Sunday, February 16, 2014

Example of A Treatment: The Haunting In New York

Haunting in New York – Pitch Notes
(REVISED 5/5/09)
By Sean Hood

Read the parent article about treatments and beat sheets on Genre Hacks: Writing The Feature Script: Week Three - The Treatment

I’ve tracked the story on three levels:

1. BLACKMother/Boyfriend’s story

Here I track the beats as seen in documentary (with some adjustments). All the key story points are there so that the “based on a true story” premise is intact. Our location, the Hudson River Valley, is the setting for some of America’s most famous and authentic tales of possession.

2. GREEN – Middle sister, Krista’s, story.

The movie will be told through eyes of the middle sister, Krista (15). This is material that I have created myself. The family is a tightly knit group of women (A mother and three daughters… a bit like “Little Women”) who support each other physically and emotionally in dire financial circumstances. The deadbeat father deserted them years earlier; he had been unable to handle the challenges of caring for a child with special needs.

Chris, the boyfriend, is (at first) a male intruder into this family of women/girls. Krista doesn’t trust him. This male intruder is mirrored by the supernatural demon, who is also threatening male figure invading the family unit. Ultimately the “real world” story is about Krista learning to trust and accept Chris and a father figure, and the “supernatural” story is about Krista driving out the perverse and violent demon (who represents her fears.)

3. RED – Supernatural Story.

This is a mythology and history surrounding the demon that I have researched to answer the questions. What is this demon? What is its history? What does it want? Why now? Why this family? What’s going to happen if the demon wins… especially to Krista?

The goal here is to make sure that the stakes are clearly life and death.

Act One:

  1. For three years, Dawn (36) and daughters (Julie (18), Krista (15), Sophie(10) have lived alone and struggled. Julie, mentally disabled, can sense unseen angels. Julie is regarded both the family and the community as spiritually gifted, and is given special attention.

Julie, besides being strikingly beautiful, has a special talent – one that makes her a savant. Although she cannot walk or speak, she makes line drawings of the entities she sees. When Julie draws, she seems to be in a kind of trance and she hardly looks at the paper. Her hand scribbles randomly on page after page, like someone producing “automatic writing,” and she seems to have no conscious awareness of what she is doing. After filling dozens of sheets with chaotic lines, she begins producing eerie images of figures and faces.

This talent has made Julie a celebrity in the family’s church, and she is the favorite of their local priest, Father Boyd (the priest who will visit in the third act.)

By contrast, Dawn asks Father Boyd to have a stern talk with Krista, the “problem child” between the angelic oldest, Julie, and the precocious youngest, Sophie. Krista has the reputation for acting out, rebelling against male authority figures and lying.

Krista is jealous of the special attention that is given to her older sister, and resentful that she has to care for her, feed her and bathe her, sleep in the same room as her, and baby-sit her while her mother goes out on dates with her new boyfriend, Chris (45).

A key image is the disgruntled Krista pushing Julie around in a wheelchair. Every day, resentful and bored to tears, Krista has to take her sister out to the ruins of an abandoned factory, where Julie spends hours making her mysterious drawings.

  1. The mother brings home Chris to meet the kids. Sophie likes him; Julie seems to trust him, but Krista is standoffish.
In fact, Krista hates Chris, and doesn’t want her mother to date him. To her, he seems creepy and oafish – trying to hard to ingratiate himself, and acting as if he is a member of the family.

While pushing Julie around the ruins of the old factory Krista gets fed up. Her sister is being stubborn and obsessive, drawing the figure of a boy over and over again, crying and latching the wheelchair brake whenever Krista tries to take her home. Finally Krista looses her temper and yells, “I wish you were dead!”

To Krista’s mortification, she realizes she has been overheard. Eric, a blond haired boy a little older than her, looks both cute and ordinary as he cuts through the lot. He’s the one her sister has been drawing - a real person for once.

 He waves at Krista, smiles sheepishly, and walks off into the fading light.  

  1. Chris moves in. Sophie and Julie like him, but Krista doesn’t. Chris feels the presence of “entities” in the house.
She mocks Chris’s “psychic” sensibilities, and thinks he is making it up to manipulate her mother, who believes in the supernatural. Krista and her mother fight over it. Krista feels neglected, misunderstood and bitter.

