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Limbo

by Panikos


Warning: This work has been rated 18+ for language.

I've been writing the opening extract of a TV pilot for my university course and this is the first eight minutes of it. All kinds of feedback are welcome, but I'm particularly interested in finding out whether:

a) it's easy to follow, and if any plot elements are (intolerably) difficult to understand 

b) if any of the dialogue seems false  

c) it's engaging as an introduction

Thank you! 

INT. Bathroom – DAY

KENDALL LANCHESTER (22) stands before the bathroom mirror, her face grey and sunken. The table next to the sink is heaped in bottles, rags and sponges. She picks up an open bottle, puts a cloth to it and wets the fabric, then wipes her face with it. She wipes her lips, her eyelids, the insides of her nose - everywhere.

She angles her head, scooping her limp hair up so she can reach her neck. She stops.

On the back of her neck is a small blotch of brown. She puts her fingers to it.

Someone knocks on the bathroom door and Kendall starts.

ALICE

Love? Are you okay in there? It’s half past.

KENDALL

Yeah. Yeah, just a sec.

Kendall lets her hair fall back over her neck, covering the blotch. She stares at herself in the mirror, then screws the bottle shut and bangs it on the table.

INT. Church Hall – DAY

A wobbly ring of people sits on plastic chairs at the centre of the hall. Apart from a middle-aged woman in bohemian clothes (MRS LOWSDALE), all members of the group are shrunken and haggard, some in wheelchairs, others gripping crutches. Kendall sits angled away from the group, chewing on her hoodie drawstring. Her eyes are on a woman two seats away, whose left cheek is mottled in brown.

Opposite her, TIMOTY SIMMONS stands hunched over a walking frame.

TIMOTHY

(Hoarsely)

…one has to keep positive, I suppose. The doctor gave me an injection to, uh, to loosen my hand up, and I’ve been doing some exercises she said might help, but it’s a stubborn beast. My other hand’s started getting a bit stiff, as well, so that’s rather…it’s difficult.

Kendall rolls her head back, staring at the ceiling. Timothy clears his throat, but his voice stays hoarse.

TIMOTHY

I’ve no rot yet, though. Small blessings. There’s just this– I was trying to water the plants yesterday – usual morning routine – and my grip just went. Dropped the can, water everywhere. It’s a silly thing, really, but it- it makes it real. Reminds you.

Timothy looks down, screwing his eyes shut. He shakes his head.

TIMOTHY

Sorry. Sorry. I- that’s all, I think.

MRS LOWSDALE

That’s absolutely fine, Timothy. Thank you for sharing.

She claps as he sinks back into his seat. Weak applause ripples around the rest of the circle, but Kendall doesn’t join in.

MRS LOWSDALE

Would anyone like to contribute next?

Mrs Lowsdale glances around the circle. Her eyes stop on Kendall, her expression kindly.

MRS LOWSDALE

How about you, Kendall? You’ve been silent as a statue ever since you joined us.

Kendall spits the hoodie drawstring from her mouth.

KENDALL

What d’you want me to say?

MRS LOWSDALE

Anything you like. Just talk a little about yourself, if that’s all you feel like doing.

Kendall glances around the circle, eyebrows raised. She gets to her feet.

KENDALL

My name’s Kendall. I’m twenty-two. I’m dead just like the rest of you fucks.

Mrs Lowsdale’s smile flickers, her gaze scooting to the twelve-year-old girl sitting two seats away.

MRS LOWSDALE

We do try and keep the circle friendly, Kendall.

KENDALL

I thought you said I could say anything.

Mrs Lowsdale’s smile returns, but drawn tighter than before.

MRS LOWSDALE

Absolutely. This is a completely open space.

KENDALL

Good. Good. So: about me. I got first degree CMS, because I’m lucky lucky lucky just like Kylie Minogue sings it. Some kids found me in a river two weeks ago, about a mile thataway.

She points ahead of her.

KENDALL (CONT’D)

Decked it and fell in, the police reckon, but fuck if I can remember. Don’t think I want to.

The group looks uncomfortable. Kendall taps her lips, which are chapped and colourless.

