Into the Arms of Angels, Part 1 of 14: A Novel Approach to a Screenplay

Desk In the age of Charles Dickens and Anthony Trollope, authors routinely published their work piecemeal in magazines, doling out their treasures to readers one chapter at a time. Beginning today and continuing for the next six weeks, I will employ a similar approach, serializing my feature-length screenplay, “Into the Arms of Angels” (© 2005, 2016). The story’s logline:

Devastated by the death of his closest friend five years earlier in the Twin Tower terrorist attacks, an emotionally crippled Wisconsin dairyman travels to New York City in September of 2006 and through intense suffering reaches an epiphany of healing and insight.

First, a few notes about formatting:

  • “O.S.” means “off-screen.”
  • Scene headings are in ALL CAPS. Each is preceded by either “INT.” or “EXT.” to indicate that the scene takes place inside or outside, respectively.
  • A scene described as “ESTABLISHING” might be a series of exterior shots that implies a location for a subsequent interior scene (e.g., a shot of a police station’s facade that precedes an interview with a suspect.)
  • When a character is introduced, his or her name appears in all caps.
  • Descriptions of sounds (e.g., “A CRASH OF GLASS”) are also in all caps.
  • A “MONTAGE” is a series of shots without dialogue, most likely accompanied by music.

Today’s installment is Part 1 of 14.  I hope you enjoy it.