Krista is furious about this strange man invading the family’s private space and acting like a father figure. His stuff clutters the bathroom. He leaves messes in the kitchen. His furniture, wall hangings, and other junk are painfully mismatched and unstylish. Her mother scolds her Krista “parading around the house” in just a t-shirt and boxers, as she has done all her life. Krista is outraged.

So, Krista is rebellious and rude to Chris.

That night, Krista has a “night-mare.” Wandering through the dark house, she hears heavy thuds and feral breathing. In the hallway, she is assaulted by a large black horse. The beast kicks and bucks in a frenzy. When she wakes up with a scream, she finds her sister awake too, with a shell-shocked expression as if she has seen something terrifying as well. Then Krista sees…

In the doorway, in dark silhouette, Chris is standing there watching the two girls sleep. Krista is spooked by his presence in the room.

The next morning, she complains to her mother, but her mother brushes her off. Julie was moaning in her sleep, and Chris went in to the room to see if she was all right. It was nothing more than that.

Krista meets Eric on her daily walk. She notices Eric staring at her beautiful sister (why do boys ALWAYS gawk at her that way?). Krista will be pretty too, someday, but she’s in an awkward stage.  She works hard to keep Eric’s attention.

Eric agrees that Chris seems creepy, and perhaps even dangerous. Krista invites Eric to the house, but tells him they have to keep him secret from her mother, who doesn’t want her “dating.” That night, Krista watches Chris suspiciously.

Meanwhile, Julie draws picture of demonic horses.

  1. The mother wakes up to find the house a mess. She asks the youngest, Sophie, who did it. Sophie says a “boy with yellow hair.”
In the previous scene, Krista sneaks Eric into the house at night. This time, when Eric seems smitten with Julie, Krista goes to great lengths to distract him. Her dependant sister becomes her rival for Eric’s attention.

They make a mess together and are caught by Sophie. In order not to get into trouble for sneaking a boy into the house, Krista convinces Sophie that she didn’t see a real boy, she saw a ghost.

  1. The whole family sees Eric through the window.

Krista tries desperately to stifle laughter as Chris and her mother run outside to investigate the “ghost.” She knows it’s just her friend from the neighborhood.

Through her bedroom wall, Krista hears Chris talk about his fears of evil spirits.

Later that night, Eric spies on Krista through a window as she undresses. She knows he’s there, but innocently, she finds his attention exciting. That night the two of them decide to use Chris’s superstitions against him, and scare him away from the house and her family.

We see the mute older sister’s, Julie’s growing anxiety and dismay, as if she can see forces gathering that her sister Krista is unaware of. In particular, she seems terrified of Krista’s new friend Eric. Eric smiles at Julie ominously…

… and puts a finger to his lips as if to say “Hush, it’s our little secret.”

Act Two:

  1. The mother, Dawn, and her boyfriend, Chris, try to contact the spirit world. Krista spies on them as they do it. Chris is terrified when the spirit seems to speak.
With Eric encouraging her, Krista plays pranks on her mother and Chris as they work the Ouija board. Hiding in the basement with him, she makes the lights flicker, she taps and scratches on the floorboards like a spirit.

However, the Ouiji board DOES spell out a name “Eric.” And then it spells out a cryptic message:


Krista is unsettled. How is it that the Ouiji board spelled out “Eric.” And, why is Julie so anxious whenever Eric is around, drawing stranger and stranger pictures.

  1. The mother finds a white handprint and a cryptic message on the basement door.
 Again, Eric encourages Krista to play a prank. With some white paint, she makes a handprint on the wall and under it she writes another cryptic message that Eric tells her…


Krista laughs heartily as she eavesdrops on Chris and her mother trying to decipher this nonsense message. When they ask her if she did it, Krista claims to know nothing about it.

  1. They call a psychic and spread baby powder on the basement floor to see if it is really a spirit or whether Krista or Sophie is playing a prank.

Again, Krista invites Eric in the house through the basement window, in secret. She uses a dust-buster vacuum up a path to the center of the powder. Eric encourages her to write another nonsense message for them to decipher:


Then the cover up the path by squirting new baby powder over the trail.

