Surprise Me

This 12 page screenplay was written for NYC Midnight’s Screenwriting Challenge.

“Surprise Me” made it to the 2nd round!

Here are the rules, via the NYC Midnight site:

There are 3 rounds of competition. In the 1st Round (June 14-22), writers are placed randomly in heats and are assigned a genre, subject, and character assignment (see examples of past assignments here). Writers have 8 days to write an original short screenplay no longer than 12 pages. The judges choose a top 5 in each heat to advance to the 2nd Round (July 25-28) where writers receive new assignments, only this time they have just 3 days to write an 8 page (maximum) short screenplay. Judges choose a top 25 from the 2nd Round to advance to the 3rd and final round of the competition where writers are challenged to write a 5 page (maximum) screenplay in just 24 hours (August 23-24). A panel of judges review the final round stories and overall winners are selected!”

The Genre for this heat was Comedy. The subject was A spaceship. The character was A journalist

SURPRISE ME

INT.  the Good Karma Vegan cafe, Stockholm, Sweden

Early morning, breakfast. The cafe is crowded with customers. BILL, a balding, forty-something Englishman is wearing a parka over his pinstriped suit. He’s sitting at a table, turning his face from side to side, unnerved by everything he sees.

CRAIG, American surfer/cameraman, twenty-something and tattooed, is waiting for his order, listening to music on his iPod. He hands money to the girl behind the counter, then juggles two large cups, a plate with a brownie and a plate with a plain sweet potato. Craig puts the sweet potato down, in front of Bill

BILL
(leaps from his chair)
Auggh!

CRAIG
(pops the earbuds out)
What?

Bill
The potato!

CRAIG
I know, it’s weird to have sweet potato for breakfast, but it’s what you asked for.

BILL
You … you already gave it to me. The same potato, placed on the same exact spot on the table. You’ve done this more times than I can count!

CRAIG
(shakes his head)
Not that again. You need to take your meds, man. You’re delusional. (drinks his coffee) Hey, did you hear me talking Swedish with that hottie over there? I learned it from Grandma Olafson. Uff da!

BILL
Uff what?

Craig doesn’t answer, so Bill looks up. The scene is the same as it was at the very beginning. Craig puts the potato down in front of Bill in the exact same place. Bill screams again.

CRAIG
(pops the earbuds out)
What?

BILL
(sighs, with a shaking hand, reaches for his glass)
Never mind.

CRAIG
Hey, did you hear me talking Swedish …

BILL
Yes. Uff da.

CRAIG
I was just going to say that. How…?

BILL
That’s what I’m trying to tell you! I’ve been living and reliving the same ten minutes of my life, for what seems like a year. (He takes a bite of the sweet potato) I … I  believe I’m losing my mind.

Did you ever see the movie Groundhog Day? (Craig nods)

That’s what I’m experiencing. I’m caught in a time loop.

CRAIG
Yeah, right. So, what happens next?

BILL
You’ll take a bite of your brownie, then, three seconds afterwards, Melissa will call. She’ll be angry.

CRAIG
I could have told you that. Uh, you know, the angry part…

Bill counts down the seconds. They stare at each other expectantly. At the count of three Bill’s phone rings.

BILL
Melissa! Ha! I told you.

CRAIG
But I didn’t eat my brownie.

MELISSA
Hello, Bill. Your cameraman tells me that you want out of this assignment because you’re caught in a time loop. Really. Why don’t you just say the dog ate your homework?

BILL
(to Craig) Snitch. (to Melissa) Craig’s not a cameraman, he’s a surfer dude. A professional would have brought a real camera.

CRAIG
Hey! I came equipped. (He pulls a pile of small plastic cameras out of his ragged backpack.) I’ve got, like, five GoPros!

Bill ignores him, turns away and whispers into the phone. Craig gives him the finger behind his back.

BILL
Melissa, luv, I can’t do this. Just being here is giving me panic attacks. This spaceship was designed by a lunatic. He is now deceased after a catastrophic test flight in a similar prototype. His daughter, Dr. Medina, is an inexperienced pilot. She can’t even assemble a decent business plan, much less a spaceship.

MELISSA
You’re overreacting.

BILL
I don’t want to die! This is not unreasonable.

MELISSA
But the powers that be at Xtreme News Online want you to go up in Xena’s ship. They think it could, literally, be the story of the century.

BILL
Please stop insisting that I die for the glory of Xtreme News. And please stop misusing literally! (tries to calm down) We had a nice little, local newspaper. Why did you decide to sell it to these adrenaline junkies?