KENDALL

Anything else? Well, there’s not a piece of clothing I own that doesn’t stink of embalming fluid now. My hair’s falling out. Mum keeps forgetting I don’t eat, then crying about it. So it’s all hunky-dory, really.

She looks at Mrs Lowsdale.

KENDALL

That enough contribution for you?

Before the woman can answer, Kendall turns away from the group and crosses the hall to the exit, pulling her hood up over her head.

INT. Alice’s Car – DAY.

Kendall climbs into the passenger seat of the car, which is parked on the street outside the church. ALICE LANCHESTER sits at the wheel. She looks at her daughter, nibbling her lip.

ALICE

Was it okay?

Kendall pulls a string of earphones out of her pocket, pressing them into her phone.

KENDALL

A delight.

ALICE

Was it really? Is she getting better, that woman? Because the lady at the hospital said there were a few groups you might-

KENDALL

It was fine, Mum. Drive. Let’s get this over with.

Alice turns to face the road, fumbling with her keys. She side-eyes Kendall.

ALICE

Seatbelt, lovie.

Kendall snickers, without humour.

KENDALL

What, so I don’t die?

Alice looks away, blinking, her grip tight on the steering wheel. Kendall looks down at her phone.

She reaches over and pulls her seatbelt on. A moment later, the car purrs to life, and they peel away from the curb in silence.

EXT. Hodgson front drive – DAY.

The car pulls up the drive to a detached house with a tended garden. Light honeys the windows, the stretched shadow of a naked tree sprawling across the lawn. When the car hums to a stop, the only sound is that of birds.

Alice and Kendall climb out of the car, pausing to look up at the house.

KENDALL

They’re going to be bad about it.

ALICE

Give them a chance, lovie.

KENDALL

Ten to one says she pulls a face when she hugs me.

ALICE

Ken. Please.

KENDALL

If she hugs me.

ALICE

Of course she’s going to-

The front door opens, revealing BARBARA HODGSON, a middle-aged lady with bleached hair and rings on every finger. She offers a forced grin when she sees them.

BARBARA

I thought I heard that old banger of yours!

She walks down the steps, Alice moving up to meet her, and the two embrace. The hug lasts a little longer than it should, Barbara cupping the back of her sister’s head.

When they step away, Barbara turns to Kendall. She swallows, but keeps that same broad smile pinned to her face.

BARBARA

Come here, little K.

She wraps Kendall up in a hug. Kendall’s arms loosely encircle her in return. Out of sight of Kendall and Alice, Barbara wrinkles her nose.

INT. Hodgson living room - DAY

Alice and Kendall sit on a small sofa in a plush, floral-patterned living room. On the bigger sofa, BENJAMIN HODGSON (10) sits with his knees drawn up. Barbara fiddles with the TV remote, trying to unmute the flickering telly, but gives up and places it back on the table – neatly, so it lies parallel to the magazines.

BARBARA

Not worth bothering with. Who wants to be subject to Paul O’Grady’s voice, anyway?

She laughs, too loud, and Alice titters politely. Barbara claps her hands together.

BARBARA

Drinks order, then? I’ve got peppermint tea for you, Al. And you’re a black coffee lady, aren’t you, Kendall?

KENDALL

You know, I’ve gone right off it lately.

A hesitation. Alice looks agonised.

BARBARA

Oh god, sorry, I didn’t— me and my big mouth-

KENDALL

No, don’t worry. It was supposed to be a joke.

Barbara, flushed, beckons to Benjamin.

BARBARA

Darling, just come- you come help me carry everything in.

Benjamin slinks off the sofa, following his mother out of the room and down the corridor.

BENJAMIN

(Distantly audible)

Can she not have coffee because she’s a zombie?

BARBARA

Shh! Don’t use that word.

Alice, sitting upright on the sofa, tenses. Kendall picks listlessly at the fringing on the arm, her rheumy eyes staring into nothing.

INT. Hodgson living room – EVENING

Alice and Barbara sit on the bigger sofa, nursing steaming mugs of tea, while Kendall curls up on the smaller one, hood pulled up, her phone close to her face. The TV, now unmuted and too loud, shows an episode of The Simpsons.

