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TWO EXCERPTS FROM
Copyright © 1997, by Stephen Bittrich.
Registered with the Writer's Guild of America, East (October, 2000)
PLEASE NOTE: Do not use without permission.
Revised Draft OCT/2000
Top 30 Finalist in Project Greenlight 1, 2000.
459 Columbus Avenue, #240
New York, NY 10024
Cell: (646) 245-4507
FIRST EXCERPT - PAGES 1 - 13 OF THE SCREENPLAY
"DESERT RITES" BY STEPHEN BITTRICH FADE IN: ROLL BEGINNING CREDITS ON DARK SCREEN EXT. NEAR FORT APACHE INDIAN RESERVATION, ARIZONA - NIGHT We move with a predatory gait through the desert at the level of a coyote's eyes. It is night. A crescent moon. In the distance, the faint flicker of a fire. We HUFF and GROWL almost inaudibly as we move. Our coyote eyes get closer and closer to the fire. JOHN LANCASTER, a boy of fifteen, kneels before the fire. He wavers unsteadily to and fro, like he might just tip into the flames at any moment. Coyote SNARLS. We just may eat this boy. Our coyote eyes travel around the fire in an arc always keeping the fire between us and the boy. The boy, though still woozy, now grows more conscious of his surroundings. He hears a GROWL. He feels our eyes upon him. END CREDITS Now we see the boy's POV looking into the fire and beyond it. Yes, there is a form in the darkness--on all fours. It appears to be coyote. The creature comes closer to the boy-- on the fringe of shadow. JOHN (whispering) Wah-nah-tah... The boy's vision blurs as the creature breaks the shadow. Through the distorted heat waves of the fire, COYOTE gradually becomes more distinct, but before he can completely form, he changes into a man, rising up on two legs. This is BILLY RAY. His rapacious gaze pierces the flickering, popping air--shooting right through the boy. BILLY RAY is a tall, energetic man of about thirty-seven years. He claims his great-great-grandfather was a Mandan Indian, but he doesn't seem to have many traces of that blood line evident in his physical appearance. He does have long, darkish hair. Billy Ray is like a coyote that's been caught in a few traps in his life, but somehow has managed to tear himself loose. He is missing the pinky on his right hand, and he limps slightly on his left side. He has a coyote tattoo on his left shoulder. We see John again as he tries to focus on Billy Ray. Again from John's POV, as quickly as he came, Billy Ray has vanished, and a coyote's flank and tail can be seen scurrying into the shadows. John again--nonplussed--not sure if he witnessed man or beast. Suddenly, with the speed of a striking predator, Billy Ray is behind John, crouching, his lips to John's ear-- BILLY RAY (whispering) He's watching. JOHN (gazing past the fire, glassy- eyed) Wah-nah-tah... BILLY RAY (in John's other ear) He doesn't think you're ready yet. JOHN I'm r-r-ready. BILLY RAY He thinks you're afraid. JOHN (very much afraid) I'm n-n-not. Billy Ray circles the fire, traveling on all fours, speaking as he moves-- BILLY RAY A young brave must go through the secret rites of the mystery lodge to become a man. (beat) Are you ready to offer up your flesh to the Great Spirit? JOHN Yes. BILLY RAY (continuing around the fire back to John) Wah-nah-tah, Old Man Coyote is watching you. (behind John, in his ear again) First we'll cut right here-- (indicating John's inner thigh just above the knee) --to attach a buffalo skull-- (indicating his shoulder) --cut you here to attach your shield-- (indicating his arms, above the elbows) --and here will hang your bow and quiver. Billy Ray draws a huge, jagged knife and uses it as a pointer. BILLY RAY (CONT'D) (indicating John's chest) Right here the greatest cut of all. Pass leather straps through--to hang you from the ceiling. (beat) Sure you're ready for the rites? JOHN (gulping) Y-y-yes. Billy Ray, still behind John, sheathes his knife. He tightly clutches the material of John's shirt at the chest and lifts John to his feet as he speaks. BILLY RAY (as they slowly turn in a circle) I put myself in your hands, Great Spirit. I feel you lift me up, and I feel no pain. Great Spirit, I trust my life to your keeping. John seems to actually feel the pain of hanging by his flesh. His body flinches and tightens. In his hand we see a leather medicine bag which he clutches, but eventually, as the pain becomes too great, the bag drops from his hand into the sand. Billy Ray lets go, and John