By Chance – A script

I’m no director, but sometimes movies flash in my brain and I can’t forget them. They start as any number of things, but this one began as a dream I had a few nights ago. Granted, the script character, Howard, was played by Robert Downey, Jr., and the heroine (Pam) was, well, me, but, hey. Whatev’s.


SCENE 1

We begin by seeing two scenes alternate on screen.

Subscene 1:

It’s a sunny, clear day on a residential street in San Francisco. We see a house, squished between other houses in typical San Francisco fashion, with a dull, red door and concrete steps leading up to it. The neighborhood is unassuming, but clean, and the home is fronted by neatly trimmed hedges. People are casually walking along the sidewalk as we zoom into the door. We get close enough to just see feet—a man’s feet – as he opens the door and exits. He’s wearing dark brown penny loafers and well-pressed brown slacks, but that’s all we see. He closes the door behind him and we overhear him say hello to a passing neighbor. Keys jingle as he turns the lock. He turns and starts down the steps; we hear him say another hello to a neighbor walking their dog, we see his hand briefly as he reaches to pat the dog in passing, but he never stops. His gait is sure, confident, quick. His heels audibly tap on the concrete sidewalk. He whistles for a cab. The vehicle stops and he gets in. The last thing we see are his shoes slipping in the car and the door slamming behind him.

Subscene 2:

Another door—this one is wooden, unpainted; it’s weathered but not uncared for—and a woman’s feet exiting the building. She wears black high heels; they’re stylish but not the stuffy, plain, office pump sort. She’s stepping out onto a brick walkway with tufts of grass poking out between the grout; she’s talking on the phone. She sounds persistent, but not angry.

[Woman]: No, Travis, I told you not Friday. I’m busy. … I don’t care. … Well, you’ll just have to reschedule. … There’s nothing I can do. I’ve had this planned for months. Jenna’s counting on me. … That’s fine. We’ll do it Wednesday. … Well, we’d better meet in my office. I’m sure as hell not going to Bakersfield…

As she talks, we follow her feet along the path to a rustic one-car garage. We hear a button click amidst her conversation and the garage door begins to open, revealing a bright orange 2010-era Camaro with black racing stripes. We hear her open the car door and watch her feet as they slip inside. She starts the engine.

[pan out] We see the garage, the path, and, finally, get a view of the house. It is a small, rustic cottage and sits atop a grassy knoll; the ocean is visible in the background. The front of the house is cascaded in magenta bougainvillea vines.

We hear the Camaro rev and watch as it pulls out of the garage and snakes down a long, paved driveway, eventually fading from sight. The camera pans up and, in the distance, we see the Golden Gate Bridge hovering over the Bay.

SCENE 2

We follow the man’s shoes again. He’s in a building now, walking through a wide corridor. It looks like he’s in a bank—it’s cold, granite, shiny, clean—and his shoes click as he marches across the floor with haste. We’re behind him and see him approaching the glass doors of a conference room filled with suited, important-looking business people seated at a long table. He bursts into the room after a passive knock on the glass—a firm two taps with his knuckles—and interrupts the gathering.

By the look on the business people’s faces, our man was uninvited and unexpected. We’re still behind him and, as he stops and stands at the foot of the big table, the camera pans up his legs and eventually stops with us staring at the back of his head, looking at what he’s seeing. The dozen business people are staring, not speaking, looking at one another in confusion—some of them appear to recognize the guest, but don’t speak; instead, they cover their mouths and whisper to one another. A man stands at the head of the table, laser pointer in hand and a large poster board on display behind him. On the board are strips of fabric, a palette of colors, and a digital rendition of what looks like a well-decorated living room. The man is tall, bald, wears glasses and a displeased frown. He sighs audibly as he shifts his weight and addresses the unannounced guest.

[Man]: Howard, I thought we weren’t meeting until noon?

[Howard]: I couldn’t wait. I’m leaving town.

