Category Archives: Screenwriting

50 Love Letters

Cast of Characters

JANA An older professional woman

SISSY A young woman, probably a college student

SAM A hippie looking young man

MADDY A middle-aged woman

Setting: The N Judah Muni train in San Francisco. 

Time: Present

At Rise: JANA has been sitting on the train for a while holding a shoebox tied with a ribbon on her lap.   JANA appears anxious & upset.  SISSY is sitting next to JANA absorbed in listening to music through her ear buds.

MADDY is sitting behind JANA and SISSY.  SAM is standing in the aisle between their rows.

JANA: Bet you can’t guess what I have in here.

SISSY (ear buds in): What? (takes one ear bud out)

JANA: Bet you can’t guess what I have in here.

SISSY (Looks down at box) : Shoes?  I love shoes.  Where’d you get’m?

JANA: No, love letters.

SISSY: Oh, must be a lot of’m.  You can barely keep the lid on.

JANA: That’s right—50 in all plus birthday cards and Valentines and postcards.

SISSY: Unhuh.  (Putting ear buds back in but Jana stops her)

JANA: Would you like to read one?  They’re genuine.  Alex was the first big love of my life, 40 years ago.

SISSY: That’s O.K. They’re private.  

JANA: I know but just pretend they’re on the internet.  Here. (Opens the box) Pick one.

(SISSY can’t help looking in)

JANA: Just like picking a card.  Go ahead.  It’s alright.  I’m a Professor.

SISSY: Is this some sort of study?

JANA: Yes, no, not exactly.  Just go ahead.

(Delicately SISSY reaches in and picks out an envelope and looks at it, JANA reads the date as SISSY does.)

JANA: January 8, 1976.  That’s a really good one.  Right around his birthday.  Alex was so in love with me.  Go ahead, open it up and read it.

SISSY: (reads the address) It’s addressed to “Miss Jana Beautiful St. John.”

JANA: I know.  Sometimes he addressed my letters that way.  

SISSY: Nobody’s ever addressed me that way (Opens the envelope) There are two letters in here.

JANA: Sometimes I got two at one time and then I’d get mail from him twice in one week.

SISSY: Huh.  (Pulls out one letter and starts to read silently)

JANA: Will you read it to me?  I’d like to hear how it sounds.

SISSY: Are you sure?

JANA: Please. I think it might be therapeutic. I mean enlightening. There’s nothing explicit in them or anything.

SISSY: “I’m writing to you from Econ class, so boring.  I’d much rather occupy my thoughts with you. Saw Annie the other day and she was impressed that I was reading Anais—”

JANA: (correcting her pronunciation) That’s “Anais.” 

SISSY: “—Anais Nin since she said it’s hard to even get her books here.” (looks to JANA for clarification)

JANA: She was a very controversial writer in her day—rediscovered by young feminists in the 1970’s—sensual and very sexual like Henry Miller, only for women.  You probably don’t know who he is either.  There was that movie, Henry and June about Nin’s relationship with both him and his wife, June.  You can probably get it on Netflix. Very racy stuff.  Whooh. Still kinda makes me blush. 

SISSY: Should I go on?

JANA: Please.  Sorry.  I’ll try not to interrupt so much.  You’re doing beautifully.

SISSY: “Not sure what I might do when I graduate.  Although the job in advertising your friend mentioned is tempting, I don’t know if that’s right for me.”

JANA: A friend of mine was so impressed with him when he came to visit me that he offered him a job in SF when he graduated.  Can you believe it? (Announcing this more loudly than she realizes) He had me waiting for him and a job offer.  

SAM: I wish I’d had an offer like that.

(Train stops abruptly and SAM has to maneuver to maintain his upright position)

JANA: Nice balancing.

SAM: Thanks.  I call it “subway surfing.” 

JANA: I mean, I came out here with nothing from Nowhere, Ohio and he still wouldn’t take a chance with everything going for him.

