Untitled Dramatic Project

 

Synopsis

 

Two film students, NATHAN CANTWELL and RICHARD BENNETT are planning to shoot a digital feature. Nathan is the writer/director, Richard will be cameraman. Nathan's script is an ambitious mix of pre-scripted scenes and improvisation. The inspiration is Alfred Hitchcock's ROPE. As they test their equipment prior to the first night's shooting, Richard is surprised when another student, GERRIT, arrives to operate a second camera, mostly to create an electronic press kit or "EPK." Another surprise is that Professor Hentzau, the faculty advisor, has been invited to observe the shooting. Richard argues that this may compromise Nathan's plan for the shoot. Nathan replies that Hentzau's presence is an essential element.

When the camera comes back on, a car is arriving. It contains EDDIE, a fellow student, and his new girlfriend of six months, BOBBIE ANNE. She has aspirations as an actress and has readily volunteered to co-star in the student film being made by Nathan. After introductions and some chit-chat, two other young women, JEANIE and SHARON--both theater students studying acting--arrive. As Nathan's film is a "mirror" of ROPE, Jeanie and Sharon are to portray the equivalents of "Brandon Shaw" and "Philip Morgan." While Bobbie Anne goes into another room to change into her costume, put on make-up, and then shoot some tests with Richard, Gerrit gets behind-the-scenes footage of Nathan with the other women. There is no complete script for the movie; but Sharon and Jeanie, who confirm to Nathan that they have both watched ROPE several times, will improvise around the plot: two college students commit a thrill killing to demonstrate that they can get away with it and that, as per their interpretation of Nietszchean philosophy, their intellectually superiority frees them from the constraints of the ordinary law and morality. As the women get into character, Nathan receives a thick envelope from Eddie then gives him two twenties. Eddie leaves.

The performances begin. From the first Bobbie Anne is a bit confused but tries to play along uncertainly, as Sharon and Jeanie are both verbally and physically menacing. Throughout, Nathan can be heard at times shouting instructions. The performance is interrupted by the arrival of Nathan's faculty advisor, PROFESSOR HENTZAU, a 45ish academic who has failed repeatedly at selling a script to Hollywood. Hentzau is disdainful of the entire process. Although he has some grudging respect for Nathan, he belittles Gerrit in particular. When he explains the context of ROPE to Hentzau before the performance restarts, even Nathan is mocked by the cynical professor.

Hentzau sits in the background, as Sharon and Jeanie start in again on Bobbie Anne. Suddenly they wrestle her to the ground and tie her up. Her screams of protest seem very real, as do Sharon and Jeanie's threats: they will kill her if she does not quiet down. Hentzau whispers a question to Nathan: is he in control? Nathan reassures him that he is getting what he wants. Jeanie produces a knife, which she uses to tear Bobbie Anne's clothing. Again Hentzau questions this action, but Nathan impatiently assures him that these all is going as planned, these are clothes which he has provided and Bobbie Anne knew that she was going to be handled roughly. Gerrit is getting a little uneasy, but a voyeuristic impulse keeps him on the second camera. Then in the struggle Bobbie Anne is hit in the mouth and blood trickles out. Gerrit puts his camera down and goes to intervene. Nathan has Richard cut, but Gerrit's camera keeps capturing an image from its position on the floor. Sharon and Jeanie object to Gerrit's intrusion, while Bobbie Anne pleads for help. Nathan reiterates that he has cut. When he and Richard pull him away, Gerrit appeals to Hentzau. Hentzau now defends Nathan's artistic choice. Gerrit plans to leave and call the cops. Nathan nods to Richard to start his camera again. It captures Hentzau convincing Gerrit to just go home, even suggesting that Gerrit's decision might affect his grade in Hentzau's class. Finally Gerrit just leaves.

Hentzau cautions Nathan to make certain that his actors don't improvise quite so violently again. The three women go into the bathroom. Richard releases his camera from the tripod and follows slips outside, as Eddie returns with some pizzas.

In the cramped bathroom, Sharon and Jeanie are still lightly in character, teasing the hapless Bobbie, playfully suggesting that the pizza will be her last meal. Unnoticed, Richard shoots all this through the bathroom window. When Bobbie puts her head under the sink spigot to wash off the blood, Sharon presses down on Bobbie's neck; and Richard stops shooting.

The floor camera captures the scene in the dining room. Sharon and Jeanie come out and help themselves to pizza. Hentzau takes the opportunity to pontificate about his own beliefs, which reject traditional narrative approaches and "fake" documentaries. Hentzau cites the case of a high school girl murdered at a party in Los Angeles, where most of the other guests thought it was a joke and urged the killer on. He gives Nathan credit for probing the terrain between fiction and fact but questions the rigorousness of his preparation. Nathan bristles at the suggestion that his methods are sloppy but says nothing more.

In a back room, Richard has turned the camera back on and begun a bizarre scene with Bobbie, alternately terrorizing and seducing her. Bobbie sobs but doesn't cry out. When Richard fondles her briefly, she expresses surprise because she had taken him to be gay. He demands to know who told her that. She explains that she just assumed that he and Nathan were a couple.

As Richard comes into the dining room, Eddie notices that the floor camera is still running. Richard presumes that with Gerrit gone, they will continue to shoot without an EPK. Nathan assigns Eddie to take over the second camera. Eddie changes the tape, as Richard records Sharon and Jeanie dragging Bobbie Anne back into the scene. Bobbie Anne sees Eddie and her eyes seem to plead for help, as he resumes the EPK shooting. , Impressed by Bobbie Anne's great performance, Eddie just smiles. After Sharon "receives" a call on her cel phone, the two women decide to take their victim out of the house.

