Universal Beauty by Shelly Lanciani
Shelly Lanciani PO Box 345 S. Barre MA 01074 Shellylynn23@gmail.com [First 25 pages of initial draft]
FADE IN INT. THE ZEBA'S BATHROOM - DAY An ordinary-looking little girl sits on a stool in front of a bathroom sink. She is MARIAH ZEBA, 6. She studies herself in a mirror. Her hair flows down past her shoulders, onto a silver shirt. Standing behind her, only partially visible, is LISA ZEBA, 30, also wearing a silver shirt and matching silver pants. LISA Are you nervous? MARIAH No. I can’t wait to see what school is like. Lisa reaches over to the counter. LISA Ready? Mariah nods. Lisa turns on a pair of electric clippers. She shaves Mariah’s head. Silky locks fall to the floor. Mariah smiles at herself in the mirror. Lisa puts the clippers down and reaches again. She smacks her palm against her daughter’s forehead. When she removes her hand, a fake plastic eye is stuck to Mariah’s head. Mariah spins to face her mother. She smiles. Lisa, not ordinary at all (she is bald and has three eyes), smiles back. They wrap their arms, and TAILS, around each other to hug.
EXT. A SUBURBAN STREET ON PLANET IZPERIA - LATER A school bus pulls to a stop at the street corner. All the houses on the street are identical - simple, modern, functional. Mariah clutches the straps of her backpack and waves goodbye to her mother as she boards the bus. INT. BUS - SAME Mariah smiles at the three-eyed BUS DRIVER. MARIAH Hi. I’m Mariah. The driver forces a smile and then quickly looks back at the road. KIDS stare. They all have three eyes, wear identical silver clothing and are bald. They move over in their seats as Mariah walks down the aisle. No one wants to share a seat with her. Mariah finds a seat alone and lowers herself, making sure not to sit on her tail. EXT. STREET - SAME Mariah gazes out the window at her mother. The bus drives away. Three moons can be seen in the daytime sky. INT. SCHOOL CAFETERIA - DAY At the food counter, Mariah holds her lunch tray. A bald LUNCH LADY with a hair net studies Mariah. She cocks her head and tries to figure out what’s different about the girl.
LUNCH LADY Ya want the meat? MARIAH Just vegetable soup please. The lunch lady ladles soup into a bowl and places it on Mariah’s tray. Mariah navigates through tables of gawking kids. She sits alone, her tail sticking out the back of the chair. She stirs her soup and picks at her crackers. A group of BOYS gather around her. One boy gets very close to her head and squints. BOY She’s got stubble! The boys laugh. Embarrassed, Mariah sighs. She looks down at her lunch. Her fake eye falls into the soup. EXT. THE ZEBA'S HOUSE - LATER As the bus drives away, Mariah runs down the sidewalk and turns into her driveway. She passes a small, dilapidated, SPACE SHIP parked next to a car. It sort of resembles a Camaro. She leaps over the flower garden and goes up the steps. She opens the front door to the house.
INT. THE ZEBA'S LIVING ROOM - SAME Mariah rushes to a calendar hanging on a bulletin board. The days have been crossed off. The words “First Day of School” are scrawled in one box. Mariah tears the calendar off the board and throws it to the ground. INT. LISA’S HOME OFFICE - SAME Mariah storms into the office and slams the door. The office - half library and half make-shift lab - is filled with plants and equipment such as hot plates, an autoclave, and an incubator. Lisa squirts solution into a beaker. She puts the beaker down on a counter next to a microscope. She removes her three-lense goggles and looks at her daughter. Mariah throws the fake eye in the trash. MARIAH I want to be home-schooled. INT. THE ZEBA'S LIVING ROOM - DAY Mariah dances barefoot in the lush, plant-filled living room. She has her mother’s lab coat styled as a dress and patches of hair growing on her head. Lisa grabs a book from a shelf displaying trophies and awards - all with Lisa’s name. LISA Time for science. Mariah skips over and joins her mother on the couch. They open an Astronomy book.
