchbacked and club footed, taking care of his wife. And just when you thought, “Wow, Mattie was sure lucky to die,” we find out she’s NOT dead. She’s living with the two of them and now Xena’s taking care of her.

So much worse than being buried in a coffin like Ryan Reynolds.

As I turned off the set, blew my nose, and drank another Emergen-C, I wondered, “Wow, is this even possible now? To have a romance film set in contemporary American society where two people have some moral compunction about cheating or betrayal?” I started spitballing scenarios. Maybe if it’s set in Amish country? Or a Fundamentalist Christian household…. Oh wait, forget about that one.

Aside from Romantic Comedies, where the things keeping people separate are deceptions, or irrelevant significant others, what modern stakes could possibly keep people apart to the degree they’re kept apart in Wharton’s novels?

Maybe if the two people had sex they would die?

Or their children would die?

Or they would become ugly?

Is it even possible to create distance between characters now when our culture is all about immediate gratification?

I can’t stop thinking about that amazing scene in THE AGE OF INNOCENCE where Daniel Day Lewis peels off Michelle P’s glove. And that’s all that happens.

If they had full on sex, it wouldn’t be half as satisfying.

It’s because they’re close. But a million miles away.

Monday, September 19, 2011


Why do we love bad movies so much? Why do we laugh and scream about how terrible the acting was (that accent!) or how lame the plot became (a cell phone can be used to stop a meteor, really?) The first bad movie I remember seeing was “Roller Boogie” with Linda Blair. It was REALLY bad. There’s nothing quite like a disco film set in a roller rink, starring Linda Blair, especially when there are no demons trying to possess her.

The first movie I walked out of was “Grease 2.” Yeah, I know, but I really liked the first one. For the first time in my tender youth, I realized that it was possible to waste precious minutes of your life.

So it was with some pleasure that I watched REMEMBER ME a few weeks ago on Netflix streaming. Yes, it’s called REMEMBER ME. And indeed I will, although not for the reasons intended by the filmmakers.

There was no reason to watch this movie. The fact that I didn’t recognize the title, did not bode well. And when I saw that it starred Robert Pattinson, well... Yet, there I was, curled up on the couch, watching the title sequence. “It stars Chris Cooper,” I kept repeating to myself, “It stars Chris Cooper…”

Here’s a brief description of the plot , “A romantic drama centered on two new lovers: Tyler, whose parents have split in the wake of his brother's suicide, and Ally, who lives each day to the fullest since witnessing her mother's murder.”

REMEMBER ME started out badly. What did the main character want? Nothing. And so there was no forward movement in the plot. Who was trying to stop him? It seemed the father (played by Pierce Brosnan) was the bad guy, but couldn’t really stop him from anything, because there was nothing Robert P was trying to do. This resulted in many scenes where RP smoldered at his dad and his dad smoldered back. For some reason there’s lots of smoldering in bad movies.

A love interest. This is always a hopeful sign, but in this particular case, the “lie” set up in the story, which is intended to throw the lovers apart in ACT II, made no sense at all. Why did RP even ask her out in the first place? And yes, there was a horrible “romantic” water fight scene. I rest my case.

Irritating characters. This is always a classic sign of a bad movie, and Pattinson’s motor mouth best friend, with his way too clever lines, made me want to kill someone.

Rising conflict. None. Until the little sister gets her hair cut off by some nasty sixth grade girls. It was then I started wishing she was the main character.

But finally, as we lumbered towards the climax, came the plot point that made this movie truly and irrevocably dreadful. During the earlier badness, my teenaged son had come into the living room and sat down next to me. We’d giggled at the terrible dialogue, the lousy plot. But then came the moment when I stood up from the couch, and screamed at the TV, “NO!!!!!” My son got scared for a minute.

It seemed that the writer figured Pattinson needed an arc. So after he trashes the girls who hurt his little sister, tells his girlfriend the truth about why he inexplicably asked her out, he then goes to the top of the world trade center to meet his dad.

