Branches Screenplay: Excerpt

"BRANCHES"

FADE IN:

EXT. A country road (1906) — EVENING

A SHADOWY FIGURE emerges slowly from the vanishing point riding atop a roan stallion… It gets closer and we see it is a man… It gets even closer and we see the man is a tall, slender, good looking African-American about age 25. From his P.O.V. we see the vanishing point to the horizon…

INT. A Country Church (1907) — DAY

We see a wedding ceremony of the man getting married to a tall, slender, pretty, African-American woman about age 20 who looks strangely subdued. From her P.O.V. we see the vanishing point to the horizon…

EXT. HIGHWAY 65 — AFTERNOON

It’s raining less as Neely speeds down the 2-lane highway that connects Des Moines, Iowa to Sedalia, Missouri.

INSERT — HIGHWAY SIGN

which reads U.S. 65.

INT./EXT. Neely’s automobile/HIGHWAY 65 — late afternoon

The rain has stopped and the VW is sailing smoothly down the highway.

ANGLE ON Neely deep in thought.

FLASHBACK

Roland slapping her and looking at her with rage.

END FLASHBACK

Neely grimaces as if she can still feel his hand connect with her flesh. Her foot presses on the accelerator and the speedometer needle inches well past speed limit. Tears are brimming her eyes and spill over her cheeks.

FLASHBACK

Gilliam smiling at her when they first met.

END FLASHBACK

INSERT — HIGHWAY SIGN  "CHILLICOTHE – 28 miles"

EXT. outskirts of sedalia, mo — EARLY EVENING

INSERT — CITY LIMITS SIGN

which reads SEDALIA, POPULATION 20,927

BACK TO SCENE

SERIES OF SHOTS —

A) SEDALIA, MO — Neely drives through the streets of Sedalia, stopping at traffic lights, making turns easily, comfortable with the navigation.

B) DES MOINES, IA — after work, Gilliam stops by Dinado’s looking for Neely. When he doesn’t see her, he sits at the bar and motions to the BARTENDER to pour him a drink.

GILLIAM

Seen my lady friend?

bartender

Haven’t seen her yet tonight, man.

C) SEDALIA, MO — Neely drives up to a small cottage on an asphalt paved street. She pulls the VW into the driveway, then gets out of the car and approaches the house. She steps onto the porch and knocks on the door.

D) DES MOINES, IA — Gilliam throws a tip on the bar and heads for the exit.

END OF SERIES

EXT. GANZIE’S HOUSE (august, 1975) — EARLY EVENING

A tall, slender, rather fragile looking African-American woman comes to the door. This is GANZIE SIMS, Neely’s grandmother. She is very old with snow white hair and a slightly stooped posture but her face is bright with pleasure at the recognition of her visitor.

GANZIE

Neely, baby, it’s so good to see you.

They embrace warmly and as Neely pats her grandmother’s bony shoulders, a look of concern spreads across her brow.

NEELY

Oh, Ganzie, I’ve missed you so much.

INT. GANZIE’S HOUSE — MOMENTS LATER

Ganzie’s living room is small with very old but comfortable looking furniture. There is a small TV in the corner and it is turned on to SANFORD AND SON.

GANZIE

I don’t have much food in the house, Neely.

NEELY

Don’t worry, Ganzie, I don’t need much.

GANZIE

We can put your suitcase on the sleeping porch.

Ganzie starts to lift the bag but it is immediately apparent that she cannot.

NEELY

You know I could never pack light. You’d think I was moving in instead of just staying for a few days.

Ganzie smiles as if remembering something humorous.

Neely picks up the suitcase and moves through the house to the sleeping porch. She smiles with the pleasure of being in familiar surroundings.

She sits on the bed and runs her right hand across the quilt.

ANGLE ON Neely’s face.

INT. ganzie’s sleeping porch (1950) — day

Ganzie and Neely (about 10 years old) are sitting on the same bed covered with the same quilt. Neely clings to her doll with fierce determination while Ganzie tries to console her granddaughter. 

GANZIE

Your Mama does not hate you. She’s not always easy to understand but I can tell you she doesn’t hate you.

