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Archive for the ‘FILM’ Category

SCREENPLAYS

BOOKWORM! (short horror-comedy, 1988)
(co-written with Al Hunter)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-FQ

EXTRA (short comedy, 1987)
(conceived by Zvi Arav, based on a short story by Ephraim Kishon)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-Gf

THE SECOND COMING OF MICHAEL ZIVITZ (screenplay treatment, dark comedy, 1983)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-KZ

SEPARATING (short drama, 1983)
(adapted from John Updike short story)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-Lp

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BOOKWORM!

by Al Hunter & David Lefkowitz

(c)1988

 

CHARACTERS:

Melissa: A pretty, highly extroverted college student in her early twenties.

Wilma: Melissa’s friend. A woman of limited intelligence but more common sense than Melissa.

Pete: A good-looking stockbroker trainee in his mid-twenties. Though not evil, he’s still basically a jerk.

Cliff: A male version of Wilma. Possibly better looking.

Fireman: Tired, dedicated, and in full uniform.

Mabel de la Cruz: Melissa’s cousin. A plain, slightly odd-looking woman in her late twenties. Unmarried and unfriendly, she spends much of her time reading . . .

 

ACT I

FADE IN

ENT. SMALL COLLEGE TOWN – LATE AFTERNOON

A crisp, sunny afternoon in late fall.

We see a figure approaching a large boarding house.

The figure, weighed down by a bundle, moves awkwardly but with determination.

EXT. BOARDING HOUSE

An unfriendly edifice, but not seriously dilapidated.

The front badly needs a paint job, but the omnipresent ivy helps hide the worst flaws.

We see frumpy MABEL DE LA CRUZ trundle up to the front door. She gets to the front steps, stumbles, and drops a huge stack of library books.

Mabel carefully dusts off each one and methodically restacks the pile.

She then fishes a key out of her black handbag and opens the front door.

INT. FRONT PARLOR

We hear the Smithereens blasting from an upstairs stereo.

Mabel slides the door closed with her leg and gently lays her books down on a nearby table.

Mabel hurriedly hangs up her coat and turns a light on in the parlor.

She rummages through the stack of books until she finds the one she wants. Then she scuttles over to the old, beat-up sofa.

Mabel hungrily begins skimming the book, but the noise from upstairs distracts her.

She slams the book shut and is about to head toward the stairs when the music stops suddenly.

Mabel sighs and returns to her book.

She is immediately interrupted by the sound of two pairs of feet galloping down the stairs.

STAIRS

MELISSA and WILMA, two friends in their early twenties, run downstairs, giggling and dressed to party.

As soon as they notice Mabel, their mood darkens.

WILMA: (whispers) Maybe we should ask her.

MELISSA: Oh, come on!

WILMA: But she never goes out. Except to that stupid library.

Mabel, absorbed in her book, ignores the conversation.

MELISSA: You know, if she comes along, we’ll just have to dump her on somebody.

WILMA: You’re so cruel, Melissa. I mean, she is your cousin.

MELISSA: You wanna ask her? Be my guest.

Mabel doesn’t even look up from her book.

MABEL: Ask me what?

WILMA: Uh, Mabel . . . Me and Melissa are going to that new rock club. The Underworld. You’re welcome to come.

MABEL: No.

After a second, Mabel looks up and actually smiles.

MABEL: But thanks. I have to do some research.

WILMA: All you ever do is read those old books. It’s not healthy.

MABEL: I’m just not cut out for the party scene. I don’t know what to say, what to wear, how to make new friends. I’m much more comfortable staying home and communing with old friends.

MELISSA: Get a life! Don’t you ever want to be somebody? Meet a nice guy? Have kids?

WILMA: You can read to them.

MABEL: I guess I never think about that. We’re different.

MELISSA: I’ll say. What’s in those books anyway? (reads) “White Magic”? Is that like a  sequel to Less Than Zero?

Melissa tries to sneak a peek, but Mabel flinches defensively.

MELISSA: Hey, suit yourself.

WILMA: Are you sure you don’t wanna come to The Underworld?

MELISSA: I think she’s already found it! Come on, Wilma.

Melissa heads for the door.

MABEL: Have a good time.

Wilma leaves with Melissa.

Mabel turns off the lamp and goes to the parlor table.

She collects the stack of books and trudges upstairs.

INT. UPSTAIRS HALLWAY

Mabel passes by the open door to Wilma’s room and notices clothes and album covers all over the floor.

Mabel groans and walks to her own room.

INT. MABEL’S ROOM

The room would be meticulously neat if it weren’t for the overflow of musty books on shelves, in piles, and generally everywhere.

The faded red curtains and dim light from scattered candles heighten the dinginess of the windowless room.

Mabel scans one shelf in search of a book.

We notice that all the titles are non-fiction works dealing with science, medicine, and the occult.

Mabel chooses one book titled, “The Ancient Art of Black Magic,” and settles down to read it by candlelight.

END OF ACT I

 

ACT II

From the eerie dimness of Mabel’s room, we turn to the funky dimness of the Underworld nightclub.

INT. THE UNDERWORLD – EVENING

The Rolling Stones’s Sympathy for the Devil blasts from the PA as young people dance, drink, and carouse.

In one corner, Melissa and Wilma sit with CLIFF and PETE, two attractive guys in their twenties.

All four have already consumed healthy quantities of alcohol.

CLIFF: You girls into dancing again?

WILMA: Not to this. I wanna wait for some Bangles or Talking Heads.

PETE: Stuff they’ve been playing, you may have to wait all night.

MELISSA: Well . . . we’ve got a lot of good albums back at our place.

WILMA: Melissa!

CLIFF: You got MTV?

WILMA: No.

CLIFF: Oh.

Pete shoves Cliff as if to say, “If you blow this, I’ll kill you.”

MELISSA: But we have beer and microwave popcorn.

Pete slides his arm around Melissa.

PETE: Sounds good to me.

WILMA: Melissa! What about Mabel?

MELISSA: What about her?

CLIFF: Who’s Mabel?

WILMA: Don’t you think she’d mind?

MELISSA: That’s her problem. We invited her, remember?

CLIFF: Who’s Mabel?

WILMA: Our landlady.

PETE: (laughs) What, some 90-year-old woman with glasses and a hump?

MELISSA: Just about. It’s embarrassing that she’s actually part of my family.

WILMA: Stop it. (to Cliff and Pete) She just likes to keep to herself, that’s all.

MELISSA: Weird, Melissa. She’s weird. (to Cliff and Pete) We’ve been living there a month. Every night she locks herself in her room and she reads. Old books. Only time she leaves the house is to go to the library.

PETE: I knew a kid like that in high school. Me and my friends used to beat the hell out of him.

CLIFF: So is the bookworm gonna be a problem?

PETE: (mocking) I dunno, Cliff, she sounds like a real hardcover bookworm.

WILMA: (to Melissa) Maybe we shouldn’t . . .

PETE: Okay, okay! We promise to keep the noise down at Mabel’s dungeon.

MELISSA: Then let’s go!

The quartet rise and prepare to leave.

INT. MABEL’S ROOM – NIGHT

Mabel has fallen asleep, her book open.

She is rudely awakened by noises from downstairs.

INT. PARLOR ROOM

Four drunk people having a party. Their exaggerated attempts to be quiet only end up making worse noise.

Pete’s hands have already found their way around most of Melissa’s body.

Pete tries to find a more comfortable position on the sofa, and he knocks over a Stroh’s in the process.

MELISSA: (giggles) Shh!

PETE: So where’s this Mabel you’re so worried about?

MELISSA: Probably upstairs reading the Bible.

Pete laughs.

MELISSA: I’m not joking.

Wilma shrieks. The other three jump.

WILMA: Take it easy, Cliff! I have to get in the mood.

Cliff scoops a handful of popcorn.

CLIFF: I’m in the mood.

WILMA: It’s different for a guy.

CLIFF: Yeah, it hurts!

Pete turns back to Melissa.

PETE: Maybe we better leave them alone. Is there a place we can . . . ?

MELISSA: Subtle, Pete. My room is upstairs.

INT. STAIRCASE

PETE: There’s no one else in the boarding house except the landlady?

MELISSA: Yeah, the other rooms are all vacant. I guess her folks left her enough money to run things the way she wants.

INT. MABEL’S ROOM

Mabel lights three black candles and opens a bible that rests on an antique drawer.

Also on the dresser is a framed picture of Melissa’s parents.

Mabel places a candle next to the picture.

MABEL: Mom, dad . . . I’m sorry. I try to keep a respectable place, to keep your memory pure. but—what? Yes, they are sinners. I know there can’t be sin in this house. Oh no. Don’t ask me to do that again. I won’t!

Mabel throws her hands over her ears and grabs her bible.

MABEL: (reads) “O Lord, rebuke me not in Thine Anger. Neither chasten me in Thy wrath.” Stop! NO! (faster) “Return, O Lord, deliver my soul; Save me for Thy Mercy’s sake. For in death there is no remembrance of thee . . . ”

A cold gleam comes into Mabel’s eyes.

INT. MELISSA’S BEDROOM

Pete and Melissa, still clothed (this IS television, after all), begin foreplay. Pete stops in mid-fondle.

PETE: You hear that?

MELISSA: What?

PETE: Sounded like somebody talking and then—How’s your plumbing?

MELISSA: At the moment, confused. Come on!

Melissa grabs him, and they suck face.

INT. HALLWAY

Of course, the noises are for real.

We hear a squeaky, sloshing kind of sound coming from Mabel’s room.

The door flies open with a bang.

INT. MELISSA’S ROOM

PETE: (startled) What was that?

MELISSA: I told you. It’s Mabel. She’s reading.

PETE: Since when does reading go thump and squish?

MELISSA: You want me to go out and take a look?

PETE: (thinks) No.

MELISSA: Good.

They return to their passionate embrace.

INT. UPSTAIRS HALLWAY

We see the ominous shadow of the monster as it slithers closer and closer to Melissa’s room.

INT. PARLOR ROOM

Cliff finally puts his arm around Wilma.

CLIFF: So . . . how about those Mets?

He moves in for the kiss . . .

WILMA: (jumps up) Wait!

Wilma begins rummaging through her purse.

CLIFF: What’s the matter?

WILMA: Damn! Where is it?

CLIFF: What?

Wilma gives Cliff a dark look.

CLIFF: Oh.

WILMA: I don’t suppose you carry . . . ?

CLIFF: It melted.

WILMA: Don’t panic. Melissa keeps a couple hidden in the medicine cabinet upstairs.

Wilma darts over the the staircase and climbs a few steps. Then she turns back.

WILMA: Is the front light out? Mabel freaks if we leave  the front light on.

CLIFF: You go `head. I’ll turn it off.

Wilma bounds downstairs towards the front parlor.

WILMA: Nah, you’d never find the switch. Why don’t you go up and get—you know.

CLIFF: In the medicine chest?

WILMA: In a box of cotton balls. I’ll meet you in my room —

She is interrupted by the odd sounds from upstairs.

WILMA: (smiles) The quiet one on the left.

Cliff nods. He grabs the half-finished bowl of popcorn.

INT. STAIRCASE

Cliff looks up with a mild sense of dread.

CLIFF: Wilma. Is there a light for the st— (he spots a switch) Never mind.

Cliff flips the light switch. It doesn’t work.

Cliff groans and climbs slowly up the dimly lit stairs.

INT. UPSTAIRS HALLWAY

We vaguely see the back view of a large, strange figure slowly opening the door to Melissa’s room.

INT. MELISSA’S ROOM

Pete and Melissa have gotten down to basics.

INT. STAIRCASE

Cliff, munching popcorn, notices the figure in the doorway.

He also hears the weird sucking sound it makes.

CLIFF: Mabel?

Big tactical mistake on Cliff’s part.

INT. UPSTAIRS HALLWAY

The creature responds to its name.

It turns to face Cliff.

Cliff tries to scream, but his mouth is filled with popcorn.

He tries to spit the popcorn out but is violently snatched by the horriblest monster of them all:

THE GIANT MISSHAPEN BUT HUMANOID WALKING WORM CREATURE!!!!

Cliff twists and writhes, but the monster latches on with its jaw-like pincers.

The GMBHWWC squirts a blinding acid slime into Cliff’s eyes.

The creature grips Cliff tighter and tighter until he can no longer breathe.

As the GMBHWWC begins to consume its prey, slowly pan across the popcorn kernels that litter the hall and stairs.

Then pan back as the sated creature returns to Mabel’s room.

INT. PARLOR ROOM

Wilma returns and heads for the darkened stairs.

WILMA: Cliff?

INT. STAIRS

WILMA: I forgot to tell you, the bulb blew. Cliff?

Wilma feels something crunchy under her feet. She looks down and notices the popcorn.

WILMA: I can’t believe you’re such a slob! Mabel’ll go berserk if she sees this! What the — ?

Wilma becomes aware of the slime at the top of the stairs.

WILMA: Ugh!

Wilma tries to wipe the gooey slime on her blouse, but her hand sticks to the material.

She tries to climb away, but her feet are stuck.

The door to Mabel’s room opens, and out steps Mabel—returned to normal.

She sees Wilma and gasps.

MABEL: Wilma!

Mabel runs to the closet and grabs a broom.

She holds it out towards Wilma.

MABEL: Hurry! Grab on!

Wilma reaches, but the slime pulls her back.

She stumbles and falls forward.

Now her hands are stuck to the floor.

WILMA: Help me!

A gob of slime drips off the ceiling and falls onto Wilma’s head.

Before she can scream, the slime stretches itself over her face.

Mabel watches in powerless horror as the slime envelopes and digests poor Wilma.

The slime then dissolves, leaving nothing but a few scattered popcorn kernels.

END OF ACT II

 

ACT III

INT. MABEL’S ROOM

A distraught Mabel slumps against a corner. She looks up.

MABEL: Mom, dad, why?

Pete steps out of Melissa’s room.

He is bare chested and has just finished putting on his pants.

He notices Mabel, considers whether to ignore her, but thinks better of it.

PETE: Hi. You must be Mabel.

Mabel nods.

PETE: Isn’t it a little late to be cleaning up?

Mabel looks down and realizes she’s still holding the broomstick.

MABEL: I like to wait until everyone’s asleep to . . . clean up.

Pete looks down from the top of the stairs.

PETE: Whoa! Sorry about the mess.

Pete lights up a cigarette.

PETE: You smoke?

MABEL: No. And I don’t allow smoking in this house, either.

Pete drops the cigarette and crushes it with his foot.

PETE: Okay, it’s out. Jeez!

MABEL: Why did you do that?

PETE: What?

MABEL: The cigarette. On the floor?

Pete groans and picks up the butt.

PETE: Sorry. Look, if you don’t mind my saying so, what you really need is a good—

MABEL: Get out.

PETE: Hey, I didn’t say I was offering.

MABEL: I want you out of this house now.

PETE: All right! Lemme just get my shirt.

Mabel’s voice begins to turn rough and squeaky.

MABEL: Don’t go back in that room. You have SINNED in that room!

PETE: Everybody sins, honey.

MABEL: THERE IS NO SIN HERE!

Mabel grabs Pete and tries to throw him over the staircase railing.

Pete struggles, but Mabel’s strength is nearly superhuman.

Melissa, hearing the noise, steps out of her room.

MELISSA: What are you doing?

She tries to grab Mabel from behind, but Mabel easily flings her off.

PETE: Help! Melissa!

Melissa reaches for the broom and hits Mabel with it from behind.

She hits Mabel again, but the blows have little effect.

Mabel swivels around and this time, the broom handle comes down on Pete’s head instead of Mabel’s.

A stunned Pete loses control and begins stumbling backward, precariously near the edge of the stairs.

Mabel grabs the broom and pokes at him.

Her last jab does the job.

He falls backwards down the stairs, a la Psycho.

(For the people playing at home, that’s Death #3 so far.)

Melissa, paralyzed with fear, stares at Mabel.

Mabel’s body has begun the initial process of turning into the worm creature.

MABEL: Melissa! Go get my Bible!

Melissa can’t move.

MABEL: The Bible, Melissa! Hurry!

Melissa snaps out of it and runs into Mabel’s room. She slams the door.

MABEL: No, don’t!

Mabel grows bigger and becomes more wormish.

MABEL: Please, get the Bible!

INT. MABEL’S ROOM

A terrified Melissa notices an enormous, old black book with a bookmark sticking out of it.

The title on the tome is “Ancient Spells and Curses.”

Against her better instincts, Mabel opens the book to the book-marked page.

She beholds a tremendous, full-color drawing of a GIANT MISSHAPEN BUT HUMANOID WALKING WORM CREATURE (!!!!!!)

INT. HALLWAY

Mabel’s transformation continues.

MABEL: I’m under a curse. It’s an ancient spell passed on through the ages . . . from blood relative to blood relative—LISTEN TO ME!

Mabel pounds against the door.

MABEL’S ROOM

Melissa pushes a chair against the door.

MABEL’S VOICE: All my life I’ve been looking for the answer. But the only cure I discovered was the Bible.

Melissa searches frantically for a bible.

MABEL: The word of God is the only thing that keeps it under control.

INT. HALLWAY

Mabel undergoes further change.

MABEL: Ohhhh, I’m in so much pain!

Her mind begins to drift.

MABEL: What, father? No. No! Father this has to stop!  The Curse of the Worms—make it stop!

INT. MABEL’S ROOM

Melissa sits and frantically reads.

MELISSA: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. Now, the earth was unformed and void, and darkness—“

The squeaks, groans, and pounding against the door get louder.

MELISSA: “And darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the spirit of God—“

The pounding takes its toll, and the door begins to splinter.

The creature sneaks one of its pincers through a hole.

Melissa throws a book at the pincer, wounding it.

INT. HALLWAY

The GMBHWWC squeals with agony and anger.

INT. MABEL’S ROOM

Melissa pushes a cabinet in front of the door.

The movement knocks a litl candle off the cabinet and onto the floor. The flame ignites a throw rug.

INT. HALLWAY

The creature pounds a big hole through the door.

INT. MABEL’S ROOM

Melissa hurls the blazing rug at the creature.

INT. HALLWAY

GMBHWWC: (squeals) HELL FIRE!!!

The creature effectively smashes what’s left of the door.

INT. MABEL’S ROOM

Melissa hurls the framed photo of Mabel’s parents at the creature.

It hits the doorjamb and shatters.

A shard of glass cuts the creature, causing it to shoot a stream of extremely gross reddish-green blood.

Meanwhile, the smoke and flames spread throughout the room.

Melissa crouches low for air.

MELISSA: (awkwardly trying to remember) The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to . . . to . . . lie down in green pastures.

The creature pushes the obstacles out of the way and enters the room.

MELISSA: He . . . He restoreth my soul.

The creature hurls a slimeball at Melissa.

She dodges the gob as it burns a tiny hole through the wall.

The GMBHWWC stretches to its full height and crashes through the ceiling.

EXT. BOARDING HOUSE

We see a hole punched through the roof.

INT. MABEL’S ROOM

The GMBHWWC grabs Melissa with one of its pincers.

The more Melissa struggles, the tighter the creature pinches.

The monster then raises her off the floor and lifts her towards the ceiling.

EXT. BOARDING HOUSE

We see Melissa sticking out of the hole in the roof.

The creature slams against the sides of the hole.

THE GMBHWWC accidentally loses its grip on Melissa.

She hits the roof and rolls down.

She falls several feet and lands in a section of wild-growing shrubbery.

INT. MABEL’S ROOM

The fire advances upon the creature.

We see the photo of Mabel’s parents, now out of its smashed frame, beginning to burn.

The more the picture burns, the smaller the creature becomes.

The GHBHWWC starts to look more and more human.

EXT. BUSHES

Melissa lies unconscious.

Slowly, she begins to stir.

INT. MABEL’S ROOM

Mabel stands in the midst of the fire and wreckage.

MABEL: Mother, father. The curse is off! I am released.

Mabel faints.

EXT. BUSHES

Melissa awakens, but her movements are awkward.

A sudden, horrified look crosses her face.

She emits a blood-curdling scream.

INT. MABEL’S ROOM

The fire engulfs the room.

Mabel’s clothing and body start to catch fire.

The rest of the ceiling caves in.

EXT. BOARDING HOUSE

We see the wreckage from the outside.

It is only a matter of time until the entire boarding house is destroyed.

We pan over to the bushes where Melissa was.

She is no longer there.

DISSOLVE TO

EXT. BOARDING HOUSE – THE FOLLOWING DAWN

The last firefighter leaves the premises.

He stands on the front lawn and communicates through his walkie-talkie.

FIREMAN: Yeah, the fire is completely extinguished. So are the occupants.

We hear an angry but garbled response.

FIREMAN: I’m sorry. You’re right. That was inexcusable. It’s just that humor is the only way I can—

More static.

FIREMAN: We found two bodies. One was a male caucasian in his mid-twenties, the other, a female, same age. Both were burned beyond recognition, but we assume the female was the owner of the place.

More static.

FIREMAN: Yes, there was another girl living there, but I guess she got lucky and never came home last night. I’m on my way back to the station, and I’ll file my report there. Over and out.

EXT. STREET – CURB

The firefighter heads back to his truck and drives away.

