Screenplay Excerpt: Diet Vanilla Life

2 Jan



A screenplay by Roger White

Logline: A lifeworn, widowed ad copy writer follows a hunch after a wildly botched suicide attempt, and he discovers a new life and love by listening to a new voice.

Registered with WGA East

©Roger White, 2002-2011



Crowded on a prefabricated cubicle wall are dozens of tacked-up scraps of paper, letters, business memoranda, stickie notes, workplace pablum.

We slowly tour the cubicle wall as the Kinks’ “A Well Respected Man” leads us in.

              ‘Cause he gets up in the morning,

              And he goes to work at nine,

              And he comes back home at five-thirty,

              Gets the same train every time.

              ‘Cause his world is built ’round punctuality,

              It never fails.

              And he’s oh, so good,

              And he’s oh, so fine . . .

On the wall, focus on SOLITARY PICTURE, of a pretty thirty-something brunette woman and a young sandy-haired boy.

Amid a buzzing workplace drone, keyboards clacking, conversations rising and falling, a TIRED-LOOKING, GLUM FORTY-ISH MAN sits staring at his computer monitor. This is DREW McSHAN (a KEVIN SPACEY type), ad copy man. He’s about as inspired as chewed gum.


                                          (reading from his monitor)

                                         Are you happy one day, then down the

                                         next? Can’t seem to shake the blues?

                                         Then trade your blues for tangerines –

                                         with Uforium, the tiny tangerine tablet.

Drew shakes his head in disgust, banging the keys.



A COWORKER, DICK BURTON, pokes his head into Drew’s cube.


                                          Drew, you got that TV spot for

                                         Engorgia yet? Shaw said the reps

                                         want to hear some trials today.


                                         Goddammit, Dick, I’m still working on

                                         this peach-colored panacea. How’s this?

                                        “Life needn’t be so serious. With Uforium,

                                          you’re delirious. Just a handful of these little

                                         time-bombs, and you’re straight on

                                          for Stuporville.”


                                          Settle down, Drew.


                                          Tell Shaw one half-minute miracle at a time.

Still leaning into Drew’s cube, Dick waits for an answer.


                                              I’ll have it. I’ll have it. Give me ‘til

                                              this afternoon.

Dick leaves.


                                       Chemically induced boners. Would have

                                       invested if I’d known.

Drew clacks at his keyboard, reading from an info sheet.


                                     Use Uforium only as directed. Side

                                     effects may include watery eyes,

                                     constipation, shingles, rapid heart

                                     beat, dizziness, facial tics, anxiety

                                     and myocardial infarction.


Drew sits, trying his best to maintain a professional smile, next to a TALL, FUSSY MAN. This is SHAW, HIS BOSS. They’re sitting across a large oval meeting table from two SLICK YOUNG COMPANY REPS, BRAXTON and BRIGGS.


                                       Mr. Braxton, Mr. Briggs, this is

                                      Drew McShan, one of our best copy

                                      men. Drew, before we go into a reading,

                                      the Engorgia boys here wanted to hear

                                      what you came up with for the wrap.


                                        Yes, the ending really needs to tie

                                        it all together. It needs to put our

                                        name on the lips of men in the 45-to-

                                        69 slice.


                                         A sentence that tells the Engorgia story.

Drew opens a folder.


                                   Uh, okay. So after the man laughs

                                  confidently, the woman pulls up the

                                  covers and says, “Engorgia, when you

                                  and your man want a rock-solid


Braxton allows a slight wince. Briggs scratches his chin.


                                            A little too direct.

Drew retreats into more of his notes.


                                    Okay. After the man laughs confidently,

                                    the woman says, “Engorgia, for a

                                    difference you both can feel.”

Briggs purses his lips. Braxton thoughtfully shakes his head, looking skyward.


                                            A little too demure.

Drew dives into his notes again, visibly impatient.


                                       Man laughs. Woman: “Engorgia, one of

                                       life’s not-so-little pleasures.”

Braxton and Briggs exchange dyspeptic glances.


                                     Mm. Rather on the suggestive side,

                                    don’t you think?


                                    Don’t worry, boys. What else, Drew?

Drew puts his notes away, folds his arms, and looks these flashy young corporate men squarely in the eyes.


                                   Man laughs confidently. Woman wipes man-juice

                                   from her mouth and says, “Engorgia, for a monster

                                   hard-on even a cat couldn’t scratch.”


                                   Drew. My office, now.


Shaw’s fussy, sour mug fills the frame. Shaw’s not pleased.


                                   I can’t understand what’s gotten into you, 

                                   Drew. Your attitude stinks. These are our clients

                                   you’re talking to. You can’t say that crap about

                                   their product.


