Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Tug Of War (A Scene Exercise)

The final assignment in my screenwriting class was simple enough: create a short scene demonstrating a character, or characters, in a state of "preparation" while "lying" to somebody.

The writer could come up with the setting, characters, dialogue (regional dialects encouraged), etc. on their own but had to follow those two simple guidelines (along with the proper formatting of a screenplay, too, of course. That part probably doesn't translate too well on this blogsite but it won't take away from the storyline...).

The scene I chose to develop is based on a short story I've been working on called "Floorboards". It might be described as a dark comic "horror" fable. Easy enough genre to write for film anyway (horror, that is) so I decided to give a whirl at translating one of the "Floorboards" backdrops into a screen act.

Below, in screenplay format, is the result.

First a little background to establish some context: The story takes place in the present day. Through the process of "mountain top removal" a West Virginian coal mining company has blasted a local hillside apart to begin extracting its precious mineral ore contents. While leveling these particular mountains something ancient and unpleasant is unearthed in the process.

Millicent Dubreaux is a young farmer's daughter who has lost her parents several weeks back in a slurry flood disaster brought on by one of the removal operations. She has been taken in by her aunt, uncle and cousin, the Beckette's, who live nearby but have not decided what to do with the Dubreaux family house yet.

While on a walk one late afternoon near to one of the former peaks Millicent stumbles upon a certain infant something and decides to keep it as a "pet". Somewhat containable as a 'pup' at first it has since grown to, let's say, a rather disproportionate size.

She has taken it back home and hidden it in the basement of her parent's old farm house under the floorboards.

You might say the story is an "eco-terror" of sorts, I suppose...

The actual short story's version of the scene happens much later in the tale but for the class assignment the instructor recommended the writer use an opening sequence that would normally begin a film.

A quick screenplay reference key follows for the uninitiated:

EXT./INT. = Exterior/Interior (location in which a scene takes place),

CONTINUOUS = event is happening at the same moment in time as the previous action,

OS = Off Screen (a character who cannot be seen but may be heard),

POV = Point Of View (a camera direction that signifies a character's perspective),

ALL CAPS usage signifies a SOUND EFFECT insertion, a CHARACTER introduction or dialogue heading ID, or a scene SLUGLINE.

Final note: a well written screenplay never employs the TO BE verb in any form during its scene descriptions (its okay in dialogue, naturally; wouldn't get very far without it otherwise now would we?).

No worries; it'll all make sense once you start reading...

The scene is titled: " "TUG OF WAR"



MILLICENT DUBREAUX, 12, a pretty brown haired girl in a dirtied white floral sundress stands near the sink of an old country house’s kitchen. A battered coal miner’s hat hangs on a door peg. She skins a large rabbit and empties its entrails into the sink. She merrily hums an OLD TIME COUNTRY SONG as she guts the hare.


POV something large, hairy and bulbous in the dark stares up from under the slats in the kitchen floor at Millicent and emits several HIGH PITCHED CHITTERING SOUNDS.


Millicent drops the skinned rabbit and its innards into a bowl then places it into a bucket with a rope attached.

Just you hold on one minute, ya hear? Patience, patience. You’re in such a fuss!


The shape shuffles agitatedly as it SNORTS and WHINES. It knocks over a shelf of metal tools with a LOUD CLATTER. Millicent gets on her hands and knees and stares down through the floor slats. Her hair dangles below the boards.

Hey, now what did I jus’ tell you, Apple Pie! Be! Patient! It’s gonna be ready in one minute. I’s removin’ the skin like you likes it. Gosh, I hope you didn’t break anything too valuable down there.

A light blue 1950’s era pick up truck drives up a dirt road driveway. The truck pulls up to the country house and stops. ABIGAIL BECKETTE, 21, an attractive strawberry-blonde haired woman grabs hold of a bag of groceries inside the truck’s cab and exits.


Millicent walks over to a trap door set flush in the kitchen floor near a back corner. As she makes her way toward the door strands of white silky threads begin to float up from between the floorboard slats. The silk strands brush Millicent’s legs as she walks.

Goose bumps rise on Millicent’s legs.

Millicent giggles while she walks towards the trap door.