crumples to the ground. Billy Ray crouches down close to John. From John's blurry POV, we see Billy Ray's upper arm. The tattoo of a howling coyote comes into focus. The tattoo seems to speak-- BILLY RAY (CONT'D) (speaking as coyote) I require more. I require a sacrifice. Billy Ray looks up to the heavens. BILLY RAY (CONT'D) (speaking as a leader of the rites) Maho peneta, Great Spirit, thank you for your protection. Please accept my sacrifice. Please take that which I do not need as a Mandan warrior--the finger which I do not need to hold a bow. John's eyes become wide with fear as he looks at Billy Ray. Billy Ray displays his hand with the missing little finger. BILLY RAY (CONT'D) (smiling) Wanna join the club? Suddenly, the knife comes down with an WHOOSH sticking into the sand between John's fingers. BILLY RAY (CONT'D) (to the heavens; as a recitation) Red Coyote is my name. Wah-nah-tah-toh- pee-kah in the language of my ancestors. For three days and three nights I fasted in a desert such as this. Then Wah-nah- tah, Old Man Coyote, the trickster, the clever one, appeared to me in a vision and told me my name... John sits up slightly. Billy Ray is across the fire again. Coyote is next to him. They seem to commingle. They speak Billy Ray's warrior name in unison-- BILLY RAY/COYOTE ...Wah-nah-tah-toh-pee-kah. John rises to sit up with some difficulty. Billy Ray is again beside him. BILLY RAY I thank you, Old Man Coyote. (beat) Please watch over this young brave on his journey. He has fasted for two days, he has gone without sleep in preparation for the rites. We have taken the dream cactus, the producer of visions, so we may see more clearly our destiny. Guide us on our journey. Help us to find his warrior name. Help us find good fortune in the desert as we take that which is there for the taking--that which is rightfully ours. (reciting and leading John on) Wah-nah-tah-- JOHN W-W-Wah-nah-tah-- BILLY RAY Wah-nah-tah-toh-pee-kah... JOHN Wah-nah-tah-toh-pee-kah! Our coyote eyes see John and Billy Ray hop and dance around the fire--reciting "Wah-nah-tah! Wah-nah-tah! Wah-nah-tah- toh-pee-kah!" John suddenly feels pain in his leg. He looks down to see the flames licking at his leg. He looks across the fire at Billy Ray who begins to laugh. The fire engulfs John, and Billy Ray, now transformed into Coyote, just laughs and howls at the moon. EXT. THE SAME - MORNING John wakes with a start from his "dream." He looks down at his leg. The cuff of his pants is slightly singed, but he certainly has not been consumed by fire. He looks around. He's been sleeping on a sleeping bag--well, sort of--it's in a big knot beside him. Billy Ray is dead to the world near the smoldering ashes of the campfire. He's sprawled in the sand, an army blanket twisted around his body. John looks around some more. He seems to be seeking someone else out. John is a handsome, wide-eyed kid of fifteen who grew up in a rich and hermetically sealed environment in Dallas, Texas. "Lost" is a word that might best describe him, and that adjective can be read on his face. He stutters when he gets nervous or intimidated. Having basically grown up in his room, lost in books, toys, and computers, he is emotionally immature, stunted to a degree. His schooling at a strict, private school added knowledge, but not acceptance or maturity to his overall development. John wanders over to an old Chevy convertible parked near the campsite. He looks inside. Nobody there. He looks out on the horizon. A short distance away, facing the rising sun, he can make out a person sitting on the ground--legs folded Indian-style. EXT. ABOUT FORTY YARDS FROM THE CAMPSITE - MORNING The person in the distance, LULAN, is an alluring Asian woman of about thirty-five years. She imbibes the morning sun. One look into her eyes will show that she commands an arcane understanding of the world and the people on it. John approaches, and Lulan speaks without turning. LULAN You're a man now. JOHN I was supposed to stay up all night, but I think I fell asleep. CLOSE UP of John's POV, the sexy nape of Lulan's neck. LULAN I won't tell. What are you doing? JOHN Nothing. LULAN Mmmmhhhmmm. Come. Sit. John sits by her, and they watch the day unfold. INT. A DIVY BAR IN DALLAS - DAY MR. GREENE, a slick Texas gentleman in his fifties, holds up a polaroid of Billy Ray (making a bizarre face) to show the BARTENDER. Mr. Greene