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THE CONTESTANT

Written by

James H. Hibbard

17415 Blue Jay Drive
Morgan Hill, CA 95037
408.859.4083
BLACK SCREEN

The din of the hushed conversation of an audience.

Downbeat classical music begins to play on the soundtrack as
the following title card appears:

TITLE CARD: 'If you're so smart then why ain't you rich?'

FADE IN:

INT. LOS ANGELES TELEVISION STUDIO- DAY

MICHAEL LARSON, 35, looks nervous as he sits beneath a
colorful 1980s studio backdrop that reads “Press Your Luck.”

Michael’s receding hairline and full beard make him appear
older than he is.

The taping has yet to begin.

Michael fidgets and brushes back his hair with the palm of
his hand as he sits between the two other contestants— JANIE
LITRIS, 29, and ED LONG, 37.

Standing in front of the contestants is the show’s host,
PETER TOMARKEN, 41.

Ed looks over to Michael.

ED
(smiling)
Best of luck Mike.

MICHAEL
(earnestly)
Thanks. You too.

Michael forces a smile before turning and looking straight
ahead at one of the cameras.

Peter calmly reads over his notes before glancing up at the
panel of contestants.

CUT TO:

EXT. LARSON HOME- LATE AFTERNOON

The Larson house is the most run-down on an otherwise typical
suburban block of post-war homes.

Michael’s ice-cream truck is parked in the driveway.
2.

TERESA, 32, Michael’s common-law wife, pulls into the
driveway. Rust is creeping up the wheel wells of the faded
sedan. A thick jacket over nursing scrubs, Teresa gets out of
the car and lifts groceries from the trunk before making her
way into the house. She is followed by their daughter
JENNIFER,7.

The following title card appears set against the Larson home
before slowly dissolving as darkness falls:

TITLE CARD: THE CONTESTANT

INT. LARSON HOME- EVENING

The interior of the house is dirty. Bills are spread across a
cluttered table and the kitchen sink is filled with dishes.
Water drips rhythmically from the faucet.

MICHAEL (V.O.)
On a long enough timeline I always
trusted that life would set itself
right. That the people who deserved
it would rise to the top and more
importantly, that the liars and the
cheats— the ones who didn’t deserve
a thing, that they’d be set right
by the invisible hand of fate or
god or whatever you want to call
it.

A beat.

MICHAEL (V.O.)
Guess you could say I keep waiting
for people to get what’s coming to
‘em.

In the family room, VHS tapes are stacked against the wall
and piles of newspapers are scattered across the worn carpet.

Three televisions are stacked haphazardly, one on top of the
other, but only one is turned on--an image of a luxury home
on the screen.

The conversation inaudible, Michael is on the telephone
sitting in front of the television when Teresa enters the
room. Weighed-down by the groceries, she scarcely
acknowledges Michael as she walks briskly towards the
kitchen.
3.

MICHAEL (V.O.)
Now, I’m not saying it makes me
better or anything, but it’s kinda
like that Bobby Fisher guy with
chess, where most people see what—
like three or four moves ahead— I
can see ten, see what they’re
really doing though all the
distractions and noise that they
put out there...all the things they
do to try to stack the deck against
the average person.

Michael’s broad face is now clean shaven. His beard will grow
as the story progresses and serve as an indicator for where
we are in time.

On the TV in front of Michael is an infomercial where a
VIETNAMESE MAN in his 30s is selling some sort of a real
estate investment program.

Michael is distracted by the infomercial but suddenly looks
down and returns his attention to the phone call, listening
intently for a moment before interjecting.

MICHAEL
James, come on. That’s not...
(listens)
I never said that to the
unemployment people.
(listens)
Look, you had a consulting
business, you hired me, and it
didn’t work out— that’s it. That’s
all you need to tell them...just
because you’re my brother...

The infomercial on TV shows the Vietnamese man on a luxury
motor boat. On either side of him are two women in bikinis.
Once again, Michael becomes distracted from the conversation
and starts to watch the television intently.

Behind Michael’s phone conversation, the Vietnamese man is
briefly audible.

VIETNAMESE MAN’S VOICE
So, are you man enough to try my
six-step real estate investment
program?

Michael glances up at the television screen as the Vietnamese
man looks to each woman and smiles.
4.

MICHAEL (INTO THE PHONE)
No, I know you don’t...