MARIAH Which ones have you been to? Lisa points to planets on the pages. LISA That one. And that one. And Earth. MARIAH That’s the one you went to on your last mission? LISA Yep. MARIAH Tell me about it. LISA Another time. Let’s see how fast you can name the stars. INT. THE ZEBA'S BATHROOM - DAY MARIAH, now 19-years old but still in a silver shirt, stares at herself in the mirror. She sighs, no smile. Behind her, Lisa pulls her daughter’s long hair into a bun. LISA Are you nervous? MARIAH Just about the dancing with a partner. LISA You can always practice with me. MARIAH Not the same mom. LISA I have something for you.
Lisa reaches into a pocket of her silver pants and pulls out a small jewelry box. Mariah opens it to reveal a pair of gold and diamond earrings. MARIAH Really? These look expensive. LISA It’s a special night. Mariah puts the earrings on. LISA (CONT’D) You look like a million bucks. Mariah is not impressed with her reflection. MARIAH Maybe he’ll be blind for real. LISA Stop it. You look fine. MARIAH Did your friend tell her son that I’m “different” looking? LISA I mentioned it. MARIAH And he still wants to take me out? INT. THE ZEBA'S LIVING ROOM - LATER Mariah slumps on the couch. She reads an IZPERIAN POPULAR SCIENCE magazine, turning the pages with her tail. MARIAH He’s not coming. Lisa turns on some romantic music and then goes to Mariah. She holds out her hand.
Mariah takes it and stands. LISA Your father was a very good dancer. Lisa holds Mariah in her arms and sways. They dance. MARIAH Did he leave because I was ugly? LISA Oh honey, no. He never even saw you. If he knew you, I’m sure he would think you were perfect. INT. HOTEL BALLROOM, EARTH - DAY HUMANS in tuxedos and evening gowns dine at tables in a fancy ballroom. Above a small stage hangs a banner - “DAVIES PRIZE FOR ASTROBIOLOGICAL RESEARCH”. At a podium a PRESENTER holds a placque. PRESENTER And now, I’d like to introduce this year’s recipient of the prestigious Davies Prize. Off to the side, ARTHUR CONDING, 40s, in an expensive suit and matching smirk, sits in the middle of SCIENTIST #1 and SCIENTIST #2. Scientist #1 offers a hand to Arthur. SCIENTIST #1 Good luck. Arthur scoffs. ARTHUR Do you know what I did? Scientist #2 reaches across and shakes Scientist #1’s hand.
SCIENTIST #2 Good luck. The presenter opens an envelope. PRESENTER For his ground-breaking work on the theorized DNA structure of alien animals, Arthur Conding. The crowd claps. Arthur stands, steps on scientist #1’s foot with his Ferragamo shoes, and makes his way to the stage. He positions himself behind the podium. ARTHUR Thank you. He takes the placque from the presenter. He grins and poses for photos. A WOMAN IN A GOWN drags a YOUNG MAN through the crowd. They stop in front of the stage. WOMAN IN GOWN Tell him what you just told me. The Young Man cowers. The Woman in the gown approaches the presenter and whispers in his ear. The presenter pulls Arthur aside. PRESENTER Arthur, is it true you falsified your research? ARTHUR Who said that? The presenter points to the Young Man.
PRESENTER Your assistant. Arthur looks off stage, scowls at him, then turns back to the presenter. ARTHUR I deserve this. I am very close to proving the existence of alien life. The presenter grabs the placque out of his manicured hands. PRESENTER Not close enough. DISTINGUISHED MAN Don’t expect to ever work in this field again. The distinguished man escorts Arthur off the stage and past the assistant. Arthur glares. The assistant whimpers. INT. DEPARTMENT OF MOTOR VEHICLES, PLANET IZPERIA - DAY The DMV is the DMV, on any planet. A winding line of IZPERIANS wait. At the front of the line is Mariah, the only one wearing a hat. A CUSTOMER leaves the counter. He bumps into Mariah, then looks at her with disgust. CUSTOMER Watch out, freak. Mariah hangs her head and moves up to the counter. Sheplaces her form on the counter. The CLERK reads the form without looking up. CLERK Land or air?