SISSY: And considering how he feels about you.  Check this out: “I was driving in the car the other night and that song came on the radio by Bob Dylan: I’m singing along: ‘If not for you, babe, I couldn’t find the door. Couldn’t even see the floor–‘”

(Simultaneously with SAM)

“‘–I’d be sad and blue, just wouldn’t have a clue–‘”

SAM: (Singing with SISSY‘I’d be sad and blue, just wouldn’t have a clue.’  Oh, sorry, please don’t let me interrupt.  

SISSY: (Continues, somewhat annoyed with SAM)  “That’s really how I feel sometimes without you. But the great thing is we’ve got all the time in the world.  Take good care of yourself. Love you very much, Alex.”

JANA: “All the time in the world.”  That part really gets me.  

MADDYSo what happened?  Sorry, couldn’t help listening in.  

JANA: (Excitedly, recounting events)  We had this torrid two-year long distance romance, cross country visits, all kinds of plans, and then he dumped me.  We were so young but he was the only man I was ever sure I wanted to marry.

SAM: You mean you never loved anyone else?  Man, that’s so …

JANA: No, no, not at all.  I just never was as sure for a lot of reasons.  I mean I’m a feminist and marriage is a patriarchal institution.  Although now that gays and lesbians can get married it seems like more fun.

SISSY: And you were maybe hung up on this dude?  Did you at least talk about it?

JANA: Honestly, I thought at first he might be right.  We were too different.  Then I realized how much I loved him and tried to work things out but it was too late.

MADDY: Do you think there was someone else?

JANA: Yeah, his mother.  She didn’t want me taking him away from her.  I think too that it’s a lot easier to leave a happy home than an unhappy one.

SAM: Whoa, I never thought about it that way.  I bet his father was a real asshole. (Looking at SISSY and JANA)   Oh, excuse me. 

JANA: No need on my account and he was just that thanks to his Irish love of whiskey.  Alex felt he had to stay home to protect Mom.  A steel magnolia if there ever was one.

SAM: Sort of like my family.  Watch out for dear old dad.  Home sweet home, ain’t so sweet. (Continues balancing act)

SISSY: That sucks.

MADDY: Can I see one?

JANA: Sure.  I have to get rid of them.  They’re like chocolate to me.  Here (holds up box to MADDY)

MADDY: (Picks one) Thanks.  (Feels it)  Feels fat and juicy. (Settles back in her seat to read it)

SISSY: Yeah, why are you reading these now anyway?

JANA: I found them in my basement when I was looking for something else.

(SISSY looks at her suspiciously)

JANA: It’s true, I swear. They were in an old box of travel stuff.  Reading them, I sort of fell in love with him all over again.  They’re not that well written but they’re so romantic.  I was thinking sharing them would snap me out of this lost-love-road-not-taken nostalgia jag I’ve been on.  You know, break the spell.  

(JANA holds up the box to SAM, who takes one)

SAM: I’ve never seen one of these.  Not even emailed.  I’m not very lucky in love.

SISSY: Like who is?

JANA: I wonder now what that even means.  I had to get them out of my house.  

(During JANA’s speech SISSY, MADDY and SAM each become absorbed in reading a letter.)

JANA: I got on here because I thought I’d ride to the beach and build a big bonfire and watch them go up in glorious flames, but I thought about how windy it can be and trying to start a fire and not having any matches.  Then I thought I’ll throw them in the ocean and they’ll be like little paper boats going out to sea, like Buddhists do on New Years, but I imagined them floating back to me all soggy and getting arrested for littering. (Notices they are all intently reading the letters) 

MADDY: It’s Alex’s birthday.  He says your letter is his best gift.  He wakes up in the middle of the night and can’t remember where the other gifts you gave him are and goes looking for them.

JANA: Oh, god.  We gave each other Sierra Club books, On the Loose, Not Man Apart.  We’d seen those places together, you know, got scared by a bear in Yosemite, fell in love in Big Sur. Sigh.  

(Train stops and everyone is so caught up in letters that they almost loose balance as the train jerks back and forth)

SISSY: He used this guy, Buckminster Fuller, who ever he was, you recommended, in one of his Econ papers and got an A.  

JANA: Damn right. Look him up.  One reason I loved Alex.  He took me and my ideas seriously.

