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FEEDBACK: The Divide

By sabine

DeeDee_Hughes submitted this feature-length screenplay to the FEEDBACK EXCHANGE - Feature Screenplay/Novel/Episodical Challenge


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FEEDBACK below...


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To construct a feature length screenplay is a feat in itself. You top it by tackling some really tough subjects like religion, politics, and human rights. You’ve created a solid foundation on to which to build on. The second half of the script picked up in speed with your strongest points being the FBI stepping into the picture which gave gravity to the situation, and toward the end, when Sharina lets in the “visitor.” Those were great turn of events. There is a really good set-up for further character exploration between mother and daughter that, simultaneously, dives into the complexities of their interior and exterior goals. Overall, I feel there is massive potential for a very thought-provoking and relevant piece with a deep message.


Let’s dive into some detail :-)


I feel Andrew Sutton and his run for presidency is more subplot with a very strong symbolic undertone that reflects AND clashes (in a good way) in the actions and events Sharina and Lisa experience, rather than being part of the main concept. As such, I don’t feel this plot is something to include in your logline as it diverts attention from Sharina and he’s not developed far enough to be the main character. My experience of your (current) script as a whole would express in a logline more like this:

A human rights activist puts her life on the line in her perceived fight against fundamentalism.

(I will explain the notion of “perceived” later on.)


That appears to be the focus - the main concept. Andrew Sutton’s actions don’t directly affect Sharina, and their paths only barely and indirectly cross. From that perspective, I’m not clear exactly what the hook may be. It appears to be Ahmed’s death because it’s a major event in Sharina’s life. However, considering the story as a whole, it seems to have little impact in terms of the course she decides to take in life. The way I understand it is that Sharina and Ahmed BOTH were activist bloggers. So, after his death, she simply continues. The daughter, Lisa, steps into the picture and “demands” mom stay with her in New York. And Sharina goes. This, I interpreted as the catalyst because it’s another important event in Sharina’s life. This move indicates safety, something we, as well as mother and daughter, later learn to be an illusion. So, Sharina does something she knows her husband was moving against - he wanted to be right in the middle of it, despite the dangers. As such, this makes for an interesting catalyst. Or perhaps it’s better described as a “turn of events.” I think your hook and catalyst would have more oomph and affect Sharina’s arc more dramatically, if only Ahmed was the activist blogger. She supports him, but is not involved in the articles/work. She’s described as “Dr. Sharina Khan,” so, show us this doctor work instead - a glimpse into her life, pre-husband-death. I assume she is a professor as well. His death, therefore, comes as a TRIGGER for her to continue what he started and take a more active role on the human rights front. It would create a more dramatic push forward into the story and her personal arc. Right now, her arc has several points of potential and it just needs to be expanded upon.


Overall, Sharina, for lack of better terms, comes across to me personally, as a bit of a leech. Very frequently, we see her sitting at the desk or on the couch, drinking wine… sometimes asking Lisa for a refill. She’s been living with her daughter now for 2 years (I think, apologies if I have that wrong) which, as a mother, no matter what my daughter said, I wouldn’t do - you get your own space to allow your now adult daughter to live her own life. (Btw, is it implied that Sharina earns money from the blogs? Or is it money from her late husband that supports the two? Neither Sharina or Lisa appear to be working. Just made me wonder. I think it would add an interesting layer if Lisa was working to put herself through school. Could be potential friction between the two later on.) Death threats come in, and Sharina takes NO steps to make sure Lisa is not going to be in harms way (no matter what statistics may say). It’s all rather selfish and so I didn’t find Sharina to be a likable character. HOWEVER, this can work… REALLY well! There were multiple potentials mentioned that would allow for deeper character development and chemistry between mother and daughter and their individual, as well as “combined” internal and external goals.

The wine indicates on one level a sense of coping with stress and grief. The beginnings of this are clearly there and I feel you could show us more about the stresses of this (new) activist blogger life, as well as grieving still over Ahmed. She could waller in it a little. Lisa, btw., comes across at times as an enabler, who now and then shows potential to be a catalyst. That’s great!