At this point, my heart started to race, because I could not believe the writer was about to do what I thought he was about to do.

Then, the little sister sits in her classroom and we pan across the blackboard, which says Sept 11, 2001.

“No!!!!” I shouted again. My son started to laugh. “NO!” I screamed.

This was so out of left field, so wrong, so awful and so OFFENSIVE that I was literally driven to caterwaul. The screenwriter was attempting to somehow make his movie meaningful and important by turning Pattinson into a victim of 9/11.

We have a winner folks—worst screenwriting choice EVER!

Nope, not even Chris Cooper could save this one.

In fact, this film made me long for the halcyon days of “Roller Boogie”, where I could laugh at Linda Blair skating around in a unitard, or “Purple Rain, where I hurled Raisinettes at Prince’s face in a theater in Westwood.

As we turned off REMEMBER ME, my son said, “That sucked.”

We both laughed. Indeed. And I guarantee, for that reason, I’ll never forget it.


1. Plan 9 From Outer Space

2. Remember Me

3. Roller Boogie

4. Showgirls

5. Purple Rain

6. Grease 2

7. Black Swan (I never bought that it was “intentionally” campy)

8. Twilight

9. The Happening (my friend calls it The Crappening)

10. Pearl Harbor

MY FAVORITE “REMEMBER ME” REVIEW QUOTE: “If this movie is playing at a theater near you, you might want to consider moving somewhere else.” A.O. Scott

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Inside Television Writing With Dawn Prestwich

Dawn Prestwich is a highly regarded television writer, and all around fabulous woman! With writing partner Nicole Yorkin, she has written for such diverse shows as "Chicago Hope", "Flashforward", "Carnivale", "The Riches", and is currently Co Executive Producer on the new AMC series, "The Killing." She agreed to answer a few questions about what it’s like to be a television writer, and how to hone your skills in preparation for entry into this fast paced world.

Thanks Dawn!

When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

I had always been a writer, a storyteller. But I knew that I wanted to be a writer, professionally, when I realized during my first job in Hollywood (personal assistant to a talent manager) that nothing can happen in this business without a script. It’s really all about the script. There’s power in the word. I wanted that power.

How did you break into television writing?

After sitting in a little office for 4 years writing screenplays with strong female characters that no one wanted to read, my writing partner Nicole Yorkin and I decided to write a spec TV episode, just to see if we had the chops to do TV, as a sort of a last ditch effort, you know? If it didn’t work out, she was going back to journalism, and I was going back to writing short fiction and hoping to get published somewhere. It was a THIRTYSOMETHING spec, and surprisingly enough, it opened doors for us like nothing else ever had. Ed Solomon recommended us to a showrunner (Beth Sullivan) who was looking for people she might not have read. She read us, next thing we know, we’re writing a show called THE TRIALS OF ROSIE O’NEILL. We never really stopped working after that.

What does a showrunner do?

The showrunner is in charge of the whole shebang. The buck stops there. The showrunner does everything from breaking all the stories in the writers’ room, guiding the creative direction of the show, writing and re-writing the episodes, taking complete responsibility for them creatively. She hires the directors, and works with them closely on the creative direction of every episode, is responsible for the post production of all the episodes, responds to notes from the studio and network. She/he has to worry about staying within the constraints of the budget, managing all the different people involved in making the show, and generally never sleeping at night. As John Wells once said to us, “It’s the toughest job in town.”

What do you think are the most important skills for a television writer? How can a person go about developing these skills and finding a job in television?

Okay, beyond being a writer who writes with an eye to character, you must, first and foremost, play well with others. A writers’ room is a team of writers all striving to make a show—that means every single episode—great. Or it should be. If writers know that they tend to be loners, or don’t like to hear other people’s opinions about their words, they might think about sticking to screenwriting, or novel writing. TV is fast and furious. That’s why it’s a team sport. You need a lot of brains tracking the story, bringing their best ideas and experiences to the room to improve every episode. At least, that’s the way it is in hour drama.