conveys that easy, southern civility, but he is utterly ruthless underneath the genteel facade. BARTENDER (a little annoyed) Told you. Don't know him. MR. GREENE So you said. So you said. It's just that my associate and I were just in his apartment, and he has enough of yer matchbooks lying around to fuel a small bonfire. Mr. Greene laughs. BARTENDER (a bit more quietly) Don't know him. MR. GREENE (over his shoulder) Says he dudn't know 'em. A DARKLY CLAD FIGURE sits at table in the shadows. The Bartender squints and tries to make out the features of the Darkly Clad Figure. BARTENDER Look, I don't want no trouble. MR. GREENE Amigo. Who wants trouble? Trouble sucks. All we need's a little infomation, and my associate and I will be on our way. BARTENDER Wish I could help you. MR. GREENE (over his shoulder) Says he can't help us. Again the Bartender squints to make out the enforcer or "associate." The Darkly Clad Figure pointedly looks up to eye the Bartender, and to reveal MR. WANG, a taut and ruthless Asian man in his early thirties. He stands up as the chair he was sitting in makes a loud SCOOTING NOISE across the floor. The Bartender cracks a side-ways smile. BARTENDER If you'll 'scuse me--gotta lotta customers-- He takes out a small club and SMACKS it down on the bar--not overtly menacingly, but enough to make a point. Mr. Greene looks down the bar. No one else is in the place, except a DRUNK GUY and a LARGE GUTTED GUY SWEEPING THE FLOOR. The Large Gutted Guy stops his sweeping momentarily to lend support to the Bartender. But before the Bartender can blink, the hand of Mr. Wang comes down with a resounding CLAP on top of the club, twists it deftly out of his hand, and whacks him in the face with his own weapon. He crumples to the floor behind the bar. The Large Gutted Guy makes a charge for the bar thrusting the broom handle forward like a lance. Mr. Greene lets Mr. Wang do the work. With impressive fluidity he side-steps the broom and actually grabs the tip jerking it forward, so the Large Gutted Guy lurches forward off balance and crashes into the bar. He gives him a solid whack with the club for good measure. He then leaps over the bar and starts whacking away at the Bartender who is lying on the other side. MR. GREENE Easy! Easy on the face. I want his mouth working. Break some ribs or something. Mr. Wang gives him another whack. BARTENDER Vegas! Said he's going to Vegas! Some-- some kinda scam--ta get rich off the casinos. EXT. OUTSIDE THE DIVY BAR - DAY As they step out of the bar, Mr. Wang adjusts himself slightly, fixing the lapel of his jacket. Mr. Greene snaps out a monogrammed hanky and gestures with it to Mr. Wang's face. Wang spies his reflection in his partner's sunglasses, accepts the handkerchief, and wipes a small fleck of blood from his cheek. He hands the handkerchief back. INT. INSIDE THE DIVY BAR - DAY Behind the bar the Bartender lies in a bloody, tangled mess. His arm moves slightly, the only indication one might have that he still lives. EXT. ON THE DESERT ROAD - DAY Billy Ray drives the Chevy with John riding shotgun--Lulan in the back seat. John is pensive and finally gets up the nerve to ask Billy Ray a question that's been bothering him. JOHN Y-You say I went through the rites. Y- You say I'm a m-m-man, but what about everybody else? They're not gonna accept me, they're not gonna let me be an I-I- Indian. BILLY RAY Are you kidding, kid? White boys used to become Indians all the time. Take the Apaches. They used to capture white boys when they went out on raids. Oh yeah. They'd see a fat-ass little German kid on some farm, and they'd ride right in and snatch him up. They'd put those kids through the most rigorous tests and tortures imaginable, but if they made it through without dyin', in time, they were granted all the privileges of being an Apache warrior. It ain't skin, my friend. It's deeds. We ain't like the resta the world. JOHN (with great difficulty) Are you really a M-M-M-M-Mandan Indian? BILLY RAY Say what? JOHN No, I was just w-wondering-- Billy Ray swerves the car over to the side of the deserted road in a hurry. BILLY RAY Didn't I say I was? JOHN Yes, you--you just don't l-look like one. BILLY RAY John...whew. You just threw me for a loop. You mean to say you came all this way--on this quest through the desert-- ran away from home--went through the rites, and you still ain't sure who