Sharina’s journalist skills seem rather superficial and subjective, and come across (as Lisa points out) as if Sharina is “digging for dirt” to make her arguments… but it may just not be so simple ...and this fact reflects in the president’s speech in the end - also great tie-in! Ironically, Andrew’s message of being open and accepting of each other’s differences clashes with Sharina (and to some degree Lisa) in terms of solid journalist practices and getting to the truth. And that’s really good because I think this allows an opportunity to develop a greater sense of the growth (arc) Sharina and Lisa have to experience. For instance, Sharina asks Jen if she’s a democrat. Wow. Then, Lisa says something along the lines of “do you really think I’d be friends with a republican?” Again, wow. Would Andrew speak like this? We see how divided the government and the parties are and have been for ages. We know, in order to move forward, the two main parties need to meet somewhere in the middle. Andrew represents that middle or The Neutral, through being an atheist, which is a genius move, really, on your part.… and he seems to come with a message of “don’t judge the book by its cover.” Sharina then makes a really important statement along the lines of “you know you CAN be friends with someone who thinks differently than you.’ Yes! Exactly. I do wish that statement would have come from Lisa instead, because she emerges as the more progressive in the end. It would be even more telling about Lisa’s already progressive character if Jen was in fact a republican and Lisa didn’t care and makes the point that not all republicans are fundamentalists. Another example is how Sharina is sympathetic toward the gay boy who committed suicide… driven by various types of abuse. Makes sense. Later, she pursues evidence against the abusive husband who killed his wife. This one is also understandable. Here come in the true skills of a good journalist though. The gay boy drank heavily and turned violent. Provided, toward himself, but he could have very well directed this pain and anger at someone else… and we would still understand. What he endured was horrific and was highly likely going to express in a similarly negative fashion. But we understand. Now, the husband, NOT to excuse his actions by ANY means, does not get this chance from Sharina. Where are the questions about his past? What if he came from an abusive background and his extreme views and actions were reflections of his own childhood trauma, HIS parents, etc?… which based on studies is by now a proven pattern. Where would that gay boy be 10 years down the road had he not committed suicide but rather endured more of the same abuse? Statistically, chances are probably rather high, somewhere in an abusive/destructive realm (toward self and/or others) like the husband. I think that’s Andrews ultimate message that hasn’t quite sunk in for Sharina. There’s potential for INCREDIBLE depth here. Sharina could go through massive awakening that the suffering she’s been trying to fight and reduce goes much MUCH deeper than she thought and, like her husband said, you have to be immersed in it to understand. The difference is, which then represents Sharina’s evolution compared to her husband, is the realization that we are all always immersed, we just don’t realize it because we tend to take sides (the very theme of your script comes back full circle!). The suffering is everywhere and there is no such thing as “a safe distance.” Sharina learns that activism has no better or worse location in that sense.


But clearly, all the way to the end, she doesn’t fully grasp the gravity of matters, and it costs her her life. And I do like this because it now sets up Lisa for the next step of “activist” evolution within their family. You’ve got the plot points already intuitively in your story - they just need to be elaborated upon more.

I like in that sense, that Lisa blows up at her mother for not telling her about the death threats. I would have loved to see more friction emerge, because the mom has been selfish in her conscious and subconscious quest.


So, while I feel the various interviews Sharina conducts are sort of superficial and a bit all over the place, IF you were to make this superficial approach of hers a part of her character arc, it would totally work. In that sense, her external goal would be to fight for human rights. Her subconscious/internal goal/struggle would be to “avenge” her husband, which has caused a somewhat blind/one-sided perspective. Lisa has the chops as a character to call her mother on her shit and maybe she needs to call her out on this more, especially in regards to the dad.

I would love for Lisa to be the one to really pick up on the depth of the dilemma that is the human condition and see Andrew’s message of “no shortcuts” truly shine through, through Lisa.


Andrew represents a much needed neutrality, something journalism has mostly lost… and in that process we’ve lost sight of the depth of human suffering. It would be nice if Lisa got that because she shows the beginnings of this.

Rather than seeing her with a hunky fiance in the end, i would have preferred to see her taking improved, active steps. For instance, water in hand (NOT wine), and voice recorder in the other, conducting (perhaps through a montage) comprehensive, objective, investigation!


All in all, this has such a fantastic foundation and potential to drive home a really important message. Well done!


Below, are notes in bold directly in your script for the first few pages to give you suggestions as to how to tackle some format and structural things I've noticed throughout your script.

***


INT. MCWILLIAMS’ DINING ROOM - EVENING

INT. MCWILLIAMS’ HOME - DINING ROOM - NIGHT

--> anymore, most people stick to NIGHT and DAY in the sluglines because it really serves as a technical piece of info for the director and counting the night vs. day shots.  If the specific time of day is important, it's often more useful to add that into the description of the actual action lines and then describe how the time of day affects the setting.


ANDREW DAVIES-SUTTON (49), the Governor of New Jersey, still handsome despite his advancing years, has a genuine way about him and a captivating smile. His wife CASSANDRA DAVIES-SUTTON (47), a human rights lawyer, is a smart, sophisticated and attractive woman; glamorous with her sleek auburn hair and effortless chic. 

--> this entire opening paragraph is riddled with "unfilmables." Meaning, background info we can't deduce as the audience through the visuals we are given. So, for instance, the fact that Andrew is the governor of New Jersey is something I can't see. He's not wearing a name tag and there's not a poster of him hanging behind him. Screenplays are very much like instructions. While you want the reader to enjoy the read of course, you also have to stick to "visual logic" because this is a step by step blueprint for making the movie. That Cassandra is a human rights lawyer and smart, again, is something I can't see.  Apart from that, I'm visualizing heads because there's no sense of their specific location and action. You are actually getting into that in the next paragraph. I would switch that around. Place your sentences and, as best as you can, the words within your sentences in the order that you envision this movie to unfold.


Attending a dinner party at the home of local, wealthy businessman GEORGE MCWILLIAMS (56) and his wife GAIL MCWILLIAMS (55), they sit at a long dinner table in opulent and lavish surroundings. The meal now finished, the conversation is animated as George does the rounds with a bottle of red wine.