EXT. BOARDING HOUSE

We scan the burnt remains of the house and the debris along the grounds.

We see kitchen utensils, bits of furniture, record albums, and, of course, books.

Also lying on the grass is Mabel’s bible.

Scorched but not destroyed, the book is open to Numbers 21:6 (authors’ in-joke).

Anyway, nearby on the grass, not far from the wild-growing bushes, inching its way up the spine of Mabel’s bible is an average-sized earthworm.

But it’s not just any earthworm.

Earthworms don’t have pincers.

Earthworms don’t squeal.

Earthworms aren’t evil.

But this one is.

THE END

***********

NOTES & BACKSTORY:

Just a few years out of NYU, I collaborated with Al Hunter, an actor who produced and appeared in my one-act play, Blind Date, when it debuted at Jason’s Park Royale in the mid-1980s. Al had an idea for a horror script, which we teased out into a screenplay for a short film. Since horror is far from my genre, he did the heavy lifting on the plot, while I concentrated on dialogue and creating overall scenes.

I like the asides in the directions and even chuckled a few times reading this. Nothing came of the script, but it’s a cute piece of juvenilia, all things considered. 

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SCREENPLAY: Extra

SCREENPLAY: Extra

EXTRA

(c) 1987 by David Lefkowitz

Story outline and script consultant: Zvi Arav.

Based on the short story, “Continuity,” by Ephraim Kishon, as translated by Yoav Goren.

*

CHARACTERS

Morris Horowitz: mid-30s, our hero.

Allen: mid-30s, Morris’s neighbor.

Mr. Ford: Morris’s boss.

Norman Caesar: lead actor, “Sam.”

Beth Powell: lead actress, “Trish.”

Onlooker.

Another Onlooker.

Director (Michael): young and energetic.

Maria: the pretty script girl.

Black Man: the next Eddie Murphy.

Woman: a frustrated songstress.

Bill: the cameraman.

Frank Bonfante: the effeminate makeup man.

Victor: the sound man.

Kim: mid-20s, production assistant.

Deborah Horowitz: Morris’s wife.

George: gaffer and gofer.

Tenant: in an adjoining apartment.

Several neighbors: in nearby apartments.

Sound Engineer: at recording studio.

Stan: recording studio janitor.

Paperboy.

EXTRAS:

The members of the film crew of the final shot. The crowd viewing the initial shoot.

*

EXTRA

EXT. NEW YORK CITY APARTMENT BUILDING – EARLY MORNING

We see window after window of the rear view of a typical New York City apartment building.

We soon see an odd figure awkwardly making his way up the fire escape.

We see him climb to an adjoining fire escape and tap on the window.

INT. ALLEN’S APARTMENT

A small, tastefully appointed, rent-controlled apartment.

We hear the sound of a running shower.

As we can the apartment’s interior, we hear the sound of tapping on a rear window getting louder and louder. We hear the water being shut off.

The tapping turns into banging.

The bathroom door opens and out steps ALLEN.

He is an average looking, amiable fellow in his mid-30s.

He is still wet and nude except for a towel wrapped around his midsection.

There is still shampoo in his hair.

Allen walks towards the direction of the banging.

He stops to grab a flashlight out of a drawer, and he holds the light in a menacing, club-like manner.

Allen cautiously approaches the window, then boldly darts in front of it to confront the intruder.

He sees a tired-looking man in his mid-thirties, fearfully pounding on the window, mouthing a panicked “help!”.

Allen drops the flashlight.

ALLEN: Morris!

Allen opens the window, and in falls his friend, MORRIS.

ALLEN: My God, are you all right?

MORRIS: Close the window!

Allen does so as Morris rights himself.

ALLEN: What’s going on?

MORRIS: You gotta hide me!

Morris springs to the window and yanks the shade down.

It won’t stay down, however, and he yanks so hard, the shade tumbles off the window completely.

ALLEN: Morris, what — ?

MORRIS: Hide . . . gotta hide . . .

Keeping low, Morris limps across the room looking for cover. He ducks behind the couch.

MORRIS: I’m not here! Remember, I’m not here!

ALLEN: What is going on?

Morris peers up from behind the couch.

MORRIS: I’M AN EXTRA!

OPENING CREDITS

INT. ALLEN’S APARTMENT – A FEW MINUTES LATER

Morris trembles on the couch. Allen hands him a cup of coffee.

ALLEN: Now calm down. Does Deborah know you’re here?

MORRIS: They’re probably torturing her for information.

ALLEN: For the last time, what are you talking about?

Morris takes a sip and a deep breath.

MORRIS: It all started two days ago. I was heading down to Blimpie’s on my lunch hour when I saw this commotion . . .

EXT. NYC STREET – MIDDAY – FLASHBACK

Morris zips his coat and crosses the street to where a small crowd has gathered.

He cranes his neck to see a woman (KIM) carrying a large white bounce card. She clumsily weeds through the crow and into the eye of the action, where we see MICHAEL VERNON, a highly strung film director, bending down to talk to BILL, his cameraman.

Morris notices a well-dressed couple seated nearby. They are NORMAN CAESAR and BETH POWELL, the lead actors, and it is obvious they do not get along.

MORRIS: Are they actors?

An ONLOOKER nodes “yes.”

MORRIS: Famous?’

The Onlooker shrugs.

The Director finishes talking to Bill and impatiently calls:

DIRECTOR: Maria!

The pretty Hispanic script girl makes her way towards the Director. They confer.

Another onlooker leans over and talks to Morris.

MORRIS: What do you think they’re talking about?

ONLOOKER: He’s an artist.

We watch Michael and Maria converse as the Onlooker fills in the dialogue.

ONLOOKER: He’s probably saying, “I want this scene to be spectacular. The greatest scene in movie history.” And now she’s asking him if the camera’s exactly where he wants it. He’s thinking, “Yes,” he says. “Perfect!”

We then see and hear Michael and Maria’s real conversation.

MARIA: Michael, what are we gonna feed the crew? We can’t afford to keep giving them cold cuts.

DIRECTOR: (not paying attention) The frame’s too empty . . . I need another face for the scene.

MARIA: How about tuna salad?

DIRECTOR: What?

MARIA: I’ll have George call the caterer.

DIRECTOR: I need a face for the background.

MARIA: Then we’ll get one.

We return to Morris and the Onlooker.

ONLOOKER: Don’t you wish you were up there on the big screen? Millions of people staring at an eight-foot you. All those love scenes . .  .

They look at Beth, the lead actress.

MORRIS: (shrugs) If they asked me, I wouldn’t say no.

Maria approaches the crowd.

MARIA: All right, who wants to be in the movies?

The crowd pushes forward.

MARIA: We need an extra for this scene.

A middle-aged woman is the first to respond.

WOMAN: I can sing.

MARIA: Not here, you can’t.

Bill, the cameraman, calls to the Director.

BILL: Hurry up, MIke, we’re gonna have to change filters soon.

DIRECTOR: (annoyed) All right!

Maria stands near Morris and the Onlooker. The Director approaches.

DIRECTOR: Maria, what’ve you got for me?

MARIA: Take your pick; I like them both.

The Director eyes the pair intensely.

ONLOOKER: (whispers) Good luck.

A tense moment.

Finally, the Onlooker provides the Director with an idiotic, show-stopping smile.

DIRECTOR: You. Come on.

The Director grabs Morris’s arm and pulls him towards the set.

ONLOOKER: (mimics) Well, if they asked me, I wouldn’t say no. Son of a b—

DIRECTOR: Now, here’s the scene. Sam and Trish are in the middle of their big fight. There’s our Sam and Trish—

He points to the lead actors who yawn and wave.

DIRECTOR: So anyway, they’re fighting, and you’re just walking, you know, coming out of the building, when Sam decides to hail a cab.

MORRIS: For me?

DIRECTOR: No, schmuck, for me. He wants the cab to skip town. He sees one in the distance, runs towards it, you’re in the way, so he pushes you aside.

MORRIS: Yeah, and then what?

DIRECTOR: And then she runs after him, and they finish the scene.

MORRIS: That’s it?

DIRECTOR: Look, do you want the part or don’t you?

MORRIS: Of course I do, I was just —

DIRECTOR: Make up!

FRANK BONFANTE, the make-up man, instantly appears. He is young, friendly, and noticeably effeminate.

FRANK: Hi, my name is Frank.

MORRIS: I’m Morris —

FRANK: Don’t move, I’m putting on a base. There. Now you look like a star.

DIRECTOR: Is the star ready?

Morris nods as the Director walks away.

FRANK: Don’t let Michael scare you. He’s really a sweet guy.

DIRECTOR: All right, folks. Let’s get rolling, okay?

Norman and Beth, the leads, take their places.

Bill, the cameraman, guides Morris to his spot.

DIRECTOR: We all know what’s happening in this scene, right? We’ll take it up to where he hails the cab. Sound ready?

VICTOR looks up from his Nagra.

VICTOR: Ready.

DIRECTOR: Camera ready?

BILL: Ready!

Morris starts walking.

DIRECTOR: What are you doing?

MORRIS: I’m walking. You said I was supposed to be w —

DIRECTOR: Did I say action? Did you hear me say the word “action”?

MORRIS: No, but —

Maria guides Morris back to his spot and places tapemarks on the sidewalks in front of his feet. Frank holds Morris’s calves to make sure he doesn’t move again.

DIRECTOR: Roll sound!

VICTOR: Rolling!

DIRECTOR: Roll camera!

BILL: Speed.

DIRECTOR: (deep breath) Action!

CUT TO

INT. ALLEN’S APARTMENT

A somewhat calmer Morris sips coffee and continues.

MORRIS: I was never involved in a movie before. I always thought it was like theater; everybody puts on their costumes, does their thing, two or three hours, and it’s finished.

ALLEN: Two or three hours? It takes two or three hours to get one shot.

MORRIS: You’re telling me. But at that point I figured, what would it hurt if I popped up in a movie? I wasn’t even gonna tell my wife. One night I’d casually take her to the movies and Boom! I just didn’t realize I’d have to suffer so for my art.

ALLEN: What do you mean?

MORRIS: On the first take, I start walking like I’m supposed to . . .

DISSOLVE

EXT. FILM SHOOT – DAY – FLASHBACK

Morris walks. We see him POV through Bill’s camera. Unfortunately, Morris is looking directly at Bill’s camera.

DIRECTOR: Cut! Listen, what’s your name.

MORRIS: Morris.

DIRECTOR: Morris, look. This is not a home movie. You keep looking at the camera, that’s fine for Aunt Sophie and Uncle Josh, but everyone else is gonna get sick.

MORRIS: So where should I look?

DIRECTOR: Where do you normally look?

MORRIS: (thinks) My feet.

DIRECTOR: Fine. Just don’t look at the camera, okay?

Morris nods, and Frank leads him back to his spot.

FRANK: Don’t worry. You’ll get the hang of it. You have that certain . . . something.

Morris gives Frank a suspicious look as he hears:;

DIRECTOR: Action!

Morris starts walking, looking intently at his feet.

Norman, the lead actor, comes up behind him.

NORMAN: Taxi!

Norman bumps into Morris and shoves him aside.

MORRIS: OW!!

Morris hunches over and holds his foot.

DIRECTOR: CUT! What’s the matter with you?

MORRIS: He stepped on my foot.

NORMAN: (blase) It was an accident.

DIRECTOR: It’s a simple little scene! Why can’t we—wait a minute.

The Director approaches the cameraman.

DIRECTOR: Bill, how did that look to you?

BILL: It was pretty funny.

The Director thinks for a second and calls to Norman.

DIRECTOR: Norm, I want you to go with that foot thing. You think you can do it again?

NORMAN: (shrugs) Sure.

DIRECTOR: Okay, then let’s get this in the can! Places!

Kim, an attractive woman in her twenties (earlier seen carrying a bounce card), holds the slate in front of Morris’s face.

KIM: Scene 14, Take 3.

Kim claps the sticks, causing Morris to sneeze.

DIRECTOR: Action!

Morris walks. Norman comes up from behind and, quite vigorously, treads on his foot.

MORRIS: Auuugghhh!!!!

NORMAN: Taxi!

Norman moves off to hail the cab.

DIRECTOR: Cut! Good! Except Norman, you have to say “taxi!” before you bump into him.

Norman nods and considers the intricacies of method acting.

DIRECTOR: One more time, folks. Let’s make it a keeper, okay? Roll `em. Action!

Morris walks. We hear a voice-over of Allen and Morris as they shot plays itself out, complete with stomp and scream.

MORRIS’S VOICE: Each time I figured, “Great. That’s it.” But the director would always go, “One more, we need one more. Be a trooper.” So I trooped.

DIRECTOR: I think we really have it now. Just one more try.

Morris massages his poor leg but straightens up when he hears:

DIRECTOR: Action!

We see Norman and Beth (as Sam and Trish) quarreling.

NORMAN: I catch you sleeping with my best friend and my best friend’s wife, and all you can say is “whoops?”

BETH: But you can’t walk out in the middle of a relationship!

NORMAN: Oh yeah? Just watch me.

Norman moves away from her and heads toward the street. Meanwhile, Morris limps painfully along.

NORMAN: Taxi!

Norman bumps into Morris and steps on his foot.

Morris lets out an incredible cry of real anguish.

DIRECTOR: Cut! Beautiful! Print it!

There is scattered, sarcastic applause from the crew and the stragglers left in the crowd. Frank comes up to Morris.

FRANK: I thought you were wonderful.

Kim approaches Morris with a pen and a form to sign.

KIM: Could you please fill this out?

MORRIS: What is it?

FRANK: Contact sheet. You want us to call you when there’s a screening, don’t you?

Morris nods and fills the sheet out.

FRANK: Look, we’ll be finished here by seven. Maybe you’d like to go out and have a beer?

KIM: Don’t forget your work number.

MORRIS: (jumps) Work! Oh my God!

Morris gimpily runs off.

FRANK: I’ll take a raincheck.

INT. OFFICE BUILDING – LATE AFTERNOON

Morris hurries to the elevator bank, pounding the buttons.

INT. HALLWAY

Morris almost tumbles out of the elevator and runs to his office.

INT. MORRIS’S OFFICE


MR. FORD, Morris’s boss, is there to greet him.

MR. FORD: Are you all right?

MORRIS: (out of breath) You wouldn’t believe it!

MR. FORD: Try me.

MORRIS: Across the street . . . they’re making a movie . . . I’m in it.

MR. FORD: Congratulations.

MORRIS: If you only knew —

Morris spots a file on his desk. He opens it.

MORRIS: Oh no. What happened?

MR. FORD: Well, since I couldn’t mail the file out, I had to call Wilson to postpone.

MORRIS: You couldn’t get anyone else to mail it?

MR. FORD: That’s not the point! This was your responsibility.

MORRIS: I know —

MR. FORD: And if this happens again, I suggest you find steady work as an actor, because we won’t be needing your services here, kapish?

MORRIS: (nods) I promise. Tomorrow I’ll work triple overtime—without pay. I’ll make up for it.

MR. FORD: Go home and get some sleep. You look terrible.

EXT. NYC STREET – DUSK

INT. BUS

Morris on the bus going home. He passes marquee after marquee, poster after poster of the latest Hollywood films.

INT. MORRIS’S APARTMENT – EVENING

Morris sits in his favorite chair and soaks his foot in a blow of water. He sips a dry martini.

DEBORAH, his wife, sets the table for dinner.

DEBORAH: Did you get the license plate number?

MORRIS: Bicycles don’t have license plates.

DEBORAH: Well, were there any witnesses?

MORRIS: It was midtown during rush hour. The whole world was there, but nobody was watching.

DEBORAH: I think it’s disgraceful. Some lunatic kid on a bike comes speeding down and runs over your foot, and there’s nothing you can do about it.

MORRIS: Can we please drop the subject?

DEBORAH: Dinner’s almost ready.

Morris shifts in his chair, and the movement causes him to groan in dull agony.

DEBORAH: (sighs) I take it we’re not going to the movies tonight?

Morris spits out his martini.

INT. MORRIS’S BEDROOM – NEAR DAWN

Morris and Deborah are asleep. She snores a bit.

A light knocking is heard at the door. They don’t hear it.

Another light knocking. They still don’t hear it.

A tremendous banging is heard.

Morris and Deborah awake with a start.

MORRIS: What the — ?

DEBORAH: Maybe there’s a fire!

MORRIS: At this time of morning?

DEBORAH: (putting on her robe) Fires don’t tell time, Morris.

MORRIS: (rising) Stay calm. I’ll get it.

INT. LIVING ROOM – FRONT DOOR

MORRIS: Who is it?

FRANK’S VOICE: Guess who!

Morris’s expression turns to one of horror.

MORRIS: What do you want?

GEORGE’S VOICE: It’s very important, Mr. Horowitz. Please let us in.

DEBORAH: Appears in the hallway.

DEBORAH: Who is it?

MORRIS: Nobody, dear. Go back to sleep.

More banging.

MORRIS: Go away!

GEORGE’S VOICE: We’re not leaving until you let us explain.

Morris reluctantly chains the door and opens it a crack.

Frank and GEORGE, a P.A., are in the hall.

GEORGE: We need you.

MORRIS: I almost lost my job because of you people, and now you have to do it all over again?

GEORGE: It’s a different shot, Mr. Horowitz. We have to maintain continuity.

Deborah approaches the door. Morris shuts it hastily.

DEBORAH: Morris, what’s the matter?

MORRIS: I’m taking care of it.

DEBORAH: I heard voices.

MORRIS: Jehova’s Witnesses.

DEBORAH: At 5:30 in the morning? I’ll give them a piece of my mind! Where’s our bible?

MORRIS: I’m handling this just fine —

DEBORAH: (hurries towards the bedroom) I keep the page folded down specifically for occasions like this.

Pause. There is a light tapping on the door. Morris opens it slightly, squeezes through, and steps into the hallway.

INT. HALLWAY

MORRIS: Talk to me.

GEORGE: We have the shot of Sam running for the cab —

MORRIS: And mangling my foot!

FRANK: You were great!

GEORGE: But we forgot to get a reaction shot of Trish.

FRANK: And since you’re in the first shot, you have to be in the second. Otherwise, people are gonna say, “Where’s that cute guy who got bumped into? I smell a phony!” And they’ll want their money back.

MORRIS: (sighs) Continuity.

GEORGE: If we leave now, you’ll be finished in plenty of time to get to work.

MORRIS: Can I at least take a shower, have breakfast?

FRANK: (shakes his head) No time.

MORRIS: (pause) Just a second.

INT. LIVING ROOM

Morris runs towards the bedroom.

INT. BEDROOM

Morris runs in. Deborah searches for her bible.

DEBORAH: I can’t find it.

Morris hurriedly grabs some clothes.

DEBORAH: What are you doing?

MORRIS: What does it look like I’m doing? I’m getting dressed!

DEBORAH: You’re not going to one of their meetings, are you?

George calls from the living room.

GEORGE: Mr. Horowitz?

DEBORAH: They’re in the apartment?

Morris, still in his pajama bottoms and slippers, bundles up the rest of his clothes and hurries out of the room.

MORRIS: I’ll explain later.

Morris enters the living room and hastily motions for Frank and George to duck out. Deborah appears.

INT. LIVING ROOM

DEBORAH: Morris, what — ?

MORRIS: I’ll clear up everything when I get home. I promise.

Morris kisses Deborah and hurries out the door.

Deborah peers out the door and calls after the retreating figures:

DEBORAH: If you shave your head, I’m divorcing you!

A TENANT pokes his head out of a nearby apartment and gives Deborah an odd look.

EXT. NYC TRAFFIC – EARLY MORNING

Frank and Morris are in the back seat of a car being speedily driven by George. Morris is in the process of changing his clothes, a spectacle Frank appreciates.

EXT. FILM SHOOT – EARLY MORNING

A disheveled Morris steps out of the car and faces the crew. The Director examines him and then motions to Frank.


We see Frank shaving the left side of Morris’s face with an electric razor. He finishes.

MORRIS: Wait a minute. What about the other side of my face?

FRANK: Not in the shot.

DIRECTOR: Are we all set?

The tired cast and crew mumble assent.

DIRECTOR: Like we did in rehearsal. Ready? Action!

Beth stands on the street, and Norman walks away form her. Morris stands nearby.

Beth sighs and shakes her head.

DIRECTOR: CUt. Something wrong?

BETH: I just don’t feel connected to this scene.

DIRECTOR: You were doing fine before.

BETH: I’m sorry. Something’s missing.

A pause.

CUT TO

Norman breaks away from Beth, runs to hail a cab, pushes Morris aside, and steps on his foot.

MORRIS: Aaauuugghhh!

The Director looks pleased and is about to holler cut when Maria does it for him.

MARIA: CUT!

DIRECTOR: (angry) What the — ?

Maria hands him a Polaroid photograph.

MARIA: Look at the shirt.

DIRECTOR: Oh no.

With tremendous false calm, the Director approaches Morris.

DIRECTOR: Morris . . . this isn’t the same shirt you wore yesterday, is it?

MORRIS: (shrugs) Of course not. What do you think, I’m a slob?

DIRECTOR: FRANK! GEORGE!

EXT. NYC STREETS – MORNING

Frank, George, and Morris speed back towards the apartment.