MARIAH Air. The clerk stamps the form. CLERK Stand behind the blue line please. Mariah moves to the picture-taking area and adjusts her feet behind the line. The clerk looks through a camera. CLERK (CONT’D) You’re going to have to remove the hat. Mariah takes her hat off, her hair a mess, her forehead eyeless. The clerk looks up from the camera. CLERK (CONT’D) Ewwww. He snaps the picture. INT. THE ZEBA'S LIVING ROOM - LATER Lisa examines Mariah’s license. LISA Well, it’s not bad. Mariah removes her hat and shakes out her hair. MARIAH It’s horrible. LISA At least you accomplished that goal. Mariah takes an index card- “Get my Air License” - down from the bulletin board.
MARIAH (hopeful) Maybe we can get the old ship running again? LISA We’ll see. Lisa moves about the room cleaning and straightening things. She wipes dust off a table piled high with presents. LISA (CONT’D) It’s not too late to come with me, if you feel like getting out. MARIAH No thanks. One humiliation per day is fine with me. LISA Okay then. It’s just dinner. We can do your cake and presents when I get home. MARIAH I’m fine mom. You deserve a nice night out. Lisa kisses her daughter on the forehead. She spits and picks hair out of her mouth. She points to a bag of trash near the door. LISA Could you? Mariah puts her hat back on and picks up the trash. EXT. THE ZEBA'S HOUSE - SAME Mariah carries the trash past the flower garden and dumps it into a can. She studies the space ship in the driveway. She walks over and runs her hand along it.
She opens the hatch. INT. SPACE SHIP - SAME Mariah sits in the driver’s seat and scans the controls. On the dashboard is a keypad with numbers, letters and symbols. Taped next to the keypad is a paper that reads “Earth Coordinates - 17-2-s85-**#!-985254”. Mariah spins around in the seat and checks out the rest of the ship. She notices a box packed away near the back. She goes over and peeks in the box. INT. THE ZEBA'S LIVING ROOM - SAME Mariah takes out a glossy 8x10 photo. The box is filled with 1980s fashion magazines, photographs and a VHS tape marked “1985” on the edge. MARIAH Mom, what is this? Lisa stops cleaning and peers over her daughter’s shoulder. LISA Oh, look at the roses. I wish I could figure out how to grow them here on Izperia. MARIAH Is this from Earth? LISA It’s just an old box from my mission years ago. I took it by mistake. Mariah stares at the photo.
MARIAH Mom, they look just like me. Lisa strokes her daughter’s hair. LISA Yes. They do. The photograph is of a 1985 Beauty Pageant Queen, holding roses. She wears a “Miss Universal Beauty” sash, a crown and a perfect smile. INT. UNIVERSAL BEAUTY PAGEANT OFFICES, EARTH - DAY Portraits of former “Miss Universal Beauty” winners line the walls of a long hallway. GORDON OVERMYER, 45, dressed like a game show host in a vintage suit and tie, struts down the hallway. BARBARA, a natural beauty with gray roots who looks about 65, strides gracefully in her Manolo heels to greet him. She wears a stylish, feminine business suit and stockings. She extends her arms and waits with a welcoming, beauty queen smile. Gordon awkwardly shakes both her hands. BARBARA Oh am I glad to see you. GORDON It’s a pleasure to meet you. BARBARA Your mother spoke very highly of you. Barbara kisses his cheeks, the perfect hostess. BARBARA (CONT’D) Let me introduce you to my team.