yer with? JOHN No, I believe it. BILLY RAY Well, obviously you got some doubts. (beat) Tell you what. Look in the glove compartment. John opens the glove compartment. There is a gun--a Western six shooter--on top of some papers. John looks at Billy Ray. BILLY RAY Never mind that. That's for huntin'. There's a pink piece of paper in there. John rummages around and finds a pink paper. He opens the worn document and reads-- JOHN Bureau of Indian Affairs... Lulan looks out on the desert. She's bothered and not in the spirit of the moment. BILLY RAY That's right. Says right there I'm a genuine Indian--member of the Mandan tribe. Just cuz I don't have long black hair and skin like an alligator. Billy Ray pulls back out on the open road. BILLY RAY (CONT'D) See, the Mandans were thought to be partly descended from Welsh explorers from before Columbus. They were mixed bloods for many, many generations even before the other white men "discovered" them. They had every kind of skin, hair, and eye color you could think of. They even had young braves just barely twenty with stark grey hair and blue eyes. The French call them cheveux gris, the greyhairs. I had a brother with grey hair. I ever tell you that? JOHN Y-Yes. LULAN When's the next stop? BILLY RAY We're in the desert, baby. I can pull over right here if you gotta go. John turns to face her. JOHN There's something in twenty miles. I saw a s-sign. Lulan smiles sweetly at John. He looks down bashfully. BILLY RAY Hey, kid, I ever tell you about my great- great-grandfather, San-ja-ka-ko-kah, Deceiving Wolf? JOHN Yes. We pull up from the car and watch it drive down the road. EXT. ON THE SAME ROAD, BUT FURTHER FROM LAS VEGAS - DAY Mr. Wang chauffeurs Mr. Greene in a big black Cadillac. They are stone-faced. Then Mr. Greene abruptly SPEAKS IN MANDARIN. There are subtitles. Greene's Chinese has a slight southern drawl-- MR. GREENE (in Mandarin) Want some jerky? [subtitle: "Want some jerky?"] MR. WANG (in Mandarin) Gets in my teeth. [subtitle: "Gets in my teeth."] Mr. Wang looks out on the desert. He sees a coyote along the road. EXT. AT A FILLING STATION/REST STOP ALONG THE HIGHWAY - DAY John comes out of the bathroom and looks across the dusty parking lot. Billy Ray and Lulan are have a very intense conversation. There is a discernible physical threat in Billy Ray's body language. Lulan turns away from him, and he grabs her hard and pushes her against the car. With his back still to John, he whispers something intensely in her ear. John starts to walk toward them. Lulan catches John's eye and mouths something to Billy Ray. Billy Ray's whole body relaxes, and he releases Lulan's arm. He turns without missing a beat and says to John-- BILLY RAY Hey kid, what's the funk level on the facilities? JOHN Oh, uh, high--highly funky. BILLY RAY Ain't that a bitch? Billy Ray walks off toward the bathroom. John looks after him with a bit of concern. Lulan gathers herself and gets into the back seat. She is upset but does not make a show of it for John. John shuffles his feet for a moment, then pulls a deck of cards out from his pocket. He leans into the car. JOHN Hey Lulan, p-p-pick a card. LULAN This a trick? JOHN Just pick a card. She picks a card. [Please note the way this trick is accomplished: in a deck of cards where the picture on the back goes one direction, one can arrange all of the cards to face the same way. When the other person picks out a card, the magician turns the deck around so that when the card is stuck back in, it will be the only one with the picture upside down. Therefore, from the back, the magician can very easily scan through the cards and determine which was the card picked.] JOHN (CONT'D) Now, memorize it and put it back. She puts the card back. John holds the cards up to his face- -the backs facing him--and fans them out. JOHN (CONT'D) Ah, I'm getting a vision. I'm getting a sense of your card. It's coming to me. It's boring its way into my brain-- (pulling out a card) Is this your card? LULAN No. JOHN Liar! LULAN Okay, it is. Good trick. How'd you do it? JOHN (theatrically) Magic! LULAN Uh huh. JOHN Magic is for real. Don't you believe that? LULAN Yeah, sure, I believe it. JOHN H-How do you do it--the th-things you do? LULAN What things? JOHN You're a fortune teller, right? LULAN Sometimes. JOHN And how do you do it? How do you tell fortunes? Read minds? It's a trick, right?