VIETNAMESE MAN’S VOICE
Ask yourself, do you want to live
like this?

Michael returns his attention to the phone conversation.

MICHAEL (INTO THE PHONE)
It’s pretty much true. It’s not my
fault if no one is smart enough
to...
(listening)
Come on don’t...
(listening)
I know. I know you can.
(listening)
No. Of course not. Just a
misunderstanding.

Michael is tethered to the phone, but gets up and presses
record on one of the VCRs.

Jennifer runs into the room.

JENNIFER
Daddy, daddy.

Michael smiles and puts his finger to his lips to quiet her.

MICHAEL (INTO THE PHONE)
Okay, okay. That’s a plan.

Michael listens for a moment before returning his gaze to the
television.

MICHAEL (INTO THE PHONE) (CONT’D)
Yeah, next week. Okay. Bye.

Michael hangs up the receiver but continues to watch the
infomercial intently.

Jennifer tentatively approaches and sits down next to her
father.

After a moment of watching the screen she looks up and
watches Michael as he stares at the television monitor.

INT. MICHAEL AND TERESA’S BEDROOM- NIGHT

Michael walks into the dark bedroom.
5.

Teresa’s eyes are open as she lays in bed on her back.

Michael gets into bed and kisses Teresa on the side of her
face but she pushes him away and turns onto her side— her
back to Michael.

Michael rolls onto his back and stares at the ceiling.

MICHAEL
‘Reese, please. Let’s not do this
anymore.

TERESA
Do what Michael? What am I doing?

MICHAEL
I don’t know. I don’t know
anymore...

INT. ICE CREAM TRUCK- LATE MORNING

Michael is on the highway, moving slowly in the thick
commuter traffic.

MICHAEL (V.O.)
All these people chained to their
machines. Back and forth along the
same stretch of road for years—
decades even— bought into the
fiction that someday they’ll be on
top. Someday they’ll have the
corner office.

Michael tries to change lanes but accidently grinds the
transmission. He looks in his mirror, but the driver of the
other car, a well dressed man in a suit and tie, won’t let
him in.

MICHAEL
(muttering to himself)
Really? Come on!

The driver still does not let him over.

MICHAEL (CONT’D)
(to himself)
Come on, you jackass.

A small gap opens and Michael finally makes his way right
gaining speed as he pulls onto the off ramp.
6.

MICHAEL (V.O.)
These guys might look at me like
I’m nothin’— the one’s who think
they’ve gotten their cut, but I
still own one thing they don’t, I
still own myself. Them? They’re so
bought they don’t even know
it...selling their life one day at
a time and thinking that it’s power
—that they got lucky...

On the highway the traffic continues to stretch into the
distance.

INT./EXT. ICE CREAM TRUCK- DAY-- MINUTES LATER

“Do Your Ears Hang Low” plays in a continuous loop from a
loudspeaker on the truck as Michael crawls down a well kept
residential street.

Michael looks around furtively as he drives— scanning for
customers.

In his rear-view mirror he sees three CHILDREN running behind
the truck.

Michael comes to a stop at the curb and parks the truck.

He crouches as he walks to the rear of the truck. Several
children are lined up waiting at the window.

MICHAEL
What can I get you guys today?

Child #1 looks at the pictorial menu on the side of the truck
for a moment.

CUT TO:

INT. LOS ANGELES TELEVISION STUDIO- DAY

Peter Tomarken watches the stage manager silently count down
from five.

The show’s theme music begins and the studio audience erupts
into applause.

The studio lights suddenly illuminate the contestants as the
large stage spins into position under the game board.
7.

Michael’s earlier nervousness is gone. A broad smile spreads
across his face as he claps.

ANNOUNCER (O.S.)
Today these three players are after
high stakes, but they’ll have to
avoid the whammie as they play the
most exciting game of their lives.

A dramatic beat.

ANNOUNCER (O.S.) (CONT’D)
From television city in Hollywood
it’s time to play Press Your Luck!

The announcer pauses as the audience claps.

ANNOUNCER (O.S.) (CONT’D)
And now the star of Press Your
Luck...Peter Tomarken!

Peter Tomarken enters from stage left and nods in
acknowledgement to the audience before turning to the
contestants and saluting.

PETER TOMARKEN
Thank you.

The din of the applause and cheering from the audience
subsides.