Barbara loops her arm through his and allows him to escort her into the lobby, an area with peeling paint and outdated, worn furniture. BARBARA (CONT’D) I’m sure you know Bethany, Miss Universal Beauty 2008. BETHANY, a young woman that looks more like the before shot of a make-over than a beauty queen, adjusts the focus of a camera on a tripod that faces a blank wall. She turns and gives a polite wave and a curtsy. BARBARA (CONT’D) And this is Reggie, our intern from the college. Reggie, this is Gordon Overmyer, the PR consultant. Behind the desk REGGIE, 17 with black hair and matching fingernails, manages a nod in their direction. Bethany sashays over to Gordon. BETHANY As reigning Miss Universal Beauty I’d like to welcome you to our humble offices. GORDON I’m happy to be here. BETHANY Hey Barbara, does my hair look okay? Barbara tucks a lock of hair behind Bethany’s ear. BARBARA You’re perfect honey. Bethany returns to her camera. GORDON So how exactly can I help you?
Barbara seats herself on the lobby couch and changes out of her heels into orthopedic sneakers. When she’s finished, Gordon helps her stand. BARBARA As I mentioned, this is my last year of the pageant business. We just don’t have the ratings or the prizes to lure in the really gorgeous women, no offense to Bethany. And without gorgeous women, we get low ratings. I’m ready to retire, but-GORDON You want to end it with something special. BARBARA Exactly. I may have been in this business a hundred years, but I’ll be damned if they write me off as the old bat that shriveled up and fizzled out. GORDON You’re not that old. BARBARA Wait till the botox wears off and the hair dye grows out. Anywho, I want big ratings. A show that’ll be remembered forever. I want to go out with a bang! REGGIE Sick. If you need fireworks I’ve got a friend into pyro. BARBARA Reggie, we can’t have explosives in the auditorium. You know the rules.
She picks up two small booklets from the desk. She tosses one at Reggie and hands the other one to Gordon. BARBARA (CONT’D) Preliminaries are in two weeks. We need more applicants and a plan for the show. I realize you may not know as much as your mother did about pageants, but you’re a man, you know what makes a woman beautiful. What do you say, you up for it? GORDON I’m willing to give it a shot. BARBARA Wonderful! Bethany here can show you around and answer your questions. She’s very smart. Bethany sets the timer on the camera and tries to make it to the wall before the flash goes off. She fails. Gordon steps behind the camera. He points to Bethany, she smiles, and he snaps a picture. INT. THE ZEBA'S LIVING ROOM - NIGHT The TV plays the opening ceremony of the 1985 Miss Universal Beauty Pageant. BOB PARKER, a distinguished gentleman in a tuxedo, speaks as the BEAUTIES parade across the stage, all hair and smiles. BOB PARKER ON TV (V.O.) Welcome to the beautiful city of Augusta and to the Miss Universal Beauty Pageant. I’m Bob Parker, your host for the night. We’re here tonight to crown the Most Beautiful Woman in the Universe. Let’s give a round of applause to welcome our contestants.
Music plays. Mariah glides into the living room, as if she were a contestant, a sheet worn over her silver clothes like a dress, her tail hidden under the cloth. She balances a basket on her head like a crown. She waves and smiles at an imaginary audience. She looks back at the TV and waits for a 1980s pop song to begin. When it does, she removes the basket-crown so she can shimmy and bop along with the contestants. She imitates their moves perfectly. Lisa returns home and enters the living room. She plops down on the couch, holding a bunch of carnations. Mariah turns the TV off. LISA Have you been watching this all night? MARIAH How do they make their hair stay up like that? Lisa shrugs. MARIAH (CONT’D) I can’t believe they look like me. And they all wear different clothes! Why didn’t you tell me before? LISA It was a long time ago. MARIAH So what is this?