[B]: Surely it can wait just a couple…

[H]: I couldn’t wait.

The businessman purses his lips as he looks around at the other employees. He straightens his stance, apologetically waving his hands to his audience, and sets his laser pointer on the table.

[B]: I’m sorry. It seems I have an emergency to tend to. If you’ll all excuse me for a moment.

He walks toward Howard, gesturing toward the door, and they both exit.

When they’re out in the hall we finally get a look at our man: He is in his mid-40s, scruffy, dark-haired with an air of boyish bravery and rebellion. He wears an unbuttoned sport coat that matches his slacks, but the outfit is dated. The businessman makes a face at Howard’s clothes.

[B]: God, Howard. You dress like an old man.

[H] (looks down at his clothes): I like my clothes, Jerry. They’re comfortable.

[Jerry]: I miss the days when Megan dressed you. You were miserable, but at least you looked decent.

[H] (frowning): I don’t want to talk about her. (awkward pause) She finalized it. I found out this morning.

[J]: How? Did she call?

[H] (scoffs and shakes his head): She’s a cowardly bitch. Her lawyer hired a courier to deliver the papers this morning to my place.

[J]: That’s bold.

[H]: Hardly.

[J]: So that’s why you’re leaving? Because it’s over? Hell, we should go out for drinks.

[H]: Only partly. But, yes. Later.

[J]: The other part?

[H]: I’m going south to pick up Joe and bring her here. My flight leaves in two hours.

[J]: Here. You’re bringing her here.

[H] (nods)

[J]: Really? Can you do that? Did Megan…

[H] (nods)

[J] (after a pause): She is a cowardly bitch.

[H] (throws up his hands, exasperated)

[J]: Well, alright, buddy. I guess I’ll see you when you get back?

[H]: That’s the thing…

[J]: Oh, God. Please tell me you’re coming back.

[H]: Yes, yes, I’m coming back. Calm down. But I need you to fix up my house.

[J]: For Joe.

[H] (nods)

[J]: Okay… How old is she now?

[H]: Twelve.

[J] (whistles, then silent as he thinks): I can put Rhonda on it. She loves kids. What’s our timeline?

[H]: Wednesday afternoon. Late afternoon, probably. I don’t know.

[J] (nods): Colors? Preferences?

[H]: God, I didn’t know this was going to be an interrogation. (pauses; Jerry looks at him, irritated) Fine. Um, she likes horses, books, and teddy bears.

[J] (annoyed): That’s every other twelve-year-old girl in America. C’mon, Howard, this is your daughter. You can’t get a little more specific?

[H] (thinks, then snaps his fingers, pointing): She has a black guinea pig named Dozer and she wants to be a truck driver when she grows up.

[J]: A truck driver.

[H] (shrugs)

[J] Okay… I’ll put Rhonda on it.

[H] (gives a double thumbs up as he begins backing away, then turns to walk; several steps into it he spins around, shouting at Jerry): What’s this going to cost me?

[J]: A lot. If you blew this deal I was in the middle of, I’ll bill you. Or sue you.

[H] (laughs): I’ll send you a check.

We’re outside, watching as Howard exits the building and turns right down the street. He walks out of view as the camera pans up, revealing a multiple-story office building and the business sign of a luxury home interior design firm.

SCENE 3

We watch the orange Camaro pull into a parking garage. The engine shuts off and the driver steps out. We watch her feet again as she walks through the garage to a door; we follow her through it into a restaurant.

The restaurant is bright, airy, unassuming but classy. Patrons are well-dressed and eat off of fine china and drink from crystal; tables are draped in white cloths and topped with bottles of iced champagne; the décor screams ‘70s-era fine dining. We hear a few waiters greet our lady as she passes by.

“Good morning, Pamela.”

“Hi, Pam.”