NEELY

Yes she does. She slapped me with a fly swatter!

GANZIE

And what did you do?

NEELY

Nothing.

GANZIE

Nothing?

NEELY

Well…I kinda sassed her.

GANZIE

Shame on you! You must never show disrespect to your mother.

NEELY

I’m sorry.

pause

I wanna come live with you, Ganzie. Do I have to go back?

GANZIE

Yes, you have to go back, Sweetheart. But I’ll tell you what–you can stay for a few days and we’ll make a new dress for Jessie.

Ganzie takes the doll from Neely’s arms and gives her a once over.

GANZIE

Now let’s go have a little snack. Things will seem much better with some apple pie in your tummy, don’t you think?

INT. GANZIE’S LIVING ROOM (1950) — LATER

Ganzie holds the phone slightly away from her ear as ALMA KINGSTON (attractive African-American woman, mid-40’s, large frame) Neely’s mother, yells from her end of the line.

INTERCUT

ALMA

bursting with anger

I can’t handle that child, Mama. She is headstrong and willful.

GANZIE

I’d say headstrong and willful runs in her blood.

ALMA

But she told me to mind my own business. I will not let her talk to me that way.

GANZIE

Calm down, Alma. You’ve lost control of yourself.

Alma is furious and doesn’t respond.

GANZIE

Look, let her stay for a few days and then I’ll put her on the bus back to Des Moines. Some time and distance may help the situation. But let me tell you one thing–you have no business hitting that child with a fly swatter to make your point. You were raised better than that…

ALMA

Mama, you don’t understand…

GANZIE

I understand all I need to understand and if something like this ever happens again…Neely won’t have to come runnin’ to me…I’ll come up there and get her myself.

INT. ganzie’s dining room (august, 1976) — NIGHT

Neely has shopped for dinner and she and Ganzie are at the dining room table sharing a supper of Kentucky Fried Chicken, salad and biscuits. Neely is almost finished and looks concerned that Ganzie is just picking at her plate.

NEELY

trying to be cheerful

Do you remember that time I was mad at Mama and wanted to come live with you?

GANZIE

Indeed I do. You were such an intense child.

NEELY

But you wouldn’t let me stay.

GANZIE

You’re my favorite grandchild but you were only 10 years old. I couldn’t let you leave your mother that way.

NEELY

I’m your only grandchild so I’m certainly glad I’m your favorite.

GANZIE

pursing her lips in amusement

Indeed, indeed.

NEELY

After I got back home, things weren’t much better, but because of you, I was able to make the best of it.

GANZIE

That’s what we all do. Make the best of things and keep going. Your mother was wrong but so were you. We all make mistakes.

NEELY

My life is one big mistake.

It’s falling apart and I don’t know how to stop it.

GANZIE

And you’re worried about me?

NEELY

Don’t tease me, this is serious.

GANZIE

So when are you going to tell me what is so serious?

NEELY

hesitates

Roland and I…are having problems.

GANZIE

Problems can be fixed.

NEELY

Not these… He hit me last night.

Neely instinctively moves her hand to her cheek as if to cover it up but the swelling is barely noticeable. She lowers her head as if afraid to make eye contact with Ganzie.

GANZIE

Oh my.

NEELY

…and he threatened to kill me.

GANZIE

My, oh my.

NEELY

I left because I was afraid of what would happen if I stayed.

GANZIE

This is serious. I had no idea things were so bad.

NEELY

They have been for a long time but this is the worst.

GANZIE

I don’t want you to think I’m not on your side but it takes two to break up a marriage. Are you telling me everything?

NEELY

Yes… Well, no…

hesitates

I’m in love with another man, Ganzie.

GANZIE

So is this why Roland hit you?

NEELY

He doesn’t know.

GANZIE

Don’t fool yourself, Neely. He knows. You can’t have someone else in your heart and keep it a secret.

Neely raises her head and looks at Ganzie with eyes full of sadness and surprise.

GANZIE

He may not be sure it’s another man but he knows something has come between you and he’s smart enough to guess that it might be a man.

pause

What’s this young man’s name?

NEELY

Gilliam.

 

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