BARBARA

…and I just don’t know where I am with this woman. She’s strolling round the shop like she’s bloody royalty, and she picks up one of the dresses-

ALICE

Mmhm?

BARBARA

And she starts taking her clothes off there and then, like the shop floor’s her personal bloody changing room. And I’m like, I’ve seen some things in my time, but-

Kendall’s phone buzzes, the screen blackening as a call comes up. She climbs off the sofa. Alice leans forward as if to follow her, but Kendall dismisses her with a wave of her hand and moves out of the room.

INT. Hodgson hallway – EVENING

Kendall swipes the call and puts the phone to her ear.

KENDALL

Yeah, that’s me.

Kendall pauses, listening to the indistinct buzz at the other end of the phone. Her brow furrows, and she glances in the direction of the living room and the blaring television, then opens the front door and steps outside.

EXT. Hodgson front drive – EVENING

Kendall shuts the door behind her and stands on the front step. She holds the phone to her ear with one hand, propping her wrist up with the other.

KENDALL

Can you just say that again? My ears are shot.

The voice buzzes. Kendall’s expression shifts, her frown sliding away in place of shock. Her grip on the phone turns ironclad.

INT. Hodgson hallway – EVENING

Kendall eases the door shut behind her gently, her expression troubled, and stops in her tracks. The television is silent. The snuffle of sobs fills the quiet in its place.

ALICE

(Tearfully)

I just- I don’t know what I’m going to do. She’s up and about now, but how long before—

BARBARA

You’ve just got to take each day as it comes, love.

ALICE

How? Half the time it’s like- like she won’t even accept it’s happening, so I can't even talk about anything. I don’t know what’s even going on in her head.

BARBARA

Have you talked to George?

ALICE

She doesn’t want him knowing. I keep hoping she’ll change her mind, but—

Kendall stiffens. She reaches behind her, pulls the door open, and slams it. She waits a second, listening to the scuffling sounds of Alice wiping her face, until the TV turns on again. Then she moves to the doorway, holding her phone up.

KENDALL

Mum. Police just called. 


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8 Reviews


Points: 115
Reviews: 8

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Sun Dec 31, 2017 10:21 pm
Slobst wrote a review...



Hey :) So first up I must say that I have no education when it comes to screenwriting. All I've done is read a couple books (I loved Robert McKee's Story) and tried it out myself a little and what I've found is that writing a script is probably way harder than writing novels. In scripts, you have such a small limited space to try and say so much.

So take everything I say with a grain of salt. I am just a teenager after all but these are my general thoughts:

"INT. Bathroom – DAY"

* Probably just a formatting error but "bathroom" must be written BATHROOM in all caps. This goes for all location lines

* "then wipes her face with it. She wipes her lips, her eyelids, the insides of her nose - everywhere."
Also a tiny note but I feel like you've said the same thing twice here. Her lips, eyelids and inside of her nose is "her face". Either delete the first mention of face or delete "her lips, eyelids and nose"

* "Someone knocks"
What kind of knock? Soft, loud, fast, slow? Could change the feeling of the scene depending on what word you use

* "Kendall starts"
Starts what? Talking? I feel like you don't need to indicate that

* I also really like the idea of the brown blotch. Immediately making us ask questions

* "shut and bangs it on the table."
Nice. Clearly showing us the feeling of the scene. Making us ask more questions

What information is gained in this scene?:
1. Kendal has some sort of illness
2. She's hiding it away or is maybe ashamed of it. Doesn't want Alice to know how she really feels about the illness
3. She's really angry about this illness



GROUP THERAPY SCENE

* "A wobbly ring of people sits on plastic chairs at the centre of the hall"
Ring of people sit on plastic chairs

* The old man's speech feels really real. Well done.

* Okay, so the idea of a character introducing themselves via a group therapy chat is actually kind of a trope. Not to say that whenever a story does it that it'll always be bad but you just have to make sure when you do it, it's different somehow.