The next morning Chris and Dawn see the writing, and Krista can barely keep a straight face when the gullible Chris says ominously, “No human being could have written that message without disturbing the powder.”

  1. The psychic comes to the house and sees “Iris” drawn in the powder. Her chirpy, confident demeanor melts and her face turns white. Fleeing the house, she says she can’t help them because “Iris” is her daughter’s name.
Krista is disturbed by the coincidence… like the coincidence with the Ouija board. But it had to be a coincidence. The words were just nonsense.

Julie is acting stranger. She screams and cries when Eric appears in the house. Krista hates that taking care of her sister means never having a moment alone with him. Krista admits to Eric the first time in her life, she wishes her sister wasn’t around to burden her. Eric jokes, why don’t you kill her?

The joke hits a raw nerve, and Krista throws Eric out of the house.

  1. The mother, Dawn, has dreams of “Eric.” The demon tells her, “You can’t help her. She is mine.” The mother assumes he means Julie.
Both Chris and Dawn become concerned about Julie, who is behaving strangely, as if terrified by things only she can see.

This only makes Krista more and more angry. How typical, that they are so worried about Julie and couldn’t care less about her. Krista gets even more furious with her sister because Julie screams in fright every time Krista tries to let Eric in the house… almost getting her caught.

Eric stops coming to the house and Krista blames her sister. Once again, tending to her sister is ruining her life. Both her mother and Chris scold Krista for her moodiness and selfishness. Once again, Krista feels jealous and misunderstood.

  1. Sophie, the youngest, sees visions of Eric. She sees faces coming out of the wall. She can’t sleep. Anxiety makes her cry all the time. No one can get her to stop crying.
Krista worries that Eric is sneaking in the house without her knowledge or consent and scaring both her sisters. It spooks her.

Late at night, Krista wakes up to see her sister writhing strangely in the other bed – her lips moving silently as if she were speaking in tongues. Then Krista’s own bed begins to vibrate and shake, as if possessed.

Hearing a horse thrash and snort, she realizes some beast is under her bed. When she looks down and pulls back the sheet Eric looks up at her with a twisted demonic grin. “You don’t know what’s really going on, do you?”

Krista screams! Chris runs in the room and flips on the light. He tells her she was having a nightmare, but to Krista, it seemed all too real.

  1. The mother, Dawn, finds more messages burned into the floor of Sophie’s bedroom. Again Sophie won’t stop crying. Only Julie seems to be able to sooth the youngest sister and calm her down.
The words burned into the floor read:


The mother is terrified this is another cryptic message from the ghost. Sophie, who is a tattle-tail, says she saw Krista and her “boyfriend” burning in the message. Sophie accuses Krista of the other pranks as well.

Krista and her mother fight. Finally Krista admits to the paint and the powder, but says she didn’t burn the letters into the floor. Her mother is furious. Krista lies so much that it’s impossible for her mother to know what to believe.


  1. The mother, Dawn, and Krista find Chris sitting in the basement. Chris is possessed. Eric, speaking through Chris, says, “You don’t realize what’s going on do you? She is mine.” Words from their nightmares.

Mother, scared for Julie’s safety, moves herself and her three daughters out of the house. Chris comes back to himself with no knowledge of what happened to him.

Revelation: Krista and her mother find Julie sitting in her wheelchair, staring at Eric. When Krista’s mother says she doesn’t see anyone there, Krista realizes that the blonde hair boy is not a real person. He’s a real spirit... a demon.

  1. Paranormal Investigators arrive. They all adamantly agree the house is haunted by a spirit let in by the Ouija board. And that Julie is the focus of the paranormal activity. Ironically, these “experts” are all dead wrong.

To Krista, the investigators seem like charlatans. But no one will listen to her.

Krista does her own investigations. Discovering that the abandoned 19th century factory where she first met Eric. The factory used child labor – girls aged 9-16 who were taken from their families and forced to work 16 hour days, and sometimes forced to do even worse. Many children died there… by suicide.

Krista takes Julie in her wheelchair back to the factory ruins, hoping to confront Eric. Julie manages to say a single word, “Angels,” and she points.

Krista sees terrifying glimpses of the girls who died in the factory. Blue-skinned wraiths in dirty shifts, they have slashed arms or bandaged wrists.