GEORGE

Have another glass of wine Andrew. I won’t take no for an answer.


ANDREW

If you insist George. You know me, always doing what I’m told.


CASSANDRA

You’re nothing if not obedient dear.


Everybody laughs.


GEORGE

So what's this I hear about you running for President next year? Any truth in the rumors?


ANDREW

That's what I like about you George. Not only do you keep my wine glass topped up, but you come right out and say what's on your mind!


GEORGE

Never was one for beating around the bush.


ANDREW

Well, I'll be just as straight with you. I am considering the possibility, yes. But I have many concerns, not least of all the fact that I'm an atheist. Not being a man of God, the Republicans will have a field day, as you are well aware I’m sure.


GEORGE

They won’t be willing to let that one slide that’s for certain!


GAIL

Lincoln and Jefferson had no formal religious affiliation, apparently, so you would be in good company.


CASSANDRA

But they weren’t openly atheist. This would set a historical precedent.


GAIL

There’s no backtracking now, I suppose, about your beliefs I mean?


ANDREW

No. I've been very open in the past about my atheism and it's no secret that I have a secularist agenda. Besides, I couldn’t lie about who I am, as a person, even if it was an option.


GAIL

Trouble is, you've got to win over the fundamentalists somehow. They hold considerable sway, as you know.


ANDREW

True. And that’s my greatest challenge as I see it. My stance would be ‘No. I don't believe in God. I make no apologies for that, but I respect your right to believe whatever you want. And isn't it great that we can live in a country where you can believe whatever you want?’


Gail raises one eyebrow, cynically, before challenging Andrew with sarcasm and good humour.


GAIL

Oh yes, whatever you want, unless of course you want to be President. Tell me again how many openly atheist presidents there have been Andrew?


Nodding and smiling, Andrew acknowledges Gail’s clever rebuttal.


ANDREW

Uh, that'd be zero to date Gail. Point taken! But you have to admit, people are starting to wake up to the fact that having religious extremists in government is a recipe for disaster. There is a real need for a more moderate and inclusive government.


GEORGE

I agree with you Andrew. The Trump/Pence administration is the closest we've come to a theocracy in my lifetime. I think that the American people have come to realize how important the separation of church and state is. The timing is just right for an atheist president.

--> The dialogue exchange above feels a little stiff and there's a lot of "as you know" and "as you are well aware of" going on.


GAIL

When it comes down to it, though, most people still equate atheism with having no morals.


CASSANDRA

If not Satanism!


They laugh derisively.


GAIL

Atheists are deeply mistrusted.


CASSANDRA

You’re right. Polls have shown that Americans are more likely to vote for a Muslim to be president than an atheist.


GAIL

And that's saying something when you consider that Trump was voted into office largely on the back of people's latent, and not so latent, Islamophobia.


CASSANDRA

I think that something has shifted in the cultural mind-set. The atheist, agnostic and non-religious movement is a growing one, especially with the influence of social media. It’s the perfect time to challenge the status-quo.


George’s increasing enthusiasm is evident from his emphatic hand gestures.


GEORGE

Absolutely! We need to undue all the damage that has been done to our country and our reputation on the world stage these past four years. And that means breaking down walls and the acceptance of diversity. You're a good man Andrew and your popularity speaks for itself, as do your policies. You can count on my support in your presidential bid.


ANDREW

Thank you George. I can't tell you how much I appreciate that.


Gail raises her glass, inviting everyone to do the same.


GAIL

Here's to good friends and a successful future!


EVERYBODY

To good friends and a successful future!


INT. DHAKA APARTMENT - EARLY EVENING


DR. AHMED KHAN (46) focuses intently on the article that he is typing on his laptop. He sits at a large oak desk next to a bay window in the elegantly decorated open plan dining/living room of the apartment that he shares with his wife, DR. SHARINA KHAN (46).

--> Since you're not referring to them as Dr. in the dialogue headings, this here again, would be background information you seem to intend to provide the reader with, but this needs to be geared to the viewer. So, you either show somehow, or tell through dialogue.


He wears a smart navy blue suit; his black, greying hair neatly trimmed. Dr. Sharina Khan is in the bathroom, along the adjacent corridor, getting ready to go out.

The title of the article reads 'There's No Such Thing as Blasphemy'. Just above it, another article reads 'The Right to Free Expression'. The title of the blog, 'The Daily Protest' is at the top of the page, next to the date: June 23rd, 2017.


SHARINA (O.S.)

Hurry up Ahmed! We're going to be late!


Sharina leans out the door, peering into the living room, while inserting her gold earrings. Her hair is long, black, glossy and styled to perfection. She’s wearing a red sari draped over one shoulder with a black bodice underneath.


SHARINA

Are you nearly finished?


AHMED

Just one more sentence to go. Won't be long.


Sharina sashays into the room, looking ravishing.


SHARINA

This is your students’ graduation ceremony, not mine. You're the one who’ll have to handle the humiliation of walking in late.


AHMED

We won't be late. I'm just wrapping up the article now. Last word, I swear. Right. There we go!


