What is pay off in filmmaking?
It is something which is set up at the beginning of your story which makes a later moment in your film more meaningful. In other words, a pay off provides the audience with some vital information for a future part of the story, which wouldn’t mean anything to the audience had it not been set up earlier.
For example, the ending, or in fact the entire plot of In Bruges would not mean anything to the audience had we not been informed at the start of the story that killing a child is unforgivable among this particular group of hit-men. Everything in the story hinges on that fact and the ending is both clever and poignant, because we saw Ray kill that child. His guilt follows him around the film, but we have the added suspense of knowing he will be killed for it. The ending is gold because the pay off was emphasised over and over and over again.
A good set up makes a great pay off
In this short video, my new series called Just A Thought, I use an example of pay off from Doctor Who’s latest episode “Face the Raven.” I loved this episode and wanted to share what I feel I learned from this particular technique in storytelling in film.
I want to really incorporate this idea and keep it in mind in my next short film or script. What do you think? How can you make your audience care, using a pay off in your own short film?