  1. At the house, a paranormal investigator claims to see a drop of “ectoplasm.”

In contrast, in the hotel room, Krista a REAL supernatural experience.

While bathing her sister, Julie, the lights in the bathroom flicker and the walls seems to bulge. Suddenly, Julie’s body begins to shiver and shake. Julie SPEAKS in Eric’s voice, taunting Krista about her jealousy and bitterness.

The demon has followed her. It’s not just at the house.

Suddenly Julie’s body writhes and convulses in the water, snorting and bucking like an animal. To Krista’s horror, her sister seems to change into Eric.

Krista screams and pushes Eric face into the water. The voices in her head and visions dissipate, and only just in time does Krista come back to “reality” and realize that she has almost drown her own sister.

Krista cries. She tries to apologize, but Julie is now terrified of her, and won’t let her touch her. Krista is horrified by what she has almost done.

  1. While the family stays in two motel rooms, the paranormal experts work at the house. Another is pushed down the stairs. However, none of the recording devices reveal anything. They all agree that the house needs an exorcism.
However, their cameras and microphones pick up no hard evidence.

Krista knows that these investigators are fakers. A creak of a floorboard or a slip down the stairs is nothing compared to what she is experiencing.

Yet she is sullen and withdrawn. She can hear Eric’s voice echoing inside her head. She experiences black outs, and she can’t remember things she did or said. She tries to reach out to Father Boyd, but finds she can’t say what she wants to say, as if some force is blocking her from speaking. She can’t will herself to enter the church itself, as if she is at war with herself.

More and more, Krista is afraid of what she might do if she loses control

Ironically, it is only Chris who senses something is truly wrong with Krista. When she refuses to talk to him directly about it, he pokes through the hotel room and finds piles of books Krista has taken out from the library…

… the books are about possessions in the Hudson River Valley. In story after story, Krista has underlined instances of demonic possession, by a half-horse and half-human demon, one who preys on girls and disrupts and destroys families.

In one illustrated story from the 18th century, a girl kills her father with a shovel, screaming, “I wish you were dead!” In another, a sleeping girl is visited by a horse demon “night mare.” In another story, the girls working in a factory are possessed and driven to suicide.

Elsewhere, Krista pushes her sister along in her wheelchair on their daily outing. Krista seems entranced almost as if she is sleepwalking, and Julie seems to be getting more and more anxious. Suddenly Krista pushes Julie’s wheelchair to the edge of the sidewalk. In the road, trucks and taxis zip by at high speeds.

Julie seems to sense that her sister is contemplating PUSHING HER into the deadly, on-coming traffic. For several excruciating moments Krista rocks the wheelchair back and forth until…

Julie reaches out and touches her sister’s hand. Julie whispers the only word she can say out loud, “Angels.” Krista seems to “wake up” and realize what she was about to do. Krista pulls the wheelchair back to safety and she bursts into tears.

  1. A clairvoyant is brought into the house. She feels there is just one demon in the house taking many forms. In Julie’s bedroom, the clairvoyant is momentarily possessed by the spirit and thrown to the ground.
Krista realizes that these “psychics” and “experts” have no idea what is really happening. They can’t see Eric even when he is standing right next to them. They are of no help to her.

Her mother believes these “experts.” Her sister, Julie, is in her own world drawing page after page of static straight lines, like a television stuck on white noise. Even when the pad and marker are taken away from her, Julies hands move frantically in her lap, drawing on air.

Krista is completely alone.

Playing with a Scrabble game in the motel room, Krista looks over all the non-sense messages that Eric left them…




She rearranges the scrabble tiles realizing that each message is an anagram for the other. She uses the same tiles to form other words…


More nonsense phrases, until she falls into an trance, and her fingers spell out…


The hidden message. That has been Eric’s goal all along: to seduce her, possess her, and manipulate her jealousy and anger to get her to…

Kill her sister.

Later, Krista wanders like a sleepwalker into Chris’s hotel room.  When she reaches his bed, she whispers as if only half-awake.

She begs him to take care of her family, and tells him NOT to trust her or anything she says. She is “not herself.” She is bad in her core. She begs him to take care of her mother and sisters.