* "her gaze scooting to the twelve-year-old girl sitting two seats away"
Really liked this bit of comedy. Lightens it up slightly.

* Also, this scene makes Kendall seem like a massive asshole and smart-alec. Which if that's who she is, is perfectly fine. In fact, it's cool to have an asshole protagonist. I do feel like it might be a bit overdone. I'm also struggling with the "Overly Edgy" teenage vibes in my script.

What information is gained in this scene?:
1. Other people are suffering from the same disease
2. Kendall and everybody in the room is going to die
3. The illness has a large age range
4. Kendall is an asshole and goes against the group


ALICE'S CAR SCENE:

* There's not a lot of information gained here

What information is gained during this scene?:
1. Alice, the mother, knows about the disease and sent Kendall to the groups
2. Kendall is an asshole to her mother as well


HODGSON FRONT DRIVE SCENE

* "hums to a stop"
"Hums" make me feel like the sound was soft but she later says it was loud? I don't know. Maybe we have different ideas about how loud a hum is?

* "Light honeys the windows, the stretched shadow of a naked tree sprawling across the lawn"
Beautiful way of explaining a scene that I don't think really matters... Unless they later climb the tree or something there's no need to go into such detail about the windows or trees

* Also not a lot of information gained here

Information gained:
1. Intro to Barbara who seems eccentric



Hodgson living room Scene:

* "Can she not have coffee because she’s a zombie"
I don't know how I feel about this. I think you kind of lost me here. Maybe use any word other than Zombie. Make one up even, I dunno. I do have a massive bias against zombies so I don't know if my opinion is really valid here. I also feel like it's spelling it out a bit too hard for the audience. Maybe a bit more subtle somehow

* rheumy
Didn't know that was a word. Nice

* Barbra's speech about the women taking her clothes off seems a bit weird and off the wall. But it feels mostly weird that nobody even reacts to her, not even Alice.

Information gained:
1. Kendall is a Zombie???
2. Kendall doesn't like being called a Zombie?


PHONE CALL SCENE
* Really liked pretty much everything here. Made me feel some real intrigue. Nice.
* When she walks back in Alice's mood has suddenly shifted so quickly? I assumed the conversation was maybe a couple of minutes? How about if Alice was laughing along with Barbara, trying to escape the reality of her daughter dying. This would make it hit harder when she comes in and says the cops called because it directly contrasts with the happy mood in the room


Overall, I actually really liked it. I really want to know what's up and what's going on. I think Kendall is maybe too much of an asshole and Alice is a bit too much of an over-the-top grieving mother. Well done though and I hope the submission goes well




Panikos says...


Hi! Thanks for the review. Just a few things to respond to:
'Starts' is actually a verb in its own right - it means to flinch, like at a loud noise.
Kendall isn't a zombie in the traditional sense, but the word is basically a slur in this universe. It's an insensitive and reductive way to refer to these people, which would hopefully become obvious throughout the rest of the script.
Kendall's nastiness is completely intentional. She is rubbish at dealing with emotion.
But thank you! I have also read a good chunk of Story and found it really interesting. I definitely prefer prose to scriptwriting (hence why my scene descriptions are a bit floral) but I likes trying it out. Thanks again!



Slobst says...


Ohhhhhhhhhhh okay that makes sense! My bad, I%u2019m sure you can understand where my confusion came from!

On second thought the Zombie thing used as a slur is a pretty cool idea. ANd it makes sense that the kid would use the slur. I%u2019m not sure why I didn%u2019t really think about that last night but yeah. That%u2019s cool

And yeah. I try to keep action lines as simple as possible. But it%u2019s difficult sometimes. It%u2019s also extremely tempting to put in stuff like body language, emtions, camera angles. But that%u2019s the struggle with screenwriting.

Have you read any other books that you enjoyed on screenwriting? And are you going to keep posting here?

See ya



Slobst says...


Oh my! I am not sure if you are seeing this weird glitch but every time I used an apostrophe it replaced it with the HTML code for it? Weird. Also forgot to say Happy new year :)



Panikos says...


