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Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Q. Lots of movies have a big reveal at the end. How do you do the hook for a movie of this sort?

The particular case that I'm interested in is "The Odessa File." (SPOILERS...) This begins as an "ordinary man" story, where a guy gets roped into a situation simply because he happened to be the one who found some information and decided that he needed to do something about it. But there's a big reveal at the end where it turns out that he actually had an intimate personal connection to the story. So, what looked through most of the movie like the sort of poorly motivated action that mediocre movies are full of, was actually very powerfully motivated.
Unfortunately, that's not a hook, because you can't put it in your query letter without spoiling the reveal.

The Odessa File probably got made because the book was a Frederick Forsyth bestseller. And so far as I can tell from Amazon, the book does have a hook -- something like, "After the inexplicable suicide of a Holocaust survivor, a reporter uncovers ODESSA, a secret organization devoted to hiding Nazis..."

And The Others has a hook -- if I remember the opening right: After the panicked departure of her nanny, a woman with two children who must not see the light of day hires a mysterious couple who may actually be ghosts...

And The Sixth Sense has a hook, too: "a psychiatrist tries to help a boy who can see dead people."

Whereas The Village doesn't have much of anything until the reveal. (And even that doesn't do much, even if you can't see it coming about a mile away.) But it got made because the writer/director had written and directed the massive hit The Sixth Sense.

Even if you have a cool reveal that turns everything on its head, you still need a hook.

Incidentally, if you are going to have a big reveal, it's fun to drop a few otherwise inexplicable hints that keep the audience wondering what the explanation for them is going to be -- that pulls them into the story. Especially if (as in The Sixth Sense or The Others) the movie still works if you know the reveal.


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