“And you too,” offers Chris, but Krista shakes her head. She won’t say more.

Act Three:

  1. After Chris and Dawn go to the Church, Father Boyd explains that Julie cannot be possessed because she cannot choose between good and evil.

Dawn, the mother, believes the all investigators – that the possession in centered on Julie and the house. Friends and neighbors gather round Dawn for support.

But Chris is the only one who suspects that if could be Krista who is really in danger. Krista CAN choose between good and evil. What if she is the one who is really possessed?

Julie senses her sister is in danger, but she cannot speak to tell anyone. In a reversal of rolls, it is Julie who is now caring for her younger sister, trying to protect her emotionally from the angels and demons depicted in her drawings.

But when Krista blacks out… and then finds herself holding a pair of scissors like a dagger over her sister’s throat, Krista concludes that she can no longer trust herself.

Julie resists when her mother takes her and the youngest sister to the house to encourage the demon to appear, as the “experts” have instructed. Krista herself, is nowhere to be found.

  1. Father Boyd, who is really just humoring the family, performs a minor exorcism on the house – reading a prayer and performing a blessing. Julie seems oppressed as he does it. She is surrounded by family, friends and psychic experts who all thing she is the focus of the possession.
Julie rocks back and forth, as the “exorcism” gets more and more intense. The house rattles and shakes as if some gigantic beast were moving through it. Father Boyd begins to realize that there really is a demon present.

Suddenly Julie utters a word out loud, “Angels.”

All present gasp in shock as she stands up

and walks! She chants to herself, as reciting a prayer or an invocation, “Angels. Angels. Angels…” And moves her hand wildly in the air as if drawing.

Chris gives Julie a marker, and the girl begins drawing in wide arcing strokes across a blank wall. “What is it? What is she drawing?” cries the mother.

Chris recognizes the familiar outline of smokestacks. “It’s the factory.” As if sensing something, he bolt outs out of the house.

On the factory grounds, Krista returns to the exact place in the factory where she first met Eric. With his voice taunting her she takes out a razor. She plans to kill herself in order to keep herself from harming her sister or any other member of the family.

Back at the house, as the priest continues the prayer. Glass shatters, floorboards crack with the noise of feral snorts and thundering hooves. Father Boyd’s prayers become a full blown exorcism.


In front of her drawing of the factory, Julie draws figures…

… girls… the girls who worked at the factory.

Girls with wings.

At the factory itself, Chris walks through the junkyard and finds Krista kneeling as if before and altar, and holding the razor to her wrist.

 In front of her Eric, the demon laughs at her and encourages her to do it. Either way, he wins.

All Chris sees is Krista screaming at some invisible entity. He calls out to her. He tells her he believes her. He knows she’s the one who needs help. He begs her to trust her family… to let her family help her… she doesn’t have to face it alone.

The razor presses down on her wrist

At the house, Julie continues to chant, “Angels, angels, angels…” in synch with the booming voice of the priest casting the demon out. Her drawing is finished.

And as if by some mystical synchronicity, Krista hesitates from slashing her wrists. She too begins to chant, “Angels, angels, angels…”

CLIMAX: In a frightening and visually stunning set piece, apparitions appear - all the spirits of girls who killed themselves in the infernal factory. These are “the angels” that Julie has been seeing and drawing throughout the movie. A circle of these grim specters surrounds them. 

Child Labor in Factories

And as Krista watches, and we intercut the voice of the exorcist at the house.

The Angels fall upon Eric and tear him apart with their bare hands.

  1. At the house the exorcism concludes and here are three booms and the “weight” on the house seems to lift.
 Chris takes Krista in his arms like a child. As he carries her back to the house the clouds burst and they and covered in a cleansing rain.

  1. Chris is accepted into the family. Dawn and Chris are married.
 Surrounded by colorful images of smiling saints, Krista and her sisters are bridesmaids in a traditional church wedding.

At the reception the family circle is complete again. Chris and Dawn dance with the littlest sister Sophie. Julie draws humorous caricatures of the guests. Krista is happy but even as she eats the wedding cake, she is haunted by whispering voices.

Read the parent article about treatments and beat sheets on Genre Hacks: Writing The Feature Script: Week Three - The Treatment

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