MADDY: He sounds pretty serious here.  Says he doesn’t mind getting up early in the morning thinking about working for “our” future.

JANA: Yeah, we had a future there for awhile.

SAM: Travel plans to Europe.  That’s on my bucket list.

JANA: That killed me.  He went to Paris with someone else a few short months after we broke up.  And you’re too young to have a bucket list.

MADDY: I didn’t want to say anything, but I knew there had to be someone else besides dear old Mom.

JANA: But he’s never admitted it.  His break up letter sounded like another person wrote it—very matter of fact.  Basically, “You go your way and I’ll go mine.”

MADDY & SISSY: (Simultaneously) Bastard.

SAM: But still very Bob Dylan.

JANA: Right, but not much consolation.

SISSY: Can I read the other one in this envelope?

JANA: Sure, it’s yours now.

SISSY: I can’t keep it.

JANA: You’d be doing me a favor.  I don’t have room in my heart for these letters, especially since they don’t mean anything to the sender anymore.  

SAM: How do you know?

JANA: I went home for my Aunt’s funeral.  I looked him up because- you know, even though we hadn’t seen each other in a long time.  Now he’s so Mr. Conservative Businessman, still very handsome and distinguished looking.  So I told him about the letters.  He thought he only wrote four or five.  Had no idea what was in them.  But he confesses to me he still loves me, wishes he had married me and moved out here all those years ago.   

MADDY: Oh my God, so what happened?

JANA: Nothing. (Pause)  I forgave him.

SAM: So why don’t you call him?

MADDY:Would you take him back?

JANA: Only problem is he’s on his second marriage right now and he neglected to contact me after the first one broke up.

SISSY: Why didn’t you say that in the first place.  Throw these out and get yourself a therapist.   Further research is not needed.  

MADDY: She’s right.  He’s had enough chances and if he’s like most married men, he’s not leaving wife number two.  But I’ll take a few. I used to have Marty’s love letters, that’s my husband, but I burned them that time we broke up before we got married.  These kinda remind me of that passion we had, you know, might be good.

SISSY: Aghhh!  What is it about old people and passion?  Why do you have to talk about it so much? 

JANA: (Offering MADDY the box)  Please take as many as you like.  And you’re right.  He’s not going anywhere.   And I have a very good life here.

SAM: I’ll take some.  (Reaches into box) They’re a trip. He kinda reminds me of myself, if I’d been born back then, and if I’d stayed instead of leaving home.  I used to have somebody back home, too.  But I disagree with the ladies.  He told you how he felt about you for a reason.  Find out why.

SISSY: Alright.  I’ll keep this one for you and look up those authors.  It is educational. And it ‘ll remind me not to live in the past, even if it comes up and bites me in the ass in the present (Really talking to Jana when she says this, gathering up her stuff) This is where I get off.

SAM: I’m outta here too.  Take care.  Feel good.  You inspired a man to write all this.

SISSY: I can’t imagine anybody ever loving me this much, even for a little while.

SAM: They will, if, you know, you just give’m a chance.  (Starts toward the door but stops)  I think we should leave one right here for someone to find and experience what it’s like–

SISSY: To be young and dumb? (Laughing)

JANA: Why not?  Who doesn’t need to be reminded what it feels like to be young and in love?

(SAM puts a letter on one of the seats)

SAM: (To SISSY as SAM exits the train with her) Come on.  Let’s go.

JANA: Thanks, you two.

MADDY: You know, I think I’ll take a few more for my friends.  It’s been a while for some of them.  I’m gonna get off and just walk for a while.

JANA: (To MADDY as hands her some letters)   I know it sounds crazy but I really think he loved me then and he still does.

MADDY: I can believe it but maybe he can’t handle you loving him that much in return.

JANA: You think so, really?  His mother didn’t even love him best, after all he did for her.  She preferred his older brother.  I don’t know about his children.

MADDY: Well, it might be a grandchild who teaches him how to be loved.  

JANA: I wish it could have been me.

(MADDY and JANA get off the train)

MADDY : Goodbye. (Waving letters at JANA)  Thanks for the letters. (Exits)

JANA: Bye.  Enjoy them.  