He hits the return button, in an exaggerated manner, an expression of satisfaction on his face at the completion of his task.


AHMED

Another one bites the dust!


SHARINA

What's this one called?


AHMED

There's No Such Thing as Blasphemy.


SHARINA

Oh boy. They're not going to like that. You're really playing with fire now, dear.


AHMED

You've taken greater risks than that in your time…


Sharina arranges Ahmed’s tie as she speaks.


SHARINA

Maybe so, but things are so volatile at the moment. I must admit, I'm feeling a bit more risk averse these days. You're a brave man, Ahmed. That's one of the things I've always loved about you, but the reality is, it could very well get you killed.


AHMED

You're probably right. But we knew the dangers that we were facing when we decided to move back here didn't we?


SHARINA

We did, yes, although we hadn't received any death threats at that stage.


AHMED

That’s true. You and I always agreed, though, that in order to make a difference we would have to enter the eye of the storm. It's no good writing about freedom of expression from the relative safety of New York. That's not going to change the lives of those who are threatened into silence. We need to lead by example.


SHARINA

I know I know. And yes, I knew that moving here would involve a certain element of danger, but our words are of no use to anybody if we're dead.


In typical fashion, Ahmed attempts to cajole her out of her anxious state.


AHMED

You raise a very good point dear. In fact, I think that will be the subject of my next article… 'Finding the balance between freedom of expression and freedom from death'


They laugh, their shared understanding evident by the morbid humour that comes so naturally.


SHARINA

You're a silly sod.


Pulling Sharina toward him assertively and planting a kiss on her lips.


AHMED

And you’re the most beautiful woman I have ever seen.


Smiling broadly, Sharina dismisses his flattery with a wave of the hand and a shake of the head. The couple exit their apartment via the front door, walking briskly down the street arm in arm with one another.


EXT.STREETS OF DHAKA - EVENING


Upon leaving the university, after the graduation ceremony,

--> background info we can't see.

 Ahmed and Sharina are ambushed by a gang of masked, machete wielding Islamist extremists, 

--> how do we know, visually, that they are Islamist extremists? They can just be masked men for now. The details of who they were comes later through the news. It's perfectly fine to approach it this way. Think of your readers as the theater audience first... as readers, second. 

who are waiting in the shadows, while perusing some roadside stalls on their way home. They hack at Ahmed's head and chest, while Sharina's leg and hand are injured during her brave and futile attempt to stop them.


A policeman stands on the pavement, reluctant to intervene despite witnessing the event. The couple are eventually found by horrified passers-by and rushed to the local hospital in an ambulance. All attempts to save Dr. Khan are in vain. His injuries are too severe.

--> This paragraph reads a little bit like a summary. It includes a passage of time that is not format-wise indicated. It includes an ambulance and EMT's arriving at the scene and not able to help him. This needs to be actually written out. It can be short and simple, almost flash/montage like.


INT. HOSPITAL EMERGENCY DEPT - EVENING


A young, somewhat dishevelled, hospital DOCTOR(26) enters Sharina's private room, where she is lying in a bed with severe facial bruising. Her left leg and right hand, which required numerous stitches, are wrapped in bandages. The doctor has the sombre look of someone who is about to deliver bad news.


DOCTOR

I'm so very sorry Mrs. Khan. We did everything that we could to save your husband, but unfortunately his injuries were too severe.


Sharina shakes her head in resistance to the doctor’s words. Breaking down, she holds her bandaged hand to her face and sobs quietly.


The doctor addresses her with care and concern, placing a hand on her shoulder.


DOCTOR

Is there anyone that I can call for you? Family? Friends perhaps?


Sharina, in an obvious state of shock, stammers between sobs.


SHARINA

My... my daughter lives in New York. We haven't any...uh...family here in Bangladesh.


DOCTOR

Would you like me to give your daughter a call for you?


SHARINA

No, it's ok. I'll call her myself. I have a couple of friends I can call too.


DOCTOR

Ok. Well, please let me know if there is anything else I can do.


SHARINA

I will. Thank you, doctor, for everything you’ve done.

--> sometimes, silence or a gesture is better than dialogue. I'm surprised she manages to say anything here, let alone, being this formal. So, it feels a little unnatural.


The doctor pauses before leaving the room and, looking genuinely upset, speaks with sincerity.


DOCTOR

I'm sorry that I couldn't do more.


Sharina nods in acknowledgement, her head heavy with grief and exhaustion.


INT. KHAN’S DHAKA APARTMENT - MORNING


Sharina sits at the computer screen staring blankly at a website entitled 'The Daily Protest', with headlines reading 'The Right to Free Expression' and 'There’s No Such thing as Blasphemy', written by her husband the day of the attack, June 23rd 2017. 


Tears streaming down her face, she shakes her head in disbelief.


SHARINA

Oh Ahmed, you're a bloody fool.


There is a knock at the door. She opens it to find her daughter, LISA (21), her long, black hair tied back in a lose ponytail and her delicate features somewhat swollen from crying and sleep deprivation.


