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"Receipt for a Christmas Box" by Jay Knisely

Logline: For a teenager and his tag-along friend, returning a gift sounds easy and shouldn't be a hassle with a handy receipt -- a handy yellow receipt.

Genre: Crime - Drama

Cast Size: 6

Production Status: Available (Please contact the author to negotiate the rights)

Contest: A Christmas Present (Nov. 2007)

Contest Scores
PoorFairGoodVery GoodExcellent

Comments Made During the Contest

A.M. Wallace (Level 0)

I found your story very difficult to follow. Is it meant to be a commentary on race? On youth? On economic status? I'm not sure. There are a number of issues that make it a difficult read. There was dialog that made no sense to me. "Went loud but should be still safe." What does that mean? You have some formatting issues that need to be fixed. If you fix these issues, I think you'll probably have a good story to tell.

Aaron Williams (Level 4)

I understand what you were trying for here, but I don't think it ever gets there. The tragedy of police brutality, unfair stereotyping, and the piquant moment when the receipt turns up... this is good fodder, but I don't think executed well.
The first criticism is the jilted vernacular.. it just takes too much away from the flow of the read. The writer is definitely intelligent and can express himself in the action lines for sure, though some words I question.. 'chicaning' I looked that up couldn't find anything on it.. even in urbandictionary.
I did like the duplicitous nature of the boys.. they were wrongly accused and shot, but would never have been suspected had they not harrassed the fat woman.. that's good..
the shooting seems a bit over the top.. it's a realistic story, but the likelihood of a cop shooting two kids in a mall with no stolen merch. and just a woman's pointed finger.. it was vandalism at the most, can't imagine a shooting over that.

Adam Grage (Level 4)

It's unfortunate there are any characters who extend out from the typical stereotype--Black kids talking ghetto and a fat woman being a 'pig' at a candy store. The story wasn't very original and I could predict what was going to happen to the kids before the end of the story.

I would be real surprised a mall cop would shoot to kill for shoplifting also. You have a story here but it just needs some more work to define this characters and then the story will shine more.

Adrienne Jorgensen (Level 4)

I read this one a few times, hard as it is to take. There's something in the sequencing of evens that I don't quite get. Why is the manager asking about an attempted robbery/the broken window before the boys enter the mall? Is it a different store?

The dialect is hard to make out and that gets a little distracting. I wonder if there's a way to rein that in a little so that it's indicated but not quite so hard to read.

I think it's a really provacative and tough topic to write about. I fully believe that racial profiling is a really big problem and that african american men are treated in a guilty until proven innocent manor often, especially when they lack economic privilege. But, I'm not sure you can sell them being shot in the back. If you rework it so that the cop shoots him as he reaches into his pocket, that could (tragically) probably work, but I don't think he can shoot both of them while they're fleeing because of a cracked window.

Barbara Lewis (Level 4)

I like this story - one thing, I think you should change the dialogue out of dialect, because it's kind of distracting. I think the reader can get an image of the boys without that, and rather than make it easier to picture them it makes it more difficult.

I didn't totally believe that the window would crack by itself like that :)

Brian Wind (Level 5)

The writing was good, but this story seemed very unbelievable. I don't know of any cops that would empty a clip into a couple of unarmed teenagers running away from them even if the cop knew FOR SURE that they were guilty, but the fact that he was uncertain made the act that much more unbelievable.

The other thing that bothered me with this script was the dialogue. Obviously you were trying to capture the southern accent, but when it's so abundant, it can make for difficult reading. Maybe just describe the characters with a thick, southern drawl or something and then write their dilogue normally.

Caroline Coxon (Mod Emeritus)

I thought this was excellent. The characters came to life (please excuse pun) with your skilful use of dialogue and action. Other people should read this to see how it's done.

I'm not one for violence, but I applaud you!

Charlie Hebert (Mod Emeritus)

This was different. I liked that.
Really good characters. The dialogue is good, but maybe written with just a little too much "accent". Makes it hard to understand in some places.
The police officer shooting two suspected shoplifters - especially kids - in the back, then cuffing their dead bodies, seemed a bit over the top.
Could see what was going to happen a mile away. Would have been nice to instead have had them live and do something productive. Would have been a different twist than the norm.
If not, I'd like to see the fat lady's reaction to what she has caused. Think that would be very interesting.
Good job.

Chris Messineo (Founder)

I like the idea behind this story very much.

However, it all feels a little too forced. Why did the glass break? Why did the boys run? Why did the cop shoot?

The cops reaction, his racism, is all very surfacey. I think racisim is much scarier when it is hidden under a facade of goodness.

I think there is a lot to explore in this story and I hope you take the time to rewrite it.

Dave Kunz (Level 4)

Good character work with Gib and Darius. I liked the fact that you gave them layers with both good and bad qualities. The bit with the window seemed implausible, as did the cop firing nine rounds in a shopping mall and killing both of them.

