AMERICAN BEAUTY by Alan Ball
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INT. JAIL CELL - DAY
EXTREME CLOSE-UP on a DROP OF WATER, gathering at the tip OF
a faucet, a FLASH OF LIGHT refracting through it just before
PULLING BACK slowly, we see ANOTHER DROP OF WATER gather and
FALL... and then ANOTHER... into a METAL SINK BASIN filled
with water, rippling in concentric circles with each DROP,
which we HEAR in a steady rhythm: DRIP... DRIP...
(singing in time to the
I'M FIXING A HOLE... WHERE THE
RAIN GETS IN....
REVERSE ANGLE on the face OF a YOUNG MAN with his hair cut
short, military-style, watching the dripping water as if
hypnotized. We ZOOM slowly toward him...
This is RICKY FITTS. He's twenty, but his eyes are much
older. Underneath his Zen-like tranquility lurks something
wounded... and dangerous. He SINGS softly to himself:
AND STOPS MY MIND FROM
Through the bars OF his CELL we see RICKY is seated on the
edge of a solitary cot in a JAIL CELL, staring intently at
metal sink on the wall across from him..
WHERE IT WILL GO...
ON TELEVISION: INT. COURTROOM - DAY
A sullen TEENAGE GIRL sits at a table in a COURTROOM,
surrounded by lawyers. SUPERIMPOSED across the bottom of
screen: TEENAGE GIRL ACCUSED OF HIRING FATHER'S KILLER. At
the lower right corner is the JUSTICE TV logo. In the
right corner: LIVE.
This girl is JANE BURNHAM. Seventeen-years-old, with dark,
intense eyes. She stares blankly at the table in front of
Would you please tell the court
how long you and the defendant have
Uh, we've known each other since
like, fifth grade? But we didn't
really become friends until this
Jane looks up, her eyes hostile, at:
Seated on the witness stand is seventeen-year-old ANGELA
HAYES. Strikingly beautiful, with perfect, even features,
blonde hair, and a nubile young body, she's the archetypal
American dream girl. She is being questioned by a DISTRICT
During that time, did Jane ever
say she disliked her father?
INT. COURTROOM - CONTINUOUS
We're now in the courtroom, where the JUSTICE TV CAMERAS
focus on Angela as the D.A. questions her.
Exactly how did she say it?
Uh, she said she hated his guts,
and wished he was dead.
Did she tell you why?
Angela hesitates, hot eager to answer this. Finally:
She said he was just too
embarrassing to live, okay?
ANGELA looks at JANE, who stares at her with absolute
She said both of her parents were
totally embarrassing, but her dad
was like, way beyond? And somebody
had to take him out. But she said
her mom was just pathetic and
probably didn't deserve to like,
Elsewhere IN the COURTROOM, a very well-put-together WOMAN
forty stifles a SOB. This is Jane's mother, CAROLYN
BACK on the witness stand, ANGELA looks contrite.
I'm sorry, Mrs. Burnham, but she
At her table, JANE buries her face IN her hands.
You did. You said it.
INT. POLICE STATION - LOBBY - DAY
A suburban POLICE station. PHONES RINGING, officers with
clipboards, lowlifes being booked. The usual.
The front door opens and COLONEL FRANK FITTS enters,
a MANILA ENVELOPE. He's fifty, quite handsome, his graying
hair cut short, military-style. He still moves like the
athlete he once was, but his eyes tell us he's not happy,
hasn't been for some time. As he approaches the front desk,
the uniformed clerk behind it looks up at him
I need to speak to Detective
INT. POLICE STATION - DETECTIVE'S OFFICE - MOMENTS LATER
DETECTIVE FLEISHMAN, paunchy and constantly exhausted, opens
the door to his office and motions Colonel Fitts inside.
Colonel Pitts. How goes it?
(off his look)
Forgive me. That was a stupid
question, after everything you've
He shows the COLONEL to a chair, then sits behind his
So what can I do for you?
The COLONEL sighs, looking at the MANILA ENVELOPE He
I found something. I think you
should take a look at it.
But the COLONEL just sits there, holding the envelope.
I don't want to do this.
(fighting back tears)
But I was taught a little thing
called duty. Something I wasn't
able to teach my own son...
He breaks down. FLEISHMAN crosses to him and places his hand
on his shoulder. The Colonel shrugs it off, violently.