Having just arrived from the US where she lives, 

--> background info we can't see...

her suitcase on wheels in hand, she is visibly exhausted. The relief on Sharina’s face, upon seeing her daughter standing there, is palpable.


SHARINA

Lisa! I'm so glad you're here.


Emotions running high, the mother and daughter fall into each other's arms.


LISA

I got on the first flight that I could.


She takes one look at her mother’s swollen face, bandaged hand and leg crutch before tearing up.


LISA

What have they done to you?


SHARINA

Never mind me. It looks a lot worse than it is. Besides, I got off lightly. Your dad…


Sharina pauses to pull herself together as she struggles to say the words aloud.


SHARINA

...he got the brunt of it.


A flash of anger crosses Sharina’s face at the thought of the absurdity and pointlessness of it all.


LISA

I just can’t believe that Dad is...


Tears start streaming down Lisa’s face as she struggles to put her feelings into words.


LISA

...gone. I can't get my head around it. It makes no sense.


SHARINA

None of this seems real, does it?


Seeing her daughter’s reaction, Sharina’s eyes fill with tears.


SHARINA

I'll tell you one thing for certain, he won't have died for nothing. I'll make sure of that.


LISA

You and me both mom.


SHARINA

Come and sit down.


Squeezing her arm lightly, Sharina leads her daughter over to the sofa and they sit beside one another. Her tone is serious.


SHARINA

Listen. We have to be very careful. The police have told me that I'm still on a hit list. I can't live here anymore. I will never be safe.


LISA

No. Of course you can't. Come back to the States. You can stay with me. I wouldn't have it any other way.


SHARINA

Are you sure you don't mind? I’ll get my own place just as soon as I can.


LISA

We’ve got to look after each other now. It's a done deal.


EXT. UNIVERSITY CAMPUS - DAYTIME


Hundreds of students, activists and journalists march in protest at the murder and intimidation of secular writers on the streets outside the University of Dhaka. They are carrying placards that read 'Justice for Activists' and 'Down with Fundamentalism' and shouting slogans such as ‘We demand our democratic rights!’ 


An American news ANCHORWOMAN is reporting at the scene.


ANCHORWOMAN

Police say that witnesses reported having seen at least four men wielding machetes at around 7pm on Monday night, after Mr. and Mrs. Khan had left the University of Dhaka campus where they were attending a graduation ceremony. It is said that a policeman, although present at the time of the attack, failed to intervene.


Protesters have claimed that an emerging culture of impunity exists in Bangladesh due to the increasing influence of radical Islam and the government’s need to appease a handful of mullahs in exchange for their electoral support in the majority Muslim country.


Passers-by eventually called an ambulance, which arrived at the scene and rushed both Mr. And Mrs. Khan to hospital where Dr. Khan was declared dead after repeated attempts to resuscitate him.


Dr. Khan was a professor of Chemistry here at Dhaka University. He and his wife were well-known bloggers and outspoken atheists, who wrote about the dangers of religious extremism. It is believed that they had received several death threats for their alleged 'crimes against Islam'.


Hundreds of students, activists and journalists have gathered here in protest today to denounce Dr. Khan’s murder, demanding that the police take action and uphold their democratic right to freedom of speech.


A United States spokesman said today that the murder of Dr. Khan, a former resident of the United States, was a 'wicked and horrific crime' and represented an attack on the 'democratic and secularist principles' of Bangladesh.


A fringe militant group is reported to have claimed responsibility for the attack on social media, linking the murder to revenge for the United States' action against ISIS.


INT. DAVIES - SUTTON KITCHEN - MORNING


November, 2018


Andrew Sutton sits on a stool at the marble breakfast bar in his sleek, white, modern kitchen eating breakfast, drinking coffee and reading the newspaper when his wife walks in.


ANDREW

Morning love. How did you sleep last night?


CASSANDRA

Not too bad. I got a few hours. Could have done with a few more though.


Cassandra puts her briefcase down and helps herself to coffee.


CASSANDRA

I have a witness deposition this morning and I'm running late. What time is your press conference?


ANDREW

2 o'clock. On the dot.


Andrew laughs nervously.


ANDREW

There’s no going back after this!


Cassandra rubs his shoulders compassionately before taking a seat beside him.


CASSANDRA

Having second thoughts?


ANDREW

No. No. Just marking the significance of the occasion.


CASSANDRA
We both know that the Republicans will go for the jugular, but it’s nothing you can’t handle.

ANDREW
I am under no illusions about what to expect, believe me. I'm ready. Well, ready as I’ll ever be.

CASSANDRA
Yes. You are. And I can't think of anyone more cut out for this presidential bid than you. I truly believe that you can win over enough of the religiously affiliated to be in with a real chance.

Cassandra leans forward kisses Andrew on the top of the head as she gets up from her seat.


CASSANDRA
You're a good man and wise beyond your years. People can see that about you.

Andrew stands too, insisting on a kiss on the lips before Cassandra leaves.

ANDREW
I wouldn’t contemplate doing any of this without you by my side.

--> This chunk of dialogue feels a bit unnatural, forced. Trying a bit too hard to sound sophisticated.