MELISSA
We had a nice little paper that no one read. I didn’t want our staff to lose their jobs.

BILL
If we had followed my 10 year plan…

MELISSA
We’d all be dumpster diving.

BILL
Be that as it may, I refuse to go. Send your new boy toy to do it.

MELISSA
My ‘boy toy’ is in the Congo, interviewing arms dealers. Do you want to switch places with him?

BILL
I’d rather not. All right, I am willing to interview Dr. Medina. What angle do you want me take?

MELISSA
Surprise me.

BILL
We’ve been working together for twenty years. I can’t surprise you.

MELISSA
I know.

She hangs up. Bill looks up and realizes that he’s back in the time loop. Craig puts the potato on the table.

BILL
Damn it!

CRAIG
What?

BILL
In the movie Groundhog Day … how long was Bill Murray stuck in his time loop?

CRAIG
Umm… I think it took him more than a year to get out of it. He couldn’t leave until he convinced Andie McDowell to love him.

BILL
(sighs)
I will be here forever.

Craig takes a bite of his brownie. Bill’s phone rings.

BILL
I’d rather die than take this call again.

CRAIG
So, you’re ready to go?

Ext. MEDINA LABS    Afternoon

The laboratory is consists of a hangar and an icy runway under grey skies at the edge of the Baltic Sea. The spaceship is tied down in front of the hangar. It’s similar to SpaceShipOne, a suborbital air-launched spaceplane. There’s a fire burning near the shore. Beside the fire is a folded blanket, a pair of glasses, three cups and a bottle of brown liquid. Craig and Bill, both wearing parkas and huge mittens, stand near the fire, waiting to meet XENA MEDINA.

BILL
(shivering)
Where is she?

CRAIG
Dunno. Hey, just in case you have doubts about my credentials, take a look at the clip I filmed of Hamilton catching epic swells off West Oz. Sick shit, man!

BILL
Sick shit. Is that a positive or negative thing?

CRAIG
(snorts)
What do you know about anything? You’ve been in stuck on Melissa for, like, 20 years, and all those years you’ve been totally friendzoned.

BILL
How did you know that?

CRAIG
I have eyes. Everyone in the office knows.

A chubby, nail-polished hand emerges from the frigid water, clawing at the ice. Craig’s back is to the water and he doesn’t see the hand. Bill screams.

CRAIG
What? You deja vu-ing again?

He points to the hand gripping the ice. Xena’s blonde head emerges from the water. She’s bleary-eyed but happy.

XENA
(smiles broadly)
Eight minutes! I held my breath underwater for eight minutes. A new record!

CRAIG
Awesome! (he takes his cell phone from his belt, begins to film, then holds a hand out. She shakes it.) Craig Olafson, glad to meet you.

XENA
(turns to Bill)
And you must be Bill Boonton, the intrepid reporter from Xtreme Online.

Bill pulls off a mitten, reaches to shake her hand than gasps from the cold. He puts his hand back in his mitten and rubs it.

BILL
Dr. Medina, I’m sorry to tell you that I’m as far from intrepid as it gets. I won’t be going up in your spaceship.

Xena puts on her glasses. They fog up, she wipes them off, puts them back on. They fog up again.

XENA
I wasn’t going to take you up into space or anything.  We were just going for a hop around the pattern.

BILL
No.

XENA
(shrugs)
Whatever.

She pulls herself up onto the ice, flopping on her belly like a fish. She’s plump and very red-skinned from the cold, almost as red-blue as her berry-colored one-piece swimsuit. Frost is collecting in her hair.

BILL
You could not possibly have been in that water all this time. No human being can stay in sub-zero water for that length of time. It’s impossible.

XENA
(laughs)
But I just did it. You saw me.

BILL
It’s impossible.

XENA
(frowns as she rubs her hair dry)
Is he always such a buzzkill?

BILL and CRAIG
(at the same time)
Yes.

XENA
(shrugs and turns away from them, stretching)
Yoga helps me adapt to subzero temperatures. It’s all about the breathing. (She bends down, grabs the bottle and pours some vodka into the cups.) This is my father’s secret recipe.

CRAIG
Brown vodka?

XENA
Drink up!

Xena stands up straight, then drinks directly from the bottle.

BILL
So, why were you trying to freeze yourself to death?

Xena, still drinking, puts up a finger signaling that he should wait for her to finish. She drains the bottle

BILL
And why are you trying to die of alcohol poisoning?