                                     On the contrary, Mr. Shaw, I would say

                                     that any elongated little pill named Engorgia,

                                     whose sole purpose is to give old men colossal

                                     erections, is ripe for a little levity.


                                    How long has it been? Since the accident?

Drew’s posture stiffens. He loses the smirk.


                                    Seven months. Seven months and two weeks.


                                      We were all devastated, Drew. We

                                      all grieved with you. But when you

                                      came back, for several weeks there,

                                      you were on fire. I’d never seen

                                      the likes of some the pieces you put together.

                                      You were like a laser. The Herp-Away campaign’s

                                      up for the ADDY.

Drew sighs and shakes his head, ticking off Shaw.


                                But you’re not irreplaceable! Lately it’s like you

                                just decided to check out. Last week I had you in

                               here for that mock ad you e-mailed everyone.


                                Which one was that?


                                  Your little ADHD jingle.

Shaw picks up a printout and reads from it.


                                  A little shot of Rilagin,

                                  And your kid’ll sit still again.

                                  Yes, Rilagin works just great

                                  If you want a drooling blank slate.

Drew stifles a grin.


                                      Hilarious, Drew.


                                       They never proved it was me who sent that.


                                        Was it you?

Drew nods, shrugging his shoulders. Shaw points a finger hard at Drew.


                                  I don’t know where you are now. You need to

                                 do some serious thinking, Drew. You need to

                                 decide if your heart is in advertising. We need

                                  men with passion — passion you seem to be sadly



Drew walks back to his cube, utterly unmotivated. He sits in his chair, staring at nothing. He rummages in a bottom drawer and picks up a pile of papers – a manuscript. Front page reads:

              The Caves of Sienna

              A novel by Drew McShan


A dark, coiffed man — well-dressed, well-tanned, and self-importantly handsome — sits at his mahogany desk, sorting through a stack of oversized manila flats, each stuffed with loose pages. This is DANIEL ROSE. An art deco steel and plexiglas nameplate on his massive desk says so.

Daniel rips through one flat with a silver letter opener, and he unceremoniously dumps the contents onto his desk. He picks up the cover letter and reads.


                                   “The Controller. A former air traffic

                                    controller, bent on revenge against

                                    the government, whom he feels has

                                    unjustly fired him, plants ultra-high-

                                    tech terrorist devices in facilities

                                    nationwide. A uniquely talented FBI

                                    agent matches wits with —”

Daniel suddenly tosses the letter, manuscript, and all onto a large pile of similarly hopeful losers in the corner.



He opens another and reads.


                                     “The Caves of Sienna, by D. McShan.

                                     A pair of preteen boys, best friends,

                                     uncovers a horrifying secret in the

                                     caves beneath a ghost town in rural

                                     Texas, which leads to —”

Daniel tosses the package into the loser corner.


                                     A Southern-fried Stand By Me. Right.

His office door opens, and a SLENDER BRUNETTE, mid-thirties, with high cheekbones and long limbs, striking and beautiful, enters. This is SUSAN McCRACKEN (picture SANDRA BULLOCK). She approaches Daniel’s desk, stopping short.


                                      You’re an ass.


                                       I’ve been called worse.


                                      Daniel, Greenberg said I’m right.

                                      I’m filing suit if you don’t take my

                                      name off the agency.


                                       Susan. You’re not leaving. We

                                       had this all worked out.


                                        No, Daniel, we didn’t. You think because

                                        you want something that’s how it will be.

                                        You don’t win this time.

Susan turns to leave. As she reaches the door, Daniel picks up a coffee cup from his desk and HURLS IT. IT SMASHES INTO THE WALL, inches from Susan’s head. Susan cowers for an instant, feeling her face for shards. A small speck of blood appears, running down her cheek.


                                         Susan . . . . Fuck. Are you okay?

She looks at the blood on her fingertips, then at Daniel. She fixes him with a long, iced glare, then leaves, slamming the door behind her.


Drew’s creeping along in his not-so-new sedan, in bumper-to-bumper traffic. He punches the radio buttons, pausing for the strains of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity.”


                                   “This is Ground Control to Major Tom,

                                    You’ve really made the grade,

                                    And the papers want to know

                                    Whose shirts you wear…”

Drew punches a button.


                                     Traffic and weather’s brought to you

                                     by the Sacro-ili-Shack.

Drew talks right along with the radio ad, word for word.

                                                           RADIO and DREW

                                          For the posture-perfect bed

                                          that’s heaven on your back,

                                          You know where you gotta head,

                                          for the Sacro-ili-Shack.

The radio announcer blathers on in his Top 40 tempo, while Drew wearily eyes the traffic. Directly in front of him, a giant Hummer with Jesus fish and “NO-Bama” bumper sticker sits puffing smoke.