“Miss Heather…”

We follow her into a back room—a private smoking lounge furnished in plush, retro cigar chairs and a propane burning fireplace—and as she walks the camera pans upward, stopping at the back of her head. She’s a long-haired brunette wearing crisp, ironed clothes: a pencil skirt and white, loose-fitting blouse. Her hair is untied and unadorned and cascades over her shoulders and down her back; the employees and patrons smile at her as she passes. We hear her greet them. It’s obvious she is well-liked.

We follow Pam through the lounge to an office where a male secretary anxiously waits. This is Travis. He is young, clean cut, tall, and a tad on the meek side; he wears a striped Oxford shirt and black, horn-rimmed glasses. He tries being bold and opens his mouth to speak, but doesn’t say anything; its clear Pamela Heather intimidates him. He clutches a notepad as she approaches him, passes him without stopping (but while saying a hello), then proceeds to open one final door leading to her private office.

[Travis]: I was able to reschedule for Wednesday.

We finally see Pamela’s face as she sits down—sloppily falls into–her chair. She is in her mid-30s; she’s pretty, but not overtly beautiful. She wears minimal makeup, no jewelry, and her skin is tanned. She looks like a surfer. She smiles languidly at Travis as she leans forward on the blotter calendar covering the wide walnut desk. Behind her we see nothing but built-in bookshelves overfilled with books and a couple of windows.

[Pamela]: I knew you could do it, Travis.

[T] (sighing): It wasn’t easy. I had to offer Mr. Holt two cases of ’98 before he’d calm down.

[P] (laughing): Bah. A small price to pay for keeping a promise to a friend. (She points a finger at him) Remember that.

[T] (nods, jittery): And Ruth said another of the servers quit this morning. That makes two in two weeks.

[P]: Damn. Who this time?

[T]: Eric.

[P]: Really? (then whispers, looking away) I liked Eric.

[T]: Apparently it wasn’t mutual.

[P] (shrugs): This is business. He wasn’t here to make friends, and neither am I.

[T]: Maybe you should consider it.

[P] (scowls)

[T]: I’m just saying it’s pretty obvious to everyone that you don’t love this place.

[P] (leans back in her chair, playing with a pencil on her desk and gazing out a window): No, but I loved my parents, and they loved this place.

[T]: It’s not the same.

[P] (shrugs)

[T]: You know, Miss Heather…

[P] (rolls her eyes, sits up and looks at Travis): Travis, just call me Pam. Geez, five years you’ve been working here and you think you’d get it right. I swear you get too formal when you’re nervous. Just spit it out.

[T] (even more jittery than he was before, clears his throat): Your parents, sure they loved this place, but it was their dream. It isn’t yours. Surely they’d rather have you happy than be stuck here. You hate it here.

[P] (looking back out the window): This is my life.

[T]: It doesn’t have to be.

Silence ensues as Pam continues to look out the window. Travis stands there, awkwardly, waiting, fidgeting.

[T]: You know he’s going to offer again when he gets here.

[P]: What?

[T]: Mr. Holt. You know he’ll offer again.

[P]: Hm.

[T]: Are you even going to consider it this time?

[P]: We’ll see. (pause)

[T]: I see.

[P] (cheers up, looks over at Travis): Are you wanting to quit, too, Travis?

[T] (smiles shyly): No. I just want to see you happy for once.

[P]: I am happy.

[T]: You shouldn’t lie. My grandmother used to say lies make us older, that they punish us by taking away our youth.

[P]: She sounds like a smart lady.

[T]: She was.

[P]: Hm. (pause; she thinks, again looking out the window) I’ll consider it.

Travis nods and walks away still clutching his notepad. He closes Pam’s office door behind him ; we stay in the room. Pam starts shuffling through paperwork then, flustered, tosses a pen atop a pile, stands up and walks to a window.

SCENE 4

[Joe]: Daddy!

