The Old Man and the Tree – Part 2

fallen tree

*If you missed part 1, start here!

“You’ve got to be goddamn kidding me,” He said.

Harker was in disbelief that the neighbor’s kid had brought along four others, all around his age. They were all worthless when it came to removing a tree the size of the one on Harker’s lawn.

“What do you kids want? I don’t have any Nintendos.”

The children looked at one another with confusion.

“We want to help you,” said Jhonny, who had returned with his friends. Jhonny wore black rubber boots that ran all the way past his knees. They were adult sized.

“Help me?” Said Harker, with a haughty laugh. “No thanks. I’d rather get rid of this tree on my own.”

“But you can’t,” said Jhonny. “It’s too big for one person.”

Harker’s eye caught hold of Gerri-anne as she walked by with her three dogs. She walked her three dogs every morning and always donned a white tennis jacket.

“Hello Harker, how are you?” she said with a wave.

“Good Gerri-anne, how are you?” said Harker.

She smirked and continued on her way.

He had met Gerri-anne a few years earlier, shortly after her husband had passed away. He was a son-of-a bitch and left her with nothing, spoiled their kids everything. Her kids never visited or called, he had heard. Still, Gerri-anne always kept in shape and managed to smile. Her lawn was a mess though, but that wasn’t really her fault.

Harker shook his head, then returned to Jhonny. “Well you’re too small to do any good,” said Harker. “This job requires men.”

“We’re men,” said Jhonny.

“Oh yeah?” said Harker. “Saw that trunk for me.”

Harker dropped the saw on the lawn and laughed.

“Let’s go Jhonny,” said the little boy with the blue cap, named Fred. “This guy’s a dick.”

The children turned around and started walking away as Harker laughed. Jhonny began walking with them, then stopped abrubtly. He returned and grabbed the saw, than began sawing.

“What the hell are you doing!” yelled Harker. He jumped and grabbed the saw away from Jhonny. “Don’t you see the edge on this thing? It’s too sharp and dangerous for you.”

“But you said-”

“Don’t put words in my mouth, son! Why don’t you go on with your friends and play paddleball or something?”

“Jhonny, c’mon!” said Fred. “He doesn’t want our help, he said it himself.”

“I’m staying,” responded Jhonny.

Jeremy, the biggest of the kids, wrapped his hands around his mouth and hollered: “Stop trying to replace your dad, Jhonny! He’s dead, and this guy’s more of a grandpa, anyway!”

The other children erupted with laughter as Jhonny gazed down at his rubber boots. He itched his eye and started walking away.

“Good luck,” he muttered to Harker, without bothering to face him.

Harker scratched the back of his head.

To be continued…

  • Thomas M. Watt
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The Old Man and the Tree – Part 1

fallen tree

Harker glared out his window at the fallen tree. It hadn’t moved for the past twenty years, then last night it had just decided to keel over. Now he had to clean it up.

Harker tugged a boot on with one hand on the kitchen chair.

“Stupid goddamn tree,” he muttered. “Why you were planted is beyond me.”

It took him thirty minutes to get his boots on. Harker threw on his fleece, than stared out the window again. He checked the cell phone that cost him an arm and a leg, than sighed and tossed it at his recliner.

Harker took with him a shovel and a wheelbarrel. He smeared the humid moisture from his forehead and groaned. He nudged the dead tree with his shovel.

“How the hell am I supposed to get rid of you… stupid goddamn tree.”

Harker turned around and headed for his backyard.

“Mister!” called someone.

Harker turned around. It was a little boy with a sharp smile and a stick of chalk.

“What?” Harker said.

“Want some help moving your tree?”

“From who?” Harker stuck his hand above his eyes like it were a visor, then squinted as he searched the street from one side to the other.

“Well… Me.”

Harker shook his head and turned around. He carried on toward his backyard muttering to himself. The child had no business trying to look courteous here. This tree was a serious problem, and the last thing Harker needed was some dumb kid making the job even more difficult.

That was how Dotty used to be. She’d always try to help Harker with his do-it-yourself projects, but would only ruin them. If he was toying with his engine, she’d beg him for a peek. The second he let her have a look, she’d break something. He’d turn, find a wrench in her hand, then ask her what the hell she was doing. And for some dumb reason her response would always trick him into laughing and forget all about the trouble she always caused.

But that was Dotty, and Dotty was dead. Now Harker was blessed enough to take on his do-it-yourself projects with nobody to hold him up. That was the biggest difference he’d noticed with his age. Ever since the kids moved out of state and Dotty passed away, Harker finally had time to do the things he wanted to do, uninterrupted.