INT. MORRIS’S APARTMENT – MORNING

Morris unlocks the door, walks in, and hurries over to the window.

We see POV, Frank and George in the car below.

Morris signals to them and runs to find his shirt.

Deborah, dressed for work, appears from the bedroom.

DEBORAH: (startled) I didn’t hear you come in.

MORRIS: (unbuttoning his shirt) Where’s the shirt I wore yesterday?

DEBORAH: Why do you want your —

MORRIS: Debbie, the shirt! Where’s the shirt?

INT. BEDROOM

We hear honking from the street below.

MORRIS: Coming!

DEBORAH: Morris, what — ?

MORRIS: Have you ever heard of something called “continuity?”

DEBORAH: No.

MORRIS: You’re lucky.

More honking. Morris frantically searches for his shirt.

MORRIS: Debbie, where’s my shirt?!

DEBORAH: It’s in the wash!

MORRIS: (stunned) What?

We hear pounding on the front door.

FRANK: Mr. Horowitz? Yoo hoo!

INT. LIVING ROOM

Morris runs towards the front door and opens it.

MORRIS: It’s in the wash.

Morris and Frank hurry off. Deborah calls after them.

DEBORAH: Morris, if you’re in trouble, I’m your wife. You should share it with me!

Several NEIGHBORS poke their heads out of nearby apartments and give Deborah an odd look.

Scraping up some pride, Deborah holds her head up, locks the door, straightens her suit, and heads for the elevator.

INT. STAIRS

Morris and Frank run down the stairs and into the laundry room.

INT. LAUNDRY ROOM

The duo frenziedly stop every washing machine, open the doors, and inspect the contents.

Underwear goes flying.
Frank empties one machine full of women’s clothes. He finds a leather bra, looks around to make sure he’s not being watched, and stuffs it in his pocket.

MORRIS: I found it!

Morris pulls a wrinkled wet shirt out of a machine.

MORRIS: You got a quarter for the dryer?

Frank grabs his arm.

FRANK: Tomorrow!

EXT. NYC STREET – MORNING

Frank and Morris run towards the waiting car, the shirt flying like a flag from Morris’s arm.

EXT. FILM LOCATION – MORNING

Frank, Morris, and George finally return.

Morris gingerly puts the wet shirt on, and the Director notices his misery.

DIRECTOR: What’s the matter?

FRANK: It’s wet.

DIRECTOR: No problem. Kim?

Kim comes over with a 1000-watt spotlight and shines it directly on Morris.

DIRECTOR: How’zat?

CUT TO

Norman walking quickly.

NORMAN: Taxi!

Norman bumps into Morris and steps on his foot. Morris howls in pain.

So begins an agonizing montage-to-music as the scene is shot and re-shot.

Either the Director is not quite happy with it, or Morris isn’t screaming loudly enough, or Norman forgets to say “Taxi!”, etc.

Soon, Morris is literally hopping through the scene like a one-legged man without a crutch.

Intercut with this, we see the usual moviemaking clips: slates, new film being wound into the camera, tape rolling on the Nagra, Maria taking down notes, the hovering boom mike.

Also intercut, we see a large clock. We pull out to see:

INT. MORRIS’S OFFICE

Mr. Ford, Morris’s boss, looks at said clock with interest.

EXT. FILM LOCATION

DIRECTOR: Action!

Morris does not move.

DIRECTOR: Action!!!

Morris shakes his head, exhaustedly.

MORRIS: I can’t take it anymore.

Maria approaches him.

MARIA: We’re almost finished. Just stick it out one or two more times.

MORRIS: I’m sorry, I can’t.

The Director approaches Morris with terrifying calm.

DIRECTOR: Don’t make me hurt you.

MORRIS: You can’t hurt me any more than I’ve already been hurt.

Pause. The Director knees Morris in the groin.

MORRIS: (wheezes) Well, I’m ready.

We see a few more run-throughs. Finally . . .

DIRECTOR: Cut! All right, it’s a wrap!

The wear crew shake hands. Morris collapses.

INT. MORRIS’S OFFICE – MIDDAY

We see the clock: 3:45PM.

Morris stumbles into the office. Mr. Ford is there.

MR. FORD: So. Actor.

MORRIS: It’s over . . . we finished. No more . . . I promise.

MR. FORD: (hands him a file) Can you type this up for me?

Morris nods deliriously and kisses his hand.

Mr. Ford flinches, sighs, and walks away.

MR. FORD: (sighs) I want you to know: I was this close to calling the employment agency.

MORRIS: Thank you.

Mr. Ford walks away as a disheveled Morris gets to work. He is uncoordinated but trying.

He begins to nod off.

Suddenly, we see two sets of hands on his shoulders.

Guess who.

GEORGE: Sorry, Mr. Horowitz.

Morris nods meekly as George and Frank guide him out.

Then . . . Morris makes a break for it!

Frank and George chase him around, behind and in between desks.

Morris jumps on a desk. George tries to climb up , as well, but Morris gleefully stomps on his hands.

George finally jumps onto the desk, just as Morris jumps over to another desk.

He jumps to another, trips, and falls over a Xerox machine.

Morris winces at the glare as the machine makes an exact copy of his face.

Just before Frank grabs him, Morris scoots off and runs into the bathroom.

INT. THREE-STALL BATHROOM

Morris pulls at the door of the first stall. Locked.

He tugs at the second door. Locked.

The third stall is also locked, but Morris yanks with all his might.

The door opens to reveal Mr. Ford on the potty.

MR. FORD: You’re fired.

Morris dashes to the second stall and pounds on the door. He again tries to open it, can’t, and attempts to crawl underneath.

A pair of unidentified legs begin kicking him as he writhes his way into the stall.

Meanwhile, Frank and George spot him, grab his legs, and pull.

EXT. NYC STREET – DAY

Morris is hustled into the car.

We see the trio on their way.

MORRIS: Hey, aren’t we going the wrong way?

GEORGE: (shakes his head) Post-sync.

Frank elaborates for the puzzled passenger.

FRANK: We’re going to the studio to lay in some extra sound.

INT. RECORDING STUDIO – DAY

The trio head towards the control room.

MORRIS: In the street, there wasn’t enough sound?

GEORGE: There was too much sound. All you hear is cars beeping and wind.

George and Frank stand Morris near a microphone and put headphones over his ears. The henchmen leave the room and watch Morris through the glass.

MORRIS: (calls out) Hey!

The unexpectedly loud sound, highly miked, startles everyone, forcing them to rip off their headphones.

The Director, equipped with his own mic for communication, waits for the echo to die down.

DIRECTOR: Yes?

MORRIS: It wasn’t important.

The Director leans over to the SOUND ENGINEER.

DIRECTOR: Let’s lower his volume a little, shall we?

The Engineer nods and pots down a few dials.

DIRECTOR: Now, it’s very simple, Morris. So simple, even you could understand it. We need to dub in the scream when Norman steps on your foot. You think you can do that?

SOUND ENGINEER: Just watch the screen, and when you open your mouth up there, that’s when you fill the sound down here. Okay? Give us a couple of seconds to get ready.

The room lights go down, and the Sound Engineer rolls the tape. Morris, getting in the mood, feels the irresistible impulse to go into his best Sinatra impersonation.

MORRIS: Start spreddin’ the nyewz. I’m leeving toodaay . . .

DIRECTOR: Morris?

MORRIS: Yes?

DIRECTOR: Shut up.

Morris nods humbly.

SOUND ENGINEER: Get ready.

The film starts. We see Kim slate the shot, and then Morris.

MORRIS: That’s me!

Frank puts his finger to his mouth and signals “Shh!”. On screen, Morris walks, Norman bumps into him, steps on him, and —

SOUND ENGINEER: NOW!!!

MORRIS: Aaghh?

DIRECTOR: Cut.

We see the film rolling backwards.

MORRIS: I wasn’t ready.

SOUND ENGINEER: We’ll try it again.

The film goes forward. The onscreen Morris opens his mouth.

MORRIS: Aaggghh.

DIRECTOR: Oh, for crying out — is that the best you can do?

GEORGE: (to Director) Nobody knows what he sounds like. Why don’t you just get someone else to dub in the scream?

DIRECTOR: Because it should be organic. Real.

MORRIS: Aagghhhh .

GEORGE: That’s realism?

MORRIS: I know I can do it. Just give me a chance.

Morris practices while the crew confer.

DIRECTOR: Any suggestions?

The Sound Engineer whispers in the Director’s ear.

We see STAN, the heavyset Polish janitor, standing next to Morris in the control room.

The film rolls onscreen, and at the appropriate moment, Stan stomps on Morris’s foot.

MORRIS: AAUUGGGHHH!!!!

DIRECTOR: That’s it! Now we’re rolling!

We see a short montage of the varied techniques Stan uses to get the most out of Morris’s foot: jumping, grinding, crushing . . .

DIRECTOR: Very good. I just want one more —

MORRIS: NO! No more! What am I, a piece of meat?

Frank considers the thought as Stan offers his own:

STAN: You’re no actor, that’s for sure.

MORRIS: Sine this film started, I’ve been pushed around, beaten up, I’ve lost my job, my wife thinks I’m crazy, and I’m starting to crack up! (breaking down) You have no right! My life is more important than your movie!

The Director considers disagreeing. Frank frowns at him.

MORRIS: I’m going home. And I’m going to apologize to my wife. And then I’m gonna call my boss and beg for my job back. And if you come so much as one mile from where I live, I’m calling the cops! Is that clear?

Morris limps out of the control room with dignity.

He stops at the front door, checks his pockets, and turns around.

MORRIS: Could somebody give me a lift to my apartment? I don’t have money for a cab.

EXT. NYC STREET – LATE AFTERNOON

Frank drives Morris home. It is raining. Morris leans on Frank’s shoulder and stares forlornly out the windshield. We hear Allen and Morris on the Voiceover.

MORRIS’S VOICE: That night, I told Deborah everything.

INT. MORRIS’S BEDROOM – NIGHT

Morris and Deborah prepare for bed.

ALLEN’S VOICE: Was she mad?

MORRIS: She was relieved. She’d been convinced I was having an affair and was setting up these elaborate schemes to cover it up. When I explained it was only a movie, she was thrilled.

We see Deborah give Morris a goodnight kiss. Lights out.

EXT. NYC STREET – NIGHT

Morris, dressed in prison-striped pajamas, is being led along a dirty downtown street. The Director holds the front of a microphone cord which is wrapped around Morris’s neck like a dog leash.

Morris has a slipper on his right foot, but his left foot looks like a cartoon: it is a huge, pink, bare foot which clumps to the ground as Morris limps along in slow motion.

Watching the parade are many of the folks we’ve grown to know and love in the last half hour: Bill, Kim, Stan, Mr Ford, etc.  They wave, take pictures, jeer and gesticulate as Morris passes by. Norman and Beth are there, wearing masks of Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman.

On the Director’s command, all the onlookers huddle together, and, in slightly fast motion, simultaneously begin jumping on Morris’s giant foot. Morris screams again and again.

INT. BEDROOM

Morris, in bed, wakes from a nightmare. He screams.

We hear knocking on the door.
Morris’s pajamas are soaked, and he pants heavily.

Deborah puts her hand to his forehead.

DEBORAH: Are you all right?

MORRIS: It’s them!

DEBORAH: Don’t worry. You’re safe here.

The banging gets louder. Deborah throws on her robe and goes into the living room.

GEORGE’S VOICE: Uh, Mr. Horowitz. You’re not going to believe this, but you know the footage we shot yesterday? Well, we brought it to the lab (chuckle chuckle), and wouldn’t you know, they dropped it on the floor (guffaw). It’s ruined!

INT. LIVING ROOM

Deborah unlocks the door and fastens the chain.

DEBORAH: He’s not home.

GEORGE: Where is he?

DEBORAH: (struggling to close the door) He died.

GEORGE: (pushing) Our condolences.

DEBORAH: Go away, or I’ll call the police!

FRANK: Please, Mrs. Horowitz!

DEBORAH: I told you, he’s dead! Have you no respect?

GEORGE: We’re sorry to do this, Mrs. H, but you leave us no choice.

Deborah stands aside as Frank and George run into the door with their shoulders, trying to break it down. Deborah runs to the phone. She sees that the men are about to break in, so she drops the receiver and runs into the bedroom to warn Morris.

INT. BEDROOM

DEBORAH: Morris!

Deborah looks around, but Morris is nowhere to be seen.

We hear the sound of the door breaking down.

Frank and George rush into the bedroom.

GEORGE: Where is he?

Deborah shrugs. Frank and George search the room.

PAN & DOLLY TO


EXT. FIRE ESCAPE – EARLLY MORNING

Morris climbs from his fire escape over to Allen’s. We are back to the opening shot of the film.

MORRIS’S VOICE OVER
And that’s how I came to be here.

INT. ALLEN’S APARTMENT – EARLY MORNING

ALLEN: Can I get you more coffee?

MORRIS: I don’t think my nerves could take it.

ALLEN: Don’t worry. As long as you’re here, you’ve got nothing to worry about.

We hear the sound of glass breaking.

FRANK’S VOICE: Hello? Sorry about the mess.

Allen and Morris spin around to see Frank. George climbs from the fire escape through the broken window. He holds Morris’s clothes.

EXT. NYC STREET – MORNING

Frank, George, and Morris exit the building.

FADE OUT

FADE IN ON

EXT. MIDTOWN STREET – EVENING

Allen and Morris walk out of a movie theater.

ALLEN: Well?

MORRIS: Eh.

ALLEN: Oh, I liked it!

MORRIS: It had its moments.

ALLEN: The scene in the dungeon must have been a pain to film.

As they walk, the camera pulls out to show the movie they’re discussing was a big studio blockbuster.

MORRIS: Every scene is a pain to film.

ALLEN: Speaking of which: whatever happened to that film you were in?

MORRIS: I saw it.

ALLEN: They had a screening?

MORRIS: In someone’s basement. Deborah and I went.

ALLEN: Nice audience?

MORRIS: Oh yes, very nice. I forgot his name.

ALLEN: Well, come on. At least admit it was a thrill to see your face up on that screen.

MORRIS: No, it wasn’t.

ALLEN: What do you mean?

MORRIS: They cut the scene out.

They walk a little further. A well-dressed man walks behind them, apparently in a hurry and trying to cut through.

MORRIS: The Director said my screaming was so realistic, it went against the tone of the rest of the film. Hey, watch —

The briefcase-carrying man pushes through Allen and Morris.

MAN: Taxi!

Before Morris can catch his breath, the man accidentally treads on his foot.

MORRIS: Aaauuuuggghhh!!!

The camera pulls out to reveal a soundman with a boom mic, a cameraman with a camera, several film crew members fulfilling their tasks.

When he’s seen enough, the Director yells:

DIRECTOR: Cut!

BLACK.

DIRECTOR’S VOICE: It’s a wrap!

TITLES

THE END.

*********

NOTES & BACKSTORY:

While still at NYU, I met director Zvi Arav who said he wanted to adapt an Ephraim Kishon short story into a short movie. He created the story’s outline, and I worked on the actual screenplay and dialogue.

Alas, I honestly remember nothing of writing the piece, and I don’t think I was involved in any production aspects of Zvi’s movie. I do know that “Extra” was completed and won an award at NYU’s short film festival—a credit I’m proud to have on my resume to this day. In fact, I still have a letter from Zvi inviting me to the movie’s debut screening on Friday, February 27, 1987, at 721 Broadway (the main location of NYU’s film program at the time) and notification that “the film will also be shown at the NYU film fastival that will take place on March 2-6, 1987.”

Reading back over the screenplay, I definitely see places where the stage directions could be more succinct (oh, those adjectives! ugh, all those “we sees!”!. If I were writing the screenplay today, I’d try to make the director and crew’s behavior a smidgen more realistic and maybe make Morris more starstruck—which would motivate him to stay even as the abuse piles up.

I do like the way the framing device (the post-mortem kitchen conversation) weaves in and out of the action, and the way the last scene fools us into thinking Morris is talking about his own movie rather than a generic blockbuster.

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SCREENPLAY TREATMENT-Second Coming of Michael Zivitz-05-83

THE SECOND COMING OF MICHAEL ZIVITZ

Treatment for a screenplay

© 1983 by David Lefkowitz

 

Scene 1

SETTING: Ordinary, somewhat busy street.

TIME: Late afternoon of a sunny but chilly day. Shadows.

MEDIUM SHOT of various people on the street. The camera soon picks up and follows one in particular: MICHAEL ZIVITZ.

Michael looks over the outside of a couple of shops with an earnest expression on his face.

He stops at a fruit stand and carefully appraises the tomatoes. He bags a half-dozen.

Mike then starts on the lettuce bin, unexcitedly but solemnly checking the heads.

His eye soon falls on one. He drops the other heads and snatches the special one to examine it.

MICHAEL: Oh my God.

Barely able to contain his excitement, Michael runs to the grocer with the tomatoes and lettuce head.

MICHAEL: Excuse me! Excuse me!

GROCER: (preoccupied) Hmm?

MICHAEL: How much do you want for it?

GROCER: Wha — ?

MICHAEL: The lettuce! How much is it?

GROCER: There’s a sign right –

MICHAEL: I’ll give you ten dollars for it.

GROCER: What are –

MICHAEL: Fifteen!

GROCER: Is this a — ?

MICHAEL: All right, twenty! But that’s my final offer!

The stunned Grocer regains his bearings and seizes his moment.

GROCER: Twenty five.

MICHAEL: Twenty-two fifty!

GROCER: Twenty-three seventy-five!

MICHAEL: Twenty-two sixty-six!

GROCER: Deal.

MICHAEL: Deal!

They distrustfully shake on it, and Michael pays up. He is about to walk away when the Grocer reminds him:

GROCER: Hey, what about the tomatoes?

MICHAEL: How much?

GROCER: Uh, I’ll make you a special offer: forty bucks.

MICHAEL: Forty bucks?!

GROCER: Not including the bag, of course.

MICHAEL: (laughing) Forty bucks? Where the hell do you get off charging forty bucks for this? These are obviously the work of a rank amateur and not worth more than ten.

GROCER: (thinking quickly) Well, uh, tell you what. Because I like the way you do business, I’ll give `em to you for seven-fifty.

MICHAEL: (walking away) Sorry.

GROCER: Six-fifty!

MICHAEL: You blew it.

GROCER: (shouting) Five!

Michael shakes his head and walks on.

GROCER: (to himself) Cheap sonofabitch. Probably Jewish.

LADY CUSTOMER: Pardon me, how much for the tomatoes?

GROCER: Fifty cents. You want a bag with that?

CUT to Michael walking home with his catch.

Scene 2

SETTING: Michael’s SoHo studio apartment.

The living room is sparsely but tastefully furnished. The style is modern, clean, and spacious. It is also somewhat cold and uncomfortable.

Carefully placed around the room are podiums with various fruits and vegetables on them. They are shown to their best advantage under small lights that shine above them. It is more a gallery than a living room.

TIME: Slightly later that day.

Michael breezes into his apartment and flips on the bright room light. He stares around the room anxiously. Suddenly, he runs over to one podium and picks up the wilted head of lettuce that lies there. He spits on it, hurls the head at the wall, and, in its place, hurriedly but tenderly places the new head on the podium—just right. He gapes at it with wonder.

As Michael slowly sinks to his knees, the light becomes subdued and shadowy. The overture to Wagner’s Das Rheingold is heard.

MICHAEL: After all this time. After all these years. You heard me.  (looking up) I prayed for greatness to come to me. I waited. I prayed harder. I cried a lot. I complained a lot. Nothing. Then, suddenly, I walk down the street, and out of nowhere, you give me your answer.

CUT to gorgeous shot of the glorified lettuce head.

MICHAEL (VO): Yes, you do work in mysterious ways. And yet, I think I almost understand them. You have given me a sign. A mark of great hope for things to come.

CUT back to Michael.

MICHAEL: And you have restored my faith. (in tears) You have shown yourself to me through my art. Therefore, let my art be the glorious, sacred bond between us, through which you may continue to inspire me, and through which I shall serve you.

Michael majestically rises, sobbing.

MICHAEL: Thank you, God! You have not forsaken me!

Michael bows his head and prays silently as the music stops and the lights return to normal.

A disheveled VIKKI ZIVITZ drags herself out of the bedroom. She wears fraying pajamas and (CU legs and feet) ratty old slippers. Her hair is straggly, and she seems vaguely disoriented.

Vikki moves slowly towards the praying/marveling Michael. She gets halfway and stops, contemplates the unaware Mike, and in a loud but undramatic voice, greets him.

VIKKI: Help! Thief! Robber!

MICHAEL: What?

VIKKI: Who are you? What do you want?

MICHAEL: Vikki, come on.

VIKKI: Don’t come near me! Who are you?

MIKE: I’m your damn husband.

VIKKI: Prove it.

MICHAEL: This is a joke, right? You’re playing a game here.

VIKKI: I told you to keep away from me!

MICHAEL: Did you take your medicine? Where is it?

VIKKI: (stifling a building laugh) Don’t touch me!

MICHAEL: Come on, Vik. I thought you were over these things when they let you out of the  hospital.

VIKKI: RAPE! RAPE!

