Sunday, October 07, 2007

Agitprop


by Steven Boone

I believe that nothing should be written (or at least shared) that isn't bursting to get out, like the baby alien in Alien. That accounts for why months go by here without a new post. But since a lot more folks are linking to this page now, it seems a waste not to post more frequently. In that spirit, let me share stuff that's a little more personal.
Two years ago, I wrote and began shooting a short comedy about going on a job interview. It reflected my state of mind at the time: With the war overseas and the living dead status of so many of my neighbors, the world seemed overrun with killers, thieves and corpses. I felt like I was in a new minority of people who didn't have a taste for blood. I felt alone.

We shot only a few scenes before I lost interest. The script is not good, and I knew it then. But it was bursting to get out, and that gives it enough value for me to share it with you here.


A Good Job

short screenplay by

Steven Boone

©2005


INT. ROOM-DAY.

HAWK, a young black man, hovers over a tangle of wires, circuit boards, connectors and metal parts. He is soldering two flimsy strips of metal together. Smoke curls up from the melting solder in thin spirals.

A RADIO talk show is playing constantly in the background. The dude on the radio is saying things like:

In a Massachusetts school, seventy-three disabled children were spoon-fed oatmeal laced with radioactive isotopes.
In an upstate New York hospital, an eighteen-year-old woman, believing she was being treated for a pituitary disorder, was injected with plutonium.
At a Tennessee clinic, 829 pregnant women were served "vitamin cocktails" containing radioactive iron, as part of their regular treatment.
These are just some of the secret human radiation experiments that the U.S. government conducted on unsuspecting Americans for decades as part of its atom bomb program.


All the while, Hawk works silently, not reacting to the radio or, really, anything that isn’t sitting before him on the work table.

He takes up a satchel and delicately tilts it over the mouth of a narrow cylinder. A grainy brown powder slides down into the tube. When it is nearly full, he covers the opening with strips of duct tape to create a smooth, flat cover; pricks a small hole in the center of it.

He bares his teeth, bites down gently on a piece of wire to strip off some insulation. The exposed wire tips are frayed, so he twists them into a tight braid and runs them down into the tube. Covers the whole thing with more tape.

The RADIO keeps going:

A theme restaurant for cats (the Meow Mix Cafe) opened in New York City in August, allowing owners to dine with their kitties and eat similar dishes ("Deep Sea Delight" mackerel for felines, tuna rolls for humans). No dogs are allowed, and visitors' catnip must be checked at the door.

INT. ROOM-DAY.

Some time later. Hawk is in a dress shirt, tying a tie in the mirror. He suddenly smiles at himself—a real toothy, kindergarten kind of cheese. But his eyes are dead.

RADIO HOST
(OFFSCREEN)
In Thailand, prostitutes spread knockout drugs on their breasts like paraffin on a surfboard. But hookers don't have degrees in anesthesiology, and sometimes the john pays a high price. In the Thai resort town of Pattaya alone, some 50 foreign tourists died of cardiac arrest after allegedly sucking nipples spiked with the so-called date rape drug Rohypnol, according to the Bangkok Post.

Finally, Hawk’s eyes come alive. He busts out laughing.


INT. ROOM-DAY.

Hawk is serious again. He slips on a suit jacket and reaches down for a black case. His first lazy attempt at lifting it fails; he pulls a little harder, and this time the case, which looks light, goes with him.


INT. OFFICE-DAY.

A SIGN with breezy, almost utopian graphics and a futuristic font:

PERLE CENTER FOR UBRAN ENTERPRISE
Black to the Future


INT. CONFERENCE ROOM.

A Human Resources woman (LINDA) and a male manager (BOB) face us, smiling, nodding. They are both well-dressed, and both black. The young woman is clearly trendier than the older man—she could work at VIBE or something. The older man looks like a scholarly, well-groomed Jazz intellectual, like Wynton Marsalis or Stanely Crouch. He has a playful demeanor, but with a slight edge that says, “Don’t bring me no bullshit.”