Harker realized he’d been standing in his backyard with his hands on his hips for an easy five minutes.

“What the hell am I looking for?” He said to himself.

Harker spotted a saw. “You,” he said as he pointed at it. Harker strode over, picked it up in practically no time at all, then started on his return trip to the front yard.

When he reached it, he couldn’t believe his eyes.

“You’ve got to be goddamn kidding me,” he said.

…To be continued

  • Thomas M. Watt

 

 

TrackingB Screenplay Contest

 

trackingB

I’m determined to finally get some exposure for my work. As I mentioned in my last post, I’ve decided to begin looking for representation. According to one article, TrackingB holds a great contest annually that frequently results in representation for it’s winners. The panel of judges is impressive:

THE INDUSTRY PANEL

Berry Welsh – SVP, Production & Development – Tribeca Film
Megan Spanjian – VP, Scripted Television – The Weinstein Company
Peter Dealbert – Lit Manager – Pacific View Management
Melissa Darman – TV Lit Agent – Verve
Dustin Davis – Director, Current Series – ABC Network
Brad Petrigala – Lit Manager – Brillstein Entertainment Partners
Ryan Andolina – Development Executive – Amazon Studios
Amanda Krentzman – Director of Development – The Jackal Group
Jillian Apfelbaum – VP – Imperative Entertainment
Ryan Cunningham – Lit Manager – Madhouse Entertainment
Chris Mills – Lit Manager – Magnet Management
Justin Killion – Producer – Cool Guys & Nerds/1st look deal at ITV
Mike Goldberg – TV Lit Agent – APA
A.B. Fischer – Lit Manager – The Shuman Co.
Josh Goldenberg – Lit Manager – Kaplan/Perrone
Erin Betz – Coordinator, Drama Development – ABC Network                                                           Josh Adler – Lit Manager – Circle of Confusion

They will host a feature length script contest later this year, but currently are accepting entries for their television pilot competition. I’m going to enter Just Leasing and Cheaters Prosper once I feel they are ready. I encourage any of you to enter the contest as well – let me know if you do, that way we can hold one another accountable. The final date for entries is March 26th, and the winners will be announced around July of this year.

*Final Cut Pro is the industry standard for screenwriting, but I use a templateSCRIPT TEMPLATE (with instructions). If you’re new to screenwriting, feel free to download my screenwriting template here.

  • – Thomas M. Watt                 

Analyzing East of Eden – 1/17

EastOfEden

It’s been a while since I talked about writing, as my mind has been more consumed with film production. I took a few minutes today to read a brief excerpt from East of Eden, by John Steinbeck, and analyze it. I think this is a great practice because it helps me understand the techniques great dramatists employ in order to have the most emotional impact on viewers. Here is the excerpt, followed by my thoughts:

***

Ethel tried to keep her fingers from grabbing at the money. [Kate] fanned the bills like a poker hand – four tens. Her mouth began to work with emotion.

Ethel said, “I kind of hoped you’d see your way to let me take more than forty bucks.”

“What do you mean?”

“Didn’t you get my letter?”

“What letter?”

“Oh!” said Ethel. “Well, maybe it got lost in the mail. They don’t take no care of things. Anyways, I thought you might look after me. I don’t feel good hardly ever. Got a kind of weight dragging my guts down.” She sighed and then she spoke so rapidly that Kate knew it had been rehearsed.

“Well, maybe you remember how I’ve got like second sight,” Ethel began. “Always predicting things that come true. Always dreaming stuff and it come out. Fella says I should go in the business. Says I’m a natural medium. You remember that?”

“No,” said Kate. “I don’t.”

“Don’t? Well, maybe you never noticed. All the others did. I told ’em lots of things and they come true.”

“What are you trying to say?”

“I had this-here dream. I remember when it was because it was the same night Faye died.” Her eyes flicked  up at Kate’s cold face. She continued doggedly, “It rained that night, and it was raining in my dream – anyways, it was wet. Well, in my dream I seen you come out the kitchen door. It wasn’t pitch-dark – moon was coming through a little. nd the dream thing was you. You went out to the back of the lot and stooped over. I couldn’t see what you done. Then you come creeping back.”

“Next thing I knew – why, Faye was dead.” She paused and waited for some comment from Kate, but Kate’s face was expressionless.

Ethel waited until she was sure Kate would not speak. “Well, like I said, I always believed in my dreams. It’s funny, there wasn’t nothing out there except some smashed medicine bottles and a little rubber tit from an eye-dropper.”

