Screenwriting: I Don’t Have to Do It, Because I Already Know How To Do It

People have told me from time to time that my newspaper stories are okay, but that my real talent would be in writing movies, if only I wanted to do that, which, apparently, I don’t.

It’s true I could write great movies. I already know the ending of every high grossing shoot-em-up movie. It’s easy. Toward the end, the bad guy is out of options and is on the run with the good guy chasing him. Both have guns. (The bungling authorities are totally off somewhere else.) But then something really bad happens—the bad guy takes a hostage or comes at the good guy from behind and says drop the gun. So the good guy drops it. Game over.

The bad guy then says he’s going to shoot the good guy but before he does, he’s going to tell him in a very pompous sort of fashion why it was hopeless for the good guy to go after him. He starts cackling. Then he starts sneering. He’s going to fill in the story for the good guy. Show him what he missed and, what he’ll be too dead to see, what will be happening next. Then he’s done. The camera focuses up close on his trigger finger. He’s begun to pull the trigger when somebody behind him shoots him dead. If only he had killed the good guy when he had the chance.

So yesterday I wander into the TV room where my wife is watching a Bruce Willis movie that is not Die Hard. And he looks pretty handsome as he always does and he has most of his hair so this must be around 1998, but he doesn’t seem to be a good guy. He’s hanging around all these thuggish looking people. I ask my wife about it.

“It’s called JACKAL,” she said. “Willis is the Jackal.”

“Bad guy?”

Richard Gere is after him. Gere’s a former spy or something working alone. The authorities are clueless. They’ve even been chasing Gere.”

“Hmmm,” I say. I sit down. I’ve never seen this movie, but I tell her how it ends. Bad guy takes a hostage or something, good guy has to drop the gun, bad guy brags and brags etc.

After awhile, we head toward the denouement. This is a really well-done movie. It got great reviews when it came out, and the director really knows how to set up the audience for the grand finale.

Willis has run down a flight of stairs on the street to a subway platform. He’s limping. He’s been shot in the leg. Gere is in hot pursuit. From the platform, Willis jumps down to the tracks and heads down the tunnel. Gere sees him and he jumps down too. They run and run. But then a train is coming toward them. Willis leaps to press himself against the side of the tunnel. Gere now sees there is another train coming from the other direction. He gets between the two sets of tracks and hangs onto a red-green light stanchion for dear life. The camera shoots from the ceiling, we see Gere struggling and struggling as the trains whizz by in both directions at 40 miles an hour just inches from him.

When the two trains are gone, both actors re-appear and resume the chase. Willis limps along and arrives at another subway station where there’s a platform filled with people. Willis climbs up onto it. A subway police officer turns and Willis shoots him dead. The people scream and run away. But one pretty young woman, terrified, freaks out and simply runs right at Willis into his waiting arms. He holds her and puts a pistol to her head as Gere leaps up from the tracks and onto the platform.

Willis pulls the girl behind a column and whispers in her ear telling her what to say. Her voice is quivering. “Help me! Help me! I’m over here.” Gere, his gun drawn, heads over to the column cautiously. But then Willis slides slowly out from behind the column, the captive woman a shield in front of him.

“Drop the gun or she’s dead.”

Gere is unsure of what to do.

“I said drop it. You have five seconds.”

Gere drops it and it rattles out of reach.

“Down on your knees,” Willis says to Gere.

“After you let the woman go,” Gere says.

Willis lets go of the woman and she runs off whimpering.

At this point, I announce there will be  bragging and sneering.

“I know,” she says.

“And who’s gonna shoot him is a woman. Not the woman who ran away, but another woman, Gere’s beautiful but stubborn sidekick.”

I get up and walk out of the room and into the kitchen. “Let me know how they make out,” I say.

A few minutes later, I hear the shooting and then the happy sounds of a movie ending and my wife comes in.

Willis wasn’t quite dead,” she says.

“So Willis must have fired at the same time the woman did, hit Gere, but just wounded him in the shoulder, his aim a little off. So the woman is attending Gere where he lies on the platform and Willis, also lying on the platform, with superhuman effort rising from the dead, pulls out a second gun and is about to fire and this time it’s Gere who sees what’s going on, and in an instant with his good arm grasps his own gun which he conveniently fell next to and pumps five shots into Willis.”

“You know all this stuff,” my wife said and walked away.

“Anytime,” I said.

Jackal came out in 1997 and grossed $100 million.

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