 (JANA opens the box to pass out letters to people as they walk by. These people are on not stage but in the audience.)

JANA: (To first person) Hi, pardon me.  Would you like a love letter?  Might spark your imagination.  No, no, not pornographic.  Sorry.  O.K. I understand.  Sorry.  

(To second person) Would you like a love letter?  Yes, to keep.  I need to get them off my hands and I just can’t throw them away, you know.  Thanks.  

(To third person) Would you like a love letter?  Why?  Because they’re full of love and it seems a shame to waste all that love. (Pause) Sure, you can take two.   

(JANA freezes with hand outstretched with letters in it.  BLACK OUT)

Written by Mercilee Jenkins

“‘Cause, I’m gonna snooze back some further in time and about forty, fifty miles north of here.” (Jeff Kaliss)

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The following, “Family Affair” (script, excerpt), is an excerpt of a completed script by Jeff Kaliss.

Jeff Kaliss studies writing and jazz piano at CCSF after completing an MFA in Creative Writing at SFSU. His poetry appears in the Suisun Valley Review and he reads it around town. Jeff wrote a biography of Sly & the Family Stone and thousands of articles about music.

Family Affair

by Jeff Kaliss

EXT., YASGUR’S FARM, NEAR BETHEL, NEW YORK, AUGUST 16, 1969, CIRCA 4 AM.
FADE IN, over sound of an insistent rock drumbeat, to a scene tinted psychedelically:

PAN, hordes of slowly stirring sleeping hippies, most in sleeping bags across the occupied meadowland, some wandering half-naked, some smoking doobies. CAPTION: “Woodstock Music & Art Festival, Bethel, New York, August 16, 1969, 4 a.m. On stage: Sly & the Family Stone.” An amorous, still-sleepy HIPPY COUPLE, he black, she white, embrace as they listen:

SLY (OS, AMPLIFIED)

What we would like to do is, sing a song together.
(Pause) But most of us need approval.

HIPPY COUPLE embraces, kisses, then turns their smiling faces towards the glow of the stage. CUT to CU of SLY STONE, 26 years old:

SLY

Most of us need to get approval from our neighbors,
before we can actually let it all hang down.

CUT TO HIPPY COUPLE. He looks down towards his midsection, looks at her, they both start laughing. CUT back to:

SLY

Now, what we’re gonna do here is a singalong. A lot
of people don’t like to do that, because they think it
may be old-fashioned. But you must dig that it is not
a fashion in the first place! It’s a feeling, and if it was
good in the past, it is
still good! So what I want you to
do, I’d like everybody to join in, when we say “Higher!”,
I want you to hold the peace sign up. It’ll do you no harm.

SLY starts to sing, against the continuing pulse of GREG’s drumming. INTERCUT with the hippy couple responding vocally and with peace signs.

SLY

(Chanting:) I wanna take you higher!

HIPPY COUPLE

(Chanting:) Higher!!

Chant is repeated.

SLY

Way up on the hill! I wanna hear y’all!!

CUT TO dusky vista of hippie throng on the hill, some distance from the stage. Many more now are standing and displaying peace signs, as well as many more illuminated joints.

CUT TO entire Sly & the Family Stone band on stage. JERRY, on saxophone, and CYNTHIA, on trumpet, launch into the brassy instrumental tag from “Music Lover”, then transition to “I Want to Take You Higher”, with SLY taking the lead on vocals and keyboard, ROSE on backup vocals, LARRY on backup vocals and bass, and FREDDIE on guitar, along with JERRY, CYNTHIA, and GREG. During the performance of the song, we get to see all of them in closeup, intercut with shots of an audience reclaimed from the night, the Hippy Couple among them, moving to the music. We may or may not run opening credits and the film title here. On the chorus line, “Baby light my fire”, the Hippy Couple can do just that. On the extended chant of “Boom-laka-laka-laka”, CROSSCUT to:

INT, LIMO, STREETS OF OAKLAND, CALIFORNIA, PRESENT DAY

Continue reading “‘Cause, I’m gonna snooze back some further in time and about forty, fifty miles north of here.” (Jeff Kaliss)