LISA It’s a contest they have on Earth to celebrate beautiful women. MARIAH They celebrate women that look like me? LISA Yes. MARIAH I have to go there. How much fuel would the ship need? Lisa stands with the flowers. LISA I need to put these in a vase. Lisa exits to the kitchen. MARIAH Who gave them to you? LISA (O.S.) Harold. My date. A total bore by the way. MARIAH No. I mean the tapes. Lisa re-enters with a birthday cake and a single, lit candle. LISA Oh. You know what, I think they use some sort of spray for their hair. MARIAH Mom. LISA What?
MARIAH I want to be in this contest. I could totally win. Imagine, me, the most beautiful woman in the universe! LISA Earth isn’t a friendly place for people like us. (beat) Blow out your candle. Mariah closes her eyes, smiles, then opens them and blows out the candle. INT. LISA’S HOME OFFICE - NIGHT Mariah sneaks into the office and turns on the light. She goes to the bookshelf and scans the titles. She pulls out a book titled “Earth”. She opens a file cabinet drawer and takes out a folder labeled “Space Ship”. INT. THE ZEBA'S LIVING ROOM - LATER The Earth book and ship folder beside her, Mariah flips through the pages of the magazines, studying the hairstyles, clothes and popular sayings of the day. She takes the glossy photo of the beauty queen and carries it to the bulletin board. She tacks it up. INT. THE ZEBA'S LIVING ROOM - MORNING Lisa enters and is startled to see Mariah sleeping, the Earth book on her chest. LISA Mariah? Mariah wakes. She closes the book and tries to hide it.
Lisa takes the book from her. LISA (CONT’D) They’re different there. Not like us. MARIAH I’m not like us mom. I don’t fit in here. LISA You’re beautiful. MARIAH Says my mom. LISA (sighs) I have to go out to the store. You okay here? MARIAH Mom please. I’m not a child. INT. THE ZEBA'S LIVING ROOM - LATER Mariah dances around the room, uninhibited and free. The Pageant tape plays again. When the song finishes, Mariah sits on the couch. On the table are the 1980s fashion magazines and her birthday presents. She flips the pages of a magazine. MARIAH (reading) Are you Like a Virgin or a Valley Girl? Fur sure. She continues reading. BOB PARKER ON TV And now it’s time for the introductions. Take it away girls.
Mariah watches the contestants introduce themselves on TV. CONTESTANT ON TV My name is Amber Gemany. I’m 5’8, 127 pounds and I love Italian food. Mariah reads her birthday card - “On your birthday, may all your dreams come true”. She flips it over and writes DEAR MOM. EXT. THE ZEBA'S HOUSE - LATER Mariah pops the hood of the space ship open and tinkers with the engine. She consults a diagram in a folder on the ground. INT. SPACE SHIP - SAME Mariah tacks the beauty queen photo and a card with the words “I am the MOST BEAUTIFUL WOMAN IN THE UNIVERSE” to the dashboard. She punches coordinates into the keypad, following the instructions taped to the dashboard. She presses a big green button. The motor revs. EXT. TITAN LABS - DAY A parking lot beside a small, indistinct building holds one car. A mountain bike is chained to a weathered “Titan Labs” sign by the entrance. Security cameras surround the door. On the roof are numerous small cameras pointed up at the sky. INT. TITAN LABS - SAME Photos of mutant animals - crossbreeds and animals with extra limbs, are spread across a desk. Arthur scoops them into a pile.
He squirts antibacterial spray onto the surface of the desk. He wipes it down while he talks on the phone. ARTHUR I can’t believe you even have to consider this. Your investment will pay off triple as soon as I publish my findings. (pause) Of course I’ve got proof. He slams the phone down. He saunters over to the other side of the lab, brushing the wrinkles from his expensive suit. ARTHUR (CONT’D) We need proof. He stands beside MYRON, 22, who has long hair pulled into a pony tail and sandals. He wears a natural-fiber lab coat. Myron huddles over a one-eyed mouse. He examines a NAASA tag on the mouse’s collar. MYRON How did you get access to NAASA? ARTHUR Sometimes you have to be creative. Myron studies the mouse’s eye. MYRON Is it? Arthur pinches a scalpel between two fingers and extends his arm toward Myron. ARTHUR Find out. Myron takes the scalpel. He stares at the creature, but can’t bring himself to cut it open.