MICHAEL: JESUS CHRIST! (puts his hand over her mouth) What the hell’s the matter with you? You know we got a cop living next door!

Vikki pulls his hand away.

VIKKI: Help! Police! Help! (dissolves into laughter)

MICHAEL: What are you, out of your mind? (stops suddenly) Oh God, I’m sorry. That was the wrong thing to say. I . . . I . . .

Vikki continues to laugh at her husband.

MICHAEL: I just wasn’t sure if—uh, you did take your medicine today?

VIKKI: (zombie-like) Yes, master. (giggles) I was a good girl. I ate it all up.

MICHAEL :Because you know what the doctor said about, you know, losing control and—

VIKKI: (suddenly fawning and caressing) You’re so good to me, Michael. You really are.

MICHAEL: The Thorazine just helps to take the edge off, that’s all. I just—

VIKKI: I don’t know where I’d be without you, darling. Your’e a saint. Really. They should name a holiday after you.

MICHAEL: I want what’s best for you, and that’s why you have to take your medicine. Okay?

Vikki is tired of playing and bored with Mike’s blind earnestness.

VIKKI: Here.

She shakes an almost-full bottle of pills at Michael.

VIKKI: If you wanna rape me, you better start now, `cause I’ll be asleep in 15 minutes.

MICHAEL: You know, I don’t find that funny. I realize these past few weeks have been very difficult for you, but they haven’t been a joy for me, either. It’s hard enough for me to try and help you get better without you playing games with me. How can I deal with you when I can’t tell whether you’re going through a really bad time or if you’re just trying to keep me off balance?

VIKKI: I don’t think you need any help in that department.

MICHAEL: And what is that supposed to mean?

VIKKI: Nothing.

MICHAEL: Are you saying I’m unstable? Huh? A woman who calls up total strangers and tries to convince them to commit suicide?

VIKKI: Of course not, Michael.

MICHAEL: I don’t mean to be cruel, but I’m not the one who spent two months in the hospital with a nervous breakdown.

VIKKI: Seven weeks, and it was a disorder.

MIChAEL: Seven and a half, and it was a breakdown. And may I remind you once again that I’m not the one with the problem.

VIKKI: (snaps) No, of course not! You have your . . . art.

MICHAEL: Yes! Yes, I have my art. And every day I thank God for it. I came home today feeling better about myself than I have in years. I felt that God had given me a purpose, a sign. As if he was saying, “Here, Michael. This is my gift to you. Use it, and let your inspiration, your genius, be a sacred gift for me.”

VIKKI: It’s a head of lettuce.

MICHAEL: Don’t you see? It’s more than that! I looked at lettuces. I studied a hundred other lettuces in that bin. But this was the one that stood out!

VIKKI: Oh no. How much did you pay for it?

MICHAEL: I’ll have you know I was very lucky. I got a pretty good deal.

VIKKI: How much.

MICHAEL: (weakened, for the first time) You really can’t put a price on art.

VIKKI: Try.

MICHAEL: Somewhere uh, about, ahem, twenty-two, uh, ish.

VIKKI: Twenty-two dollars??

MICHAEL: Uh, yeah. That’s basically it.

Vikki sighs.

MICHAEL: Look, you shoulda heard what he wanted for the tomatoes.

VIKKI: What tomatoes?

MICHAEL: Half a dozen overripe locals. Nothing special but good for practice. You know what he wanted for them?

VIKKI: Surprise me.

MICHAEL: Forty bucks. Four Oh. Can you believe that? They weren’t worth a penny over fifteen. What a greedy sonofabitch. probably Jewish.

VIKKI: You would have paid fifteen dollars for six soggy tomatoes?

MICHAEL: No, no! They were worth fifteen. I wouldn’t have paid more than ten.

VIKKI: You know, if you’d let me go shopping once in awhile, we might—

MICHAEL: No. You’re not ready.

VIKKI: It’s been five weeks.

MICHAEL: The doctor says you’re not ready, and I agree with him. People are crazy out there. Put a normal, everyday housewife in a supermarket and tell her there’s a big sale on steak, and right in front of your eyes she turns into some sick wild animal.

VIKKI: Put her in front of a lettuce bin, and she’ll buy a whole month’s worth for a buck and a half.

MICHAEL: There’s not one decent human being outside that door. You know that!

VIKKI: It’s not fair, Michael.

MICHAEL: Nothing’s fair. That’s why you’re supposed to get back into things slowly. I’m sorry if my giving a crap is trying your patience.

VIKKI: Don’t play madonna with me. We both know that if I hadn’t broken down, we’d be in court right now getting a divorce.

MICHAEL: Yeah, uh, yeah, all right. But things obviously turned out differently. And who knows? Maybe this is God’s way of saying, “Hey, you got some spare time? How about working some things out?” Find a new base for the relationship, do some restructuring, rethink a few plans—

VIKKI: Will you listen to yourself? Even when you try to talk to me, all you can do is talk in terms of your work!

MICHAEL: I hate to remind you of who’s paying your medical bills and how—

VIKKI: Yeah, you hate to remind me. You only do it ten times a day because you’re a masochist.

MICHAEL: I’m not holding anything over your head. I just want you to realize that every pill you took in that hospital was paid for by three pink grapefruits and a squash.

VIKKI: I can’t tell you how comforting it is that my mental health can be bought for the price of a nosh.

MICHAEL: This is my art! If you don’t understand it, fine! If you think it’s a waste of time, fine! Just remember that every time you trash it, you’re trashing me—because there’s more than a little piece of me in every piece of fruit in this room.

Vikki sighs and shrugs. She’s heard this speech before.

MICHAEL: I’m not a great man. There is no super-human strength inside me. All I can do is take things, things even lower than I am, and from them create something bigger than I could ever be. It may not be your idea of art, but I’ll be damned if there isn’t something noble in it.

Pause. Vikki, disgusted and frustrated, starts walking around the room.

MICHAEL: (off balance) Am I getting through to you at all?

Vikki walks silently. She comes to a podium, picks up the cucumber that lies there, studies it and replaces it. A nervous Michael runs to the podium and makes sure the cucumber was replaced in the same exact position.

MICHAEL: Vikki, what are you doing?

VIKKI: I was just thinking: wouldn’t it be nice to have a huge tossed salad for dinner?

Moving more quickly, Vikki picks up a carrot, tosses it in the air, catches it at the last moment, and replaces it. Michael follows behind, correcting. This is repeated a couple of times, more and more swiftly.

MICHAEL: Come on, Vikki. Cut it out.

VIKKI: Let’s see . . . should I use Russian dressing? Italian?

MICHAEL: Dammit, Vikki!

VIKKI: Ah, vinegar.

Vikki continues until she gets to the new lettuce head. She lifts it and holds it in her outstretched hand. Michael halts, fearful.

VIKKI: One step closer and the lettuce gets it!

MICHAEL: Vikki, Vikki, listen. Do you know what you’re holding in your hand? Huh? A quarter of a million dollars. Maybe more.

Vikki pays scant attention. She stares at the head as if it were a crystal ball.

VIKKI: Uh oh.

MICHAEL: (panicking) What?

VIKKI: I see the future. I see it very clearly.

Michael moves a step closer.

MICHAEL: Vikki . . .

VIKKI: I see you becoming rich, very rich. Everybody knows your name. You’re the idol of every wetback fruitpicker searching for the American dream.

MICHAEL: (getting closer) That’s very encouraging.

VIKKI: And I see you in this giant room, but it doesn’t look like a room. There’s leaves and plants and growing things all over the place. That’s your special room. You work there, you eat there, sleep there, everything.

MICHAEL: Uh huh.

VIKKI: As a matter of fact, you never leave that room. Your legs just sort of sink into the dirty floor so you can never move anywhere else again. And the funny thing is you don’t mind. You and your work have become inseparable, intertwined. One vegetable supports the other.

Pause. Vikki changes gears again, just as Michael is about to snatch the lettuce.

VIKKI: All right, boys. I can’t say it’s ben fun, but we did what we had to do, and each one of you should be proud. Good luck. All right everybody, DUCK!

Vikki holds the lettuce as if it were a grenade and pulls its imaginary pin. Michael grabs the head just before she throws it. Vikki ducks and covers her ears. Michael, relieved, stands over her, exasperated. He checks the lettuce for damage.

MICHAEL: You know, I’d say we have a very even, stable relationship. We both hate each other the same amount.

VIKKI: I can’t hear you. I’m shellshocked. (pause, rising) I don’t hate you, Michael. I couldn’t if I wanted to. It’s just that—don’t take this personally. Well, you’re just so utterly ridiculous. You can see greatness and perfection in a head of lettuce, yet you can only see garbage and mediocrity in human beings. Even the ones you say you love. Sometimes I wonder why you’re still here, I really do.

MICHAEL: How am I supposed to answer that? It never occurred to me to be someplace else. (earnestly) You know, ever since I was a kid, I always felt that even in the smallest, most insignificant ways, God was with me somehow, in everything I did. I’m not the most religious man in the world, you know that. But I still had that hope—no, that faith—that He was with me. I started to lose it when things got sour for us. I thought I had been abandoned.

VIKKI: Welcome to the club.

MICHAEL: But that’s just it: I wasn’t. (eagerly) Everything turns to shit before your eyes, and then one day, out of nowhere, God throws a head of lettuce in your face and says, “I’m here!” And I believe it.

VIKKI: I’m very happy for you, Michael. I really am. All you have to do is walk by a fruit stand, and your entire existence is justified.

MICHAEL: It’s not that simple.

VIKKI: No, it isn’t. Not for me. Where’s my proof? When’s God gonna take me by the throat and spit his glory in my eyes?

MICHAEL: I was sure the lettuce would be enough proof for both of us. (moving to her) I can create again. It’s more than just finding luck in a vegetable bin; it’s the inspiration. I never thought I’d find it again. Isn’t that enough for you?

Vikki stares head on in disgust.

VIKKI: Spoken like a true artist: idealistic, egocentric, and stupid.

Michael, hurt, raises his hand to slap Vikki but checks himself.

MICHAEL: If you weren’t— (pause, slow burn) What’s for dinner?

Vikki laughs quietly but mockingly.

VIKKI: Pardon me if I don’t tremble at your anger. I suppose you’re waiting for God to slap my face instead of you. Well, if He does, I’m ready for it. I’m used to it.

She moves to the kitchen and opens the refrigerator, removing two covered dishes. Michael regains his composure and sits at the table.

MICHAEL: Remind me to call the Village Voice tomorrow. I’m gonna put in a six-line ad: Zivitz Gallery, Harvest Exhibit. Wine and cheese reception—when would you say, the 14th? (no answer) Right, the 14th. That’ll give us enough time to get the carpet cleaned.

Vikki sets the table and places the dishes upon it. She moves to the fridge and takes out a spray can of whipped cream.

MICHAEL: Remind me to take a couple of Polaroids of the lettuce after dinner. We can use them on the flyer. Not to mention identification. (slightly distracted by Vikki’s actions) Jesus, I forgot about that. I wonder if you can put serial numbers on a head of lettuce.

Vikki uncovers the dishes. On each lies one red brick. She begins to spray whipped cream on them. She slams the can down triumphantly and smiles bitterly at Michael.

Michael stares at her.

MICHAEL: Don’t forget to take your medicine.

Two shot. Quiet menace. Quick FADE OUT.

Scene 3

SETTING: The bedroom at night. Dark and shadowy. Claustrophobic.

Michael lies in bed, face up and asleep. Vikki is next to him on the double bed.

Close Up of Michael’s dreaming face.

SETTING: A beautiful, sunny day on the steps of MOMA or the Guggenheim.

Michael stands smiling on the steps. An affable young man points a video camera at him. A pretty, well-dressed young woman carries a microphone and moves towards Michael.

CAMERAMAN: All right, could you just take it a bit to the left? I’ve got the sun shining right at me.

WOMAN: Sure thing. How’s the sound?

She moves Michael left.

CAMERAMAN: Terrific. best sound I ever heard. All right, get ready.

WOMAN: (to Michael) Are you nervous?

MICHAEL: You kidding? This is the fourth interview I’ve done today.

WOMAN: (cheerfully aloof) Well, let’s make it the best one, okay?

CAMERAMAN: We’re rolling. Give it seven.

WOMAN:  . . . three . . . four . . .

Michael coughs. Cut to Medium Close Up of woman. She turns out to be Vikki Zivitz.

WOMAN: Vikki Simmons for News on Six at six, and I’m with artist extraordinaire Michael Zivitz who, as you’ve certainly heard by now, has taken the art world by storm with his work with fruits and vegetables. I think the obvious question would be, why fruits and vegetables?

MICHAEL: Well, Vikki, I’d be lying if I said the whole thing came as a sudden inspiration. In fact, I had been struggling for months with the concept. (chuckles) The old “suffering artist” thing.

WOMAN: Well, it certainly paid off. The critics have been unanimous in their praise for your work. You’ve been hailed as a genius.

MICHAEL: Who am I to argue with the critics?

WOMAN: Do you enjoy working, or is it a burden?

MICHAEL: Let’s just say it’s a pleasant obsession. Like potato chips.

WOMAN: Or potatoes.

MICHAEL: Or lettuce!

WOMAN: (laughs) But seriously Michael, now that your work is receiving high acclaim and, I might add, a high price tag—

MICHAEL: You might add that, sure.

WOMAN: What’s next for you?

MICHAEL: Uh, well, I think the obvious next step would be poultry, don’t you think? A step up on the aesthetically edible, evolutionary scale.

WOMAN: Whoa! Now I’m talking to an artist.

MICHAEL: Aha! Recognition at last!

WOMAN: Well, Michael, I wish you the ver bust of luck with your birds.

MICHAEL: Thank you, Vikki.

WOMAN: And I’m sure that if your upcoming work is anything like what you’ve given us so far . . .

The sound fades out. Slow dissolve to Medium Close Up of Michael.

Pull out from Michael to Medium Long Shot. He is standing on an empty, endless field of grass and flowers. Loud cheering and applause wells up on the soundtrack and covers the newswoman’s last words.

WOMAN: . . . the art world will go crazy all over again. This is Vikki Simmons reporting from the Museum of Modern Art for News on Six at . . .

Two anonymous hands reach out and place a medallion around Michael’s neck.

Applause mounts as Michael lifts the lettuce above his head and smiles broadly.

Flashbulbs pop and the applause roars.

Suddenly, one quick flash turns the entire screen blank white. Then:

Scene 4

SETTING: Michael’s bedroom, later that night.

With the white flash and loud click, Michael wakes up abruptly. He lies still in the dark and looks over at the other side of the double bed. Vikki is not there.

Cut to Vikki in the dimly lit kitchen. She moves to the tap and fills a large glass of water. She takes a sip and walks to the window. She places the glass on the sill and opens the window. She sips some water and stares out. Vikki removes a bottle of pills from her pajama pocket.

Cut to Michael. He sits up groggily and silently debates whether to get up or not.

Cut to Vikki, who is having great difficulty getting the child-protector cap off the Thorazine bottle. She finally does and takes one pill. Then another. Then a handful.

She then chugalugs the rest of the bottle and downs the water.

Cut to Mike who moves to the closet and dons a bathrobe.

Cut to Vikki who wanders, mock-seductively, around the room. She pays particular attention to the edible artworks. She looks at an apple, picks it up, takes a bite out of it, and hurls the fruit at the open window. It misses.

Vikki lurches towards a cucumber, parodies its phallic overtones, and tries to break it in half. She succeeds in mangling it somewhat and tosses the vegetable out the window. She then gallantly trots around the room, hurling all the art pieces at the wall or out the window.

Very tired, Vikki soon stops and stands by the window. She picks up the empty Thorazine bottle and also “The Lettuce.”

Michael finally enters the scene from the bedroom and turns on the brighter room lights. His eyes get acclimated quickly, though he wishes they didn’t. In a horrified whisper:

MICHAEL: Oh my —

Michael gazes numbly about the room and its casualties. His inventory stops at Vikki,  who stands, swaying, holding the bottle and lettuce.

Vikki finally acknowledges Michael’s presence by turning to him and shaking the empty Thorazine bottle up and down.

MICHAEL: (nervous laugh) Uh, Vikki, I’d appreciate it if you’d put the lettuce down, okay? Just, just put it back where it was, all right?

Vikki responds with a silent glare.

MICHAEL: Come on, why don’t we have a talk? Maybe that’ll . . . a nice, long talk.

VIKKI: Why don’t you say a prayer for me, Michael? You seem to have all the right connections.

MICHAEL: That’s very funny, Vikki, really. Could you just put the lettuce down? That would be, uh . . . is there something you want to tell me?

Vikki stares at him and once again shakes the empty pill bottle.

MICHAEL: Oh, good. You took your medicine. That’s very good! I’m proud of you.

The druggedly exhausted Vikki has reached her last straw. She tosses the lettuce out the window, makes a determined lunge towards Michael, but ends up crumpling to the floor.

A stunned Michael rushes to the window and screams. His head follows the lettuce’s voyage downward, and his face mimics the ugly mess the squashed head makes on the sidewalk.

Michael looks down at his dying wife with something less than compassion.

MICHAEL: Bitch! Do you know what you just did? Do you?

Vikki makes a vague response.

Michael grabs her by the back of her pajama collar, and drags her to her feet and over to the window.

MICHAEL: You see that? Huh? YOU SEE THAT? Half a million dollars worth of dreams! (shaking her) All gone! Do you know that? Huh? Answer me!

He slaps her—in a way that stings but is not brutal.

MICHAEL: Bitch! (slap) Whore! (slap) Cunt! (slap, and with slow, guttural disgust, strangling her) W-O-M-A-N!

He stops abruptly.

MICHAEL: You stay right here.

Michael lets go of Vikki and moves out of frame. She, of course, slides to the floor on her last legs.

Michael finds a large flashlight and returns to Vikki. He again lifts her by her collar.

MICHAEL: Come on. We’ve got work to do.

Michael drags Vikki to the front door.

MICHAEL: Now we’re going out there, and we’re going to find that lettuce, or else you’re

really going to get it. (opens the door) Who know? Maybe I can salvage something. Even in today’s shit, you can still find pieces of yesterday’s caviar. Come on!

The door closes.

Scene 5

SETTING: A dirty, ugly, Greenwich Village street on a clear but cold night. Litter, open garbage cans, and bags.

Michael stands and searches the grounds. He holds Vikki, on her hands and knees, by the collar. In a silhouette shot, they appear to be a detective and his weary bloodhound. Vikki crawls a few steps and collapses. Michael hovers over her.

MICHAEL: Up. Up. Let’s go. We have not yet begun to look! And I’ll tell you something else: I don’t know why you did it. I don’t care why you did it. But you damn well better undo it. Oh, yes, and by the way, we’re getting a divorce. I’ve had it. I don’t need this; I’m an artist. I know you’ve got a lot of problems, and you still have some of my sympathy, but let’s face it once and for all. In fifty years, your little idiocies will be forgotten forever by everybody, including me. I’ve got—I had—a chance at immortality with my art. Good or bad, I was gonna leave something behind for people to remember. Is that why you did this? Were you jealous? You wanted to hurt me by robbing me of my future? Huh?

Michael grabs Vikki by the hair. No response.

MICHAEL: Hello? Am I getting through to you?

Michael finally senses something wrong.

MICHAEL: Vikki? Vikki?

He feels her forehead and checks her vital signs.

MICHAEL: Vikki? Are you dead? (a horrified chuckle) Please say no. Even yes would be . . . Vikki? (quietly) No.

Michael rises, numb and trancelike. Stunned and disoriented, he drops the flashlight and stumbles down streets, utterly pathetic.

Scene 6

SETTING: Dim apartment hallways, night.

Michael repeatedly pounds on a door. A tired and grouchy voice answers.

VOICE: Who is it?

Michael grunts in anguish.

VOICE: Oh for—you want next door. Get outta here!

Michael groans.

VOICE: I’m warning you, asshole. I’m calling the cops!

Michael moans.

VOICE: Michael?

MICHAEL: Hnnn?

VOICE: What the—?

Sound of a lock opening.

VOICE: Michael, what are—?

The door opens, Michael stumbles in. Door closes.

Scene 7

SETTING: Paul Alexander’s living room is much like Michael’s only less brightly lit and a bit friendlier. Around the room are podiums with various shoes, sneakers, and other footwear upon them, with little lights shining over them.

Paul supports Michael as he enters the room. Michael falls upon Paul’s shoulder and cries, an event that the sympathetic Paul finds uncomfortable but unavoidable. In garbled word streams, Michael bemoans the loss of his lettuce and wife, in that order.

MICHAEL: All gone, all gone. Bye bye lettuce, lettuce head, dead lettuce on the ground, splatter splatter, work of art, throw away shot to hell, I’ll miss you Vikki, oh God, Vikki, Vikki threw the lettuce, why did she throw the lettuce? Half a million pills, so long, so long, she swallowed a bottle of dollars and she’s dead, lettuce pray, fruit on the walls, in the alley with a flashbulb, dead in the garbage and the lettuce is gone.

Michael sobs.

PAUL: Are you telling me that Vikki took all your art and just chucked it all over the place?

Michael nods.