LINDA
Well, I’m gonna let Bob take the reins from here, to give you the specs and whatnot.

BOB
Thank you, Linda. Well, in a nutshell, we are a
bunch of tough muthas. When people think of
black conservatives, they think of a bunch of
feeble Uncle Toms. Even I did, at one point.
Howbout you?

He is addressing Hawk, who sits across the table from them.

HAWK
No, sir, I can’t say I ever did.

BOB
You’re a better man than me. I thought people like Thomas Sowell or Alan Keyes were just trying to sell us up the river, but it took some growing up for me to learn that these guys got it right. Not Uncle Toms, but American heroes. The future belongs to us.

HAWK
Absolutely.

Bob studies Hawk for a moment. Hawk glances over at Linda and smiles. She almost blushes.

BOB
Alright, let’s get down to the nitty. Your writing is damn good. It leaps off the page. Why are you here? You can make much more money writing for one of them pants-dragging-around-the-ass hip-hop magazines or some TV show.

HAWK
Well, as I said, those kinds of things don’t reflect my values. Look at me. Are my pants dragging off my ass? I’m a young dude, yeah, but do I watch TV? Hardly. It makes my stomach turn.

Bob tries hard to keep his smile under control. He likes this kid. But, back to business:

BOB
Yours would be one of the few paid positions here. We have mostly volunteers. They do it because they believe.

HAWK
And that’s why I would do it. But, Bob, a brother gotta eat too, right?

Bob looks at Linda and laughs. She joins in.

BOB
Yeah, a brother do gotta eat. (pause) Well, the work here is mainly writing press releases and speeches. We give you the facts and figures, you turn it into a stunning piece of oratory, or reportage, as the case may be.

HAWK
Cool.

BOB
Quick, who was the 29th president of the United States?

HAWK
Warren G. Harding.

BOB
Who was Rosa Luxemburg?

HAWK
Marxist socialist revolutionary, born 1870.

BOB
What is string theory?

HAWK
The theory that the universe is composed of one-dimensional extended objects rather than minute particles.

BOB
(to Linda)
Now, I don’t know the answer to none of that shit. Is he right?

Linda laughs and shrugs.

BOB
(to Hawk)
You have a G.E.D. and a certificate in refrigerator repair. How is it you sound so educated?

HAWK
A little spare time, a lot of books…

BOB
Self-taught. Most of my heroes are self-taught.

HAWK
Bob, don’t think I’m comfortable with that. I want this job so bad partly ‘cause I have a feeling it will motivate me to get back on the college track.

BOB
(to Linda)
He’s got all the right answers, don’t he?

INT. OFFICE CORRIDOR.

A while later. Bob shows Hawk to the door.

BOB
We’re interviewing a few more this week, so let me fair about it and get back to you later this week.

HAWK
Fair enough.

They shake hands.


INT. HALLWAY.

Hawk heads down an empty hall and, when he finds a bathroom door, looks around warily. He ducks into the bathroom.

INT. MEN’S ROOM.

The bathroom is empty. He locks the door and goes into the single stall.

He opens his briefcase and pulls out a bundle of cylinders—the kind he was assembling in his apartment.

Crouching at the toilet, he slips the bundle behind the bowl, underneath the tank. A small electronic counter is attached to the back of the bundle. He presses a button on its side, and the counter starts running: 30:00, 30:59, 30:58, 30:57….

When he has it hidden squarely behind the bowl, he gets up and leaves.

EXT. BUILDING-DAY.

Hawk walks out of the building, passing a sign on the front lawn: PERLE CENTER FOR URBAN ENTERPRISE.

He crosses the street to go sit on a park bench facing the twelve-story building.

A WOMAN sits there reading a magazine.

HAWK
What you reading there?

She doesn’t respond, her head stuck in the magazine.

He looks:

It’s an entertainment glossy. Pictures of soap opera stars, Ashley Judd, J. Lo, etc.