I’m not sure how you develop that. It just depends on how you work, and what works for you. I’ve known a few writers over the years who just can’t tolerate the group process and they’ve gravitated back to features, because being on a writing staff is just not their thing.

How to get a job in television? Keep working on your writing. Write and write, and get better and better, to the point that the scripts you have written pretty much do the work for you. They will sell you, you don’t have to. Make sure the first page of your spec is brilliant and compelling, something that immediately sucks a reader in. Think of it this way, when people are reading your script, they DON’T WANT TO BE READING IT. So REWARD THEM with a wonderful reading experience. Because then they will love you and know that recommending you will make them look smart. See? That’s your script doing the work. And no, it’s not hard to get read by people in this town. Opportunities arise. But you’d better be ready to repeat that same reading experience over and over again with each subsequent script you write. Because you have to be able to do that when you are on a show.

You’ve written for some amazing, and very different shows. The Killing, Carnivale, The Riches… How do you shift your writing style and perspective for each project?

I don’t know. You just do. It’s actually one of the best parts of writing for TV, the need to switch gears every now and then. Keeps you from getting bored or rote in your writing. Nicole and I have been doing this for more than 20 years now, and I think we actually kind of relish the variety. We love a new challenge, to write something we’ve never written before, in a style that is new, and maybe even a little scary to us. It’s what keeps us engaged and excited about the work.

How do you and Nicole write scripts together? What’s your process?

All partners do it differently, but basically, Nicole and I write every word out loud together in a room. It’s a noisy process. Even if we’re in Starbucks. And we’ll argue about the words or ideas. And it can get heated! But that’s because we really, really care about the work and we want it to be great. We generally break the story together, then throw it up on the board in the writers’ room and let them kick the tires and make it better, then we go off and write for a couple of weeks (if we have the luxury of a couple of weeks, sometimes it’s less than a week, depending on how things are going on the show), then turn in a first draft. On THE KILLING, which Veena Sud is running, we turn the first draft in to her and the writing staff. The staff makes notes, and Veena will decide which notes she wants us to take. From there, the script gets re-written by us, and the next draft goes to Veena, and ultimately the studio, for more notes. Changes are made, if necessary, and then it goes to the network, which will usually have a few notes, as well. That’s the process, pretty much.

What’s a crazy, little known fact about the television industry?

People who pitch well often can’t live up to the promise of the pitch. Great sellers are rarely great writers. It’s a different skill set.

All time favorite TV show?

Mad Men, In Treatment, The Wire, Thirtysomething, MASH, I Love Lucy

Friday, May 20, 2011

My Hero's Journey

So I recently finished Patti Smith’s wonderful memoir, “Just Kids,” and realized all the amazing paths people walk to become the artists they are truly meant to be. Her descriptions of living in New York with Robert Maplethorpe as he discovered his gift for photography, and she her talent as a poet and musician, reminded me of all the people I came of age with at film school.

True, Westwood was nothing like the gritty Chelsea Hotel or Coney Island, but UCLA had it’s own culture of struggle and striving and seeking to make connections.

After closing Smith’s book, which ends up being a tribute to Maplethorpe, her lover and friend who died from AIDS in 1989, I started thinking about three people I went to film school with who have since passed.

I met Andre on the first day of orientation, and was immediately attracted to him—oh my God. Who was that beautiful man? I later found out he was smart too (went to Harvard) and incredibly talented. We became close friends, helped each other with our films, and later shared an office in Hollywood. One night, towards the end of film school, when we were desperately trying to finish our movies and were so far out on the edge of exhaustion that we could barely walk, he looked at me and said in a horrified voice, “PV, you look like you’re thirty five.”

I started crying.

Right before he succumbed to AIDS related liver failure and was in the hospital, another friend from UCLA called to say she was coming over and was there anything she could bring him.