Kate said lazily, “So you took them to a doctor. What did he say had been in the bottles?”

“Oh, I didn’t do nothing like that.”

“You should have,” said Kate.

“I don’t want to see nobody get in trouble. I’ve had enough trouble myself. I put that broke glass in an envelope and stuck it away.”

Kate said softly, “And so you are coming to me for advice?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“I’ll tell you what I think,” said Kate. “I think you’re a worn-out old whore and you’ve been beaten over the head too many times.”

“Don’t you start saying I’m nuts-” Ethel began.

“No, maybe you’re not, but you’re tired and you’re sick. I told you I never let  friend down. You can come back here. You can’t work but you can help around, clean and give the cook a hand. You’ll have a bed and you’ll get your meals. How would tht be? And a little spending money.”

Ethel stirred uneasily. “No, ma’am.” She said. “I don’t think I want to – sleep here. I don’t carry that envelope around. I left it with a friend.”

“What did you have in mind?”

“Well, I thought if you could see your way to let me have a hundred dollars a month, why, I could make out and maybe get my health back.”

“You said you lived at the Southern Pacific Hotel?”

“Yes, ma’am – and my room is right up the hall from the desk. The night clerk’s a friend of mine. He don’t never sleep when he’s on duty. Nice fella.”

Kate said, “Don’t wet your pants, Ethel. All you’ve got to worry about is how much does the ‘nice fell’ cost. Now wait a minute.” She counted six more ten-dollar bills from the drawer in front of her and held them out.

“Will it come the first of the month or do I have to come here for it?”

“I’ll send it to you,” said Kate. “And, Ethel,” she continued quietly, “I still think you ought to have those bottles analyzed.”

Ethel clutched the money tightly in her hand. She was bubbling over with triumph and good feeling.

***

*Let me preface my analysis by confessing I have not read this novel in its entirety. Nevertheless, I’d like to share my insights and you can correct me in the comment section if I’m wrong.

This scene is great in so many ways. It is really a mini-story, and clearly demonstrates Steinbeck’s dominance as one of the greatest writers of all time. I remember when I first started studying writing, I read somewhere that Steinbeck preferred to use one syllable words. I had always thought his style of writing made him a legend, but now that I have a better understanding of some of the more abstract writing concepts, I can see his ability to play with the emotions of readers is what makes his pen so devastating.

Right from the start, we can see that Ethel is desperate for money, so clearly this is her objective. But it is not enough for her to simply accept the original offering, and that is what makes her courageous here – she wants every nickel she can squeeze out of Kate.

Kate, on the other hand, begins the scene by desiring Ethel get out of her hair. After Ethel all-but threatens to turn in evidence that could potentially put her behind bars, Ethel changes her tune and her new motivation becomes doing whatever it takes to keep Ethel quiet.

What I like most about this scene is how Ethel goes about manipulating Kate to fork over more dough. She never explicitly states that she knows Kate is responsible for the death of Faye, but she implies it through a most devious way – by slyly feigning to have psychic abilities, and almost comedic-ally stating she had a dream where she witnessed Kate’s crime.

Once Kate gets the hint, Ethel has her over a barrel – and knows it. After a brief outburst of her true anger at the situation, Kate presents Ethel with a much more generous offer than the original forty bucks. But this still isn’t good enough for Ethel(rising tension!). Ethel requests a hundred dollars on the first of every month, then has the audacity to requests that it be delivered, so she does not have to go out of her way to retrieve it.

I believe that Kate threatens Ethel when she tells her that her biggest concern should be how much the night clerk, who “never sleeps”, costs. She appears to be implying that she could always pay him enough money to look the other way while Kate has somebody eliminate Ethel.

This scene features two foes with clashing objectives. Their dialogue, at the surface, appears to remain cordial – but the truth is always written in the subtext. This is one area of writing I need to improve upon. I have a bad habit of allowing characters to state their objectives outright, and go about getting their way through direct and obvious threats. This is fine for characters who maneuver through life this way, but it is so much more fun and engaging when characters behave in ways that force viewers to read between the lines in order to keep up with their motives and ploys.

I hope these insights have helped you in some way. I already know these realizations will benefit me in my own writing. See you tomorrow at 7:00 am PST.

  • Thomas M. Watt
  • Steinbeck, John. East of Eden. New York: Penguin Books, 1952. Print.