We’re inside LAX at baggage claim. A young girl with a high-set ponytail runs across the floor and into Howard’s arms. He scoops her up, hugs her, and sets her back down. This is Josephine (Joe). She is spindly, tan, athletic. She has long, dark hair and wears tan cargo pants and a bright pink t-shirt; a neon green Monsters, Inc backpack is strapped to her.

[Howard]: Hey, pumpkin! I missed you.

[J]: I missed you too.

They continue to small talk as Joe’s mother approaches rolling a small, lavender, hardcase suitcase behind her. She is a busty, stern-looking woman; she grins cynically at Howard. He finally notices her and stands upright, his daughter still clutching at his side. Howard doesn’t look pleased to see her.

[Howard]: Megan.

[Megan]: Howard.

[H]: Thanks for bringing her on such short notice.

[M]: I expected little else when you got the notice this morning. (Howard winces) But don’t thank me yet. I doubt you’ll enjoy full-time fatherhood. It’s harder than you think. However, Donald advised me that it would be in Joe’s best interest to live with her father, since you are more financially capable of taking care of her.

[H](scowling): That has little to do with anything. I’ve always sent money. (He turns to Joe) Sweetheart, will you go grab my luggage from the roundabout thingy? I think I just saw it come down. It’s the little black one with the bright blue ribbon.(Joe nods and runs off; Howard turns back to Megan) And since when does your lawyer decide what happens in our family? Oh, right, since you slept with him.

[M] (shrugs): Still, he has valid points.

[H]: I’m sure he does.

[M]: Raising her will be harder than you think, Howard. You can’t just toss money at her like a servant. She needs attention. She needs love…

[H]: I told you I was sorry. But I quit the business a long time ago, remember? For you. I did it for you and then you slept around with… (sees Joe coming back, his luggage rolling behind her)

[M](before Joe reaches them): Believe what you like. I’m sure my daughter will be back with me within a month. (She turns to her daughter, feigns a smile) All set? Are you sure this is what you want, to live in San Francisco with your father?

[J](frowning): Yes.

[M]: Okay. (She reaches for a hug but Joe is reluctant and looks up to her dad; Howard hesitates, but encourages her; Joe rolls her eyes and hugs her mother. Megan pulls away and faces her daughter.) You call anytime you want, okay? You know the number.

[J]: Of course I know the number…

[M]: No need for sass. (huffs; faces Howard) She gets that from you.

[H]: Don’t start.

[M]: I’ll expect updates.

[H]: Every week, just like the papers said.

Megan nods, satisfied, then waves at Joe as she walks away, leaving the lavender suitcase behind. We watch her walk away and exit the building; she doesn’t look back. Howard sighs, then pats Joe on the shoulder.

[H]: C’mon, kiddo. We’ve got a rental to pick up.

[J](smiling): A rental? We’re driving to San Francisco? What did we get?

[H]: Something I’m sure you’ll like.

SCENE 5:

Howard and Joe are standing in a parking lot, their suitcases by their sides. Joe is making strange faces, as if she can’t decide on something. Howard’s brows are lifted as he eyes his daughter.

[H]: You don’t like it.

[J]: Well…

We see what they’re seeing: It’s a bright yellow Corvette.

[H]: Really?

[J]: It’s too… flashy.

[H]: I thought it would be fun.

[J]: Isn’t this what old men drive to make themselves feel better?

[H](sighing and crossing his arms over his chest): What would you rather have?

[J](looks around the parking lot and points, excitedly): That one!

[H](arms fall, flabbergasted): Really? That? (Joe nods; Howard shakes his head) Alright…

We see Howard and Joe loading their bags into a powder blue H2 Hummer. They get into the car and close the doors. Howard looks confused and slightly embarrassed; Joe is glowing. He throws a mapbook into his daughter’s lap.

[H]: You’re navigator, Navigator. Where to?

[J](unfolds the map and traces her finger along it, concentrating): Interstate 5, north.

Howard nods once, starts the engine, and pulls out of the garage.

(last updated October 14, 2015)


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