PAUL: And you found this extraordinary head of lettuce which she threw out the window because you had a fight earlier that evening?

Michael nods.

PAUL: And then you dragged her out on the street at night to look for the smashed lettuce head, but you didn’t know she had taken a whole bottle of Thorazine and was slowly dying in front of your eyes?

MICHAEL: Mm hmm.

Michael sniffles as they move to a couch and sit.

PAUL: And you were so shocked when you found out she was dead that you stumbled all the way up Broome Street—

MICHAEL: Bleecker Street.

PAUL: No, it was Broome Street.

MICHAEL: Oh yeah, you’re right.

PAUL: Until you got to the door of your only real friend in the world.

MICHAEL: (pause) You?

PAUL: (annoyed) Yes!

MICHAEL: You’re my friend?

PAUL: I am. Count on it.

Pachelbel’s Canon in D wells up in the background as the two hug and Paul consoles Michael.

PAUL: You know you have my deepest sympathy, Michael. I never imagined that Vikki could pull a stunt like this. Suicide maybe, but vegicide?

MICHAEL: (chuckles) Stop it.

PAUL: You’re gonna have to get over it sometime. You might as well start now.

MICHAEL: But it just happened.

(the music fades out)

PAUL: So much the better. What happened to you today is enough to destroy weaker men. In one fell swoop, you lost your family and your livelihood. All your hopes, all your dreams were instantly shattered in a terrifying nightmare that can never be forgotten. Everything you ever worked and prayed for snatched away until you’re left a pathetic, wretched, tragic —

MICHAEL: Yeah, I get the picture.

PAUL: I’m glad I was able to put things into perspective.

MICHAEL: Look, I know I’ll be able to get over this. Let’s face it, Vikki and I haven’t—hadn’t gotten along for months. It’s almost a relief . . . for both of us. Even the lettuce I can get over. I probably would’ve hated it in a couple of months anyway, calling it some amateur phase like I always do with my old work.

PAUL: That’s the spirit! You want some coffee?

MICHAEL: No caffeine. I’ll never sleep tonight.

PAUL: Right . . . I’ve got some left over from this morning. I just have to warm it up.

Paul goes to the kitchen coffee machine.

Michael looks around the room.

MICHAEL: From one jealous egotist to another: I hate to admit it, but you’re really maturing as an artist.

PAUL: Thank you, thank you.

MICHAEL: I mean it! I still remember when you were doing paper clips and thumbtacks.

PAUL: Please.

MICHAEL: It seems like years ago.

Paul moves back to the couch.

PAUL: Hell, it was only last year that I was doing gloves and mittens at the Whitney.

MICHAEL: Oh, I liked that. It’s just that this is so much more.

PAUL: Well, this is more firmly rooted in classical structure, so it has more historical significance.

MICHAEL: I never knew you were so deeply influenced by the Romantic era.

PAUL: What, you mean the laces?

Various shots of the footwear around the room.

MICHAEL: Besides that. The rich colors. All the, uh, folks. The high boots especially.

PAUL: Yeah, I like those, too.

MICHAEL: You’re really doing well for yourself. That’s great. It really is.

PAUL: You weren’t doing so bad for yourself, as I recall.

MICHAEL: Oh, certainly. I’ve got a dead wife in the alley, and a compost heap in the living room.

PAUL: Obviously I meant before that.

MICHAEL: You know, before she died, she started to talk about some stuff. The same kind of stuff I used to feel a lot, only she was worse. She felt as if she’d been completely abandoned by everything she ever half-believed in. That there was nothing to her life except stagnation and loss. I mean, I felt those things time and time again. I felt that way when I got up yesterday morning, but never as deeply as she did . . . until now. (pause) Lord knows, I can’t remember the last time I was happy. How do you do it?

PAUL: What?

MICHAEL: What, your life. I mean, we’re basically the same. Toiling away for a couple of hours a day like a hundred other under-appreciated artists. You do clothing. I was doing food. We’re both able to support ourselves and then some. But it’s empty for me. I had a wife and it still —

PAUL: Uh, let’s face it, Mike. She was more of a liability than an asset.

MICHAEL: I know, I know, but it wasn’t her. I’ve been this way since I was a kid gluing popsicle sticks together. It wasn’t any fun then, either. What is it that you have that I don’t? I admit it, I’m jealous. Now tell me, where do you get off being happy?

Paul sighs and rises, then quietly chuckles as he slowly walks around the room.

PAUL: Speech, speech. As Charlie Brown once said, “Happiness is a warm pussy.” But seriously folks, uh, happiness is such an awkward word.

MICHAEL: You can choose any synonym you like.

PAUL: No, no. I mean, it’s an inappropriate term to use to describe my life. I think a better choice would be . . . stasis. Just because I don’t complain doesn’t mean I run around doing cartwheels.

MICHAEL: A person who is really secure in his happiness doesn’t have to.

PAUL: You’re missing the point, Mike. And besides, that was very pretentious.

MICHAEL: Sorry.

PAUL: Yes, our lives are similar in that they’re normal and ostensibly satisfying.

MICHAEL: Now who’s pretentious.

PAUL: Will you stop interrupting? No, but I make a pretty good living. I see a fair amount of women, most of whom share my appreciation for good, kinky sex. I live in a clean apartment with friendly roaches who join me in three square meals a day —

MICHAEL: Can you answer a serious question, for God’s sake? I mean do you have the ability?

PAUL: (cuts him off coldly) It’s all bullshit, Mike. Don’t let anybody ever tell you it isn’t.

MICHAEL: Don’t even bother saying that you’re really as unhappy as I am, Paul, because I know it’s not true.

PAUL: You’re the one who’s putting words in my mouth. I told you, it’s not a question of unhappiness or anything; it’s just slogging through day to day without letting it get to you.

MICHAEL: That’s it?

PAUL: And if you do it long enough, you get used to it. And when you get used to it, you accept it. And if you accept it, you can live with it. And when you can live with it, you’re home free. It’s not as sad as it sounds.

MICHAEL: I guess you can live with it.

PAUL: It’s not a jail sentence. It’s a decisive plan. There’s even a little pride involved in being able to take it all without cracking. Which is something, I might add, that you and Vikki both could have used a little of.

MICHAEL: You hadda sneak that in there, didn’t you?

PAUL: It seemed appropriate.

MICHAEL: Yeah, all right. But I still don’t see how you live with such, uh, pathetic resignation and be an artist.

PAUL: (groans) I haven’t “resigned” myself to my fate. I’ve just found a way to be satisfied with it. Listen to me. Look around you. You see all this?

Pan around the room’s artworks.

PAUL: What do you think of it, really?

MICHAEL: I think it’s very good. I told you that. You’re really matur —

PAUL: No, come on. Be honest.

MICHAEL: Well, of course there are a couple of bad choices here and there. But they don’t really detract from —

PAUL: Oh, Mike, you can’t really think this is any good, do you?

MICHAEL: (cornered) Uh, well, now that you, uh, I do have some problems with the —

PAUL: It’s garbage, Michael.

MICHAEL: Well, sure. I mean, that’s the whole point. We both take stuff that everyone else takes for granted, and we make —

PAUL: No! I mean, it was garbage when I got it, and it’s still garbage now. It’s better packaging, that’s all. Like spraying a compost heap with Lysol.

MICHAEL: We all have our dry periods. You’ll grow out of it.

PAUL: It’s you, too, Mike.

MICHAEL: (alarmed) Huh?

PAUL: Cabbages on black velvet? (chuckles) We both know you can fool the public, but you can’t fool yourself. This vegetable bit, it’s crap.

MICHAEL: Well, I —

PAUL: See? At least you’re mature enough to admit it.

MICHAEL: Heh, like you said. We all have our off days.

PAUL: Now, you know the only reason I’m telling you this is because you’re a fellow artist and close friend.

MICHAEL: Oh sure, sure.

PAUL: Aww, you’re offended. Good! Listen to me, Michael. It’s okay to peddle crap to the masses. But first you gotta admit to yourself that it’s crap.

MICHAEL: What you’re saying denies the last 30 years in the history of modern art!

PAUL: No, precisely the opposite! I’m not saying you can’t get great art from fruit stands, or shoe stores, or wood piles, or even garbage heaps. But you’ve got to be able to tell the art from the artifice.

BOTH: Pretentious.

PAUL: Let me tell you a story. (looks at his watch) A post-bedtime story. Once upon a time, five-and-a-half years ago, to be exact, yours truly was in worse shape than you are, by far. I was so lost, so depressed, I didn’t know whether I was coming or going. It got to a point where I had to make a decision about the rest of my life. I needed something to jolt me out of my melancholy. So I quit my job teaching papier mache to sticky little schoolkids, sold nearly all of my worldly possessions, and got a little bit drunk. Next thing I knew, I found myself in an airport terminal buying a ticket out of the country.

Shots of Paul in a crowded ticket terminal.

PAUL: I was still sober enough to know what I was doing; I just had to be drunk to do it. Anyway, if you remember, around that time, there was a civil war going on in this little polka dot of a country called Merdado.

MICHAEL: Sounds familiar, but . . .

PAUL: When the government took over, they changed the name to Moscowado.

MICHAEL: Right, right.

PAUL: But it was the bloodiest, nastiest civil war since our own. And I knew instantly that I had to go there.

Shots of a khaki-clad Paul walking through a tree-filled woods on a hot, oppressively sunny day.

PAUL: I had heard so much about the, the perverse torture, the insane slaughter that was going on there, and I felt—I knew, that if anything was going to inspire me ever again, to reawaken my passion for art, it would be there. In this closet of a country, where green plants and corpses mix until they’re indistinguishable from one another.

MICHAEL: Which leads to the obvious question: weren’t you scared just slightly shitless?

PAUL: Well, yeah. But I was at a point in my life where if I didn’t find what i was looking for over there, death would have been a welcome solution—if the only thing on the other side was stagnation. Either way, I had absolutely nothing to lose.

MICHAEL: I don’t mean to stop you in the middle, but I haven’t had anything to eat since lunch. I’m starving.

Paul rises from the sofa and moves to the fridge.

PAUL: Yeah, so I went to Merdado. Had no trouble getting through customs for some reason. They must have thought if I was crazy enough to go in the first place, I deserved whatever I got. What do you want?

MICHAEL: Anything.

Paul kneels in front of the open refrigerator.

PAUL: How about an orange? Oh, I’m sorry, I wasn’t—Hey, could I make you a BLT and—oh, shit.

MICHAEL: (almost in tears) My lettuce! My Vikki!

Paul hurries back to the couch with leftover chicken.

PAUL: No, no, shhh, I’m sorry. Here, have some chicken. I stole it from the Baked Fowl exhibit at the Whitney.

Michael stares blankly.

PAUL: That was a joke. Come on, calm down. Here.

Paul stuffs a drumstick into Michael’s mouth.

PAUL: Listen, I haven’t finished my story yet. So I’m moving around in Cagadera, the capital city, and there’s nothing happening. If it weren’t for all the tourists clearing out, you’d never know there was a war on. I stuck around for a couple of days, but I might has well have gone to New Rochelle. I mean, it was safe there, but I wasn’t getting any inspiration, either. You know?

MICHAEL: (slobbering over the drumstick) Mm, yeah.

PAUL: So I spoke to some guard at the hotel, and he said all the fighting was going on up in the hills. The only thing you got in the city was an occasional pipe bomb and a visit from Bob Hope. So I packed up and moved to the hills.

MICHAEL: (nibbling a wing) Any action there?

PAUL: And then some. I caught up with this rag-tag band of right-wing soldiers who promised to let me follow along if I painted their portraits.

MICHAEL: And that’s when you started doing good stuff again?

PAUL: Nah. Every time I’d start a picture of one of those guys, they’d wake up dead the next morning and I’d never get to finish. But I did try to make art.

Shots of Paul sitting alone on a lump of barren, sandy ground. War noise. Oblivious to this, Paul keeps scribbling things down on a giant pad, then crumpling the pages and throwing them away.

PAUL: Massive bloody battles were waged only a few feet from where I was, but they did nothing for me. I tried poetry, pastels, short stories, watercolors—I got nothing.

Paul crumples up a page and tosses it away, then picks it up again only to find it on fire.

PAUL: I was surrounded by the ultimate horror and destruction of humanity, but I never came up with anything more inspired than clowns on velvet.

MICHAEL: Well, there’s something to be said for clowns on velvet. Didn’t you read my article in Art Forum about color texture in —

PAUL: Mike, Mike, shut up. You’re missing the point. It might have been me or it might have been the piece, but I didn’t feel anything. But then one day, I was sketching one of the soldiers for his portrait. His name was Jose —

Shot of Younger Paul, seated on the ground, sketching a proud, Hispanic-looking man with a very odd face a few feet away.

PAUL: And he suddenly gets blown up right in front of me. A grenade or something.

Younger Paul sketching. A loud BOOM is heard, and he is suddenly splattered with Jose’s blood and guts. He is about to tear the messy page out of his pad when an idea hits him.

MICHAEL: And that inspired you?

PAUL: Well, no. Actually his death had no effect on me; he was a stuck-up sonofabitch. But when his insides flew out at me, something hit home. I stared at the bloody page of my pad for a long time until, finally, inspiration took over.

Younger Paul stares at his pad. Slowly, trancelike, he takes out a paint brush and carefully begins to paint designs on the pad with Jose’s blood and entrails. Younger Paul becomes more and more animated. He tears off that page, sets it aside, and begins a new one. He smears the blood off his face and clothes and smudges it onto the new page, fingerpainting . . .

PAUL: That was it. Everything I had hoped for cut right through me in a split second. I felt as if I had just risen from that dead and that I would now be immortal.

MICHAEL: So the moral of the story is: one most suffer for great art?

PAUL: No! That’s exactly it. It’s true that all art requires suffering, but who said it has to be the artist doing the suffering? Let other people do the dirty work; you just be ready to take it all down when the time comes. Anyway, the next two weeks were the greatest in my entire life.

Younger Paul approaches an anonymous corpse lying in a pool of blood. Paul manipulates its and so the thumb sticks up and parodies the old artist-looking-at-thumb shot. He then dips the brush into the blood pool and mixes it with a color on his pallet.

PAUL: I went from body to body and created masterpieces on an assembly. I’m not trying to brag. I’m just telling you that when inspiration gets hold of you, it does so with a glorious vengeance.

Younger Paul cleans his brush on his shirt and moves to another body. He opens the mouth of a young boy lying dead on the ground and wets the brush on his tongue.

PAUL: In two weeks my supplies ran out, and there was no way I could get ahold of any over there. So I scrambled out, got a flight back home, and slept for two days. When I woke up, I tried to do some retrospective paintings on what happened there, but I couldn’t.

Younger Paul stares out the window of his apartment.

PAUL: I had lost it just as quickly as it came to me. I could try as hard as I could to bring things back in memory, but even that didn’t help. I knew that my inspiration had left me. And I also knew that I would probably never, never get it back again.

MICHAEL: Is this supposed to make me feel better?

PAUL: Wait, listen. So I sold the paintings I did in Merdado—about 40 of them. And I swear to you, I became the instant fashion of the art world. Sketches were going for thousands because I was the enfant terrible of Greenwich Village. And I’ll tell you something else: they were worth every penny. There was genius in every one of those works, and you could tell. To this day, “The Death of Jose” hangs in the East Wing of MOMA, worth a quarter of a million dollars.

Shot of a painting hanging on a wall. It looks like a splotch of red smears.

PAUL: After that, the rest was easy.

MICHAEL: I thought you said your inspiration was gone?

PAUL: It was, but who cares? After I’d made a good half million from my Merdado prints, I took ten thou and made a movie. (jokingly pompous) The infamous avante-garde opus, “Sixty-Two Minutes in a Water Closet.”

A lengthy Medium Close Up of a toilet, with fake urine and dung dropping into it. There are subtitles for the film’s French soundtrack dialogue (very quickly):

DEATH.

DEATH.

DEATH.
SEE DEATH RUN.

RUN DEATH RUN!

RUN RUN RUN.

DEATH DEATH DEATH.

DEATH DEATH DEATH DEATH DEATH DEATH DEATH ARMPIT.

DEATH IS A WARM PUPPY.

DEATH IS LIFE WITHOUT THE INDIGESTION.

CAPITALISM: 1 + 1 = 2.

COMMUNISM: 1 + 1 = 1.

DEATH: 1 = 0.

EVERYONE DIES. NO ONE IS HAPPY. NOTHING MEANS ANYTHING.

DEATH.

HAVE A NICE DAY.

MICHAEL: I remember that. It was very interesting.

PAUL: Paid back 20 times the investment. I was such a hot property, everything I did had the Midas touch. I mean, the film was pretty successful considering the subject matter, but only because it had my name on it. Everybody thought it was some great artistic statement about modern man. I even had the critics fooled—which is not a terribly difficult task. But the point is, I knew then and I know now: the film was a piece of garbage. Artsy claptrap masquerading as art.

MICHAEL: When, uh, when I said it was interesting, I only meant in the purely amateurish aspect of its —

PAUL: Not just the film, Michael. Everything I’ve done since those days in the hills is just as bad—including the much-acclaimed Footwear exhibit of `81. Artless crap, all of it.

MICHAEL: (deadly serious) Doesn’t that mean that, uh, you’re back where you started from?

PAUL: Not at all! Don’t you see? All you need is one great inspiration, one ounce of aesthetic glory. If you get that, just once, everything you did before is instantly forgotten, and everything you do after doesn’t matter. To you or to anybody. Even if it doesn’t bring you happiness, at least you’re left with no regrets. And that, my friend, is exactly what I feel about my life. Wasn’t that simple?

MICHAEL: All right, all right. You’ve convinced me. How do I start?

PAUL: Are you sure?

MICHAEL: Yes, I want it. I want one masterpiece.

PAUL: It’s hard as hell, but once you do it, you never need another.

MICHAEL: If my life has any meaning at all, this is the only way I’m ever gonna find out.

PAUL: You realize that you’re going to have to devote every inch of yourself, every second of your time, until you create something extraordinary and wonderful.

MICHAEL: I know.

PAUL: You’ll have to work and sweat blood. Persevere and damn near kill yourself trying. Never stopping until the work is complete.

MICHAEL: I thought you said the artist doesn’t have to suffer!

PAUL: If the spirit is within you, it won’t be suffering.

MICHAEL: But how will I know if it’s really a masterpiece?

PAUL: Trust me, you’ll know. (pause) Well?

MICHAEL: Do I have a choice? This is something I must do.

PAUL: That’s a good start, if you ask me.

Michael yawns, his exhaustion catching up with him.

MICHAEL: All right, you can be my witness. (chuckles) I, Michael Zivitz, do hereby pledge to create a masterpiece that will knock the art world on its ass and make my life worth living.

PAUL: (in a ghostlike basso) Swear.

MICHAEL: I swear.

The two hug, and Michael cracks his neck.

PAUL: Tired?
MICHAEL: You could say that. Hey, I don’t suppose you’d mind if I —

PAUL: Of course. I’ll get a blanket.

MICHAEL: A friend in need.

PAUL: (off camera, searching the linens) Look, from what you told me tonight, the last place you’re gonna wanna be staying at is your apartment. Must be some nice place now. Nothing but bad memories, stagnation, and death.

MICHAEL: (chuckles) Aren’t those the perfect surroundings for great art?

PAUL: (returning with the blanket) Not when it starts to smell like a compost heap. Now, Michael, I never wanna hear you say I never did anything for you.

MICHAEL: Huh?

PAUL: I offer my living room for you to use as your studio, living space, whatever, for as long as you need it.

MICHAEL: Come on.

PAUL: I mean it. Work here, sleep here, eat here. Anything you want. Do use the real bathroom, though. Consider this your home away from home. How else are you gonna make a masterpiece?

MICHAEL: I don’t know what to say.

PAUL: Look, I’m not doing this for you. I just want credit for helping out on another guy’s masterpiece.

MICHAEL: Thank you.

Paul shuts the light and moves to the bedroom.

PAUL: Yeah, well, you go to sleep. I want you to be ready to work tomorrow.

MICHAEL: You got it.

Michael lies down as Paul leaves the room.

MICHAEL: I can feel greatness in me already.

He goes to sleep.

Scene 7

SETTING: Paul’s living room a few days later. Junk and artistic supplies litter the floor.

TIME: Late morning.

Michael, dressed in faded, dirty, artsy clothes, toils at his new labour.

Paul is studying a hat by the light of the window.

PAUL: Well, Michaelangelo, how’s it coming?

MICHAEL: (distracted) Fine, fine.

PAUL: I told you it wasn’t going to be a picnic. You want something to eat?

MICHAEL: No thanks.

PAUL: You’ve been living on coffee and Oh Henry bars for three days now.

MICHAEL: I’m fine, really.

PAUL: When I talked about artistic asceticism, I didn’t mean you had to go on a hunger strike. You’re trying to save your soul, not Ireland.

MICHAEL: (irritated) I just don’t feel like eating, that’s all.

PAUL: Hey, don’t look at me. I’m thrilled that you’ve thrown yourself into this with such determination.

MICHAEL: (pause) Don’t think I don’t appreciate what —

PAUL: Yeah, yeah. Make me something great, that’s all.