Into the Arms of Angels, Part 1

INT. AN AIRPORT – JOE’S DREAM MONTAGE Fuzzy, brightly-lit images from an airport (a bag lifted onto a steel table, a waving security wand, an upward-moving escalator, a hand on an escalator railing.) A tall man in his mid-thirties (GABRIEL) smiles and waves from an airport jetway. He has dark hair, fair skin, even features, and a magnetic smile. A smoky room is lit by irregular reddish flashes of light. In the smoky room, Gabriel looks to his left for a few seconds and then looks hard over his right shoulder. Behind him and to his right are the remains of a shattered window suspended between two steel support columns. Tendrils of smoke waft around Gabriel’s anguished face. Sound: Begins with unintelligible VOICES and airport PA ANNOUNCEMENTS; becomes a blend of pre-attack RADIO BROADCASTS from 9/11, followed by a blend of early post-attack REPORTS, followed by the horrified SCREAMS of bystanders as victims jump from the Twin Towers. Ends with the voice of a news anchor: “America, say a prayer.”   INT. A BEDROOM – WISCONSIN – SATURDAY – 2006 The TEXTURE OF VOICES fades and becomes a single RADIO VOICE. As the soundscape clears, the scenery comes into focus. A curtained window on the left admits pre-dawn light. RADIO VOICE …a sunny start for this Labor Day weekend. It’s now 4:30, and to all you early birds –   The radio abruptly shuts off. CHRIS (a sensible-looking, slim, towheaded woman of about age 34) lies on the right side of a bed. Having turned off the radio, Chris looks at her husband JOE (mid- to late-thirties, fair, blue-eyed, compact build). Chris stifles a yawn and grins. Joe, on the left side, looks back at Chris and smiles.   JOE Good morning.   EXT. A FARMERS’ MARKET – ESTABLISHING MONTAGE A sign reads “Dane County Farmers’ Market, Madison, Wisconsin.” Thousands of customers circulate among hundreds of vendors surrounding the dramatic white marble state capitol building. Joe and TOBY (mid- to late-thirties, small, fair, and blue-eyed) arrange merchandise at the County Dairy stand, which offers many varieties of cheese, yogurt, fresh milk, and cream. The County Dairy logo, which appears prominently on the stand, is a shamrock fashioned of Swiss cheese. At a bread vendor 40 feet from the County Dairy stand, two women complete a purchase.   EXT. BREAD VENDOR – FARMERS’ MARKET – SATURDAY SHERRY (mid-thirties, in expensive-shabby dress, with short ash-blonde hair) pays for two loaves of bread and places them into a cloth shopping bag. SUSAN, in her late 20s, is conservatively dressed.   SHERRY After two years of marriage I finally got your brother to try whole grains.  I mean, no offense to your family, but, holy God, he was so Wonderbread.  It was a sin — so embarrassing to introduce him to my friends.  (You won’t tell him that will you?  I mean, like I said, no offense, but he ate like an absolute Philistine.)  Anyway, enter Golden Harvest Organics and their stand here at the Market.  I was thrilled when he finally tried their five-grain baguette.  And, wouldja’ve guessed it, he’s totally hooked.  I never thought I’d say this, but he won’t eat any sandwich that’s not on 12-grain Farmer’s.   The women stop at a vegetable stand. Sherry examines a squash. SHERRY (CONT’D) So is this really your first trip to Madison?   The women resume walking. Susan gazes up at nearby buildings. SUSAN Um, actually, it is, though I’ve always heard such great things about it.  I mean, there’s so much here, with the campus and the lakes, and the capitol’s just gorgeous.  I’ve heard there’s a lot of art and theatre here too.   SHERRY Yeah, you wouldn’t expect this much culture in the Midwest, but our creative community just thrives.  There’s so much diversity.  It’s so open and inclusive.  Madison really celebrates difference.   SUSAN Didn’t I see Madison was in the top ten for something – I can’t remember what now – Maybe I heard it on Fox News –   Sherry stops and turns to stare at her companion. SHERRY You watch Fox News?   SUSAN Um, yes.   SHERRY Well you’d better keep that to yourself here, or you’re likely to be cussed out.   EXT. A COFFEE STAND – FARMERS’ MARKET – SATURDAY Joe pays for a cup of coffee.  He is adding cream when VIC and BRETT, two coastal-urban-looking young men, walk up to him.   VIC ‘Scuse me, d’you have a stand here?   JOE Yes, I’m here most every week.   VIC Have I talked to you yet?   JOE I don’t believe you have.   Joe walks slowly toward his stand.  The young men accompany him. VIC Cool. Well, I’m Vic Roberts, and this is Brett Wald.  Brett and I are working this summer for the Southern Wisconsin chapter of “Support the Farmers.”  “Support the Farmers” is a nonpartisan non-profit community activist organization that supports and empowers family farmers in asserting their rights to work the land and resisting threats from factory farms.  Is your company local?   JOE Yessir, it’s in Black Earth.   Vic and Brett stare blankly. VIC Black Earth. That’s near…   JOE Just west of here about 20 miles.   VIC OK, I’ll try to remember.  I mix up the towns.  Anyway, I’m here to ask you to buy your produce only from local farmers.  I strongly urge you to do so because of the immediate impact your decisions can have on farmers near…Black Earth.  So – who do you buy from?   JOE A co-op of suppliers from Dane, Sauk, and Iowa Counties.   VIC That’s around here?   JOE Completely.   VIC Cool.  Great.  Thanks, man.  You do a lot of good for your community and the global agri-sphere.   The trio reaches the County Dairy stand.  Vic spots the cheese products for sale and throws up his hands. VIC (CONT’D) Dairy!  Phee-ew – A pox on it all!  Brett, we gotta do something to stop the spread of dairy toxins.  This stuff, all the cheese and whatnot, it kills people, you know.   Joe walks behind the counter, smiles, and laughs. JOE Well, I sincerely hope not.  If cheese kills people then I’m out of business.   Vic suddenly realizes that Joe works at the dairy stand. VIC Well you should be out of business!  All you mucus merchants should be forced to stop poisoning the public.   JOE Really, that’s enough.  I need to get to work.  Good luck with what you’re doing.   VIC Murderer!  You’re a freaking food terrorist, man.  You’ll personally kill more people this week than died on 9/11.  You’re almost as wicked as –   JOE Enough!   Nearby customers and vendors fall silent. JOE (CONT’D) Go, please.  Now!   Vic and Brett back up.  Brett stops short.  Vic bumps into him. VIC We should come back and get this stand.  And any others.  They can’t be allowed to continue polluting the food supply.   Both young men walk double-time away.  Brett turns and yells. BRETT Fascist!   Please click here to read Part 2.

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