He looked at me across the bed sheets, raised his eyebrows and said, “I know it’s in bad taste, but I really want some pate.”

I love you Andre.

I also think a lot about Peter Hutcheson, “Hutch,” who pimped out his ‘production vehicle’ (crappy 20 year old van) to other production students. It was manual transmission and you had to start it in compression (going down a hill) but other than that, it was fabulous. I also met Hutch on the first day of orientation. He had hair down past his ass and was wearing a kilt. He assured me he was going full commando.

Hutch was a total Magyver. He could make a flyable airplane from gaffer’s tape. A working engine from a pipe cleaner. A Michael Bay film from a flip camera.

Hutch would drag me away from my editing machine and force me to notice that it was spring, or winter, or raining, or whatever. He was my connection to the planet earth.

Gone in a drowning accident.

And finally, Nietzschka. It took me five years to learn to spell her name. I was afraid of her for the first two that I knew her. She had wild red hair, and a fierce but otherworldly face. She looked like someone out of an Emily Bronte novel who’d been running around the moors for a really long time. She supervised the sound mixing department, as well as being a grad student, and did not suffer fools. She drank tea all day long and sometimes would leave a single bag in her cup until the porcelain interior turned black.

She taught me about the insane coolness of Grimm’s Fairy Tales. About the way you could throw a crow sound effect in a scene and make it really funny. She loved true crime stories as much as I did, and we both had a crush on Belle Gunness, a woman who lived in the early 1900’s and killed 23 men for their money.


So, reading Patti Smith’s memoir, I was reminded of the people I met when I was young who helped me find my path. None of us became famous, but the hero’s journey is not just about the mighty and the powerful. It is, in fact, about everyday people who have dreams and goals and who must face obstacles and monsters to achieve them. Along the way they may meet shapeshifters and threshold guardians who try to steer them off the road…

But they will also meet mentors.

So thanks Andre, for teaching me the power of flying my freak flag. And thanks to you, Hutch, for always forcing me to be in the moment. And to you Nietzchka, for revealing the beauty in a chilling detail.

You are my heroes.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Great Screenwriter Interviews

Hey Everyone--

UCLA Extension found these candid and amazing interviews with screenwriters. Go behind the scenes and check them out.

Thursday, March 3, 2011


Recently, a high ranking employee of one of the two major agencies in town (you figure it out) came to speak in my UCLA Extension Screenwriting class.

He must go unnamed due to various public speaking clauses, but was very forthcoming in our class.

Here’s what he had to say…

“One Thanksgiving, when I was just starting out, I had the privilege of sitting next to Paul Newman at dinner. I asked him what the key to the business was, and he said, ‘Longevity.’ Twenty years later, I see what he meant.” After attending USC’s film program, where his fellow students included John Singleton, Agent X started in the mailroom at the agency where he now works.

He talked about what happens to your script when it’s sent to a large agency. “There is a reader who will read it and they’re basically going to write a book report on your script. We call this coverage. Most likely, the agents will read the coverage before they ever read your script. “ Although he wasn’t discouraging, he wanted the students to know what they’re getting into. “If you think writing a screenplay is a golden ticket, it’s not. It’s too competitive, it’s not easy. It’s absurdly hard. All of you are on the one yard line and there’s a football field ahead of you filled with people who will try to stop you. But you will also meet people on that field who will help you. And it’s important to recognize them when they appear.

The agent then told a story about how this works. Recently, he was asked to speak at a high school career day in South Los Angeles. He went and was discouraged by the response. Most of the questions hovered around, “How much money do you make?” and, “What kind of car do you drive?” Each class got progressively worse, until the last one, which was attended by a very interesting student named Sean. This agent said, “How would you like to come to Agency X? I’ll introduce you to the people there.” Sean said he would like that. At the end of the day the principal came up and gave the agent one of the high school’s t-shirts to thank him for coming. A week goes by, Sean doesn’t show up. Another week, he can’t make it then either. So he never comes. He has this opportunity, and he never follows up on it.