WOMAN
Oh, I’m sorry. What you say? (pause ) That’s a nice suit.

HAWK
Thank you.

WOMAN
It’s a little early for lunch. All dressed up.

HAWK
Huh? Aw, no I’m not working anywhere. I just had an interview.

WOMAN
What for?

HAWK
Killer.

WOMAN
Oh. Sales.

HAWK
Nah. Killing. Pure killing machine.


WOMAN
Yeah, okay.

HAWK
I’m tired of being left out. I want in. Feels like I’m the only one left.

WOMAN
How do you get a job as a killer?

HAWK
I have no idea. Ask me when—if—I get the job.

WOMAN
Who will you have to kill?

HAWK
Black people, poor people…

WOMAN
Sounds like an easy job. Benefits?

HAWK
Medical, dental, life.

WOMAN
Uh-huh.

HAWK
You don’t believe me. Sometimes, to make the world better, you have to kill some people, even if they did no wrong. They’ll be rewarded in the afterlife. Bottom line is, you have to do some evil to achieve a lot of good.

WOMAN
Yeah, yeah. But what’s the job, for real?

HAWK
I have to write speeches and press releases for a public policy research group.

INT. BATHROOM.

The readout on the counter: 14:25… 14:24…. 14:23…


EXT. BUILDING.

The conversation continues:

WOMAN
Thank you. Talking all this foolishness about killing. Look like you couldn’t hurt a fly.

HAWK
Well, killing ain’t just what you do with a knife and a gun.

WOMAN
How is it you’d be killing folks by writing speeches?

HAWK
You know what? I’m not sitting here staring into those pretty eyes so I can talk about work. What’s your name?

WOMAN
Marie.

HAWK
Marie. What do you do, Marie?

WOMAN
Nurse’s aide.

HAWK
And what do you like to do?

INT. BATHROOM.

A man comes into the bathroom to use the urinal.


EXT. BUILDING.

MARIE
I like music. I like to go out on weekends. I like to travel.

HAWK
What kind of music?

MARIE
R&B.

HAWK
Travel where?

MARIE
I’ve been to Cancun, and Hawaii, and Jamaica, where my peoples are from.

HAWK
That sounds real nice.

MARIE
I want to go to Europe.

HAWK
Anywhere in particular?

MARIE
No. The whole country looks nice when they show it on TV.

HAWK
Yeah. True.

Hawk glances over and sees…

…across the street, a man entering the building with a baby in his arms.

Hawk’s smile fades a little.

MARIE
What’s wrong?

HAWK
I don’t know. Maybe I’m a little jealous. I wish I could go somewhere nice.

MARIE
Like you can’t?

He stares off in the distance, ignoring her.

MARIE
Hello?

He gets up and starts walking across the street.

HAWK
Excuse me.

INT. BATHROOM.

A guy goes into the stall where Hawk’s bomb is planted and shuts the door.

INT. BUILDING.

Hawk enters the lobby, starts jogging to the elevators.

INT. ELEVATOR.

As the elevator goes up, he hammers the 5th FLOOR button, shifting on his feet.

CUT TO:

A moment later. The doors open at the 5th FLOOR, and Hawk bumps into BOB.

BOB
Hey, man. I told you I’d have what I owe you on payday!

Bob laughs at his own corny joke.

HAWK
(smile)
I forgot something….

He rushes past Bob.

INT. BATHROOM.

Hawk rushes in to find the stall door closed. A pair of feet visible below the door.

The man in the stall is groaning, cursing softly to himself.

Hawk looks at his watch.

CUT TO:

THE BOMB COUNTER: 05:15, 05:14, 05:13…

CUT TO:

Hawk goes to the mirror and looks at himself:

He looks nauseous. His eyes are wild, his forehead drenched in sweat.

HAWK
Hey, man! How long you gonna be!

MAN IN STALL
…the fuck! I just got in here!

HAWK
It’s been fifteen minutes!