Cassandra smiles tenderly, letting his kiss linger briefly before she agrees, with sass.


CASSANDRA

I know. I have my uses.


Andrew nods knowingly.


ANDREW

That you do.


INT. HOTEL CONFERENCE ROOM - DAY


Andrew Sutton invites local and national media to attend a press conference at a hotel in New Jersey. At a podium in a large conference room, his wife and a handful of his other supporters behind him, he speaks with confidence into the microphone as he addresses the audience.


ANDREW
My fellow Americans. Some of you may know that I have been considering a bid for the 2020 presidency of the United States for a number of months now.
I have thought long and hard about what I would be able to offer our country, as a potential leader, and how I might help to address the many difficult and complex challenges that we face, entering into the next decade.

I have decided that before committing myself and my family to this race, and in order to ensure that it is in the best interests of the nation, I will file the papers necessary to establish a presidential exploratory committee without further delay.

For the next few weeks, I will travel throughout the country exploring what's uppermost in the minds of the American people and what changes they'd like to see take place, with a view to confirming my decision to campaign for federal office. Thank you very much.

-->So, what's still missing (I think) is a visual or dialogue reference that he's actually the governor. Plus, I think he needs to address the people of New Jersey specifically about his switch in position... Who steps into his shoes while he campaigns and IF he gets the presidency?


INT. KHAN’S NEW YORK APARTMENT - EARLY EVENING


May, 2019


Sharina watches television on the three-seater, black leather sofa in the living/dining room of her New York apartment, a glass of red wine in hand. Ambient lighting surrounds. The anchorwoman on Fox News, CAROL SMITH(45), is interviewing the democratic party representative MARK MATHEWS.


ANCHORWOMAN

I understand, Mr. Mathews, that Andrew Sutton has officially announced his candidacy for the democratic party presidential nomination.


MR. MATHEWS

Yes. That’s correct.


ANCHORWOMAN

There is concern, in certain circles, that the future of the American people might end up in the hands of a Godless man with all of the implications that that entails.


MR. MATHEWS

Well Carol, I imagine that there is some concern among those who interpret 'Godless' to mean someone who lacks a moral compass. I have known Andrew Sutton for the past 20 years, however, and I can assure you that there is nothing immoral, or indeed amoral, about him. On the contrary, he is the most moral man I know.


The interview continues in the background as Lisa enters the living room, her dressing gown on and a towel wrapped around her head, having just had a shower.


SHARINA

Lisa, have you heard about the latest presidential candidate Andrew Sutton?


LISA

Sort of. Isn't he the governor of New Jersey or something?


SHARINA

Yes, but did you know that he’s an atheist?


Lisa unravels her towel and brushes her hair.


LISA

Really? Well, he has my vote.


SHARINA

Unfortunately, atheists only represent about 3 percent of the population. He's going to have quite a struggle on his hands. Even if he manages to secure the votes of all of the atheists, agnostics and religiously unaffiliated, he hasn't got a chance without the religious right.


LISA

I just hope he’s prepared for a total character assassination.


SHARINA

They're already accusing him of being 'Godless' and implying that he has no morals. Still, it's a sign of progress that he is running at all, I suppose.


LISA

That's true. Good luck to him.


SHARINA

Would you mind getting me a refill?

--> So, she been here a while now with her daughter... and she's sitting on a couch, watching TV, asking for a wine-refill from her daughter. I'm not sure how I'd feel if my mom pulled all that  lol


LISA

Sure. No problem.


Lisa picks up Sharina’s wine glass and exits the room as Sharina continues watching the news.


INT. KHAN’S NEW YORK APARTMENT - DAY


Sharina, sits at an Ikea style desk adjacent to the sliding doors leading out onto the balcony in the living/dining room of her New York apartment.


Her laptop is open and she is watching a video of three Iranian men being executed by hanging via a construction crane mounted on a truck in a public square in the city of Babol for alleged homosexual rape. The 'prisoners' are lifted high off the ground with the ropes around their necks and left dangling for 20 minutes before they die while the spectators cry, jeer and cheer.

--> run-on sentence. Also includes background info it seems, unless you add in a V.O. news type narration, and also a time jump of 20 minutes we can't perceive as a viewer either.


Shaking her head in disgust, she types another website address into the search box, and having found what she is looking for, picks up the phone.


RECEPTIONIST (O.S.)

Good morning, Iran Human Rights Documentation Centre.


SHARINA

Good morning. My name is Sharina Khan. I'm a journalist doing a story for 'The Daily Protest' about the recent public execution of the 3 Iranian men accused of homosexual rape. Is there anyone I could speak to who might be familiar with the case?


RECEPTIONIST (O.S.)
I will put you through to Aban. Please hold.

ABAN
Hello Aban here. How can I help you?

SHARINA
Hello. My name is Sharina Khan. I am a journalist for a website blog called 'The Daily Protest'. We write about human rights issues especially in relation to religious oppression. Um, I’m doing a story on the recent public hangings of 3 Iranian men accused of homosexual rape. Would you be familiar with the case?