A month later, the principal of the high school calls up the agent and says, “Do you remember me? I’m the principal at the school you came to on career day. My son is thirty, he works at the Olive Garden, he’s written three screenplays, and I wondered if you would be willing to talk to him.” The agent says yes, the writer calls him and pitches the logline of his latest script in one sentence. It sounds interesting, so the agent says, “Send it.” The writer sends it immediately via email. The agent reads it that night.

Needless to say, he loved it, and the 30-year-old writer who works at the Olive Garden is now meeting with directors at this high-powered agency who are interested in making his movie.

So clearly, part of making it down the football field, is recognizing the people on that field who can help you. If this principal hadn’t gotten up his courage and called someone he barely knew, his son wouldn’t be having the success he’s experiencing right now.

Be brave!

Agent X had other tips for the class…

1) “It’s important to know what the premise is. The logline. The elevator pitch. Pretend you have 30 seconds while the elevator is moving up, to pitch to the person next to you. What are the two or three sentences you are going to say that will pull this person in? This is how you’ll be pitching yourself and the project. And whether you like it or not, readers will reduce your screenplay to one such sentence in the coverage.”

2) “Write good characters. Write a part an actor will want to play. Not just the lead, but the bad guy, everyone in the movie. All the parts have to be good.”

3) “Write great dialogue. If I’m a reader and my boss is going to a lunch meeting, he or she will ask, “How is the dialogue?” If it’s really boring and vanilla, the reader will expose you. If the dialogue doesn’t ring true, or isn’t witty, you’ll be busted.”

4) “Everyone is different. Everyone’s a snowflake. Be yourself.”

5) “Write a script that other people will want to see. “

Here are some specific questions the students asked…

Q: What’s the best way to get your script to a decent agency? Is it only through a relationship or can you be ballsy?

A: If you can, use a friend who is a producer to get the script out there. Let them do the work. Email a PDF. Agents are usually only interested when someone else is. If a producer is interested, they will be too.

Q: What are some beginner red flags that make you drop a script like a hot potato?

A: When there’s no clear two-sentence premise, when there aren’t good characters, when the dialogue isn’t great. Basically, I’m going to give you ten pages. If you haven’t got me at the end of ten pages, it’s over. Make sure your screenplay doesn’t start on page 30. You got five pages to introduce the reader to the premise. If you start with a clever opening line, or a great bit of dialogue, or the cool way we meet someone, I’ll keep reading. You have to remember, I am not motivated to finish your screenplay. You have to make me motivated, with your writing.

Q: Do agents not want to accept material directly from the writer?

A: Some agents are willing to take a flyer on someone new. But most agents take scripts only from other producers, their friends.

Q: When should you give up?

A: This process takes time. Give yourself five years, a good long time, to devote to this, to move the needle. You’ll know if you’re not going anywhere. You’ll know it, trust me.

He then closed by saying, “Hopefully, you understand what you’re up against. What you’re up against is people who were given your script by their boss and have to cancel their plans to read it. But that person still wants to read the next ‘Good Will Hunting.’ They still want someone to knock their socks off.

It’s your job to be that person.”

Thursday, January 6, 2011

I know all you screenwriting students out there are sick of the word “structure,” but once in a great while I watch a movie that perfectly exemplifies all the rules that are laid out in the thousands of screenwriting tomes at Barnes and Noble.

I use the Three Act Template as my structural model. It’s simple and easy to track, and instead of reading a book about how these landmarks work, I like to watch them in action.

I recently saw “True Grit,” written and directed by my faves The Coen Brothers.

If you haven’t seen the film, SPOILER ALERT!!!!