Master – 7.1

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CHAPTER 7

It’s raining this time. I can tell through the window. Down below I see the same trees and cars as last time. Sitting in the couch opposite my own is Master. My first instinct is to stand and charge him, then beat his ass to a pulp. But I can’t move any body part lower than my jaw – this dream belongs to Master. He scribbles in his notepad.

“Ever had your heart broken, Mr. Gordon?”

“Where are they?”

“Some say the emotional wrench of lost love far surpasses any harm that can be inflicted physically.”

“You have them, don’t you?”

Master stops writing. He folds his hands and sets his heel over his opposite knee. “Your wife and daughter have been kidnapped. They will be returned, alive and well, as long as you observe my instructions.”

“What are you? Who are you?”

“We discussed this already. I am Master.” He sets the notepad aside, then adjusts the square box glasses sitting over his nose. “Our meetings will take place in your subconscious, though the threats and demands I will make pertain to the real world. Your wife and child are mine, I told you this during our previous session together.” He rubs the tip of his index finger against his temple. “Tell me, Phillip, how would you react if the love of your life left you for another man?”

My teeth clench shut.

“Well?”

I breathe through my nostrils. “Return. My. Family.”

Master sighs, then traces his finger along his chin. “You are important to me, you know. If I am Morpheus, you are Neo.”

“You touch Loretta, I’ll end you.”

“Loretta and Avery will be returned to you, unharmed and intact, so long as you comply.”

“Lay a finger on either of them I’ll slit your god-damned throat.”

I breathe. I stare.

Master rises from his seat, then strolls around the room. His wrist swoops up imaginary snow as he talks.

“I don’t think you’re capable of saving your family, Phillip. That’s just me being honest, man to man. You might be big and strong, but underneath all that meat you’re nothing but a coward.”

My head rattles in place. He stands still and faces me.

“I’m inside of your mind, and all that surrounds us are your countless fears, troubles, and anxieties. You do not think you can save your family, not even for a moment. You plan to try, yes, but you don’t plan on succeeding. Oh, no, no, no. And it’s not the first time, either.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Football, Phillip. You quit. For so long you persevered, for so long you improved. But at some point along the journey, a realization occurred to you – you’re just not good enough, and never will be. The thought of failure doesn’t bother you; not in the slightest. You’re happy to walk around town as the loser you are. You hate success because it doesn’t match your personality. Failure, yes, that’s your comfort zone. And after your family is killed, and everybody is telling you how sorry they feel, you’ll be ecstatic deep down, your little secret between you and yourself – you lost; the side on which your personal preference resides during competition. You’ll be relieved to no longer concern yourself with providing financially for other humans beings. Gleeful that Loretta didn’t live long enough to leave you – and yes, she would have anyway. A woman like that deserves better than a failure like you.”

Master grins, then continues. “Loretta will be murdered before she can divorce you. Remind you of anything?”

I don’t respond.

“You quit before you had a chance to enter the NFL and become the wasted draft pick you knew you were bound to become. Just as comfortable as you are with that decision, so shall you one day be with the death of your family – with your inability to save them in time.”

He clicks his teeth together so I can hear them, half a dozen times, then speaks.

“I don’t understand why you failed to properly warn Loretta about our last therapy session. I told you I was going to abduct her.” He balls his hand into a fist, advances forward, then knocks his knuckles against the side of my head. “You could have prevented all of this, you know.” Master returns to his seat, crosses his legs, and taps his fingers on his kneecap. “Sheep would sooner follow the herd off the cliff then risk communal castration by reversing their direction.”

“I don’t care what anybody else thinks.”

“Of course not, you’re a loser. That’s what losers do; they accept their inability to contribute to the rest of mankind. You’re dead weight, lying down and covering your ears is what you do best. Allow others to step all over you, allow others to take the little you have. You don’t care, after all you’re content with just being ignored. You don’t care what others think because you know what they think: You’re an embarrassment – your entire town is ashamed of you. You, more than anybody, should have escaped this dung-ho community and made millions of dollars with all the fame and fortune a celebrated life entails.” Master breathes a laugh. “Pathetic. A miserable wash-up. Why did I pick you?”

“Why did you pick me?”

“Oh, oh-oh oh.” Master points his index finger at me, then stands again. “Now you’re asking the right question.”

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  • Thomas M. Watt

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Master – 6.1

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CHAPTER 6

My left hand chokes the steering wheel while my right sticks to my phone. I flip it open, push ‘send’ for Loretta, then wait. Voicemail. I ring again. I speed along the roadway. I’m not far from home, and I’ll see that white van coming a mile away.

“God, protect my family. God almighty, for the love of God protect my family.”