Also, I realize you chose to use a lot of slang in the script but you need to be careful in your action lines, for example: "chicaning" near the middle of page 2. You don't want to leave your audience having to guess at what you mean. You can get away w/a little more of that with dialogue but the action lines need to clearly describe the flow of the action (as well as evoke a mood and flavor of a setting, which you're good at).

David D. DeBord (Level 5)

Much too much description in the dialog.

Don’t like things such as “you got your driver’s license now, right?” kind of dialog because it’s there to inform the audience and is not part of the flow that would really occur between the two characters. Darius would know about Gib’s driving status.

Same with the manager’s “any word on those smash and dash …” Too right on and informative.

I also am not one to use accents, lingo, jargon, contractions and other character establishing dialog ploys. I think they can make the dialog hard to read and understand and translating those odd words slows the read. My preference, and other may certainly say that I’m wrong about this, is to keep the word cleaner in form, make the situations and characters strong, then let the actors tweak the dialog as their characters would.

Dawn Calvin (Level 5)

This was a really good story and I thought it to be a realistic/believable one as well.

There were only a few things that brought me out of the story sometimes. It was the speech and also some of the decriptions.

Maybe I don't like to figure out if certain words are Trendy? But I would say stay away from trendy or not commonly used words. Because not all readers are fabulous 20 somethings!

Good job and good luck!

Graham Trelfer (Level 4)

This needed a second reading to put everything in place, not because it wasn't there, just because I am a lazy reader sometimes when there is so much action I skim a little. anyway on a second reading it made much more sense. All fine and dandy, just seemed the end was a little OTT (although if you lived in London during the bombings in 2005 then you might think different, a totally innocent guy was shot 7 times in the face after he had been taken down to the ground, so maybe your story doesn't sound as bad. Nine shots is however probably too many from one gun.

Jane Beckwith (Level 4)

I'm not really buying the cops shooting two running kids in the mall in the daytime. At night on a city sidewalk with some kind of real threat evident - maybe. Still, point taken. Some of the dialogue enhanced character, some distracted - "chou" .

John Foley (Level 4)

I liked the style of your dialogue in terms of dialect.

I got confused on where this action is taking place. The first jewelry store scene is confusing for me on what is exactly happening.

John LaBonney (Level 4)

Ironic how the officer tosses away the receipt without even looking at it. I had to go back and read it again to understand about the window breaking; perhaps that could be a little more clear.

Jonathan D. Greene (Level 2)

I found the dialog hard to follow. However I am not sure how a dialect or strong accent is supposed to be treated... is it generally left to the actors?

I could see the writer specifying if a particular turn of phrase was critical. It's an interesting question. Undoubtedly someone commenting will be able to answer.

The security guard's reaction (use of force) seemed improbable as these men were not threatening anyone; they apparently had no goods, and they could be caught by other means e.g. radio security outside the mall, call police, etc.

Nine shots would be associated with a panic-reaction whereby the shooter felt personally threatened. A security professional trained in the use of a weapon would know he'd be facing jail time for this choice... what would cause him to accept this trade-off?

Perhaps if he had some sort of serious past experience, professional or otherwise, with these guys or some big, threatening pretext, like men fitting the exact description and behavior of these two opened fire on security guards at other malls in the area, under identical circumstances, etc.

The guard could also be given some personal history that might better create the imbalance necessary to justify his reaction... On the other hand, perhaps you want to portray him as a cold-blooded murderer who doesn't care about the consequences of his actions; but even then it would be helpful if the reader/viewer had some hint of his psychopathic tendencies. Such a hint (or pretext described earlier) would bring an over-arching tension to the entire piece.

Kirk White (Level 5)

giving a good. well written although rather well-tred territory as well. I kept waiting for a twist on the subject matter that never came. Not exactly sure what, in fact, cracked the window.

Margaret Avnet (Level 4)

I don't know if the two boys would have ran away from the cop. And while I understand that you want to get a sense of the boys speech patterns, it was distracting. And would the obese woman be so upset about their reactions towards her that she would falsely accuse them of a crime?

Matias Caruso (Level 5)

This was well written for the most part, but I had a hard time in suspending my disbelief. The unfortunate chain of events which leads to getting these kids shot is too unfortunate for my taste.

Hard to believe that cop would pull the trigger so fast without attempting a chase first. And even a teenager should be aware that running away is quite self-incriminating.

Some of the dialogue lines were quite amusing and had me chuckling, by the way.

Matthew Phillips (Level 4)

A good way to use the contest requirements. You definitely had you finger on the characters' pulse. Great writing. I did feel like you have to give the officer a bit more to get him to act that way. I understand the point was that it was uncalled for, and that does happen. I feel like it would be a bit better if the boys were a little more disrespectful. Other then that... great job. Well written.

Michael Thede (Level 4)

This was a bit too far fetched for me. The characters, in particular, the police officer, seemed two-dimensional and lacked any intriguing motivation. As a result, it was very difficult to suspend disbelief enough to accept the fact that police procedure would have so easily gone out the window in this situation, resulting in the "tragic" deaths of these two boys. Beyond that, a number of phrases used here in the descriptions--e.g. "A moose of a police officer", "Dark Christmas decorations and spare of many shoppers" and "Darius dittoes Gib's scarper"--were lost on me. I have know idea what these things mean. I'm scoring you a FAIR for this.