MICHAEL: (back to work) Deal.

Paul studies the hat again as Michael jots down some notes and draws with crayon on a piece of metal. He wraps string around it and holds it up to the gleaming light. He then untwines the string and wipes off the crayon. He sighs.

Quick fade.

Scene 8

SETTING: Paul’s living room at different times of day.

Various shots of Michael working slavishly on his masterpiece:

He nails two pieces of wood together.

He takes notes on an architectural note pad.

He mixes paint.

He extracts the nail holding two pieces of wood together.

He erases notes from the note pad.

He mops his sweat with a towel and distractedly discards it by tossing it onto the unfinished structure. He notices the new addition and tries to make it aesthetically pleasing.

He can’t and grabs the towel.

A shabbier, stubbly Michael walks around the noticeably changed sculpture with a mirror.

He buries his face in his hands with dissatisfaction.

Paul’s arm comes in to frame to pat Michael on the shoulder.

Shot of the sculpture.

Michael, hair matted and with torn, ragged clothing, nails two pieces of wood together.

He darts around the work, flicking paint at it.

He bends a strong piece of wire.

Michael stands back and admires his achievement so far. Every so often, he adjusts a piece of the sculpture. He nods his head; there is hope.

Michael opens cans of pink, yellow, and black paint. The cans are housepaint size, but his brush is paint-by-numbers size.

Paul sits off to the side, admiring Michael’s progress.

A shot of the sculpture pulls out to reveal Michael crouched in front of it, disheveled and spellbound.

A despairing Michael pounds his fists on the structure.

Medium Close Up of Michael’s face: he whispers and mumbles.

MICHAEL: Vikki . . . something from Vikki.

SETTING: Michael’s apartment.

Michael runs in, heads to the bedroom closet, and pulls a suitcase down from the shelf. He opens it and ruffles through its contents, tossing some aside: skirts, nightgown, old photo of Vikki which he stares at for a second, necklaces.

Michael also grabs the empty Thorazine bottle.

Shots of Michael, holding the suitcase and running through the streets back to Paul’s.

SETTING: Paul’s living room.

Paul opens the door to a rushing Michael.

Michael takes the empty Thorazine bottle out of his pocket and holds it near the statue. He tries placing it in different positions on the work. No good.
Michael crushes the plastic vial in his hand and continues to rummage.

He pulls out Vikki’s old slippers and stares at them with fervor, then joy. He nails them to the top of the statue vertically, like rabbit ears.

With equal ecstatic determination, Michael runs to the refrigerator and removes a big, green, beautiful head of lettuce.

He approaches the structure and, almost in tears, hammers a long wooden spike into the lettuce, affixing it right between the two slippers.

Michael steps back in awe. He sinks to his knees, laughing and crying simultaneously.

Paul walks up, puts his hand on Michael’s shoulder, and stares at the work.

PAUL: Congratulations, Michael. It’s a masterpiece.

MICHAEL. No. (pause) It’s more than a masterpiece.

Slow Fade.

Scene 9

SETTING: Paul’s kitchen. It is small but well lit and friendly.

TIME: 9am on a bright, crisp day.

Paul and Michael sit and eat breakfast. Michael, finally off his hunger strike, wolfs down his pancakes at an alarming rate.

Paul smiles at his happy tenant, who is now clean-shaven and washed.

PAUL: Okay, now comes the fun part. You know it’s a work of genius. I know it’s a work of genius. Now we’ve got to get everybody else to know it.

MICHAEL: Uh huh.

PAUL: First of all, I say you leave agents out of this. They’ll want too big a cut, and with their brains, they’ll probably book you at a flea market. So forget about agents. Now, you wanna go the gallery route, or would you rather go straight to a museum?

MICHAEL: Wait a sec.

PAUL: Don’t underestimate it, Mike. You start doing that, you might as well flush it down the toilet, `cause they’ll take you for everything they can.

MICHAEL: You don’t under —

PAUL: On the other hand, watch out you don’t price yourself out of the market. You wanna sell art commercially, you gotta strike a happy medium.

MICHAEL: You’re talking as if my statue is to be auctioned off like a whore to the highest bidder.

PAUL: Let’s not get too sensitive about it.

MICHAEL: This is the greatest thing I’ve ever done. The greatest thing I may ever do.

PAUL: Precisely why we have to watch out when you sell it —

MICHAEL: Sell it? Sell it?? You might as well sell me, it’s the same thing!

PAUL: Michael, listen to me. It’s a great work. A masterwork. It’ll be with you all your life, but only in spirit. You need to share it with other people or else it’s useless.

Michael moves to the statue.

MICHAEL: How can you say that? This is . . . this is the eighth natural wonder of the world! It’s perfection!

PAUL: (warily) Michael, I know you killed yourself over this thing, and I swear it and you deserve the very best. Which is why I say we have it appraised as soon as possible.

MICHAEL: (laughs) You can’t treat this like any other work of art. This statue is more than I ever imagined it could be. Listen to me, Paul. While I was working on it, I had a vision.

PAUL: Mike —

MICHAEL: No, really! I had a vision that God was with me at every minute, supervising the work, guiding every movement of my hands.

PAUL: Let’s not forget you didn’t eat anything for two weeks.

MICHAEL: I’m telling you, He was there! I felt him. He made this statue as much as I did. Can’t you—just look at it! There’s something holy there.

PAUL: All right, I see how you feel. Why don’t you donate it to a church if it means that much to you?

MICHAEL: You still don’t understand, do you?

PAUL: I am doing my best.

MICHAEL: He spoke to me. In my mind he spoke to me.

PAUL: Well, what did the old boy have to say?

MICHAEL: (disregarding Paul’s flippancy) He said that the world is in terrible shape. And it’s gonna get a whole lot worse before it gets any better.

PAUL: If it gets any better.

MICHAEL: If it gets any better, yes. And, therefore, the Messiah isn’t going to visit us for a very long time. He’ll come, someday, and then everything is going to make sense, everyone will know his purpose, But that’s still hundreds, thousands of years away. It’s this crazy world of ours. There’s a Messiah up there, a holy prophet, just sitting on his haunches waiting to come down and save us.

PAUL: Well, if he looks anything like George Burns, I’m leaving.

MICHAEL: But his father, our father, won’t let him come to us until the world straightens itself out.

PAUL: You realize that’s a four-million-to-one shot?

MICHAEL: Yes, of course. And so does He. And, uh, that’s where I come in.

PAUL: Oh no.

MICHAEL: I’m telling you exactly what He told me.

PAUL: You can’t be serious.

MICHAEL: From God’s mouth to my ear, I swear to you.

PAUL: Are you telling me that God chose you as His spokesman on earth?

MICHAEL: No, of course not.

PAUL: (relieved) Ah, well.

MICHAEL: He chose the statue.

PAUL: What?

MICHAEL: This magnificent structure, this wondrous compound of matter, is imbued with the spirit of God. This is God’s emissary to our planet. It’s my job to make sure people hear the word of God.

PAUL: How?
MICHAEL: By alerting them to His visitation in the statue.

PAUL: Are you telling me that the second son of God is standing on my living-room carpet?

MICHAEL: Yes! This statue will pick up where Jesus left off. And maybe, with God’s help, it’ll succeed where Jesus failed.

PAUL: Now, wait a minute. Jesus was a human being, flesh and blood, not, not slippers and lettuce. Christ was an ordinary man. And an epileptic Jewish Ethiopian to boot. How can our friend here top that?

MICHAEL: You think God’s an idiot? Look what happened to Jesus in his delightful stint on earth. He was tortured by his enemies, betrayed by his followers, crucified and left to rot. That’s no picnic even for a son of God. But a statue—spiritually engulfed but physically lifeless, a statue would be immune to all that madness. And if it doesn’t look like one of us, so much the better in proving it’s beyond this world.

PAUL: Can it walk on paint?

MICHAEL: (frustrated but not angry at his cynical chum) Oh, ye of little faith. But for those of us who do believe, we have a symbol.

PAUL: Who’s we?

MICHAEL: Yeah, I was going to ask you. Uh, would you mind very much if I set up a little religious congregation here, where I could try and convert people.

PAUL: In my living room?

MICHAEL: It would only be temporary. When I get more than a hundred members, I’ll find a place of my own. Until then, I’d really like to use all my energy in serving Him and spreading His word and the word of His son.

PAUL: What can I say, no? I helped you out this far, I’m not gonna turn back now. Who knows? I might be getting in on the ground floor of the greatest thing since Jonestown.

MICHAEL: (misty-eyed) Oh, shut up.

Michael inspects the room.

MICHAEL: Let’s see, I’ll put up some curtains here; I’ll put the altar over there.

PAUL: Altar?

Paul walks quickly over to Michael, almost bumping into the statue.

PAUL: What are—pardon—what altar?

MICHAEL: For services. Fifteen minutes once a day, twice when we really get going.

PAUL: What’s next, animal sacrifices?

MICHAEL: Paul.

PAUL: Human sacrifices??

MICHAEL: Paul, this is a Christian temple. Or it will be anyway. It’s the same thing you get at St. Anthony’s down the block: same vows, same ideas. We’re still following His word; we’re just a little closer to it, that’s all. Will you help me set the place up?

PAUL: I’m kinda busy with my headgear exhibit.

MICHAEL: Pleeease.

PAUL: I’ll do what I can.

MICHAEL: Thanks again. I’ll remember this. He’ll remember thisl

PAUL: Let’s not bring Him into this any more than we have to. We’ve already got the black sheep of the family cluttering the living room.

They start to clear away some junk.

MICHAEL: You know, They say the ones who protest the loudest are the first to change their tune. Would you like to be my first convert?

PAUL: You want me. I must say, I’m deeply touched. American Express wouldn’t take me.

MICHAEL: I’m serious.

PAUL: It’s just not for me, okay?

MICHAEL: (chuckles) Hey, sure. You’ll just burn in hell.

PAUL: Don’t worry. That’s what happens to all artists anyway.

Paul and Michael laugh and joke together as they clean the room of its refuse.

Dissolve into:

Scene 10

SETTING: Paul’s living room

TIME: daytime.

Paul and Michael put the finishing touches on the makeshift but homey chapel. Dark curtains are hung, candles are lit, the statue is well lit and stands out.

PAUL: I still say, if God wanted to save us, why doesn’t he just come down and do it Himself?

MICHAEL: Millions of people are starving in India; go help them.

PAUL: What’s that supposed to mean?

MICHAEL: It means that He’s got a whole universe to take care of. He’s got no time to make a special visit just to tell Earthlings their time is up and they blew it.

PAUL: But He’s done it before.

MICHAEL: What, you mean in the Bible?

PAUL: Abraham, Noah, the burning bush . . .

MICHAEL: He never actually appeared. It was always in dreams and visions.

PAUL: A burning bush sounds fairly tangible to me.

MICHAEL: But that still wasn’t Him, per se.

PAUL: No, it was a fireproof shrub. Which is a bit of a miracle in itself. Why doesn’t He send one of those down?

MICHAEL: You expect Him to repeat Himself?

PAUL: He hasn’t done it in four-thousand years. People’ll think it’s new material.

MICHAEL: The routine hasn’t burned itself out, so to speak.

PAUL: (chuckles) Yeah, but really. How come I never came across anything like that in my life? The closest I’ve ever come to a burning bush was when my girlfriend accidentally douched with too much vinegar. Oh, I’m sorry.

MICHAEL: What?

PAUL: Is sexual stuff an off-limits thing with you now?

MICHAEL: (smiles) Oh, uh, naah. I mean, religion is one thing, but sex is sex.

PAUL: You’re not offended?

MICHAEL: Just like art, it’s a part of life, in all its perverse and wondrous forms.

PAUL: Sure. Hell, even Jesus spent his free time fucking a whore.

MICHAEL: Now that offends me.

PAUL: Oh.

MICHAEL: (changing the mood) Well, what say we open shop?

PAUL: Ready when you are.

Michael goes to the front door.

MICHAEL: I hereby declare this house of worship open for business.

PAUL: What are you doing?

MICHAEL: I’m opening the door.

PAUL: I know you’re opening the door, but for what reason?

MICHAEL: This is a temple. It must be open to the general public.

PAUL: It’s cold in the hall.

MICHAEL: So turn the heat up. This door must be open 24 hours a day.

PAUL: What?
MICHAEL: Religion isn’t just for people who work the nightshift. Everybody needs the chance to come in and experience the word of God.

PAUL: Michael. That’s all very noble and beautiful and spiritual and you’re out of your mind. A) We live in SoHo not Century Village, and B) My next-door neighbor is a heroin dealer.

MICHAEL: That’s wonderful! We can help those lost souls kick the habit and find God.

PAUL: If Crazy Luther finds you, he’ll kick your habit.

MICHAEL: I can take care of myself.

Paul gives Michael a long, hard stare.

MICHAEL: And if not, God will take care of me.

Another long, hard stare.

MICHAEL: Well, maybe if we just opened it halfway . . .

Michael goes to shut the door when a disgusting, bedraggled WOMAN of about 20 (who looks 50) falls against the door and into the apartment. She stumbles up coughing and scratching her arm.

Paul moves to direct her next door when Michael intervenes.

MICHAEL: Hold it a sec. Excuse me, uh, Miss. My name is Michael Zivitz, and my friend Paul and I run this little religious congregation, and we were wondering —

PAUL: You were wondering.

Michael stands the woman back on her feet.

MICHAEL: We were wondering if you’d like to join us in services this afternoon?

The woman stares at Michael bleary eyed, then flops into his arms.

MICHAEL: Uh, Paul, you wanna . . .

PAUL: But Michael, isn’t this why you wanted to be an artist in the first place? Women falling all over you?

MICHAEL: Cute. That’s real—you wanna help me?

Michael and Paul help her up, and Michael leads her to the statue.

MICHAEL: What’s your name, my child?

WOMAN: (grunts) Urgghh.

PAUL: God, meet Urgghh. Urgghh, meet God.

MICHAEL: Stop it. (to Woman) There’s nothing to be afraid. I just want to know your name.

WOMAN: (pointing to her mouth) Grrmmphh!

MICHAEL: Oh, my. You’re a mute.

The woman nods.

PAUL: Wow, she can be a monk!

Michael hurries over to Paul.

MICHAEL: Look, I understand that you’re hanging on the outside of all this. I’d be surprised if you weren’t. But this is my life, my conviction. This statue is my cause.

PAUL: All right.

MICHAEL: I mean, you know I love your sense of humor, but this is neither the time nor —

PAUL: Mike.

MICHAEL: Please don’t take this personally. I just —

PAUL: Michael. (pointing)

MICHAEL: Would you let me finish? I’m saying —

The camera pulls out to show the mute woman leaning forward, about to heave all over the statue.

PAUL: I really don’t think you wanna miss this.

MICHAEL: What are—oh no!

Michael runs to the woman, turns her away from the statue, and helps her to her knees.

MICHAEL: That’s right, easy does it. We’ll have a moment of silent prayer, okay?

Michael clasps the woman’s hands together and begins praying with her.

Paul dims the lights and looks on in what has become a truly solemn, religious moment.

Scene 11

SETTING: Paul’s apartment hallway. It is adequately lit, but drab.

Michael stands outside the ajar door of Paul’s apartment with the mute woman.

MICHAEL: Are you sure you can make it home all right?

The woman nods and shakes.

MICHAEL: Bless you. Now you remember what I taught you?

The woman makes a shaky attempt to cross herself.

MICHAEL: Close enough. Remember, services tomorrow at six. Okay? That’s evening. Six o’clock. And I don’t want you putting any more of that garbage in your system, you hear?

The woman nods vaguely.

MICHAEL: `Cause if you fill your system with shit, there’s no room for God. And we don’t want God swimming around in a pile of shit, do we? That’s man’s job.

The woman grunts and holds out her hand.

MICHAEL: Oh. Uh, look. This is really not . . . I mean, we’re not a welfare office, we’re —

The woman presses her open hand to Michael.

MICHAEL: I’d love to help you, really. But if I give you a handout, I’ve gotta give a handout to every pathetic wretch who knocks on my — oh, all right.

Michael digs into his pocket.

MICHAEL: Here, this is five dollars. See that? See Lincoln? He’s worth five dollars.

The woman reaches for the bill.

MICHAEL: Ah ah. You’ve gotta promise to spend this on food and clothing. You understand? This is God’s money I’m giving you here, and God doesn’t want you spending it on heroin. Food and clothing, right?

The woman nods and takes the bill.

MICHAEL: Tomorrow at six o’clock sharp. And don’t forget to practice what I —

The woman smiles and nods vaguely, attempting to cross herself again.

MICHAEL: We’ll work on it. Good night.

Michael goes in and shuts the door.

The woman stays for a minute, then stumbles out of frame. Hold the shot. She stumbles back into frame, looks around furtively, and bangs on the door of the neighbor’s apartment. The door opens, and she steps into total darkness. The door slams shut. Cut to:

Scene 12

SETTING: Greenwich Village.

TIME: Two-ish in the afternoon.

Paul and Michael walk in the Village, conversing as they pass several modern-art structures, humorous posters, and strange-looking people.

Note: It is important that every shot have something odd, funny, or unpleasant in the visible back or sideground, such as funny-looking men, strange old women, bums, paraplegics, graffiti, dogs relieving themselves, etc.

MICHAEL: I can’t believe it. My church is only one day old and already, I’ve got a convert.

PAUL: Well, you’re not ready for Oral Roberts, but I guess it’s a start.

MICHAEL: You can still be the second if you’re interested.

PAUL: Michael —

MICHAEL: Ah, forget I mentioned it.

PAUL: I’ll tell you one thing: if she comes back holding any of the stuff that was in her yesterday, we could all be arrested.

MICHAEL: Will you stop worrying? I told you, I think I really got through to her. I gave her something.

PAUL: Yeah, you gave her five bucks.

MICHAEL: You’re back on that again.

PAUL: Let’s not forget that since you decided not to sell that statue, your financial situation hasn’t brightened any.

MICHAEL: Don’t worry. As soon as my congregation gets organized, I’ll get out the old canvas and clay and whip something up.

PAUL: You think you can go back to it?

MICHAEL: Sure. Worse comes to worse, I’ll stick an eggplant on a carpet tack and call it “Summer in Hoboken.”

PAUL: You know you’ll get fifty grand for it?

MICHAEL: Uh huh.

PAUL: And you know it’ll be hailed as a brilliant comic statement?

MICHAEL: Uh huh.

PAUL: And you know that it’s really a piece of crap.

MICHAEL: Of course.

PAUL: Mikey, you’ve come a long way.

MICHAEL: (chuckles) Come on. We gotta get home and prepare for mass.

Scene 13

SETTING: Paul’s living room.

TIME: Late afternoon.

Paul, dressed in suit and tie, neatens himself up by the living-room mirror. Michael is offscreen in the bathroom.

PAUL: I still don’t get it. I mean, you see religion turning out great works of art all the time. But this is the first time I’ve ever seen a work of art turn into a religion.

MICHAEL: (from offscreen) Is there a difference?

PAUL: Well, let’s see. Both religion and art are unexplainable in rational terms.

MICHAEL: Good.

PAUL: Both involve a heavy psychological and emotional input on the part of the participant.

MICHAEL: They’re both inessential for surviving in the world, yet one can’t think of a world without them.

PAUL: Each involves incredible misery and suffering.

MICHAEL: And yet people will commit suicide and murder for both.

PAUL: (pause) And they’re both taken way too seriously.

Just as Paul says this, he turns to see the bathroom door open. Michael steps out dressed in dark blue and red with a black cape, oddly shaped hat and gold, sceptre-like cane. Michael’s dress and solid expression strike Paul as funny, and he breaks up hysterically. Michael waits with saintly, good-humored benevolence for Paul to control himself.

The more religions Michael becomes, the harder Paul laughs. Michael becomes increasingly impatient.

MICHAEL: Okay, all right. Get it out of your system. Ha ha, I know. Cut it out, come on. Will you —

Paul is almost on the floor as Michael now waits in silence. Finally, Michael starts chuckling despite himself, and they both have some fun, pantomimically mocking the whole bit. They both have a good laugh, and Michael’s expression shows that he’s learned something about what religion is and what it can be.

MICHAEL: So it’s a funny outfit.

PAUL: You said it, not me.

MICHAEL: I just wanted to wear something special and unusual.

PAUL: Oh, you’ve done that. I really mean no offense.

MICHAEL: I know. Hey, if it weren’t for cynics, there wouldn’t be any need for religion in the first place. What time is it?

PAUL: Quarter after five.

MICHAEL: We’ve still got time.

PAUL: I’ll get dinner ready.

Paul and Michael’s conversation continues on the soundtrack as we see various exteriors near dusk.

MICHAEL: Dinner meaning what?

PAUL: Frankfurters.

MICHAEL: Not a terribly religious disk, is it?

PAUL: They’re Hebrew National. How many should I put in?

MICHAEL: Two for you, two for me, and two for the woman.

PAUL: You really think she’s coming back?

Shots of the mute woman wandering the streets.

MICHAEL: Look, I’m not the biggest optimist in the world, but if she does come back, we’ll have something to make her feel welcome.

PAUL: If that’s what you want, you oughta burn some incense.

MICHAEL: Not funny, Paul.

