From the vaults – Stranger in a strange land

by Amar Patel in


Fiction isn't really my forte but after mentoring at the Ministry of Stories, working on more scripts for clients and discovering genre-bending series such as Wormwood, I have begun to question my own limitations. And what a feeling. It's healthy to embrace whatever you think you are least capable of. 

A while back, I went on a two-day Master Class presented by The Game Changer. The aim was to develop a new wave of original filmmakers, producers and writers from black and minority ethnic backgrounds. Over one intense weekend they held sessions on new perspectives in characterisation and unconscious bias, directing your vision, building emotional intelligence, presenting ideas and finding funding

The most inspiring part for me was the directing workshop run by the intense yet charismatic Burt Caesar. He took us through the principles of narrative and how to work with actors to convey a story on set. Then it was time to put theory into practice by writing a two-scene short in about 30 minutes. He gave us a choice of five prompts:

  • Stranger in a strange land
  • Be careful what you wish for
  • Can you judge a book by its cover?
  • What you reap is what you sow
  • No good deed goes unpunished

I chose the first.

Unfortunately, only a few of us got to read out their scripts.

So in the spirit of growth, it's time to share.
 

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SCENE I

The sun beats down on a lifeless body in the back yard of a Nebraska chop shop. Rodents, ants, spiders and other creepy crawlies scurry across the ground. It is a sweltering, unforgiving noon.

The body begins to move…

Drifter: "Ah … not again. My head."

Voiceover: Hey, you wanna hear a funny story. I have this problem.

I know what you're thinking. Guy gets loose, has a few drinks next thing you know … he's face down in the middle of nowhere.

But this is different. This happens to me EVERY night. I mean every goddamn night. And I always end up in some filthy ashtray of a town, trying to pick up the pieces. 

Drifter looks in his pockets for clues about the night before. But all he finds are coins and sand.

Drifter: "Wait, why am I wearing overalls?"

He slowly gets to his feet, still groggy, tripping over random metal bars, tyres and a sodden bag.

Drifter: "I need to get outta here. Wait, where the hell am I? Vinny. Call Vinny. He always knows what to do. He'll straighten things out for me."

Drifter stumbles to the nearest doorway and begins to get his bearings. He feels quesy. After a few wrong turns he finds the toilet and throws up. Violently.

Camera cuts to Drifter's bloody hands as he splashes water on his face and looks up at the mirror. His eyes finally open. Confusion turns to panic.

Drifter: "No, no, no…"


SCENE II

We open on a phone booth as Drifter tries to call Vinny. He barely makes it past five fumbled digits before the line goes dead.

A little girl, young and brash, taps him on the shoulder.

Girl: "Don't waste your time, buster. That phone hasn't rung since the Fifties. It makes a good restroom, though. If you're desperate n'all. But I guess you know all about that.

Drifter: "Beat it, kid. This ain't the time. Wait … where the hell am I?"

Girl: "That's a good one, greaser. Heavy night, huh."

Drifter: "Look, this is stimulating but I need to call my friend asap. Get a ride to my kid's birthday in Salt Lake City."

Girl: "Buddy you are s$%^ outta luck. That's a way and there's a big storm coming. Hey, I thought your kid passed years ago."

Camera pans to Drifter. He's confused and distraught.

Suddenly, a creaking door swings open and a grizzly stranger appears. Shotgun raised.

Stranger: "You can't hide forever, boy"


CUT



Amar Patel

On this day

by Amar Patel in


MY HOLIDAY FROM HELL

A summer spent travelling in the US should be a once-in-a-lifetime adventure for a university graduate. Unforgettable it was – for all the wrong reasons

hoto taken on the 11th anniversary of 9/11 by Allegra Imhoff

Tuesday. Another day, another dollar in the sweltering South.

Look for toys. Ask questions. Beware the dog. 

Knock knock … and knock again. The door opened. There I stood, side on, a few paces back from the entrance just as I had been taught. My smile, although false and contorted with a grimace of desperation, offered a glimmer of hope. "I am a professional educational consultant. I can do this," I thought.