I've had that same kind of glitching too - not sure why it does it!
I haven't actually read any other books on screenwriting, not in full. I only started doing scripts at the beginning of October last(!) year, so I'm very much a rookie as well. I've followed by lecturer's advice for the most part, as he knows loads about it.
I'm definitely going to keep posting here - I've been on YWS ages. I probably won't post much script stuff because it's not my favourite, though I may end up trying to finish this whole Limbo story. I do have the another segment of this opening to take it up to the first 15 mins, but I don't know whether to post it now I've submitted the assignment.

Happy New Year to you as well! I have read the opening scene of your script by the way - I'll try to review it as soon as I can.



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Sat Dec 30, 2017 11:08 pm
Rosendorn wrote a review...



Hello.

So... this is not my usual cup of tea, at all, but I noticed this languishing in the Green Room and thought I would drop in with my two cents. With a heaping tablespoon of salt because I know next to nothing about scripts or this type of plot.

The brown splotch definitely got my interest, and I'm not sure if it's intolerable or not, but that's perhaps an artifact of scripts. There's a lot of early time given to it so I was expecting a resolution in the therapy meeting, and when that resolution didn't happen I went "oh, I guess this is the mystery of the thing" without really... I don't know, feeling satisfied?

Mostly what strikes me is I keep glancing up at the genre being "fantasy" when this feels very sci fi. Zombies kind of scream sci fi, for me, because they're run by viruses. There's a grounding in science, there, which you still have because you talk about doctors and therapy groups. I was looking for the sense of fantasy to come in, some sort of hint of magic, because if you wait too long or don't ground the magic in science then you're going to end up with a weirdness later on (I have read fantasy novels that had a "sudden reveal it's all genetic engineering and advanced AI instead of magic" and let me tell you, I was not happy with that story).

Alice's dialogue is the most stilted for me, because it feels like it's trying to be over the top grief stricken without actually being over the top grief stricken. I can't quite identify it, but the forced normalcy vs the crying doesn't jive for me. I kinda want hints of smothering, trembling lips, and clinging before that, even though this is hardly any length of time at all, just so there's foreshadowing for the grief.

Based purely on plot (taking out my own personal tastes), this feels like something worth watching. Characters need some more development but this sort of beginning is good enough that there's promise. I found Kendall to perhaps be trying too hard to be a smart aleck teenager, very much fitting into the Typical Anti Hero with, again, not a ton of meat to it.

But that could be an artifact of scripts very plainly laying it all out and I want more body language.

Hope this is somewhat useful. Let me know if you have any questions or comments.

~Rosey




Panikos says...


Yes, the advice I've been given for scripts is that you need to give the actors room to interpret the role and make their own decisions about body language, so you can't be too specific.
Maybe it is slightly more sci-fi, though the zombie element is not at all like your typical rabid virus. I often feel like the boundary between sci-fi and magical realism is quite thin.
I have actually submitted this script now, but thank you for the review!



Rosendorn says...


I figured I was too late to provide immediate help on the script, but Review Day and no reviews.

It was a very good script. I got creeped out, very creeped out, and honestly would've probably stopped watching from the creepy, then waited in anticipation for all the spoilers so I could know what happened without watching xD

I could imagine the colour pallet of washed out grey-blues and overly cheerful yellows, depending on the setting. You had just enough richness in the description to paint really good pictures, and the tone was well set.



Panikos says...


I did think it was a long shot posting a script on YWS, as they're obviously not that common here. They're not my area of expertise either so I don't blame people for holding back on reviews.

Thank you! It's actually kind of a murder mystery more than horror, but I'll take it. I was inspired by the series In The Flesh. I may actually return to this as my teacher suggested submitting it to the BBC if I finish it, so I'll keep your review in mind if I do shoot for that! :)



Rosendorn says...


I have a very, very loose definition of "horror." I utterly hate zombies and avoid them like the plague xD

Good luck! You definitely got my interest, so your teacher's suggestion is something I'd suggest going after




Edna began to feel like one who awakens gradually out of a dream, a delicious, grotesque, impossible dream, to feel again the realities pressing into her soul.
— Kate Chopin, The Awakening