PAUL: I’m sorry. It was a very incense-itive statement.

MICHAEL: (groans) Puns that bad have no place in a house of worship.

PAUL: It’s a shame. That’s exactly where they’re needed most.

More exteriors, sans woman. Darker as dusk approaches.

After a long silence:

PAUL: Ding! Ding! Ding! Ding! Ding!

Back to the apartment where Paul stares at his watch.

PAUL: Ding!

Michael stares at him quizzically.

PAUL: I figure until you get a church bell . . .

Michael sighs and unlocks the door.

PAUL: Face it, Michael. She’s not coming.

MICHAEL: Yeah, yeah.

PAUL: You gave her your best shot. It just didn’t take.

MICHAEL: Ach, I was stupid.

PAUL: No, trying to reform her was beautiful. Giving her the five dollars was stupid. Shall we?

Michael looks around disappointedly.

MICHAEL: Yeah, let’s go.

Michael is about to start the service when the mute woman breezes through the door. She is still dirty and bedraggled, but now she is wide-eyed, smiling, and very animated.

PAUL: My God, it’s Mary Poppins.

MICHAEL: Shh! Hello!

The woman nods with gusto.

MICHAEL: How you doing? She looks great!

PAUL: Let’s not exaggerate —

MICHAEL: See what a little religion can do?

PAUL: Oh, that’s what it is.

MICHAEL: You’re just in time for services.

PAUL: Yeah. Michaelmass.

MICHAEL: Paul. Miss.

Michael gathers up his wardrobe. Paul dims the lights, and the three congregants near the altar and kneel. Michael clears his throat.

MICHAEL: Blessed art thou, O Lord, our God. King of the Universe. Father of the Son and maker of us all. Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heavens above.

PAUL: Very original.

Shooting a stern look at Paul, Michael guides the woman to a small table with candles on it.

MICHAEL: Here.

Michael lights a long wooden match and offers it to the woman. She pulls out a makeshift cigarette and attempts to light it. Michael calmly blows the match out and has her put the joint away. He shows her how to light the candle.

The woman stands near the lit candle with her eyes closed. Paul comes up behind her.

PAUL: (sings quietly) Happy birthday to you. Happy birthday to you —

Michael shushes Paul and sees the woman pucker up and makes unsuccessful attempts to blow out the candle. Just in time, he stops her.

MICHAEL: (to Paul) I’m glad you’re having fun. I hope you realize how much this means to me.

Paul sniffs the air, curiously.

PAUL: Sorry, sorry.

MICHAEL: Let us have another prayer. One I made up myself.

The woman nods, Paul sniffs.

MICHAEL: Blessed are —

PAUL: The frankfurters!

MICHAEL: Paul!

Paul scurries to the oven as Michael attempts to continue.

The woman turns to Michael pleadingly and mumbles “frankfurters.”

MICHAEL: Now, now. (to Paul) Some of us know that patience is a great virtue. (to the woman) Don’t worry. When the service is finished, you may join us in receiving pleasant sustenance. Ahem. O Lord, thou art —

PAUL: (from the ktichen) Shit! Half of them are burnt.

MICHAEL: (undaunted) Thou art so holy. Holy, holy, holy. He is so holy —

PAUL: How holy is He?

MICHAEL: He is so holy, his holiness is without end. He is even holier than —

PAUL: My undershirts?

MICHAEL: Than any mortal’s conception of holiness. It is without end.

PAUL: (rescuing the hot dogs) You said that.

MICHAEL: There is no end to His holiness.

PAUL: Talk about holier-than-thou . . .

MICHAEL: (fuming) Endless in His holiness, and His holiness is endless.

PAUL: So’s this prayer.

Michael looks darts at Paul, who grins as he buns and mustards a hot dog. Almost laughing, Michael groans loudly and goes on—

MICHAEL: Blessed be this congregation. Or most of it. In the name and the spirit of all that is holy. Amen.

Holding a frank, Paul walks over to the woman.

PAUL: Wanna bite?

The woman leans over to chomp.

MICHAEL: Ah, ah, ah. Not yet. First we must have Communiion.

PAUL: Count me out. I don’t believe in Communion; I’m a Capitalist.

MICHAEL: (aside) Hey God, I know my purpose on earth, but what’s his?

Paul overhears and the two exchange smiles. Michael turns away and engages in silent prayer. Paul turns to the woman.

PAUL: Do you think I could try a puff of that cigarette?

The woman smiles and nods. She empties her pockets of several syringes, small powder packets, razor blades, and finally, the joint. Paul takes it from her.

PAUL: Thanks, I just want a puff.

Checking to make sure Michael’s back is still turned, Paul lights the cigarette with the candle. He takes a puff, lays the cigarette in the ashtray, and takes a bite of the frank.

MICHAEL: Amen.

Michael turns to the woman and helps her to her knees. He places his hand on her head and solemnly looks around for something.

PAUL: What? What are you—oh, Communion, right?

Paul hands Michael an ashtray. Michael shrugs, figures it’s better than nothing, and proceeds to rub his fingers in the joint’s ashes. He then makes an ashen cross on the woman’s forehead. Almost instinctively, she opens her mouth wide and holds out her tongue. Michael glances about in desperation.

Paul rummages through a cabniet, only to find an empty box of Ritz crackers.

MICHAEL: Nothing?

PAUL: Nothing.

MICHAEL: What can we — ?

PAUL: I don’t know.

MICHAEL: I’d completely forgotten about the transubstantiation bit.

PAUL: It’s not number one on my hit parade, either.

MICHAEL: Look at her! She’s so close, I don’t wanna lose her now.

PAUL: Ok, I got it.

As Bach begins to play on the soundtrack, Paul takes a frankfurter in his left hand and brings it to the kneeling woman. He stands in front of her as she bites into the weiner.

MICHAEL: Our father, who art in heaven. Hallowed be thy name. By kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

NOTE: The camera angle should be discreet enough to suggest a vaguely obscene transaction.

MICHAEL: Careful she doesn’t choke.

The woman swallows and rises with a peaceful, spiritual expression on her face. Michael moves to her.

MICHAEL: Are you ready to bask in the glory of our Lord’s second coming on earth?

The woman smiles and kneels of her own accord.

MICHAEL: Oh, great and glorious statue. May your inner spirit rise and move among us in this wondrous hour of prayer and revelation.

Paul takes another puff of the joint and holds it in his hands.

MICHAEL: May the essence that infused you visit us and show us the truth. May it show the meaning and the way of this earth.

Scene 11

SETTING: Still Paul’s studio, but the room lights suddenly dim.

Michael turns to the window and points with awe and horror.

Standing in front of the window is the ghost of Vikki Zivitz.

She is dressed completely in white, looking slightly overexposed and hazy.

An offscreen fan blows her hair and clothes. She looks beautiful, ethereal, and frightening.

Michael gasps.

Paul gapes at the vision, then at the joint. He stubs in the ashtray, vowing never to smoke again.

The woman is still blissfully praying to the statue, oblivious to everything.

MICHAEL: My God, it’s a vision. (pause) Hello, Vikki.

VIKKI: Hi Michael. Long time no see. So, you have a new girlfriend.

MICHAEL: (chuckling) Her? No, you see, I’ve got this whole religious thing with a statue, and she’s this —

VIKKI: Michael, I know.

MICHAEL: You know?

VIKKI: Yes.

Paul gulps and remains speechless for the first time in years.

MICHAEL: Oh, uh, Paul’s here. Say hello, Paul.

PAUL: Hello.

VIKKI: Hi Paul. How’s the hat exhibition coming along?

PAUL: Oh, fine, fine. (long pause) Soooo, how’s death been treating you?

VIKKI: (smiles) Same old Paul. Never could resist a line.

All three chuckle awkwardly.

MICHAEL: Really, Vikki. How are you?

VIKKI: A lot better than I was the last time you saw me. You remember?

MICHAEL: Yeah.

VIKKI: If my head wasn’t so screwed up back then, I’d have known you were the coldest, most selfish, cruelest man on earth.

MICHAEL: Yeah.

VIKKI: I can’t begin to describe how much I hated you. You and those stupid exhibits.

MICHAEL: What do you want me to say?

VIKKI: I don’t want you to say anything. I just hope you understand.

MICHAEL: I know, I know. You were right about everything.

VIKKI: Yes. And that’s why I’ve come for my revenge.

MICHAEL: Revenge?

Paul starts sneaking toward the door.

VIKKI: Don’t worry, Paul. I’m not going to kill you. You neither. To be honest, that’s not within my power.

MICHAEL: Then what do you mean by revenge?

VIKKI: You’ll find out in time. I should say that I’m proud of you, Michael. I’ve been watching what you’ve been doing for the past few days, and I’ve found your change of heart quite convincing.

PAUL: Take it from me, it’s not a put-on. I know Mike well enough to say that he really believes it.

VIKKI: I’m really happy for you, Michael So tell me. What have you found?

MICHAEL: My whole life has changed. In the course of a few days, I’ve come to understand so much. Through my art I found religion. And through my religion, I found meaning. An intuitive sense of why I’m here and what my purpose is. (pause) If you don’t mind my asking, how were you able to visit here?
VIKKI: Simple. Since I died from an overdose of narcotics, it’s hard to tell when I stopped sleeping and when I died. So they’re keeping me in limbo for awhile before they commend my entire earthly spirit.

MICHAEL: Well, however you got here, I’m just glad you were able to see me like this. The way I am now, and how much I’ve come to understand.

VIKKI: Oh, Michael. If only you knew how little you truly do understand.

PAUL: What are you saying?

VIKKI: Just that I have seen things. I know things.

MICHAEL: Please, tell us! What do you know?

PAUL: Can we ask you questions?

VIKKI: Of course. But I don’t think you’ll like the answers.

MICHAEL: (excited) What’s it like, death?

PAUL: Do you feel anything?

MICHAEL: Is there a heaven?

PAUL: Is there a hell?

MICHAEL: Is it really the end of everything forever?

VIKKI: Hold it, hold it! One at a time.

MICHAEL: What is God like?

VIKKI: I don’t know. I’ve never seen Him. He may be up there for all I know, but there’s been no sign of him yet.

PAUL: Is heaven the way it is in the movies?

VIKKI: I know nothing of heaven and hell. I’m lost somewhere in between with billions of other people.

MICHAEL: Because you’re still in limbo.

VIKKI: That doesn’t make any difference. All I’ve come across so far is nothingness.

The praying woman coughs.

PAUL: What are the people like? Do they know more than you?

VIKKI: (laughs bitterly) Are you joking? What a wretched mass of abortions. Not that I’m any better off than they are.

MICHAEL: What are you saying?

VIKKI: I’m saying that nobody knows a damn thing! I must have spoken to a thousand people up there by now, and not one of them had any idea why they had to die when they did. Not one.

MICHAEL: Let’s face it. Everyone wants to live forever.

VIKKI: Yes, but they had no idea what their lives meant, either. If you’ve really found some sort of purpose to your life, then congratulations. You’re a first.

MICHAEL: Then what do you know?

VIKKI: I know what it’s like to die.

PAUL: And?

VIKKI: No, it’s not painful. It’s just empty. Like a long dizzy spell in a vacuum. No long dances, no black angels, no reason.

Vikki shudders.

MICHAEL: What’s the matter?

VIKKI: I don’t know. I’m sorry, I — nothing.

MICHAEL: If death has no meaning, then my life has no meaning, either.

VIKKI: Welcome to the club.

MICHAEL: And this whole conversion, everything I’ve gone through, counts for nothing?

VIKKI: If it made your life happier . . .

MICHAEL: It did! But only because it all seemed to amount to something.

VIKKI: All I can give you is what I experienced. And —

Vikki shudders and feels a sharp pang.

PAUL: What is it?

VIKKI: I told you that I know very little. I understand even less. But one thing I am fully aware of is death. And I feel the presence of death very strongly in this room.

MICHAEL: You believe death is among us?

VIKKI: I feel its presence coming closer and closer. Death is with us. And it’s looking for a victim.

PAUL: I just remembered I left something in the other room and I think I’ll go get it that would be a very good idea and —

As Paul crosses to the bedroom, the mute woman clutches her heart and starts shaking and choking in violent agony.

VIKKI: Oh, God, it’s here! Please don’t torture her!

Paul and Michael watch the mute woman but don’t touch her.

PAUL: Is there anything we can —

VIKKI: Nothing.

MICHAEL: (to the mute woman) Please, please! Tell us what you’re feeling!

PAUL: Mike.

MICHAEL: I have to know. What are you going through? What is happening to you?!

PAUL: Mike.

MICHAEL: You must tell us. Before it’s too late.

PAUL: Mike, she can’t talk. Remember?

MICHAEL: But she has to know . . . something.

PAUL: Even if she does, she couldn’t tell us.

VIKKI: I promise you, she doesn’t.

The mute woman writhes on the floor. Paul and Michael lock arms and watch in horror.

VIKKI: Now she’s losing all control of her bodily functions. Her eyesight will be gone in a minute. Then her hearing.

MICHAEL: (urgent) But what is she feeling?

VIKKI: Nothing. Every minute she feels less and less.

The mute woman stops suddenly, has a convulsive spasm, then dies.

VIKKI: She’s gone now. And so has death.

Michael and Paul stare at the dead woman for a long while.

Michael then walks back to Vikki.

MICHAEL: Why? After years of throwing her life away on drugs and sickness, years of having nothing to live for, this woman finally becomes something. She finds a real path. Hope. And that’s when God chooses to take her life away? It doesn’t make sense. Why did He let her get started on the wrong path in the first place? And why did he make her mute?

Michael’s mania grows during his speech.

Why did he give you those mental problems? The marriage we had? And how do you explain that Hitler is immortal while painters starve in the streets and are forgotten in a week? And why, if He is so perfect, is everything around us so imperfect? How do you explain geniuses aborted at birth and assassins who live to a hundred? Why do we eat? Why do we sleep? Why fuck? Why shit? Eat, sleep, fuck, shit. Over and over and over again. Every day every hour every second and we don’t know why. We’ll never know why. We don’t even know why we’ll never know why. WHY?

VIKKI: (pause, earnestly) I’ve told you everything I know. There are no reasons, no explanations, nothing. Things happen, and they can’t be controlled or defined. This woman’s death, my death, your death. . . All deaths, like all lives, are lost and empty. And nothing means anything.

MICHAEL: (broken) And that’s all.

VIKKI: That’s all. I’ve given you all I know about everything. And I have my revenge.

Michael rushes at Vikki in a fit of rage, but she has vanished.

Paul looks at the crazed Michael, numb.

Suddenly, Michael grabs the corpse’s feet and drags the mute woman out the door.

MICHAEL: Nothing. It all means nothing. I knew that. It’s not such a bad thing, really. Takes the fear out of sinning, right? So she comes back and she visits me, and she brings me some bad news. I can take a little existential anguish now and then.

Michael drags the body in front of a neighbor’s apartment.

He goes back in, slamming the door behind him.

MICHAEL: If we all knew why we were here, we’d never bother going any further than that. Everyone would settle into his little niche, and that would be that. Why should God go around telling His secrets to every Tom, Dick, and Harry?

Demonically, methodically, Michael sets about tearing down his church. He finds tools and smashes the candles, tears curtains, and burns prayer books.

Paul follows at a distance, occasionally snuffing out anything dangerous, but mostly watching Michael in stunned dismay.

MICHAEL: Gee, I wish I had known all this stuff before. Would have saved me a helluva lot of trouble. I never thought nothingness could be so cathartic. Now I can do anything I want—anything at all. I can say anything! Any words I wanna string together, I can say them. Fuck Jesus God fuck sucking God’s cock in hell sitting on the Virgin’s face fucking  Jesus jerking off in a pile of horseshit, stupid fucks. Lotta fun, huh? Go `head, kill me now. I’ve racked up fifty sins in one sentence. I don’t mind. Really. I’m gonna kick off in a few years anyway. Save me the time and trouble. Why should I care that I don’t know anything when there isn’t anything to know? You know what I’m saying, hah? Am I making sense? How can I be making sense when nothing makes sense? You follow me? Hah?

Michael stops and rests in the now messy living room. He turns his sights to the statue, then moves towards it menacingly.

PAUL: Michael, no.

MICHAEL: Huh?

PAUL: Sense or no sense, God or no God, it’s still art. You’ll never forgive yourself.

Michael moves inexorably towards the statue.

PAUL: Everything you put into it. If you destroy it, you destroy yourself.

Michael clutches the statue as Paul tries to pull him off.

PAUL: Don’t do this!

MICHAEL: Leave me alone!

PAUL: It’s only art, but it’s all you have.

Michael throws Paul off.

He destroys the structure. Like a madman, he tears at it with his fingers.

Paul stands by helplessly.

Dissolves and quick cuts until Michael finally ceases.

Exhausted and insane, Michael stares straight ahead with a facial expression that is perverse, yet oddly compelling.

Various shots of the wreckage in relation to the room and Michael’s space in it.

Scene 15

SETTING: Paul’s apartment.

TIME: Daytime.

Medium close up of Michael’s face.

We hear a young woman talking to Paul.

YOUNG WOMAN: Are you nervous?

PAUL: I was this morning. But that was before I did six other interviews.

YOUNG WOMAN: See? You’re a pro already.

Cut to the steps of MOMA on a beautiful, sunny day.

Paul stands smiling while an unidentified man points a video camera at him. The pretty interviewer stands near him and asks the cameraman.

YOUNG WOMAN: How’s it look?

CAMERAMAN: Looks fine. Lemme just check the sound.

YOUNG WOMAN: Testing, one two three. Testing.

Paul clears his throat.

CAMERAMAN: Got it. Whenever you’re ready. On six: one, two —

YOUNG WOMAN: (to Paul) Remember, try and keep it witty and brief.

PAUL: (mock offended) Don’t I always?

The reporter laughs.

CAMERAMAN: three, four, five, and six.

YOUNG WOMAN: This is Cagadera Merdado for News on Seven at Eleven. As you can see, I am standing next to that extraordinary artist, Paul Alexander. Paul, you’re no stranger to the art world. You’ve been at it for . . . how many years now?

PAUL: At least fifteen, give or take a decade.

YOUNG WOMAN: How does it feel to be finally recognized as a genius?

PAUL: It feels great. I’ve been waiting for this for a long time.

YOUNG WOMAN: Why don’t you tell us about your masterpiece, since that’s what this is all about.

PAUL: I don’t want to sound pompous—I really don’t. But I did know the work was really special the minute I finished it. Something inside me said, “This is it, Paul. You’ll never do any better, and you won’t have to.”

YOUNG WOMAN: Could you tell us about the work itself?

PAUL: Of course.

Cut to Paul selling tickets to various well-dressed and artsy-looking people. They enter his living room, which is well lit and roped off. The people gaze in awe and admiration at the artwork.

It is the catatonic Michael, surrounded by his destruction and wreckage. The whole scene should feel like an actual art installation.

PAUL: The work is called, “The Second Coming of Michael Zivitz.” It’s a multi-media project with several pieces, inorganic as well as organic.

YOUNG WOMAN: What inspired you to use an actual living creature, a human being, as an integrated part of the work as a whole?

PAUL: It’s kind of hard to explain. I probably couldn’t explain it if I wanted to. But at the same time, does everything need an explanation?

YOUNG WOMAN: I’m sure you must have put a lot of hard work into this piece, but isn’t it even more difficult for the poor man who’s actually in it?

PAUL: (chuckles) Well, as an old saying of mine goes, artistic suffering is important, but who said it’s the artist who has to suffer?

YOUNG WOMAN: (laughs) Why not the art?

PAUL: Exactly.

YOUNG WOMAN: Do you enjoy working, or is it a burden?

PAUL: I guess it’s somewhere between the two. As human beings, we all have this unavoidable repetitious pattern of eat, sleep, make love, go to the bathroom, eat, sleep, make love, etcetera. You just do them. There’s no real thought behind it. My work is just an extra part of that pattern. That’s basically how I see it.

Cut back to the interview on the MOMA steps.

YOUNG WOMAN: Now that your work has been sold to the Museum of Modern Art.

PAUL: Oh, it’s gonna be a real pain to move it over there.

YOUNG WOMAN: And you’ll be receiving quite a large sum for the piece. As well as the overwhelming critical and popular acclaim your work has already garnered. What ambitions do you have for the years ahead?

PAUL: (smiles) None that I can think of. No, really, I figure one masterpiece and I’m set for life. I mean, I’ll continue to work in the arts. I’m even thinking of writing a screenplay based on some of my experiences, but I don’t expect anything like this to come along again. And I’m very happy just to have this happen once. I’m luckier than most.

Cut back to Michael. He does not move. Forever.

YOUNG WOMAN: Before I let you go, could you maybe tell us what you’re really trying to say in your work?

PAUL: That’s a very subjective question. I guess a lot of different things are involved that have to come together. All of life’s like that.

YOUNG WOMAN: Yes, of course. But I think you know what I’m asking. As far as your art goes: What does it mean?

Close Up of Michael’s face.

PAUL: (wistfully) Mean? Oh, uh, it doesn’t mean anything at all.

Silence.

Quick fade out.

Black for a few seconds.
Credits.