Respectfully, FLEISHMAN steps back. the COLONEL pulls
together and hands over the envelope, without looking up.
Fleishman studies the envelope as he walks back to his desk,
then opens it and takes out an unmarked HI-8 VIDEOCASSETTE.
looks at the Colonel quizzically.
INT. JAIL CELL - DAY
RICKY sits motionless, still focused on the DRIPPING
I'M FILLING THE CRACKS THAT RAN
THROUGH THE DOOR...
A rapid-fire MONTAGE OF VIDEO IMAGERY taken from recent news
footage, intercut with CELEBRITIES and scantily-clad
MODELS of both sexes, accompanied by HEADBANGER MUSIC. THE
REAL DIRT logo spins quickly into place, with exaggerated
ON TELEVISION: INT. TABLOID news SHOW SET
A telegenic ANCHORPERSON addresses us. SUPERIMPOSED at lower
left is THE REAL DIRT logo. Behind the Anchorperson is an
INSET GRAPHIC of Jane and Ricky.
Lester Burnham. Brutally murdered
in cold blood, allegedly the victim
of a teenage psychopath hired by
his own daughter, Jane. The case
that has outraged America, has now
become even more shocking. Tonight
on The Real Dirt, we'll show you -
for the first time anywhere - an
astonishing videotape in which Jane
and alleged killer Richard Fitts
actually make their unholy pact.
ON VIDEO: INT. FITTS HOUSE - RICKY'S BEDROOM - DAY
JANE is leaning BACK IN bed, naked, smoking a joint. still
SUPERIMPOSED at lower left is THE REAL DIRT logo, and Jane's
breasts have been digitally BLURRED.
I need a father who's a role
model, not some horny geek-boy
who's gonna spray his shorts
whenever I bring a girlfriend home
Like he'd ever have a chance with
her. What a lame-o. Somebody really
should put him out of his misery.
A beat. JANE plays with her hair, lost IN thought.
Want me to kill him for you?
JANE stares at the camera incredulously, then LAUGHS.
Yeah, would you?
INT. COURT - DAY
We're TRACKING slowly across the mesmerized faces of the
as they watch the videotape.
It'll cost you.
I've been baby-sitting since I was
ten, I've got almost three thousand
We see the tape as it plays on the VIDEO MONITOR SET UP IN
the front of the courtroom. This time there is no THE REAL
DIRT logo nor any digital blurring of Jane's nudity.
ON THE MONITOR: JANE sits UP IN bed, smiling.
I was saving it for a boob job.
ON THE MONITOR: JANE stands and shakes her breasts.
In the courtroom, Jane's mother Carolyn watches, stunned,
gripping the arm of a well-dressed, silver-haired MAN at her
JANE (O.C.) (cont'd)
But my tits can wait.
Jane watches from her seat, her face a mixture of anger,
disbelief and helplessness. We ZOOM toward her slowly.
You know, that's not a very nice
thing to do, hiring somebody to
kill your dad.
Tears spill from her blinking eyes, But she remains
ON THE MONITOR: Jane is back on the bed.
Well, I guess I'm just not a very
nice girl, then, am I?
ON THE MONITOR: she leans BACK and smiles dreamily at
INT. JAIL CELL - DAY
CLOSE on Ricky as he leans back on his cot, staring up at
the same dreamy smile on his face.
I'M TAKING THE TIME FOR A NUMBER
OF THINGS... THAT WEREN'T IMPORTANT
FADE to BLACK.
In darkness, we HEAR Vic Damone singing "I'M NOBODY'S BABY,"
as the words "ONE YEAR EARLIER" FADE IN AND OUT.
EXT. SUBURB - EARLY MORNING
We're FLYING high above an upper middle class SUBURB. The
wide streets are lined with stately elms and sycamores; the
homes are traditional and well-kept. Coming closer to the
ground, we pick out a couple of male JOGGER.
A DIFFERENT ANGLE on the Joggers. We're at level now, MOVING
alongside them. They're both in their thirties, athletic,
blandly handsome. They pass a STREET SIGN that reads Robin
Suddenly, a MAN comes into view, FLYING Superman-style about
three feet above their heads. He's wearing old-fashioned
PAJAMAS, and a plaid flannel ROBE. As he passes overhead,
Joggers look up and wave excitedly, like children. He
them a grin and waves back, then he speeds up, leaving them
As the MAN flies down the street, a BARKING DOG runs along
beneath him, jumping into the air, trying to catch him. The
Man swoops and dips effortlessly, teasing the dog, then
at the end of the street, a young boy on a bicycle tossing
newspapers onto people's porches, or as close as he can get.
