I spoke in a previous post about my method of using screenplay formatting as a skeleton upon which to build full novels. There are dozens of books out there on how to outline a novel, but this is the way I've found works best for me. Once I can "see" the story cinematically and write it as a screenplay, I find it much easier to flesh out four-hundred pages of prose. This method also keeps me honest in terms of dialogue. If it doesn't sound right in a movie scene, it probably won't work well in a written story.
Which brings me to what I'm working on right now, a screenplay tentatively titled SKY FEATHER. It's about a World War I documentarian who films an Army captain as the officer pursues a murderer and military deserter from the trenches of war-ravaged Europe to a still-wild 1918 New Mexico.
I'm fascinated with this premise, and the research has been a hoot. There really were documentary filmmakers in WWI, and a number of them returned to the U.S. and opened nickelodeons. Additionally, many early filmmakers made their way to New Mexico and California to escape the process-servers, attorneys, and leg breakers of Thomas Edison's Motion Picture Patent Company trying to put independent filmmakers out of business for using "his" cameras. It all makes for an intriguing backdrop in a good old fashioned good guys chasing bad guys western.
Below you'll find the first few pages of the screenplay if you're interested. I've mentioned previously that this blog's software doesn't lend itself well to screenplay format, so please bear with the incorrect indentations, absence of page numbers, and the nice flow you get with an actual screenplay. I'm happy to send you a PDF of the actual screenplay if you'd like to read more. Just shoot me a FB message or an email (firstname.lastname@example.org).
And if you're a deep-pockets producer, I WILL consider an option to be paid in Green Stamps--millions and millions of Green Stamps.
INT/EXT. WORLD WAR I ALLIED TRENCH - DAY
Battle lines are quiet at the moment. SOLDIERS are eating, playing cards, dealing with trench foot, or slogging through puddles in their hovels.
A sharpshooter peers over the rampart, only to duck when his mirror in the opposing trench takes a shot. None of the soldiers seem particularly alarmed.
Field commanders hunker in an underground shelter and whisper dire plans.
INT/EXT. ARMY FIELD TRUCK - DAY
CAPTAIN ODYSSEUS BRANDT sits in a truck with several doughboys heading to the trenches. The men curiously watch the officer as he dons a leather gorget and wrist guards.
One SOLDIER notices a crossed dueling pistols patch on Brandt's sleeve and whispers to another.
FLASHBACK - INT. FRENCH HOSTEL DAY
Brandt observes a GENDARME consoling a grieving woman over an adolescent girl whose throat is deeply severed.
Think all that extra leather will keep you alive out here, Captain?
The whole truck turns to Brandt.
MAXWELL RAMIREZ, a documentary filmmaker using an Aeroscope-- the world's first handheld camera--is filming SGT. CRESTON SCOTT cleaning his rifle and loading his ammunition clip. Scott holds up a particular round for the camera.
See this one here? With the black tip? Got this special metal in it. Just got handed out to us last week.
What's it do?
Lights up bright as the sun when you fire them. Put one in with every five regular rounds, tells you where your bullets are going.
Ramirez gets a close-up on the new TRACER bullet. Scott drops a loaded magazine into a trouser pocket.
Ramirez sees Captain Brandt arrive behind the talkative sergeant.
Sgt. Dominic Scott.
Scott jumps to attention.
I need you to come with me.
Scott turns to face the voice, and the two lock eyes.
Scott leaps to a wooden ladder. Brandt lunges for him, but Scott kicks free and flees into No Man's Land.
EXT. NO MAN'S LAND - DAY
Brandt follows into the kill zone without hesitation.
The Germans see the two Americans running in their direction and vault toward firing positions.
Ramirez follows the action with his camera from the trench.
Just as the GERMAN COMMANDER is about to order Fire, he sees the pursuing officer tackle the first man.
Brandt and Scott fight in the mud midway between the trenches. The Germans are too entertained to fire. The Americans also peek their heads out to watch.
Scott grabs a rifle from a fallen German soldier. He pulls the trigger, but the rifle jams. He rushes Brandt with the rifle bayonet.
Brandt deflects with his wrist guard and pulls his service revolver.
Scott disarms Brandt with a butt stroke and a slash through Brandt's pistol lanyard.
Captain Brandt knocks Scott down.
Teller's camera dies in this crucial moment.
No, no, no! God...
Frantically he pulls a bicycle-type pump from his rucksack and pumps power back into the camera.
NO MAN'S LAND
Brandt looks about for a new weapon.
The German Commander flings his own sword out toward Brandt. Brandt is able with a sword, and he soon bests Scott. He has the opportunity to kill Scott.
Instead he pulls out handcuffs and arrests him.
Brandt sinks to his knees in the mud beside Scott. He pulls an arrest warrant from his coat pocket and holds it out for the German officer to see. An INTERPRETER translates as Brandt explains.
The German Commander never takes his eyes off Brandt as he listens to the interpretation.
He murdered a woman in the village. Savaged her...cut her throat.
Scott tries to wriggle away, shaking his head at the Commander in this ad hoc trial.
It is my duty to see justice served.
The commander considers his options and then decides.
Mein schwert, Kapitan, if you please.
Brandt hands the weapon down to the commander. The two share a moment of respect before Brandt turns and yanks his prisoner to his feet. All combatants watch silently as Brandt leads him off the field.
Brandt leads his handcuffed prisoner through the trenches.
An Allied sniper sees an opportunity to target the German Commander. He takes a potshot, and all hell breaks loose as both trenches re-engage in battle.
Brandt grabs Scott and shoves him through the trenches. Ramirez follows, now filming again.
Brandt and Scott run to a field truck. ARTILLERY goes off all around them, sending soldiers and an ambulance crew ducking for cover.
Germans rush the Allied trench. They're mown down, but one is able to throw a STICK GRENADE before he dies.
The grenade lands beside the field truck. Brandt grabs and throws it, but it explodes moments after it leaves his hand. Brandt is knocked out and his uniform shirt catches on fire.
Scott seizes the opportunity to grab Brandt's gun. Ramirez lays down his camera to beat out the flames.
Move away from him.
Ramirez shields Brandt's body with his own.
The key! Give me the damn key.
Ramirez searches Brandt's pockets for a handcuff key and throws it to Scott. Scott runs from the battlefield.