The group drives along a winding road into a nearby wooded area in two cars. Eddie drives the one, and Richard uses a "night vision" lens to shoot Sharon and Jeanie tormenting Bobbie Anne in the back seat. Sharon has even pulled out a snub-nosed .38 revolver and brandishes it in Bobbie Anne's face. Hentzau drives his car with the EPK camera perched on the dashboard. Nathan sits beside him and listens to the feed from the actors' wireless mikes on headphones. Hentzau asks Nathan if he really thinks he can get away with this. Nathan doesn't get his meaning. Hentzau clarifies: with such a non-traditional approach to a simple narrative. Nathan ends the conversation so he can focus on the hearing his performers in the other car.

Eddie stops by a grove of trees perched over the road up on an embankment. The women drag their victim out the car. So he can watch the action, Nathan passes the EPK camera back to Eddie. The final scene plays out as Sharon and Jeanie lead Bobbie Anne and the camera up a short path to a pre-dug shallow grave. As they approach it, Bobbie Anne struggles to break free; but the two women are too strong for her. They force her to kneel down in the grave, where a body bag has already been laid out. Jeanie produces a half liter bottle of juice and removes Bobbie Anne's gag. A wave of the gun stops her from screaming. Then Sharon orders her to drink. She hesitates: "Drink or get shot in the head." Sharon cocks the hammer, and Bobbie lets Jeanie pour the liquid down her mouth. Hentzau whispers a question to Nathan, why he has added this complication? Nathan doesn't answer. Bobbie starts to lose consciousness and slumps down into the grave. The two women put her into the body bag, zip it up, and cover her over with dirt. Hentzau is too surprised to intervene; then everyone is running is running back towards the car. As Sharon and Jeanie reach the road, another car passes and they duck down to avoid being seen. Jeanie wipes her fingerprints off the drink bottle then tosses it into the bushes. Sharon is at the wheel and Richard has climbed into the back with the camera. As soon as Jeanie is in the passenger seat, all three drive off.

Hentzau allows than Nathan has gotten some very impressive performances; but now he wants to rescue Bobbie Anne. Nathan pulls out the pistol, which Sharon has somehow passed to him. Hentzau wants to know what's going on. Nathan replies, "What if I told you the real story was that Eddie got Bobbie Anne pregnant, then Bobbie Anne threatened him with a paternity suit if they didn't get married?" From behind the EPK camera, Eddie protests Nathan's revelations. But Nathan continues: that would ruin Eddie's chances for law school and annoy his wealthy parents to no end. So Eddie has paid Nathan and Richard to make this movie and accidentally kill off the troublesome Bobbie. Hentzau says nothing for a moment. Clearly he believes it might be true. Nathan raises the gun. Now Hentzau has to go, too. Hentzau asks Nathan to stop the foolishness. Nathan orders Hentzau to pick up the bottle and hand it to him. Nathan's tone convinces Hentzau to comply. Nathan's hands are gloved, so now the only fingerprints on the bottle are Hentzau's. The professor is starting to wonder what is really going on. Finally, Nathan laughs, pointing out that the great Professor Hentzau has just swallowed a corny Hollywood plot whole. Nathan unscrews the top and drinks the rest of the juice. Did Hentzau really think it was poison? Or that the gun was loaded? Nathan puts the barrel to his temple and pulls the trigger, which falls on an empty cylinder. Sheepishly Hentzau reminds him than Bobbie Anne is still buried. Nathan shakes his head and leads Hentzau back to the grave. The empty body bag lies over the disturbed earth. As Hentzau bends over to look, he is startled to discover Richard shooting from the bushes. Apparently the women have doubled around and dropped him off.

Nathan yells, "Cut and wrap." Hentzau is a bit confused. The EPK camera is still running as they head back to the cars. Nathan reveals that the EPK camera has been part of the movie all along, that Hentzau has been portraying the equivalent of the James Stewart part in Rope. Somewhat mortified, Hentzau stills notes that he has not wrestled for control of the gun or discovered a body in a wooden chest. Nathan tosses him the gun and tells him he can at least fire some shots in the air (as in the ending of ROPE). Hentzau hesitates. Nathan points to the EPK camera, still running, and tells him this is actually the last scene. Hentzau holds the gun up and pulls the trigger. A blank discharges. The sound startles Hentzau, who thought it was unloaded. Nathan nods for him to continue, and Hentzau fires three more times.

They reach the road, where Sharon and Jeanie are parked and laughing at the night's adventure. Eddie hands the EPK camera to Nathan and climbs into the women's car with Richard. Nathan again will ride with Hentzau. As he gives the pistol back to Nathan, Hentzau asks if those were blanks or real bullets. Nathan puts the gun in his pocket and the EPK camera on the dashboard and confesses that they could not afford blanks but that obviously he didn't load the gun until they went back to the grave. Hentzau ruefully congratulates Nathan on tricking a performance out of him. Then Hentzau realizes that Bobbie Anne is not in either car. Nathan says she was in the first car, but Hentzau insists he did not see her. Hentzau tenses as Nathan reaches into his pocket. He pulls out a cel phone but then remarks that there is no service out here. Hentzau rationalizes that each driver probably thought Bobbie Anne was in the other car. He slows down and tells Nathan he will find a place to turn around. Nathan nods and puts his the cel phone back into his pocket. His hand stays there. As Hentzau starts to make a u-turn, Nathan leans forward and shuts off the EPK camera with his other hand.

 

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Text, Copyright 2002 Pendragon Film Ltd.