MYRON (nervously) Can I scan the tapes for activity instead? Arthur grabs the scalpel out of Myron’s hand. He puts it down on the counter. He proceeds to don a lab apron, latex gloves, goggles and a shower cap. Myron scurries away to a wall of TV screens. ARTHUR Find me something. Anything believable. If we can’t get some investors soon I’ll have to close the lab. Myron points a remote at the screens and presses buttons. A video of the night sky appears on the screens. EXT. THE CITY OF AUGUSTA - NIGHT The space ship flies over the night sky, past a sign that reads “Welcome to Augusta”. EXT. AREA 7, NEAR THE LAKE - LATER The space ship circles a big field with a lake beside it. The ship lands in the field. Mariah exits and looks around. She spots a shed and heads towards it. EXT. SHED - SAME Mariah opens the doors. The shed is empty.
EXT. SUBURBAN YARD - LATER Mariah tiptoes through a yard. She stops at a clothesline and takes a dress off the line. She changes out of her silver clothes and slips on the baggy, cotton dress. Her tail disappears up under the dress.
EXT. MAIN STREET, AUGUSTA - MORNING The sun shines on downtown Augusta. A few cars drive down the street past buildings of all shapes and sizes. In a shop window, an open sign lights up. Mariah walks down the sidewalk, taking it all in. The door to a building opens and a BALD MAN exits. He bumps into her. They stare at each other. BALD MAN Sorry Miss. He smiles. She smiles back. The sidewalk fills with more PEDESTRIANS of all ages and, to Mariah’s delight, hairstyles. A YOUNG CHILD waves and she returns the gesture with a stiff, beauty queen wave. Mariah stops in front of a newspaper dispenser. One of the headlines reads “Universal Beauty Pageant closing its doors. Last Call for Beauties”.
A BUSINESS MAN deposits change and removes a newspaper. Mariah watches him walk away. MARIAH Money. I need Earth money. She looks up and down the street. She spots a “We buy gold” sign in the window of a Pawn Shop. INT. PAWN SHOP - SAME Mariah stands in front of a glass case full of jewelry and video games. She rings a bell. The SHOP OWNER, an elderly gentleman, comes out from a back room. SHOP OWNER Well hello. Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Mr. Harris. But you, can call me Petey. He extends a hand. Mariah shakes it. MARIAH My name is Mariah and I’m 5’7 and weigh 124 pounds. I love fresh vegetables. He stares at her, speechless. She removes her earrings. MARIAH (CONT’D) And I’d like to sell these. EXT. MAIN STREET - SAME Mariah exits the Pawn Shop. She deposits change and removes a newspaper.
She reads the article about the pageant. MARIAH Applications can be picked up at the pageant office on 202 Main Street. Mariah looks at the street number of the building beside her, 107. She folds the paper and continues down the sidewalk. She stops in front of a drug store. INT. DRUG STORE - SAME Mariah picks out numerous hair-styling products and brushes. EXT. MAIN STREET - SAME Mariah, now with big 80’s hair, struts down the street, carrying a bag with her hair products. People stare at her, but she enjoys the staring and smiles at them. She stops in front of a thrift store. In the window is a display of vintage clothing, including a very funky 80s number. She enters the store. EXT. MAIN STREET - LATER Mariah exits holding a large bag full of clothes. She now wears an off-the-shoulder sweatshirt a la Flashdance, leggings, a wide belt, and pumps. No tail in sight. She continues down the street, taking note of the numbers of the buildings. She stops in front of door number 202 and looks at a sign that reads “Home of the Miss Universal Beauty Pageant”.