THE SCENE CONTINUES...END OF FIRST EXCERPT.
SECOND EXCERPT - AROUND PAGE 40 OF THE SCREENPLAY. INT. - THE CASINO GIFT SHOP - NIGHT We see an arrowhead in a glass case. There is a SNOOTY CLERK behind the counter. Billy Ray points to the arrowhead, and the Snooty Clerk searches for a key to the case. Rising Moon comes up behind Billy Ray. She has a cowboy hat on her head that she's trying on. A Native American in her early twenties, Rising Moon is good at heart and yearning for a better life, but because of a lack of self-esteem and a very underprivileged childhood, she is caught in a downward spiral. RISING MOON So who is this kid? BILLY RAY A friend. (to the Clerk) That one. RISING MOON He's a mark? BILLY RAY I'm outta that game. RISING MOON (skeptical) Right. BILLY RAY He's a friend. A young protege, if you will. I'm instructing him in the mysteries of life. RISING MOON And he wants to make it with an Indian Princess. BILLY RAY Baby, it's a piece of cake. You say "How," and he'll cream his pants. The Snooty Clerk looks shocked. Billy Ray smiles at her charmingly. She defrosts slightly. Billy Ray gives her a hundred dollar bill. RISING MOON Where'd you get him? BILLY RAY I really don't wanna go through the whole history. RISING MOON Yeah, well, see you later. She turns to leave. Billy Ray grabs her and moves out of earshot of the Snooty Clerk. BILLY RAY Okay, okay. No big deal. I did some odd jobs for his parents, fixed their car, their pool pump. Kid took a liking to me. He's a special kid: shy, stutters a little, grew up in his room with his computer. RISING MOON Is he like retarded? BILLY RAY No, he's not retarded! He's a red- blooded American kid. He jest hasn't experienced a lot. I'm tryin' ta help him out. RISING MOON What a angel. This is obviously not the whole story. Where are his parents? BILLY RAY His parents are at home. So we got a deal? RISING MOON Tomorrow morning? Why morning? God. BILLY RAY You don't gotta fuck him in the morning. Just entertain him. Keep him out of my hair and then see what happens. (beat) We're staying in a suite. RISING MOON Can I have the key to the refrigerator? BILLY RAY If a five dollar Snickers bar is what it takes to make you happy... RISING MOON So we said four hundred? BILLY RAY Damn, ain't inflation a bitch? Four Ben Franklins pop up in Billy Ray's hand with the dexterity of a Vegas magician. He grins widely. Billy Ray enjoys being a big spender, he just so rarely gets to do it. Rising Moon stares at his missing pinky. RISING MOON That thing ain't grown out yet? She takes the money. SNOOTY CLERK Sir? The Snooty Clerk hands him a plastic bag. INT. BILLY RAY'S PART OF THE SUITE - NIGHT From above, we see John and Lulan lying on the bed. John is still shirtless. JOHN Seems like a funny place for a mirror. She laughs. He looks into her eyes and she into his as he gets up his courage...
AND THE SCENE CONTINUES...END OF EXCERPTS FOR DESERT RITES. E-mail any questions or comments to: SBittrich@aol.com