If you have, here’s how the movie lays out structurally…


Inciting incident —Mattie Ross’s father is killed. She’s determined to get revenge on Chaney, the man who killed him. (See, the protagonist has a simple strong goal. The inciting incident happens on page one—he’s dead. The primary story gets started, pronto.)

Mattie tries to find a fierce man to hunt him down. She hears Rooster Cogburn is the meanest.

She asks Cogburn to help her find Chaney. He refuses.

She tries again, thinks she has a deal with him.

At the appointed time, she goes to meet him to leave, and discovers that he’s left with Le Boeouf, a US Marshall who’s also looking for Chaney. She’s furious that he’s decided to catch Chaney without her.

ACT I Turning Point-- She follows him (bravely riding her horse Little Blackie across a treacherous river) and insists she’s going. LB tries spanking her. Cogburn tells him to stop, and that she can come. The adventure begins.


Follow the trajectory created by the first turning point-- She and Cogburn and LeBouef travel together.

Le Boeuf and Cogburn say they want to bring Chaney to justice in Texas. Mattie says no way. LB goes off on his own.

Mattie and Cogburn travel together by themselves.

Mattie and Cogburn find her dad’s gold piece that Chaney stole, discover he’s joined up with Ned Pepper’s gang.

After walking a long way, the weather turns bad. Cogburn says he knows of a cabin where they can take shelter.

They arrive at the cabin. Two men are already there. Mattie and Cogburn ask about Pepper. One of the men starts to talk, and his partner stabs him. Cogburn kills the stabber. Before he dies, the first stabbed man manages to tell them that Pepper’s gang is coming there tonight.

Midpoint—Mattie and Cogburn wait for them on a high ridge. LeBouef randomly rides up before Pepper’s gang. The gang shows up, lassos LB. Cogburn shoots to save LB. This triggers a big shootout (no kidding, it’s a Western!) The scene ends with Chaney and Ned escaping.

Cogburn knows where they are going. Mattie and LB leave with him to find them.

The Big Gloom—They get to where Cogburn thought Chaney was. He’s not there. LB and Cogburn fight. Cogburn wants out. He says, “I’ve been drawn into a wild goose chase with a harpy in pants and a nincompoop.” Mattie is disgusted with Cogburn, asks to go with LB, but he’s giving up on finding Chaney too. It’s not worth it.

No one will help Mattie go after Chaney. She has to do it on her own. The next morning, while bathing, she runs into Chaney. She manages to shoot him in the side, but is taken captive. Now she’s in the clutches of Ned Pepper’s gang.

Chaney tries to kill Mattie. LB rescues her.

They hear something and look down from their high ridge. Cogburn rides his horse straight into a standoff with Pepper’s gang. It’s 4 against 1. Cogburn manages to kill a couple of guys, but falls off his horse. Ned rides up, is about to kill him, when LB shoots Ned from their high perch.

ACT II Turning Point—LB and M ride down to help Cogburn. Again, Chaney tries to kill Mattie. She shoots him but falls down a hole and gets bitten by a snake. Cogburn tries to suck the venom out, but she’ll die unless he gets her to a doctor.


Race to the Climax—Cogburn literally races on Little Blackie to get her to the doctor. When the horse fails, he must shoot the animal. Mattie is distraught. He runs with her in his arms.

Climax—Cogburn fights to keep going over difficult terrain. He makes it. He has done something he never could have done at the beginning of the movie-- cared for the girl so much that he risked his own life to get her to safety. He falls to his knees.

Brief Resolution—It’s 25 years later. We find out Mattie lost an arm, but is alive. Cogburn travels with a Wild West show. She goes to see him, finds out he died. She has his body moved to her family plot.

The end.

What’s truly interesting about this movie is how the main character shifts from being Mattie right up to the ACT II turning point, to Cogburn in ACT III. While Mattie drives the action in the early story, Cogburn is the one who almost kills himself to save her in the end. He’s the one who is transformed.

There are also some amazingly well done expositional tricks at play in this film.

Definitely worth a study!