Drew looks to his right and sees a young woman chatting on her cell phone in the giant Hummer next to him. He looks to the left and sees a fat man in a Hummer chatting on his cell.

Drew puts on his blinker and tries to ease into the left lane behind the fat man’s mammoth vehicle. Another giant Hummer quickly cuts him off, not letting him in. The driver, a middle-aged woman on a cell phone, honks angrily and flips the finger at Drew.

Drew is able to squeeze in behind the angry woman’s Hummer. On her rear bumper is a Jesus fish and a “Palin in 2012” sticker.

Drew can only shake his head and manage a tired, wan smile.


Drew is hunting in the bowels of his refrigerator for something worth eating. He pulls out a TV dinner and inspects it.


                                         Hungry man. Why don’t they have

                                         anything aimed at the slightly

                                         peckish, nervous-stomach man?

Drew closes the freezer door and comes face to face with a beautiful photo. It’s a closeup of the pretty brunette holding that little sandy-haired boy, both smiling happily for the camera.

Drew gently touches the photo, and he looks ready to break into pieces. He starts to take the photo from the fridge when the phone rings. Drew thinks about letting it ring, but he picks up before the machine kicks in.



                                                          VOICE ON PHONE

                                            McShan, the man. How’d it go today

                                            with Shaw?


                                             I wouldn’t use the word swimmingly,

                                             Dick. He wants me to ponder my life

                                             as I know it so far.

                                                         DICK’S VOICE

                                              Ah, come on. You’re the best copy man we

                                             got. Hemingway of the half-minute spot.


                                             Yeah, well ya know how he ended up.

                                                            DICK’S VOICE

                                             It was initially listed as a hunting



                                             Is that right.

                                                          DICK’S VOICE

                                             Shaw’s just busting your balls.

                                             Hey, listen, Angie’s got bunko with

                                             the alcoholics down the street, wanna

                                             head over to Deep Eddy with me?

Drew eyes the Hungry Man dinner he’s still holding.


                                            Um. Yes.

Drew puts the dinner back in the freezer, taking another long look at the photo.


Dick and Drew sit at a square little table near a jukebox, in a cigarette-fogged dive. They drink their beers amid the snap of pool balls and the tin sound of Jimmy Buffet through cracked speakers.


                                        So I’m up there two weeks straight, all

                                        hours, putting together the A/V track,

                                        right? You remember.

Drew nods, pouring himself another beer from the pitcher.


                                     Practice take’s in the can, got the talent

                                     signed on, I mean, we’re ready to roll.


                                       Who’d ya get?


                                         Tom Reilly.




                                           Tom Reilly. Played Officer Hot Dog Nelson

                                            in CHiPS, 1983.


                                            Oh. Not bad.

Drew glances over to a nearby table, where SUSAN SITS alone, solemnly staring at her untouched cocktail. She sports a small bandage on her cheek. Her eyes are red.

Drew catches himself staring, smiling sadly at this woman’s solitary misery, as Susan looks up and meets his gaze. Drew cocks his head slightly, still smiling at this striking woman, seeming so alone. Susan looks away.


                                       Yeah. Anyway, we’re good to go. Director’s

                                       there, film crew’s got booms rolling in. Suddenly,

                                       Mackey comes running onto the set.


                                         What? Mackey? From legal?


                                           Yeah, he’s screaming, “Stop! Stop! It’s

                                           off! It’s a no go!” Should have seen him.

                                            Fat bastard.


                                            What happened?


                                             Got a call from the guys at corporate.

                                             Apparently, the damn stuff causes cancer.


                                               Oh, my God.


                                               Yeah, it’s a real shame. It was a sweet-

                                               looking campaign. Down-home angle, just

                                               the right touch of cynical humor. Man.

                                               What a waste. Who would have thought a

                                                wart remover could cause cancer?

Drew snorts a laugh and drinks his beer, looking up at a TV set perched in a corner of the bar. On screen is a closeup of a wrinkled, frowning woman. The bottom of the screen reads: BEFORE BEAU-TEX. Next screen is the same woman, wrinkle-free and beaming: AFTER BEAU-TEX.

Drew downs his beer and gives his mug a thoughtful stare.


                                      The world’s a monstrous, vile, evil, hideous

                                      place. And it’s all because of advertising.


                                      Oh, God, not this again.


                                       We’re the devil, Dick.


                                        No, we’re not.


                                          We’re the devil’s agents, and we peddle

                                          garbage to the masses.


                                         Look, Drew, I’m no toadie. I’m not naïve enough

                                         to believe that every pitch we throw is a strike.

                                         But, dammit, some of that garbage, some of it, mind

                                         you, actually does some people a bit of good. It’s a

                                         living, like anything else. And by God, I’m proud of

                                         my meager talent. What else are you gonna do, shovel



                                          Some would say that’s exactly what

                                          we’re doing.