She laughs but stumbles. She wraps the blanket around herself and puts on the slippers that were tucked underneath.

XENA
I’m trying to develop a resistance to cold in order to prepare for the warp drive test flight. According to theory, warp drive is be achieved by contracting the space in front of the ship while the space behind it is expanded. And this creates…

BILL
(frowns, looks at his drink)
… a warp bubblespace.

XENA
Right … wait, how did you know that? I didn’t put that in the press release.

BILL
I’ve been here before. I remember everything you said. Like … the bubblespace will allow the ship to travel distances in faster-than-light time.

XENA
Exactly!  And why am I trying to adapt to cold weather?

BILL
You told me that your father died when his life support systems failed in the middle of the test. (Xena is visibly hurt by the memory. Bill pauses, then goes on) You’re going to be cryogenically frozen when you go into warp. If anything goes wrong, your pod is programmed to go back to earth.

XENA
How can you be remembering something that hasn’t happened yet?

CRAIG
He’s been deja vu-ing. Like the guy in Groundhog Day.

BILL
I remember all of this, everything up to the moment that I took a sip of this vodka. (Becoming angry) That’s what sent me into this delirium. Your homebrew.

CRAIG
Awesome. Let me try. (he downs the vodka, then burps) Nope, no deja vu. But I do feel nauseous.

XENA
(whoops with delight.)
I know what happened – It worked! The warp drive worked, and you, Bill Boonton, are proof! You went into the bubblespace with me! That’s why you’re reliving the same moments over and over. As a side effect of the faster-than-lightspeed travel, you’re experiencing an altered version of the time-space continuum!

BILL
Bollocks!

XENA
But, it’s the only possible explanation.

BILL
I can propose another, much more likely theory. You poisoned me and I’m currently tripping balls.

XENA
(thinks about it)
No … even in the throes of the most drunken delirium, you don’t have enough imagination to make up a story like that.

CRAIG
Yeah, you’re right. He doesn’t.

BILL
(panicking)
I didn’t go on the ship. I would never do that!

XENA
You must have. In fact, it’s entirely likely that you’re simultaneously here and on my ship … right now!

Bill collapses, falls onto the icy ground.

Ext. MEDINA LABS Bill wakes up and sees Xena and Craig sitting beside the fire, drinking more vodka, eating herring. It’s nighttime.

XENA
There’s a theory that all of time and space exist at the same time. For us, time is like a movie. The images simultaneously exist on the same reel, but our interpretation of time passing makes it what it is. That may be Bill’s problem. After he went through the bubblespace, he’s watching the same movie that we are, but he sees short, repeating clips. He’s interpreting it differently.

CRAIG
Damn, girl, you’re making my brain hurt.

Bill groans and rubs his head.

XENA
You’re awake! How are you feeling? (helps him sit up)

BILL
I didn’t go on the ship. I didn’t go on the ship…

XENA
But, you must have.

BILL
Why would I do such a thing?

XENA
Maybe you wanted to go back to change the past. To avoid taking a risk you shouldn’t have taken.

BILL
I have never taken any risks. I carefully planned every moment of my life. As a child, I would plan which socks I was going to wear every day of the week. It never varied.

CRAIG
Maybe that’s what you wanted to change.

Bill thinks about that. Craig hands him a plateful of herring and Xena tends the fire.

XENA
(puts a cold compress on Bill’s forehead)
I wouldn’t mind having company out there. But you would have to get used to living in subzero cold. I’ve had months to prepare, but you haven’t.

BILL
If I were to go, that wouldn’t be a problem. (he turns to Xena) You’ve never met Melissa.

Xena laughs and refills his cup of vodka. He watches her tending the fire, the cinders floating up towards the northern lights, dancing around the moon.

BILL
I’ve never seen the sky look quite like this. It makes one think that all sorts of things could be possible. (sighs) If I was a stronger man, I might give that space shot a try, but I know my  limitations. I wouldn’t have the nerve to do it.

XENA
(tending the fire)
You wouldn’t get the nerve to do what?

Bill watches as the cinders float towards the northern lights, dancing around the three moons.

XENA
Hon, which MRE do you want tonight, beef or chicken?

Bill stands up, sees brightly lit birds fluttering through the ice underneath him. The breeze is blowing directly upwards, making the palm trees and his hair stand straight up. Glowing green fish swim in the sky.

Bill
(smiles)
Surprise me.

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About marypmadigan

Writer/photographer (profession), foreign policy wonk (hobby).
This entry was posted in writing. Bookmark the permalink.

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