After months of slowly working my way into my novel, I suddenly got the urge to try setting out the story in screenplay format. I don’t know much about screenplays, having read just a few of them. I thought it might be educational to write in the style. And I found that the words flowed into the keyboard quite quickly. Of course, I’ve already written this scene and many more in novel format, so I knew how it was going. But writing the story in screenplay format got me thinking in a film mindset and helped me get a better visual handle on the scenery and the action.
This is the first draft, no editing, rough prose. This scene is heavy on description and very light on dialogue, but it’s intended to be an action sequence that introduces the setting and the main character. On film, this scene would run only four to six minutes.
The first chapter, first scene of “Durango Tango” in rough draft:
SUNSET: HIGH ON A REMOTE MOUNTAIN TRAIL
WIDE: We are just above treeline looking down on rugged Rocky
Mountain peaks. We’re alongside a two-track Jeep trail, with
a sweeping view of a small valley below, a few hundred feet
below. It is beautifully quiet, with just a hint of breeze.
POV: We look through the ground glass of a large format camera,
attached to a tripod, then aim it toward the valley and
fiddle with some adjustments.
EXTREME WIDE SHOT: We see John Twist, his aging car sitting
a few feet away, more mountains all around.
John Twist is a twenty-something guy wearing worn jeans,
hiking boots and a wool shirt.
Twist finishes adjusting the camera as the evening dims and
stars appear in the black sky. He walks to the car, and we
notice he has a slight limp. He takes a swig from a thermos
of coffee and pulls on a jacket and gloves. Inside the car,
we see a camera bag or two filled with lenses, another
camera body, enough gear to show us he is a serious
photographer. There’s a fly-fishing pole on the back ledge.
He limps back to the camera, looks through the viewfinder
again, then trips the shutter and sets a stopwatch to 20
minutes. He is photographing star trails with a long time
Among the beautiful field of stars, we notice the blinking
marker light of a small airplane flying low. Twist notices
Arrgh! That’s gonna ruin my shot.
Twist looks at the stopwatch even though he knows it only
just started. The plane gets closer. Twist watches the plane
lose altitude and begin to turn. Our attention turns to the
bottom of the valley, where we notice a pair of headlights
illuminating a straight stretch of Jeep trail. A moment
later, someone down there lights a flare and tosses it on
the trail. We watch as a few more flares are lit and
dropped, marking an impromptu landing strip.
The plane turns, switches on its landing lights, lines up
with the flares, makes a short rough landing, takes a bad
bump just before it reaches the headlights, CRASHES into the
vehicle and flips upside down.
Twist is stunned for a moment.
Then he steps to his car, rummages in the backseat and comes
up with a small backpack and a large flashlight. He stuffs a
small first-aid kit and a water bottle into the pack and
puts it on. He takes off down the slope as fast as the
lighting and footing will allow.
EXT. BOTTOM OF THE VALLEY
Twist emerges, out of breath, onto the Jeep trail and jogs
toward the crash scene. He passes several burning flares in
the two-track and arrives at
EXT. THE CRASH SCENE
The high-wing small plane is upside down in the Jeep trail,
its landing lights illuminating what is left of an open Jeep
sitting 10 feet from the edge of the track. Apparently, the
wing of the plane hit the Jeep, which spun and flipped the
plane. The Jeep is smashed, its windshield bent back flat
atop the seats.
Can anyone hear me? (shouting)
Twist approaches the plane and sees liquid dripping from the
engine compartment. Peering inside, he sees that the pilot
is still strapped in, hanging from the seat belts. The door
is hanging loose, so Twist points his flashlight at the
pilot. His face is covered in blood. The pilot slowly opens
his eyes in response to the light. But the eyes remain open.
He’s dead. In the cargo area behind the pilot, we see a
number of bales of marijuana. On the ceiling below the pilot
lies a large handgun.
Twist steps toward the Jeep and trips, falling to his hands
and knees, face-to-face with a severed head. He leaps to his
(Twist is a man of few words)
He sees the corpse that belongs to the head sitting in the
Jeep. Apparently, the wing or the windshield frame
Twist looks from the Jeep to the plane. Obviously a drug
delivery. He notices a duffle bag in the back of the Jeep.
He steps out of the area lit by the plane’s landing lights,
into darkness, and carefully surveys every inch of the
valley rim. Satisfied no one else is nearby, he retrieves
the duffle bag and carries it to a spot behind the plane, in
the edge of the dark. He unzips the duffle and is not
surprised that it is filled with bundles of cash. He moves a
bit farther into the darkness, then jams as many of the
bundles as possible into his small backpack. Then he sticks
a few into his jacket pockets.
The duffel is still a quarter full. Kneeling near the plane,
he sees liquid still dripping from the engine. He notices
the leaking fuel has puddled and a rivulet of gasoline is
now making its way down one of the Jeep trail tracks. The
liquid is halfway to the first burning flare.
He tosses two or three packets of cash into the dark beyond
the Jeep, then places the duffle back where he found it.
Twist takes a lingering look around the crash scene. He rubs
out a couple of clear footprints he had made where he fell.
Then he walks back down the Jeep trail. When he reaches the
first flare, he carefully kicks it from one track depression
into the other, directly in the path of the approaching
trickle of gas. Then he sets off at a trot.
EXT. HIGH ON THE MOUNTAIN TRAIL
He returns to where he started, totally out of breath from
exertion. He turns to look into the valley.
We see flame suddenly reach out from the first flare, race
up the Jeep trail and reach the plane. A moment later,
there’s an EXPLOSION.
Twist reaches up to his camera, still on the tripod, and
closes the shutter. Methodically, he removes the camera from
the tripod, stows it in the car, folds up the tripod and
puts it and his backpack into the trunk. He shines the
flashlight all around, kicks out a few clear footprints to
obscure them. Then he calmly and slowly drives down the