Drew keeps staring thoughtfully at his beer mug.


                                        I’ve heard all this existential crap

                                        before, ya know. When Meg wanted

                                        you to quit.

The mention of Meg’s name snaps Drew to attention. He glares momentarily at Dick and pours himself another beer.

Drew drinks half of it in long, hard gulps.


                                        I was the one who wanted to quit.


                                         Ah, yes. To write the Mediocre American Novel.

                                         Horror story, right? Ever finish that thing?


                                          Got enough rejection slips to paper a cabin.

Drew finishes his beer and lets out a long, slow exhale.


                                        I deserved it, you know. Her leaving.




                                          We’d stopped fighting. I wouldn’t fight

                                          anymore. I wouldn’t even let her in.

                                          I ignored her. I relegated her to the

                                          status of some disagreeable accoutrement.


                                           It happens, Drew.


                                             But she was fair about Robby. She

                                             never denied me access. I was a

                                             good dad. Me and Robby . . .

Drew struggles to keep it together.


                                       We did everything together. We were

                                       writing a children’s book. An idea

                                       he had about a chocolate sprinkle in a

                                       banana split. I’d been moved out exactly

                                        a month when it happened.


                                         I know.


                                         Died instantly. They made a point of

                                         saying that. Died instantly.


                                          I know. Drew, I can’t sit here and say

                                          I know how you feel. If I lost Angie and

                                          the boys they’d probably find me in Antarctica

                                          counting penguins. But I do know you have to

                                          move on. You have to keep breathing, keep moving

                                          your arms and legs, keep trying to make life liveable.

                                          It’s all you can do.


                                          Never did like breathing all that much.


                                          Look, Angie knows a girl, lives in the neighborhood.

                                          Our kids are in the same playgroup. She’s divorced.

                                          Real sweet. Built like a ton of bricks.


                                           I dunno.

Dick finishes his beer and slaps Drew on the back.


                                       Well, I’ll tell you this, old man.

                                       You better shape up. Shaw’s still

                                       considering who’s taking over

                                       corporate accounts.


                                        I thought Renfro was in line for that.


                                         Renfro quit last week, didn’t you

                                         hear? Bad ticker.


                                         Damn, I’m out of the loop.


                                         Yeah, that makes you top on the

                                          pole. But you’re not doing yourself

                                          any favors lately. Better come

                                          out of the fog, man.

Still holding up his beer mug, Drew blows on the glass, fogging it. On it, he draws a smiley-man face, except the smile’s just a straight line, making it bland man.

Drew looks over to Susan’s table again, but she is gone, her drink untouched.


                                          Ton of bricks, huh?


After an inordinate amount of fumbling and rattling of keys, the front door to Drew’s apartment opens, and Drew gains an awkward entrance. Drew’s singing, way off key.


                                         Oh, she’s a brick — house.

                                         She’s mighty mighty,

                                         Jus’ lettin’ it all hang out…

Drew throws his keys and coat in a chair and looks through some mail. He holds up one envelope and reads from it.


                                          Do NOT throw this away. You

                                          may be our next winner.

Drew rummages in a drawer and takes out a lighter. He holds up the letter and sets it on fire. He takes the letter to the kitchen sink and drunkenly drops it in.


                                        Fuck you, Ed McMahon. Fat,

                                        phickosantic Irish prick.

Drew makes his way toward his bedroom, still singing The Commodores. In the hall, he stops at the doorway to the bedroom that is his makeshift office. He walks to his writing desk and flicks on the desk lamp. The desk is crowded with folders, binders, scattered papers.

He opens a far bottom drawer and pulls out a small white binder. He dusts it off tenderly and places it on the desk. Hand-lettered in crayon on the front of the binder:

        Robby the Sprinkle and his Adventures Beyond Vanilla Valley

Drew looks up at a framed photo on the desk, a photo of him and Robby together, each with a dripping ice cream cone. Drew opens the binder and begins to read the writing there, amid crayon doodles and crude, brightly colored drawings.


                                        Robby was a chocolate sprinkle, who

                                        lived in the tiny town of Vanilla

                                       Valley, deep in the heart of the

                                        country known as Banana Splitzenberg.

Drew smiles and turns several pages, to where the writing and drawings stop. He searches for a pad of paper and a pencil. He rubs his face, vainly trying to summon sobriety.


                                         Robby was warned never to venture past

                                         Vanilla Valley. The great hills on either side

                                         of his hamlet, Pineapple Peak and Strawberry…

                                         uh. Strawberry… Fields… Fuck.

Drew wads up the paper and tosses it. He looks at the photo of his son and him, and he breaks down sobbing.


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