I don’t breathe. I’m locked on the road. I enter my neighborhood doing 50 plus. When I see him, it’s too late. Charlie – wearing the red-shirt, playing with chalk.

Now he’s drawing in middle of my street.

I press the brake pedal down, but I’m way too late. I rip back the parking brake – fumes from burnt rubber swarm my pick-up. I’ve veered right, straight for my neighbor’s oak tree. Charlie flees blind – and heads the same direction.

“No!”

I punch my horn and hold it down.

He watches me barrel toward him like a dumbfounded deer.

I crash.

Airbag deploys. Everything’s hazy. Blood and glass are everywhere.

Oak tree splits the front end of my truck. I wobble outside, then search my surroundings.

“Charlie? Charlie, are you okay?”

I’m dizzy; my brain is still bouncing. I don’t see his body anywhere. Then I hear crying. I turn to see –

“Oh my God.”

Hand to my chest. The kid dove into some bushes. If it weren’t for the tree, my Dodge pick-up would have obliterated him. He’s got a few twigs and thorns in his arms, but that’s it.

Charlie screams and goes running inside. I don’t blame him.

Tires screech. I turn around – the white van. It just turned onto my street. I see one roided-out driver, but his comrade from the passenger seat is gone.

“Loretta!” I scream. I pump my arms and race home. “Loretta!”

I reach my driveway. The van skids behind me and stops with a loud ‘bang’ against my garage door. I fly up the front porch and turn the door handle.

“Loret-”

Shotgun clicks from the monster holding it the second I shove the door open. He smiles, then stabs my neck with a syringe. A shooting pain enters my neck as I crumble to the floor. The injection comes from the man I saw in the passenger seat of the van – one with the cleft lip. He’s been standing here, waiting for me.

I’m too late.

I slip out of consciousness.

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  • Thomas M. Watt

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Master – 5.2

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Something’s wrong. I feel it in my gut. I reach out to my phone to text Loretta, but stop when I notice the motorcycle cop in my driver-side mirror.

“Dammit.”

I’d flip a U-turn right here, but it’s a double yellow. I decide to turn into a neighborhood street on my right and lose the tail. He follows me. Three turns later, he’s still on my ass.

“You win,” I say, then sigh.

I pull over, turn the engine off, and dial my wife. It rings, and rings, and rings.

“C’mon.”

Loretta picks up.

“What’s up, baby?”

“I know how bizarre this sounds, but I want you to take Avery and go to your mother’s house for the day.”

“Are you serious? You’re really starting to scare me baby!”

I pull the phone from my face and think to myself. Then I see the cop again – drive by on the road ahead. He stops the bike, whips out a pair of binoculars, then stares at me.

“What the hell…” I mutter.

“Talk to me, baby! Tell me what’s going on! You’ve been acting really strange lately.”

I return the phone to my ear. “Nothing… Just do it for me, ok?”

“Hold on.”

“What’s up?”

“Someone’s at the door. Is the pipe-guy coming today?”

“Babe, I want you to get out of there!”

A loud BOOM. Phone call ends. I dial again. The phone rings, and rings, and rings. Nobody picks up.

I start the truck, turn around and accelerate. A police siren sounds off behind me; I’m being pulled over.

“Dammit!” I pull the car over, then slam my hands against the steering wheel.

I don’t know what I’m being pulled over for, and have no idea why this cop has it out for me. He takes his time parking his bike, and walks slow as hell over to me. I grab my license and registration, roll my window down, and smack my documents against the outside of my door as he takes his sweet-ass time strolling over to me.

“Write me up, I need to get home.”

I toss the documents at the officer.

Rather than mouth a word of protest, rather than so much as bother with a rebuttal, the officer merely nods, and picks the documents up after he fumbles them. He’s nervous; sweating even. Guy looks like he’s ready to cry.

“You alright?” I ask.

He nods. “Huh? Oh, yeah.”

I’m angry and frustrated – yet I can’t help but worry for this officer. Why is he acting like this? Are criminals more courteous these days?

The cop travels back to his bike like he lost a war.

I scoff, then try Loretta again – no answer. I text her.

U ok?

I wait. Two minutes, but it feels like twenty.

Yes 🙂   

I’m not exactly at ease – Loretta says smiley face text messages are for pedophiles. I call her again – still no answer. Another three calls, then I text her.

“Everything alright??”

I wait another four minutes. No response this time. I squint and check out my rearview mirror. The officer is crying and staring at his gun.

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  • Thomas M. Watt