Paul Young (Level 3)

Tragically disappointing Christmas present for the two boyz. Might want to check up on the format with presenting two characters speaking at one time. What you have there may be correct anyway. At least their music lives on.

Pia Cook (Level 5)

You certainly got my attention when you mentioned the Gators!! :-)

I found some of the dialogue distracting the way you wrote it. Perhaps it would be better to mention in the beginning how the boys speak so the words can be spelled the normal way in the dialogue. IMHO, it's never good when the reader has to stop and reread something just to understand it.

I also think that you telegraphed the ending to some degree. As soon as I read about the smash and grab and that the boys were going to the mall I knew where this was heading.

Different take on the Christmas Gift assignment though compared to the others I've read so far.

Ralph Shorter (Level 3)

This is an excellent story, one that probably happens all too often in real life.
Your characters rang true (although a little more description would have been nice), and the dialogue was first rate, ethnic without going too far.
I particularly liked how the obese woman, who’d been previously “dissed,” and perhaps colored by the experience (if you’ll pardon the pun), jumped to the wrong conclusion.
This reminded me somewhat of the episodes in “Crash.” I can think of no higher compliment.

Sally Meyer (Moderator)

Not bad writing, although the gangsta talk is hard to read. I did like the story. I felt it gave a message and it had a bitter punch at the end. Quite touching and sad.

Spencer McDonald (Level 4)

A made for the inner city story. Chisel ma nizzle.

My thoughts.

Seemed "Ho Hum." Maybe we have all been subjected to so much real violence in America that this tale has no impact on my emotions.

I may have been more engaged in the plight of the characters had I known them better. You took me in and out of feeling for these characters in two dire ways.

First, your descriptions seemed to be lacking something. I have seen this in many stories here this month as well. Each character was described by clothing. Let me just say, the clothing does not make the man. Show us his character by something deeper than what he or she wears.

Here is an example: "GIB (16), dressed warm day casual with a loose hanging Gators basketball jersey as a pullover, sits on the deck steps fiddling with a boom box"

Why not something like this:

"A gansta wantta be GIB (16) slouches on his porch fiddling with an oversized boom box."

Here is the second item that seemed to detract me from caring for your characters:

Hey Darius, yeah, but I'm thinkin' of
takin' it back. Maybe gettin' somp'n
else. Ya know? The mall. Mom ga’ me
the recei’ - ri' here.

I had a hard time following the gansta slang. Could you just show us the dialogue in a normal way.

Your opening slug line seemed odd.


I think it should have been written this way:


Over all, it was just alright for me.

Stan Tjaden (Level 3)

An interesting short with engaging characters and intriguing action.

The breaking and cracking that "went loud" of the glass while the boys were there is pivotal to the conflict, but... I found it totally implausible. The story was lost from that point.

I enjoyed the description -- "The moose of a POLICE OFFICER, sporting whitewalls..." was just great. There were others of excellence.

Good structure -- it was set up to deliver the conflict and lead the reader/viewer to a resolution.

Stephenie Ruffin (Level 4)

I thought there was too much description written in the descriptions. 1) the boys t-shirts 2) the crack in the window 3) exactly where the store is. I would suggest keeping your descriptions a little simpler. (If someone wants to produce your script, any script, then it's a little easier to produce in regards to the descriptions) The dialog for me slowed the reading down a bit, but I think you nailed the dialog of the teenagers. A liar and misunderstandings, I can see how a trigger happy cop would shoot. Good luck.

Sylvia Dahlby (Level 5)

Wow. Tragic and all too real wrong-place at the wrong-time story. The boys were well drawn, maybe a touch stereotypical but it was all working.

The cop could use more emotional depth. He seemed too trigger-happy gunning for "smash and grab robbers" -- and too calm about shooting a couple of unarmed kids in the back. But what policeman doesn't have the right to be a little paranoid in an age where teenagers shoot up shopping malls? Maybe there's a way to make the cop feel more threatened? Or add a more remorse/shock when he realizes his error (before covering up the real crime by throwing away the receipt)?

Terence Ang (Level 3)

I would rate this script as very well-written. The dialog's spot-on and it did a fine job accentuating the characters with "'sup y'alls" and shit. What I felt could have been tighter though was the prejudice and discretion the cop had towards the two boys. Maybe the boys should have done something a little more over-the-edge to really get punched up big-time as they try to escape in the end.

William Bienes (Mod Emeritus)

That is one trigger-happy cop. I really liked the camaraderie between Darius and Gib. Outside of that, the story went where I thought it would go, though I didn't want it to go there.

I wanted something different from this script -- maybe to keep the foreshawdowing of impending danger, but not ever see it... building the tension, but having him simply exchange the radio -- maybe for something "dangerous".

Comments Made After the Contest

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