PETER TOMARKEN (CONT’D)
Thank you and welcome to Press Your
Luck— television’s most competitive
game. We’re going to have big bucks
today— I can feel it. For our home
players remember that yesterday
Georgia May Davis of Corsicana,
Texas won a trip to Rio de
Janeiro...

The audience starts to clap and cheer.

PETER TOMARKEN (CONT’D)
I know— fabulous! And today we’re
hoping that (pointing directly at
the camera)it’s you at home. So
whatever is lucky...

CUT TO:
8.

INT./ EXT. ICE CREAM TRUCK- DAY

Michael drives down a main thoroughfare in a suburban area.

He sits stopped at a light in a line of cars when he notices
a panhandler by the side of the road making his way up and
down the row of cars.

MICHAEL (V.O.)
If you’re smart enough you can see
through it all. To keep the whole
racket going, they have to keep you
wanting so they can sell you
shit...The whole thing is like one
of those company towns they used to
have, only now it’s on a bigger
scale. Your days are nothing but
work and then you spend all you
make and more at the company store—
ain’t no way to ever get out of it,
and anyone who tells you otherwise--
that they’ve somehow got a piece of
the pie-- well, they’re either
dense or deluded...

Michael eyes the panhandler with both sympathy and contempt
as he brushes back his hair with the palm of his hand.

As the panhandler approaches the truck Michael looks down to
avoid eye contact.

MICHAEL (V.O.)
No matter what it looks like, ain’t
no one truly getting ahead. Deep
down everyone loses...

The light changes and Michael accelerates away.

EXT. COMMUNITY POOL- DAY

A no-frills YMCA-type community pool on a warm summer day. A
teenage lifeguard watches over the pool.

Children are yelling and playing.

Several parents sit on a grassy knoll watching their
children.

Teresa takes a towel and lays it out on the grass— smiling to
a woman sitting next to her.

A FATHER in his 30s is sitting near Teresa. Slim, he is
wearing dark aviator glasses and holds himself confidently.
9.

He glances over to Teresa and smiles as she gets Jennifer
ready to swim.

TERESA
(to Jennifer)
Okay, you all ready?

Jennifer nods before staring off at a group of other children
longingly.

TERESA (CONT’D)
Here, put your shoes here.

Jennifer kicks off her shoes, still transfixed by the group
of children.

TERESA (CONT’D)
See you soon.

JENNIFER
(excitedly)
Alright. Bye mom!

Teresa watches Jennifer for a moment before putting on a pair
of dark sunglasses and reclining in her bathing suit on her
towel.

After a moment she opens her eyes and looks past the frame of
her glasses, flirtatiously making eye contact with the
father.

FATHER
How old is she?

TERESA
Just turned seven. How about yours?

FATHER
Seven too.

A beat.

FATHER (CONT’D)
Good age.

TERESA
It is. Hard but good. You just get
one thing figured out and they’re
already on to something else..

FATHER
Tell me about it. Seems just like
yesterday that she was learning to
even talk...
10.

TERESA
Sounds cliche, but I guess the
trick is to just try to take it all
in...

Teresa smiles back at him for a moment before biting her lip
and laying back down. Eyes shut, she pulls at the top of her
bathing suit- feeling his gaze and pleased to be watched.

FATHER
Well, I don’t think it’s cliche at
all–– that’s what it’s all about.

TERESA
Can’t tell you how refreshing it is
to have someone say that...

Teresa sits up and turns towards him, nesting her dark
glasses in her hair.

TERESA (CONT’D)
Hey, I’m Teresa by the way. What
was your name?

The conversation continues but grows inaudible. Teresa moves
closer to the father, touching him on the shoulder before
stealing a glance at his ring finger and noticing that he
isn’t wearing a wedding ring.

EXT. LARSON HOME- EVENING

Michael parks his ice cream truck in front of the Larson
house.

MICHAEL (V.O.)
I never wanted to be rich exactly,
I just didn’t want to be taken. I
wasn’t going to sit and pretend to
be loyal, pretend to be a company
man knowing damn well that if they
decided to, that some money guy
wouldn’t so much as hesitate to
sack me. When I met Teresa I just
wanted a calm life with her.
Nothing fancy. Just to not worry
every damn month— for Teresa not to
worry. Now I guess I just want for
her to not take me for a fool...

He gets out of the truck with his cash box under his arm and
walks towards the front door.

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