Stop that! You know how that tickles! Silly!
Millicent slides back two large bolt-latch mechanisms on the trap door and slowly opens the hatch. The hatch CREAKS open revealing a long, dark, dusty hole.

Breakfast time!
A HIGH PITCHED SQUEAL echoes from the hatch opening’s darkness below. Millicent lowers the bucket with the skinned rabbit into the hole.

The country house’s FRONT DOOR OPENS and CLOSES.

Millie! It’s just me. I’m back already! I think I got everything. Milk. Eggs. Butter. Flour. Sugar. Lordy! Everything is getting so expensive now.
Aw, shoot! Shhhh, you have to be quiet now, Mister Floorboards, do you hear me! Shush, now! I mean it.
A long, simpering MOAN comes out from the dark shaft.

Abbie, is that you?
The rope in Millicent’s hands suddenly goes taut and the bucket violenty yanks from below the hatch. Millicent almost topples into the opening. VORACIOUS CHEWING SOUNDS emanate from the hole as Millicent struggles with the rope.

Miss Millie! What in the Sam Hill are you doin’ over there, young lady?
Abigail stands in the kitchen doorway holding the bag of groceries with a look of deep concern on her face.

Uh, hi, Abbie. I’s tryin’ to pull the laundry bucket up from the basement. It seems to be stuck on something’ down there but I’s OK! I think I got it all right.
Abigail places the grocery bag on an old pastel green colored kitchen table next to the doorway. She starts to walk toward Millicent.

What? Girl, now why you tryin’ and bring up laundry like that for? My goodness that’s jus’ plain foolish. Here now, let me help you.
Nooooo! I mean, I’s OK Abbie! Everythin’s fine. Sometimes a girl’s gots to do things by herself. Please! This ole cat climbed this tree and she’s gonna get herself down.
Abigail stops and shakes her head. She turns back to the grocery bag.

Alright, jus’ don’t go hurtin’ yourself and breakin’ everythin’ then.
Abigail puts the groceries into a bulky old icebox refrigerator. A large, black, spindly insect’s leg arches itself from up out of the hatch door and gently caresses Millicent’s hair. Millicent grabs hold of the spiky limb and frantically pushes it back down the trap door.

Abigail turns back to Millicent as she continues to grip the now slackened rope.

You know I’m going out tonight with Raymond, right, Millie? With you’re Ma and Pa gone and no one to baby sit you’ll be on your own again tonight. I won’t be long. I can promise you that. Ray’s folks gotta telephone, too, should you need to reach me. Do you think you’ll be all right?
Oh, heavens, yes, Abbie. I ain’t no baby! I’ll be jus’ fine. Lots to watch on that TV.
The rope goes taut again with a sudden pull and Millicent nearly falls over and into the opening once more.

Millicent! What is going on over there?
Almost fell, silly me! I tried an’ pull too hard again! Heheh! Abbie, you just go on and have yourself some fun tonight. I’ll be jus’ fine. But can you do me a big favor, though, like right away? I believe I left the laundry soap out by the linen lines in the back. Would you be so kind as to go and fetch it for me? I done dirtied my favorite dress and it needs cleanin’ now, too.
You sure you’ll be all right then tonight, Millie? I just feel so terrible having left you alone most of the week already.
Millicent nods adamantly.

Yes, Miss Abbie. Very. Very sure.
OK, Sweetie. You’re a little doll you know that? Where are those soap flakes now? By the linen line you said?
Abigail exits the kitchen through a back doorway.


FLOORBOARDS, a mammoth pony-sized black spider looks up through the wooden floor slats at Abigail as she leaves. The creature makes SLAVERING NOISES as she passes directly overhead and then exits outside.


Millicent peers down into the slats rope tightly wound in hand.

You in big trouble, Mister! Let go of that bucket right now!
The rope immediately goes slack and the bucket hurtles out of the trap door opening. Millicent falls on her backside.

Oof! Watch it, ya Big Oaf! Don’t you get no stupid ideas down there neither ya hear? I heard you slobberin’ up a storm!
Millicent kicks the hatch of the trap door shut and then crawls over to draw the bolt-latches closed.

People are off limits! Especially my cousin Abigail!


The screenplay class instructor gave fairly glowing kudos to this particular scene so I decided it was worth a posting.

Happy New Year,


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