ABAN (O.S.)
Oh yes. I am very familiar with the case. I have been following the 'so-called' trial very closely.

SHARINA
So-called trial?

ABAN (O.S.)
Yes. So-called trial. A complete sham of a trial is what it was. Whatever you want to call it.

SHARINA
So it wasn't a real trial in your opinion?

ABAN (O.S.)
Not by any stretch of the imagination. I have it on good authority that the men did not even have legal representation. The charges were complete fabrications. The sex was consensual. These men were murdered for having gay sex.

SHARINA
Would you have any contacts who might have first-hand information about the case or such cases in general? Witnesses? Family members or solicitors that might have dealt with them?

ABAN (O.S.)
I can give you the contact details of a solicitor who deals with cases like these and may have crossed paths with them at some point or know someone who has.
If you like, I can also put you in touch with an LGBT activist, who now lives in New York. He would be happy to tell you about the experience of living as a gay man in Iran, if that would be helpful.

--> I don't know the workings, but I wonder if it really is this easy to get that type of info from them. It doesn't seem quite believable.


SHARINA

That would be very helpful. Thank you.


INT. NEW YORK CAFÉ - DAY


Recognizing him from his description over the phone, 

-->background info we can't see.

Sharina stands up to greet DARIUS (41), a tall, slim, dark-haired man, handsome and smartly dressed, when he enters the café. Popular and quite central, it is crowded with lunchtime traffic.

SHARINA
Darius?

DARIUS
Sharina? Lovely to meet you.

Sharina invites Darius to sit down with a gesture of her hand.

SHARINA
Thank you so much for coming. I really appreciate you taking time out of your day.

DARIUS
No problem. I'm happy to help. It's a subject that's close to my heart.

SHARINA
Would you like a cup of coffee? Something to eat perhaps?

DARIUS
A coffee please.

Sharina calls the waitress over with a subtle nod and a smile.

SHARINA
Could we have another coffee please?

WAITRESS
Sure. No problem.

SHARINA
Thank you.

Turning to Darius.

SHARINA
So, how long have you lived in New York?

DARIUS
About 5 years now.

SHARINA
How are you finding it?

DARIUS
I love it here. I have a good life, close friends, a rewarding job. I can be myself. I'm much, much happier here than I was in Iran. Apart from the weather, that is, which takes some getting used to.

Sharina nods sympathetically.

SHARINA
The winters are harsh aren't they?

DARIUS
They really are. It's a rude awakening.

They both laugh.

SHARINA
I must say, your English is excellent!

DARIUS
Oh. Thank you very much. I knew a little English before I left and I took some classes when I got here. With my job I have to speak English all the time too, so I get plenty of practice.

SHARINA
It’s very impressive!

Darius smiles modestly.

DARIUS
Thank you.

--> This entire chunk doesn't really move the story forward. Watch out for the chit-chat at the beginning and ending of each meeting she has. It's a pattern throughout the entire script. With some creative transitions and cuts you can skip through all that and create a smoother pace and more engaging story. Altogether, if you edit out all these occurrences, you'll probably gain about a dozen pages... which is great, because you can fill them with juicy character development!


SHARINA

So, was it hard to get out of Iran? How did you manage it?


DARIUS

It was not an easy process, believe me. First I fled to Turkey and from there I managed to get the paper work sorted. It took a few years, but eventually I was granted asylum in the US.


SHARINA

What made you decide to leave?


DARIUS

Well, necessity really. It was either that or have my genitals removed.


Darius laughs at how absurd that must sound.


SHARINA

You mean gender reassignment surgery?


DARIUS

Yes. When I finally figured out that I was gay I was in my early twenties. I guess it must have been obvious, because my family already knew. There was no 'coming out' or anything. They just sent me to see this psychologist in Tehran, who advised them to make me get gender reassignment surgery.


SHARINA

I'm familiar with the practice. It's quite common in Iran I hear.


DARIUS

It is. Doctors are told to tell gay people that they are 'sick' and in need of treatment. Those that don’t comply are often accused of some crime and executed by the state.


SHARINA

I can't imagine being forced to become a different gender for being gay.


DARIUS

Well it happens all the time. The statistics are quite shocking. It is a major human rights violation. A total travesty.


Sharina shakes her head, disturbed by what she is hearing.


SHARINA

So what happened next?


DARIUS

Well, my family said that either I get the surgery or they would have me killed. So, on the eve of the surgery, I fled to Turkey with the help of a few friends of mine. And, the rest is history. As they say.


SHARINA

You've been through a lot.


DARIUS

At least my story had a happy ending, unlike so many of the gay people I knew in Tehran. I just wish I could do more to help them.


SHARINA

I would like to shine a light on the plight of gay people in Iran, for what it's worth. I don't have a huge audience but it's significant and with social media nowadays these articles can go quite a distance if they are shared.


DARIUS

I'm just glad to have the opportunity to share my experience with people. Now that I'm safe here in the US, I want to raise awareness in whatever way I can. It's the least I can do.


Sharina reaches into her handbag, pulls out a card and hands it to Darius.


SHARINA

This has my website address on it. The article should be in tomorrow's edition.