Seeing the flying Man, the boy tosses a paper high into the
air. The dog tears off to catch the paper. The flying Man
LAUGHS and shoots upward like he's been blown out of a
grabs the paper, and swoops down, dropping it lightly on the
front porch of a well-appointed, two-story HOUSE with
distinctive CEDAR SHINGLE SIDING and a RED FRONT DOOR.
The boy on the bike watches IN admiration. the MAN slowly
floats by above him and tousles his hair. The dog BARKS. The
boy throws another newspaper into the air, this time even
higher than before, and the Man grins as he prepares to
up after it: this is going to be fun... and we SMASH CUT
INT. BURNHAM HOUSE - MASTER BEDROOM - DAY
We HEAR the harsh BUZZ OF an ALARM CLOCK. Vic Damone still
sings "I'M NOBODY'S BABY" elsewhere in the house. Outside, a
dog is still BARKING.
The MAN we just saw FLYING Through the streets lies sleeping
amidst expensive bed linens, wearing the same PAJAMAS. His
hand reaches over and shuts the ALARM CLOCK OFF; his eyes
remain clamped shut as he tries to hang onto his dream....
it's gone. He sighs and opens his eyes.
This man is LESTER BURNHAM, Carolyn's husband and Jane's
father. He's forty-two, with a wide boyish face that's just
beginning to droop around the edges. He sits up in bed and
rubs his face.
We're in a large, comfortable bedroom that's tastefully
decorated but not overdone - it could be a spread from
Metropolitan Home. Lester gets out of the king-sized bed,
crosses to a bay window covered with stylish wooden blinds,
lifts one of the slats with his finger and peers through it.
His POV: A DOG - the same dog from Lester's flying dream -
BARKS excitedly at us from behind a white picket fence
surrounding the front yard of the house across the
EXT. BURNHAM HOUSE - CONTINUOUS
The dog's POV: Lester looks down at us through the bay
of the HOUSE from his dream - we recognize the distinctive
CEDAR SHINGLE SIDING. The dog continues to BARK.
My name is Lester Burnham. I'm
forty two-years old. In less than a
year, I'll be dead.
INT. BURNHAM HOUSE - MASTER BATH - MOMENTS LATER
We're in the shower with Lester. A waterproof RADIO plays
COUNTRY MUSIC. He stands with his face directly in the hot
spray1 eyes shut.
In a way, I'm dead already.
ANGLE from outside the shower: we see Lester's naked body
silhouetted through the steamed-up glass door. It becomes
apparent he is masturbating.
LESTER (V.O.) (cont'd)
Look at me jerking off while I
listen to country music. I hated
this shit when I was growing up.
Funny thing is, this is the high
point of my day. It's all downhill
EXT. BURNHAM HOUSE front YARD - MOMENTS LATER
CLOSE on a single, dewy AMERICAN BEAUTY ROSE, perfect IN
shape and color. As we PULL BACK, a pair of gloved hands
CLIPPERS appear and SNIP the flower off.
We continue PULLING BACK to discover Carolyn BURNHAM IN her
rose garden in front of the house, cutting flowers and
them in a basket, a determined, humorless look on her face.
Even now, she is perfectly put-together; she wears color-
coordinated gardening togs and has lots of useful and
That's my wife Carolyn. See the
way the handle on those pruning
shears matches her gardening clogs?
That's not an accident.
In the fenced front YARD OF the HOUSE across the street, the
familiar dog is still BARKING. A well-groomed, athletic MAN
a conservative suit rolls a blue plastic city GARBAGE
CONTAINER up the driveway to the curb.
That's our next-door neighbor Jim.
A second well-groomed, athletic MAN IN a conservative suit
comes out the front door.
What in the world is wrong with
her? She had a walk this morning.
And a jerky treat.
You spoil her.
(re: the second man)
And that's his lover Jim.
We recognize the two Jims as the joggers from Lester's
Bitsy. No bark. Come inside. Now.
Bitsy, suddenly subdued, allows Jim #2 to usher her
It's weird they have the same
name, but that's really no fault of