My First Try at a Screenplay

This screenplay was for an assignment for my English class. We were supposed to study aspects of flight - it's inception, wing walking, barnstorming, etc - and writing something on it. It could be a normal 5-paragraph essay, but my teacher didn't encourage that. She wanted us to be creative, to think outside the box. So think outside the box I did.

One of the topics to study was Bessie Coleman, an African American pilot. I thought her story was interesting, so this is what I came up with. The format is not going to be correct because I can't really format a screenplay on here, but I'll do my best. :)

INT. WHITE SOX BARBER SHOP - AFTERNOON

The front room of the barbershop is empty, save a lone man in his Sunday best who is leaning backward in one of the pristine, black barber chairs, his face covered with a white towel.

CHARLES SMITH (O.S.)
Bessie?

CHARLES SMITH emerges from the back of the shop holding a stack of envelopes. He is a tall, lean man with a nicely cropped moustache and hair that is slickly combed backward to reveal a stick-straight part on his left temple. He wears a barber’s apron, but underneath that is a sharp outfit with a crisp white button up shirt with the arms rolled up above his elbows, and a navy blue bow tie and slacks. He has a smudge of shaving cream on his shiny, black shoes.

CHARLES
Bessie, where are ya?

BESSIE (O.S.)
Down here! I’ll be up in a minute!

CHARLES walks further into the shop ad lays down the envelopes, putting one in his back pocket. Moments later, BESSIE comes thundering up the stairway. She comes into view but is shielded by a large cardboard box filled with clean, white towels.

BESSIE (CONT’D)
Where do you want these?

CHARLES
Under the counter. Over by Mr.
Abbott. How are you doing, Mr.
Abbott?

MR. ABBOTT mumbles from underneath the towel. BESSIE walks over to him and places the box where directed. She is a beautiful young woman - around her mid-20s - of short stature and lean frame. Her kinky curly hair is pulled back into a tight bun at the back of her head, and she is wearing a brightly colored summer dress.

CHARLES (CONT’D)
You’ve got some mail.

BESSIE
Who from?

CHARLES pulls the envelope from his back pocket and reads.

CHARLES
The Wright Bros. Flying School.

BESSIE freezes at the counter.

BESSIE
Where?

CHARLES
You heard me.

BESSIE
Give it, give it!

BESSIE runs over to CHARLES and takes the envelope, ripping it open with shaking fingers.

BESSIE (CONT’D)
Oh, please, Lord...

A moment of silence ensues as BESSIE reads the letter, but it is clear that she has once again been rejected by yet another flight school when she crumples the letter into a ball.

CHARLES
Bessie...

BESSIE
You know, just once I’d like
someone not to judge me. Is that
too much to ask?

CHARLES
You’ll get ‘em next time.

CHARLES leaves BESSIE at the counter to attend to MR. ABBOT. He takes off the white cloth and begins to lather the shaving cream.

MR. ABBOTT
Did I hear correctly that someone
is applying to flight schools?

CHARLES
Yes, Sir. Our very own Bessie over
there is going to be a world
renowned pilot one of these days.

MR. ABBOTT
Well, she’s going about it entirely
the wrong way.

BESSIE
Excuse me, Sir, but I don’t believe
anyone asked you for --

CHARLES
Bessie!

BESSIE
What? It’s true! He’s here to get a
shave, and that’s all --

MR. ABBOTT sits up in the chair, and BESSIE immediately falls silent, realizing that he is ROBERT ABBOTT, editor and publisher of the Chicago Defender newspaper.

BESSIE (CONT’D)
I’m sorry, Sir. I didn’t realize.

ROBERT
No need to be, Bessie. You’re
right. No one asked me.

BESSIE hangs her head in shame.

ROBERT (CONT’D)
You know what I like about you?
You’ve got spirit.

CHARLES
Sometimes a little too much.

BESSIE
So what did you mean?

ROBERT
Sorry?

BESSIE
What did you mean, saying that I
was going about it the wrong way?

CUT TO:

EXT. SMOKEHOUSE DINER PORCH - AN HOUR LATER

ROBERT and BESSIE sit across a table from one another. Several other tables are filled with African American families and couples.

ROBERT
Why are you working there, anyway?

BESSIE
Well, I’ve got to make money
somehow.

ROBERT
And you chose a barbershop?

BESSIE
They were the only ones hiring.

ROBERT
Well, have you looked around
recently?

BESSIE
No.

ROBERT
Do it! Not tomorrow. Today. I think
that chili parlor is hiring for a
manager position. I’m sure you’re
not making beans working at that
barbershop compared to what you
could be making as a chili parlor
manager.

BESSIE
You think?

ROBERT
I know!

BESSIE considers this for a moment, but she is not convinced.

BESSIE
I don’t know. No amount of money in
the world could get me into a
flight school.

ROBERT
Not true.

BESSIE
Sure it is. Not only am I a woman,
but I’m black, too. I haven’t got a
chance in the world.

ROBERT
Maybe not in the States...

BESSIE
So where? France?

ROBERT
Exactly.

BESSIE
You’ve got to be kidding me. My
brother always said that all the
women flew over there, but I never
believed him.

ROBERT
Well, I wouldn’t believe him about
that, but you’d have a much better
chance of getting into a flight
school over there than you do here.

BESSIE
I wouldn’t even know where to
begin.

ROBERT
Taking French classes would be a
good start.

BESSIE
Je m’appelle Bessie. I learned that
from my brother.

ROBERT
See? You’re halfway there!

ROBERT reaches into his coat pocket for his stenographer’s pad and a pen and begins to write. When he finishes, he tears out the page and hands it to BESSIE.

ROBERT (CONT’D)
Here. Go to this address and speak
to Irene Dunworth. She’ll be able
to get you into some night classes.

BESSIE holds onto the paper like it’s an ancient artifact, penned by Jesus himself.

BESSIE
Thank you.

CUT TO:

EXT. LANGUAGE INTERNATIONAL SCHOOL - THE NEXT DAY


BESSIE stands resolutely in front of the school’s large, wooden door, ROBERT’s paper clutched tightly in her hand.

BESSIE
Je m’appelle Bessie.

FADE TO:
BLACK SCREEN:

SUPER:

“Bessie Coleman became a licensed pilot
in 1921. She was not only the first
African American to become a licensed
airplane pilot but also the first of any
race or gender to hold an international
pilot license which she received in
1922.”

“Bessie died on April 30th, 1926 in
Jacksonville, Florida when the
controls of her plane jammed and
she was thrown from the cockpit.”

“’Because of Bessie Coleman, we
have overcome that which was worse
than racial barriers. We have
overcome the barriers within
ourselves and dared to dream.’ -
Lieutenant William J. Powell, Black
Wings”
FADE TO BLACK.


So that's that. I did a lot better than I thought I would with it, and I actually got an A for it. Woohoo. I hope you all had as much fun reading it as I did writing it.

Do any of you guys write screen plays? I've heard that a lot of people (George Lucas being one of them) write extremely truncated versions of the story in paragraph form (i.e. the book forms of the Star Wars movies) and then transfer that information to a screenplay format. What are your methods? What are the plots about?

Peace.
Stef.

Comments

Guinevere said…
Wow, I love that! Powerful story. It's too bad that, like so many early aviators, her life was cut short -- but at least she lived her dreams while she was here. I think that your piece came out beautifully!

I took a few hacks at screen plays when I was in high school, but never seriously.

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