In front of me stood a hulking figure, in ripped denim jeans, sleeveless check shirt, stubbled face and frayed trucker's hat, under which sat two piercing eyes; the kind that meant trouble. It was the look of a man with nothing to lose. Before I could get into my stride and explain why this charred, clipboard-carrying figure was standing on his porch, he reached to his side and pulled out a shotgun. Raising it slowly and pointing it at my midriff with real intent, he hissed these chilling words: "Boy, you got a lotta nerve showing up here right now. Get off my porch."

How had it come to this? Well earlier that year, impulsive and unsuspecting, I had signed up for a business programme selling educational handbooks to families door-to-door. On paper it felt like a raw deal. I would have to raise all the money for flights, two weeks of training in Nashville, accommodation, food and 'office supplies'. Upon arrival in my designated area – Roanoke, Virginia, a sleepy, hilly expanse known as the "Star City of the South" – I would have to go from door to door asking if anyone had a spare room to let that summer. Once I strapped on my book bag and began wrestling with my map I would be working on 100 per cent commission – no guaranteed wage.

So why do it? The thrill-seeker in me, perhaps. Seduced by the road, that rebellious sense of adventure that crackled from every page of Kerouac and Hunter S Thompson that I had read up to that point, there seemed no option but to meet uncertainly head on. But on that particular day several troubles were weighing me down: colleagues who had jumped ship, poor sales figures, the fallout from countless six-day weeks of fourteen-hour toil in 90 per cent humidity and brushes with death while peddling along the freeway though the pitch-black night.

The neighbourhood I was working in seemed quieter than usual: no toddlers playing with their house-bound 'moms', no nannies busying themselves around the garden, no traffic. Greetings at the door were more hostile than usual, accented by a different reaction. A traumatised stare. Confederate and stars and stripes flags were drooping half-mast.

On to the next house. An elderly lady – the church-going type – recoiled from the door. “You should be ashamed of yourself,” she declared. I moped along, confused. Was I missing something here? A public holiday, a hard-line ban on peddlers, the colour of my skin perhaps?

"Keep going," I thought. I turned the corner, surveyed the street and singled out a beautiful white bungalow with a "welcome" mat in front of the door and all manner of flowers delightfully arranged around the garden. Surely I'd be safe from harm at this sanctuary? And thankfully I was right. A compassionate Irish lady ushered me in with worrying urgency. Inside, the television was on full blast. It sounded like an episode of NYPD Blue. “The plane have just crashed into the building.” She paused, looked out at the garden for a moment and continued. "I think my son-in-law’s in there,” she muttered. “I’ll fetch some tea."

The date? 9/11.

Out to anybody that lost somebody that day. 



Amar Patel

The gig

by Amar Patel in


Here's a short story that I bashed out at a recent brand workshop. The aim of the day was to master a certain style of writing that "takes you there". The ability to paint a picture with only words – active verbs, alliteration, detail and sentences of varied length. The brief was quite loose and certainly liberating: 5-10 minutes to describe the atmosphere of a picture of a crowd at a famous London venue. The moment you describe could be real or imaginary. I'll leave it up to you to decide if this ever happened.
 

 
This is it. There's a sea of black and red, dotted with flickers of stars and sequins that dance off the bright white lights in the sky. Shouts, cheers, screams and whoops whizz from left to right, from the front row to the posh seats way up high. 

Even that slightly stiff suited bloke is going crazy. He's bursting at the seams, you know. Not sure about those tight lack trousers. 

And hats. They're prescription issue for everyone in the house.  

Almost time. Lights up. Twenty-five years in the making, and then some. Slipping, sliding, gliding, kicking … and moonwalking of course. He makes it look so easy. The Fred Astaire of the beat.

Who cares if we're out of rhythm as the fanfares sound and the troupe of dancers descend into the audience to lend a hand. For that moment, I am that 10-year-old boy with the cassette, pen and pad set bought from Woolworths in 1988 for £9.99. For that moment, I am the King of Pop.

 

A self-portrait by Michael Jackson from his 1988 Moonwalk autobiography, looking 10 years into the future



Amar Patel