DARIUS

I will look out for it.


SHARINA

And thanks again for meeting me. I'm so grateful.


DARIUS

My pleasure Sharina.


They shake hands before Darius saunters out, exuding a confidence that belies the traumas that he’s endured.


INT. NEW YORK APARTMENT - MORNING


Sharina sits at her desk staring out the sliding door windows, lost in thought, as the busy traffic goes by. A cup of coffee in her hand, she starts typing a new article entitled 'Why Iran doesn't have any gay men' on her laptop.

--> Sharina spends an awful lot of time in front of the computer/at her desk or on the couch. This being a visual medium, this doesn't quite make for exciting cinematic value. I would find some creative ways to portray her working on her blog other than sitting at her desk. On that note, several of her meetings also take place in cafes. I would change that up as well a bit. Like meeting at a park and walking. Especially the meeting after the death threat would then work really well because she could act a little paranoid, looking over her shoulder quite a bit, etc.


Her cell phone, which sits on the desk, starts ringing, startling her. She answers it, somewhat annoyed at being distracted from the task at hand.


SHARINA

Hello?


AYAH (O.S.)

Hello, is this Sharina?


SHARINA

Yes, it is. Ayah? Is that you?


AYAH (O.S.)

Yes! It's been a long time. How are you?


SHARINA

I'm good thanks. Well, holding it together anyway. What time is it there in Islamabad?


AYAH (O.S.)

It's just after 7pm. I'm not long home. Just about to crack open a bottle of wine. It's been a rough day.


Ayah snickers.


AYAH

You know me. Always self-medicating with wine. Not much has changed there.


SHARINA

You and me both Ayah! I'm on the coffee at the moment though. It's a little early here for wine. Even for me.


They both laugh.


SHARINA

So, I'm afraid to ask, is everything ok?


AYAH (O.S.)

I wish I could say that I am phoning just to say hello and see how you are, but unfortunately, I have some bad news.


SHARINA

Oh Ayah, please don't tell me that something's happened to Zargul.


AYAH (O.S.)

I'm so sorry Sharina. She was shot and killed. Yesterday.


SHARINA

Oh fuck! Please no. 

--> Again, sometimes less is more.  This doesn't seem like the right words here and I'm not sure which words would be. A silence would probably work better.


AYAH (O.S.)

I'm so sorry. I know how close you two were. It's just devastating. For all of us.

Sharina takes a deep breath in an attempt to gather herself together.


SHARINA

Who was it? The Pakistani Taliban?


AYAH (O.S.)

They have claimed responsibility. Yes.


Sharina pauses as she tries to hold back the tears.


SHARINA

She always knew this might happen, of course, but you're never really prepared for these things.


AYAH (O.S.)
I know. I know. It's just so tragic. The only consolation is that she died while making the lives of women in unbearable circumstances a whole lot better.

SHARINA
It is some consolation, but not enough. Raising awareness about honour killings and the plight of acid attack victims shouldn't cost you your life.

--> An awkward exchange. Why would these two who knew Zargul regurgitate this info in this moment and this formal? It feels like the info is there for the reader/viewer and so feels on-the-nose. 


AYAH (O.S.)

No. It's incomprehensible.


Sharina is close to tears by this stage.


SHARINA

She didn't deserve to die.


AYAH (O.S.)

No Sharina. She didn't. We live in a twisted world.


Ayah pauses, aware that Sharina is sobbing quietly.


AYAH

Are you going to be ok? I know that this might trigger all sorts of memories and feelings for you Sharina. I don't want to leave you on your own.


SHARINA

I'll be ok Ayah. Lisa is here. Don't worry. I won't be on my own.


AYAH (O.S.)

Alright then. You take care. I will forward the details to you about her funeral if you like. I'm sure you won't be able to attend, but if you want to send some flowers or a card or something.


SHARINA

Please do Ayah. And tell me, was she working on anything when she died? A story? I'd like to help if I can. I mean, finish where she left off. It would mean a lot to me.


AYAH (O.S.)

I'm sure she was Sharina. I don't know the details but I will look into it and let you know.


SHARINA
Thank you. And thank you for phoning. I wish it was under better circumstances, but that's life I guess.

Ayah sighs audibly.

AYAH (O.S.)
That's life.

SHARINA
Please give my love to her family and my sincerest condolences.

AYAH (O.S.)
I will. And I’ll be in touch soon.

SHARINA
Bye Ayah.

AYAH (O.S.)
Bye Sharina. Take care.

--> Watch out for your phone conversations following the same hi and goodbye chit-chat like in the meetings... it drags down the speed of your pace. Plus, it creates a sort of neatly organized cookie-cutter progression. First say good bye, then have Lisa enter, etc. To make this flow more, have events/actions overlap throughout your script. In this particular scene, that would mean that Lisa for example enters the room while mom is still talking on the phone. Lisa notices the tears, gestures her concern, etc. It makes things more dynamic.


 I hope this feedback is useful to you  :-) I'd be excited to see a revision!

Document
FEEDBACK: The Divide

Created: Jul 24, 2018

Tags: feedback, feature length screenplay

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