MAN IN STALL
Nigga, I just sat my ass down! You have to wait.

The sound of papers shuffling.

HAWK
(VOICE-OVER)
Alright, I got five minutes. It’ll take ninety seconds to get to the lobby, one minute to get down the block. I got two and a half minutes. If he’s still in there, I’m out. Fuck it.

The sound of the toilet paper dispenser jangling.

The sound of the toilet flushing.

The stall door opens, and out comes a guy in a delivery man’s uniform.

MAN
You lucky I’m saved. The old me woulda…

Hawk brushes past him and shuts the stall door.

He pulls the bomb from behind the bowl and sits on the toilet with it in his lap.

THE COUNTER: 3:12… 3:11…

Hawk presses a button to stop it.

The counter stops cold.

Hawk slumps down over the bomb, exhales a huge sigh.

HAWK
(VOICEOVER)
Dear no one: I can’t do it.

INT. HAWK’S ROOM-NIGHT.

Hawk scribbles in his notebook.

HAWK
(VOICEOVER)
It turns out I don’t have the heart for killing. I know I got to do something besides sit here in this room, writing on these stupid pieces of paper, but what? The enemy wants me to work for them, spouting insanity for the people to poison themselves with. Maybe I should take the job, and all that comes with it.

EXT. LAWN-DAY.

A SIGN that says HAWK FOR CONGRESS, with a picture of Hawk smiling.

An old black man passing by spits on the sign.

INT. HAWK’S ROOM.

Hawk pours packets of duck sauce on a plate of fried rice.

Apile of empty duck sauce packets.

HAWK
(VOICEOVER)
I could rise up through the ranks, get next to the top man, and take him out. Or maybe I could make a speech that changes the hearts of the killers.

CUT TO:

A regal white man who looks like his head could be on Mt. Rushmore breaks down crying while looking up and offscreen at something. Faint but thunderous applause.

CUT TO:

EXT. STREETS-DAY.

Hawk walks the streets, gives somebody a pound in passing.

A NY POST in a bin has the headline: SMOKIN’: MARLBORO MEN KICK BUTT IN FALLUJAH. The bloodied, filthy face of a white soldier coolly smoking a cigarette.

HAWK
(VOICEOVER)
If I can find a way to put these things out of my mind… then I could get on with my shit and just live. I mean, they haven’t done anything
to me. I live alright. But if I got up and said something they didn’t like, they would kill me.

EXT. STREET- DAY.

A man bops down the street in a sport jacket, boxer shorts and red face paint with black eye sockets.

HAWK
(VOICEOVER)
Every week now, you hear about some brother who lost it, ran out into the street with a samurai sword or onto the train with an assault rifle. I don’t want to end up like that.

INT. HAWK’S ROOM-DAY.

Hawk stares outside his window.

Some kids are playing in the street.

HAWK
(VOICEOVER)
Knowledge is power. That’s that bullshit. Knowledge is cancer. Knowledge is the flu. I don’t want to know. I wish I didn’t know. All I want is to be happy, get a good job—to leave this earth able to say I got through it without killing anybody. Fewer and fewer people can
say that. (pause) I don’t even know if I can say that for sure. Isn’t that crazy?
Hawk looks right at you, his eyes begging.
CUT TO BLACK.

3 comments:

William said...

It is reminiscent of Spike's real early shorts. Joe's Bed-Stuy Barbershop and The Answer.

It's a shame you stopped shooting it. I think it would have made an interesting short.

I like the Fuller screen grab too.

Steven Boone said...

Thank's for the compliment, Will. Ah, I've got much better stuff than that to shoot. The question is, when will I get my ass in gear and finally finish something? Since I don't have investors, employers or an expectant audience, the drive to complete a film rests entirely with my whims and desire to get a certain something said.

There are already too many films in the world for me to bring another bad one into it just cuz.

Ahh, that rationalization went down smooth.

William said...

...like a nice tall drink at 4:00 in the morning.