*

NOTES & BACKSTORY:

[May 2020] This was written in the spring of my final undergraduate year in the Film/TV program at NYU. I don’t think I ever had plans to try and direct it as a film, as it never moved past the treatment stage. Reading over it nearly four decades later, there are parts that give me a grin and parts that make me cringe, but it’s interesting to see themes about life and religion—that have run through so many of my works—being grappled with here. 

In my folder for the screenplay, I kept the professor’s comments. He gave me an A (I assume for effort rather than result), and typed out this note:

“David — Reading this from beginning to end, I see some continuity but also a lot of excess verbiage that gets in the way of understanding. I’d suggest cutting a lot of the dialogue in a revision. Also, maybe there’s a way of framing this in the interplay between Paul and Mike so that it has more continuity in the plot and structure. Otherwise it’s hopelessly episodic with intermittent funny moments.

It also seems to me to be more of a play than a film. Try it in ten concentrated scenes or so, and I think it will be tighter and funnier because in comedy, less is more.”

Despite the “A” grade, I’m sure I felt crushed and a tad hostile reading his mostly negative assessment. And, of course, he was absolutely right. Alas, I had zero aptitude or patience for revising back then, so Michael Zivitz the screenplay never had a second coming.

(PS: Tom Shachtman is alive and well and has a new book out from St. Martin’s Press.) 

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SCREENPLAY – SHORT: Separating

SEPARATING

(by David Lefkowitz, circa 1984, adapting a short story by John Updike)

 

BLACK.

CREDITS.

Sound of wood being scraped.
Slow fade-in.

Scene 1

EXT. Upper middle-class suburban house and surrounding landscape.

Early summer.

Shot of a small flower/vegetable garden, half dug up and choked by weeds.

Shot of a private, netless tennis court. The asphalt is cracked and the white lines have faded.

Shot of THE MAPLES’ house from the side: white paint starting to peel, dead insects trapped in the window screens.

Shot of the cluttered dirty garage and the `73 station wagon parked in the driveway.

RICHARD MAPLE is on the front porch. He awkwardly chisels down the edge of the door to make it close properly.

Young JOHN MAPLE (15) slowly walks across the lawn and stands, watching his father hone the door. John silently goes to the door and does his best to hold it steady.

Richards finishes and checks his work. It is a success.

John helps his father gather up his tools and kicks away the wood shavings.

Scene 2

INT. RICHARD & JOAN MAPLES’S BEDROOM. EARLY EVENING.

RICHARD & JOAN dress for dinner: suburban casual but neat.

Richard stares into the mirror, struggling with his tie. Joan fixes her skirt.

JOAN: Dinner’s in the oven. It’ll be ready in ten minutes.

RICHARD: I put the champagne in the fridge.

JOAN: Make sure John doesn’t have more than two glasses. You remember how sick he got last Christmas.

RICHARD: He’s older now.

JOAN: He’s fifteen.

RICHARD: Well, maybe it wouldn’t be such a bad idea if we all got nice and drunk tonight. Sit around. Reminisce. Salt some wounds.

JOAN: No speech, okay? Not tonight. Make some general announcement, and they’ll start arguing with each other instead of enjoying your glorious moments of pathos.

RICHARD: You want me to tell them separately? All right, I’ll tell them separately.

JOAN: I mean, they’re individuals, not just your corporate obstacle to your freedom.

RICHARD: Yes, fine, you’re right. I’ll tell John after dinner, Judy after dessert, and Richard, Jr. when he gets home from the concert.

JOAN: It was your idea. Don’t make me the heavy.

RICHARD: I know.

Joan helps Richard with his tie.

JOAN: Just think: by Monday morning it’ll all be over. Stitches neat and ready to heal.

RICHARD: Mopped up, as it were.

JOAN: Do you have a better plan? That leaves you Saturday and Sunday to answer any questions, pack and make your wonderful departure. By Tuesday, you should be sleeping with whats-`er-name?

RICHARD: Helen.

JOAN: Her house is right across from the railroad station. You could stop in and see her tonight when you pick up Richard Jr.

RICHARD: Stop it.

JOAN: I’m sorry.

Joan wipes her eye and shuts the bedroom light.

RICHARD: Let’s try not to break down in the middle of dinner. It’s a celebration for Judy, not a wake for her parents.

JOAN: I won’t if you won’t.

RICHARD: (sighs) Come on.

Richard and Joan leave the room, carefully avoiding physical contact.

Scene 3

INT. MAPLES’ DINING ROOM – EVENING

JUDY finishes setting the table for four as her parents come down the stairs.

Richard goes into the kitchen. Joan joins Judy and takes a dish from her hands.

JOAN: This dinner is specially for you. You shouldn’t be setting the table.

JUDY: I had nothing else to do.

JOAN: Well, go into the living room, and try to act surprised when we call you back in and shout “welcome home.”

JUDY: Mom, I’ve been home for more than a week.

JOAN: Do you know how hard it is to get this family all together at one time? Richard Junior’s still not going to be here until tonight.

Judy groans and nods.

JOAN: So do me a favor and try to act like you’re glad to be here. And if John starts acting up —

JUDY: He’s a kid. He does what he wants to do.

JOAN: Just don’t encourage him, okay?

In the kitchen, Richard prepares to serve the lobster and champagne. JOHN washes his hands and takes a glass of soda.

RICHARD: Did your mother say she wanted garlic bread?

JOHN: I don’t know.

RICHARD: Since I’m a lazy man, I’ll take that as a “no.”

John finishes the soda and puts the glass in the sink.

RICHARD: So how are you and your sister getting along?

JOHN: Fine.

RICHARD: Sometimes it’s good to be away from people you know for awhile. It helps you appreciate them more.

JOHN: I guess so.

RICHARD: You’ve got the butter sauce?

JOHN: Uh huh.

Richard peers into the dining room. Joan is hustling Judith out of the room.

RICHARD: Ready?

JOAN: Great timing, honey.

Richard smiles, ducks back into the kitchen, and motions John to join him.

They carry the food trays into the dining room, set them down, and sit.

Joan dims the lights.

JOHN: You can come in now!

Joan sighs and ruffles John’s hair. Judy enters a la Sarah Bernhardt.

RICHARD, JOHN, & JOAN: Welcome home!

JUDY: I feel faint . . .

RICHARD: The prodigal daughter hath returned.

JUDY: Oh, you simply shouldn’t have.

JOHN: That’s what I said.

JOAN: (to John) Don’t you ever stop?

RICHARD: Come on. The champagne’s getting warm, and the lobster’s getting cold.

JUDY: (sitting) Champagne? Now I am surprised.

Richard uncorks. There is no “pop.”

JOAN: We figured after spending a year in England, you’d settle for nothing less.

JUDY: That’s all you do over there is settle for less. It’s become part of their philosophy.

JOAN: Is unemployment really that bad?

JUDY: It’s pretty bad, but at least poverty isn’t a dirty word over there. Everybody’s on a fixed income.

Richard pours three-and-a-half glasses full of champagne.

JOHN: See what we’re missing, dad?

RICHARD: Hm? Oh, uh, do you still want to live in England forever?

JUDY: No, I’m an American.

RICHARD: No place like home, eh?

JOHN: (sings) Oh, say can you see by the dawn’s early light—

RICHARD: All right, stop. It’s time for a toast. (rises) Welcome home, Judith. We’ve all missed you very much, even if most of us won’t admit it.

Richard shoots a knowing look at John.

RICHARD: Welcome back to your homeland. And your home.

All nod, assent, and drink up. Richard sits.

JOHN: Speech! Speech!

Judith smiles and rises.

JUDITH: Unaccustomed as I am to public speaking . . . Thanks everybody. This is really nice. There were times when being away got pretty lonely, and, well, it’s good to be back with my family.

JOAN: Hear, hear!

All drink except Richard. He stares down at his plate.

JOHN: Well, can we eat yet?

JOAN: Okay, okay. Richard?

JUDY: I hope it doesn’t take forever to crack the shell.

JOHN: What do you care? You’re having frankfurters.

JUDY: Shut up.

JOAN: Richard, are you all right?

Richard looks up. His eyes are moist and bloodshot.

RICHARD: I’m hungry. I think we should eat.

JUDY: What’s wrong, dad?

RICHARD: (wiping his eyes) Goddamned allergies. Driving me nuts.

JUDY: Everybody in the neighborhood mowed their lawns today. I’ve been sneezing like crazy.

JOAN: Did you take an aspirin?

JUDY: Uh oh. Vitamin C supplement.

Richard starts cracking the lobster. Tears run down his face.

Judy and John concentrate on their lobster and try to not look at their father.

Joan sips some champagne but doesn’t eat. She takes her plate into the off-screen kitchen. John finishes quickly and joins her. Their voices are heard behind the door.

JOHN: Why is daddy crying?

JUDY: (interrupting) The lobster was really delicious.

Richard nods, sobbing. His wife’s voice is barely audible behind the door.

JUDY: The moment we’ve all been waiting for.

Richard swallows hoarsely. He looks away from his daughter.

John’s voice is heard from behind the door.

JOHN: (crying) Oh no!

Richard hides his face in his hands. Judy nervously lights a cigarette.

Joan returns carrying a large glass blow of fruit salad. She sets it down and wipes her eyes.

JOAN: He’s all right. How about you?

RICHARD: I’m fine.

JOAN: Want a handkerchief.

RICHARD: I’m fine. I’m fine.

John returns, almost running to his chair. Joan spoons out the salad.

JOHN: (to his father) She told.

RICHARD: Told what?

JOHN: The separation.

JOAN: (calmly) I explained that your father and I are very fond of each other. We always will be. However, sometimes fondness just isn’t enough when two people have to live together . . . till death do them part. Your father thinks, and I think, we’ve grown away from each other, and we just need some time and space to look at our lives.

JUDY: Hey, I’ve always wanted to become a statistic.

JOHN: Oh, fuck you.

JOAN: (disregarding) We know this is so hard for you, but it’s been very hard for us. And we really need you to understand right now.

Judy stubs out her cigarette.

JUDY: I think it’s silly. You should either live together or get divorced.

RICHARD: (mustering a smile) What? And miss out on all this fu?

JOHN: Why didn’t you tell us? You should have told us you weren’t getting along.

RICHARD: We do get along. But when you don’t love each other anymore, it’s difficult . . .

Richard cannot finish his words.

John finishes another glass.

JOAN: We love you two very, very much. Don’t you ever forget that.

JOHN: What do you care about us? We’re just little fucking things you’ve had.

JUDY: Careful—that’s his second “fuck.” He wants to show everyone how angry he is.

John grabs a piece of lobster shell and hurls it at his sister. He takes a cigarette and holds it in his lips, unlit.

JOAN: John, please. You’re not making this any easier.

JOHN: I don’t care!

RICHARD: The reason we’ve stayed together this long is because of you. We wanted to wait until our children were old enough—

John lights a match, sets the whole matchbook on fire, and drops it in his champagne glass.

JUDY: Gosh, John. Funny how he said “old enough” rather than mature enough.

John gives Judy the middle finger and takes the cigarette out of his mouth.

He breaks it in half, puts the halves in his mouth and chews, sticking his tongue out for Judy’s benefit.

JUDY: I don’t see anybody laughing.

JOAN: John, Judith, please. When two people are unhappy together, when they’ve tried everything they can to work things out but nothing helps, and it just gets worse and worse . . . Forcing those people to stay together is an act of cruelty.

RICHARD: It’s just a separation. (laughs) Who knows? We may be just as miserable apart, but there has to be a change.

John spits out the cigarette and runs out of the room.

Richard excuses himself and follows, seeing John exit the front door.

Scene 4

EXT. MAPLES’ YARD – NIGHT.

John runs. Richard catches up and runs alongside his son. They run past the neglected tennis court to a stretch of weedy, unmowed grass.

John drops to the ground and flattens himself to the earth. Richard kneels by his face.

RICHARD: I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. You were the only one who ever tried to help me with the goddamn jobs around this place.

JOHN: It’s not just this. It’s . . . everything’s so fucked up. I hate school, everybody’s an asshole. I hate the teachers, the principal’s a dick —

RICHARD: They’ve certainly improved your vocabulary.

JOHN: It’s not funny! I hate it!

RICHARD: I’m sorry. I’ll talk to your mother about transferring you to Cheever. Life’s too short to be miserable.

Richard and John get up and walk back towards the house. They stop at a spot affording the best view of the surrounding area. It is night, and the two are silhouettes.

RICHARD: See? It goes on being beautiful. Even tomorrow.

JOHN: Yeah, I know.

Fade Out on Richard and John walking back to the house.

Scene 5

EXT. SUBURBAN STREETS & ROADS – NIGHT

Richard drives the station wagon past closed shops and quiet streets. We hear his conversation with Joan before leaving the house.

JOAN (V.O.): I couldn’t cry. I cried so much all spring.

RICHARD (V.O.): I think I did enough crying for the both of us.

JOAN (V.O.): It’s not fair, you know. You made it look as though I was kicking you out.

Richard brakes for a light. Close Up of his foot on the brake.

Quick Close Up—a flashback—of Joan pulling up her stocking.

Then back to the present.

RICHARD (V.O.): I assure you, it was not a calculated plan on my part.

JOAN (V.O.): Oh, you loved it, the center of attention.

Quick Close Up—flashback—of Richard undoing his tie in the mirror.

Back to the present: the light turns green. Richard drives.

RICHARD (V.O.): The kids were great.

JOAN (V.O.): (quietly) Yeah.

RICHARD (V.O.): They didn’t even question. Judy didn’t even hint about a third person.

Richard drives slowly past a small house. The upstairs window is lit, and a woman’s form can be made out behind it.

RICHARD (V.O.): I’m glad it’s over with.

Quick Medium Shot—flashback—of Joan in shadows, brushing her hair back with her hands.

The present: Richard drives.

JOAN (V.O.): Not yet. You’ve still got Richard Jr.

RICHARD (V.O.): The hardest for the last.

Richard comes to the train draw-gate and waits.

JOAN (V.O.): That’s one piece of your dirty work I won’t do for you.

RICHARD (V.O.): I know. Go to sleep, It’s been a rough night.

The warning bell rings, and the train appears.

Close Up—flashback—of Richard giving Joan a hug.

Then the present, the car.

RICHARD (V.O.): You were great tonight.

JOAN (V.O.): Thank you.

The train comes to a stop, and a few passengers step onto the platform.

Richard Jr. sees his father’s car and walks towards it, saying goodbye to his companions.

RICHARD: Do any of your friends need a lift?

RICHARD JR.: Nah, they’re all right. Thanks.

Richard starts the car as his son buckles up.

He begins the drive home.

RICHARD: Well?

RICHARD JR.: What?

RICHARD: How was the concert?

RICHARD JR.: Fine.

RICHARD: Did you suffer significant hearing loss?
RICHARD JR.: Huh?

RICHARD: (chuckles) Nothing. That cold still bothering you?

RICHARD JR.: My nose is kind of stuffed.

RICHARD: We still have the medicine from last year.

RICHARD JR.: Yeah, it never worked.

RICHARD: How about aspirin?

RICHARD JR.: I took.

Richard Jr. rubs his bleary eyes.

RICHARD: Tired?

RICHARD JR.: No.

Richard slows down and waits for the moment.

RICHARD: I didn’t come to meet you just to save you a trip home. I came because your mother and I have some news for you. You’re a hard en to get ahold of these days.

Richard Jr. does not respond.

RICHARD: It’s sad news.

RICHARD JR.: That’s okay.

As Richard explains the situation, the camera should be outside the car, shooting through the windshield and side windows. We hear street noise but no dialogue.

Richard reaches the driveway. His son walks to the door and enters the house.

Richard stays in the car and exits only when he sees Richard Jr.’s bedroom light go on.

We then hear their conversation from on the way home:

RICHARD (V.O.): It shouldn’t really change your life in any major way. You’ll work at your job and go back to school in September. Your mother and I are very proud of you. Things don’t have to change . . . for you.

RICHARD JR.: (V.O.): Yeah.

RICHARD (V.O.): There’s nothing legal, no divorce yet. We want to see how it feels. I don’t know if you’ve sensed that we haven’t been doing enough for each other, making each other happy.

RICHARD JR. (V.O.): No. (pause) How did everybody else take it?

Richard goes into the house and closes the windows in the kitchen.

RICHARD (V.O.): Judy was her usual understanding self. John said “fuck” a lot and ate a cigarette.

RICHARD JR. (V.O.): Sorry I missed it.

RICHARD (V.O.): I think he’s more upset about school than anything else.

RICHARD JR. (V.O.): Yeah?

RICHARD (V.O.): Maybe he just needed to explode a little.

RICHARD JR. (V.O.): Yeah.

Richard washes his face and hands. He makes his way up the stairs.

RICHARD (V.O.): Son, I want to tell you. This last hour, waiting for your train to get in, had to be the worst hour of my life. I hate this. I hate this. My father would have died before doing this to me.

Richard approaches John’s room. Joan is sitting on the bed.

Scene 6

RICHARD: How’s it going?

JOAN: We’re fine.

RICHARD: Everything worked out with school?

JOAN: John promised to give it one more try, and if he doesn’t like it, we’ll transfer him to Cheever after Christmas vacation.

RICHARD: Sounds good.

JOHN: Uh huh.

RICHARD: It never ceases to amaze me how things that seem so insurmountable always get worked out.

JOHN: Not always.

RICHARD: Oh, you’d be surprised. These days people move so fast they just don’t have the time or the energy to get bogged down in problems. Instead, they run right past `em, and somehow they get worked out. Usually very quick and surprisingly painless.

Joan rises, smiling. She turns off the light.

RICHARD: (whispers) He asleep?

JOHN: No.

JOAN: Goodnight.

JOHN: G’night.

RICHARD: See you in the morning.

JOHN: Uh huh.

Richard and Joan leave the room and shut the door. They stand together in the dimly lit hallway.

RICHARD: Joan, if I could undo it all, I would.

JOAN: Where would you start.

RICHARD: I don’t know.

A pajama-clad Judy steps out of the bathroom and awkwardly tries to get to her room.

JUDY: Oh, uh, goodnight.

JOAN: Do you want me to wake you in the morning?

JUDY: No, I’ll set my clock. Thanks.

JOAN: Sure?

JUDY: Don’t worry about me, all right? (pause) I’ll be fine.

JOAN: I believe you. Goodnight.

Joan kisses Judy on the cheek.

JUDY: Goodnight, dad.

Judy turns towards her room. Richard goes to her and hugs her, somewhat mechanically.

RICHARD: Goodnight, honey. I love you.

JUDY: You, too.

Richard lets go. Judy moves to her room.

JOAN: She’s all grown up.

Richard rubs his eyes.

RICHARD: Yeah, and if she’s lucky, she’ll turn out to be just like us.

Joan looks over at Richard Jr.’s door.

RICHARD: I told him.

JOAN: What did he say?

RICHARD: Nothing much. Did you say goodnight to him?

JOAN: Not yet.

Joan knocks softly on the door.

RICHARD JR.: Come in.

Scene 7

Richard Jr. is lying on the bed in his pajamas. His clock-radio is playing Neil Young’s “Helpless” at moderate volume.

Joan enters first and picks Richard Jr.’s dirty socks up off the floor.

JOAN: We have a hamper.

RICHARD JR.: (smiles) Hi mom. Hi dad.

RICHARD: Do you want the radio on like that?

RICHARD JR.: It always is.

Richard Jr. leans over and turns it off.

RICHARD: Oh, you don’t have to —

RICHARD JR.: It’s okay.

RICHARD: Doesn’t it keep you awake?

RICHARD JR.: Not really.

Joan sits on the bed. Her body faces out while her head is turned turned toward Richard  Jr.

JOAN: Sure you want to get up and go to work tomorrow? You’ve had a big night.

RICHARD JR.: No, I’m fine.

Richard sits on the bed, his face and body turned sideways towards his son.

RICHARD: Yeah. I’m starting to wonder if there’s anyone in the whole world who isn’t “fine.” Rich, listen. I’ve always loved you so much. I don’t think I ever realized how much until right now.

Joan looks down at her lap. Richard Jr. has turned his face away from his parents.

RICHARD: I want you to know, no matter how all this works out, I’ll be with you. Really.

Richard bends down to kiss his son on the forehead. Richard Jr. jerks his head up and into the folds of Richard’s shirt. Richard, holding back tears, tightly hugs his crying son. Richard Jr. pulls his face away slowly and looks at his father.

RICHARD JR.: Why?

The three do not move. Hold on them and slowly fade out.

BLACK.

CREDITS.

During the credits, play David Bromberg’s “Last Song for Shelby Jean” or just silence.

FINIS.

*******************

NOTES & BACKSTORY:
[May 2020] This adaptation was done for a screenwriting class when I was studying film and television at New York University back in the early 1980s. I don’t recall the instructions of the assignment, though I guess it involved taking a short story and adapting it to be more filmic.

Reading it now, I think parts are stilted and talky (hey, you expect action from Updike?) and a touch arty, though some of the dialogue rings real, and it was rare for me to write a slice-of-life piece that didn’t have some awful climax or tragic shock (hey, it’s Updike).

I do love the line, “John said `fuck’ a lot and ate a cigarette.”

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