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Screenwriting Fundamentals

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Abed hangs back in Spanish class this week, waiting for the others to leave first.  He’s an observer of human behavior, and he’s due for another project.  Jeff tries to chat up Britta like he does every class, and gets shot down. Annie tries to make small talk with Troy, who is thinking instead about basketball.  Pierce is claiming to another student in the class (one of the nameless extras, not the supporting cast) that he can help them with their job troubles, in order to impress Shirley.

 

The next day, Britta’s moaning about the test coming up to Shirley, and Annie is slyly passing her class notes to Jeff, which she has already copied in triplicate (one for him, one for her, one for Troy just in case), Pierce is trying to teach Troy the finer points of shooting paper balls at a target.

 

Or another day, Annie’s trying to wheedle more extra credit from Señor Chang, Jeff is avoiding Shirley’s request for free legal advice, Britta is trying to wake up Pierce, who is fast asleep at his desk, so that he’ll avoid butt-dialing his ex-wives (Abed could show him later but no one asks him for advice) -- meanwhile, Troy is using Pierce’s wide-open mouth to practice what the aging magnate showed the jock the day before about paper tossing.

 

One thing that isn’t different from day to day is how quickly the class clears.  Usually Señor Chang is pushing his way out of there as fast as he can gather his grade book. Sometimes (depending on which side of the bipolar spectrum he’s visiting that morning) he stays around to torment one of the students. Which is most of the reason the class clears fast.

 

Chang looks up from the line of ‘F’s he’s gleefully marking down one column to see who is still around. The last student other than Abed scuttles out the door with a tiny squeak of terror. Chang catches Abed’s eye, and Abed tilts his head suddenly to the side, like a curious bird.

 

“Pshht,” Chang scoffs with a dismissive wave.  “Not worth it.  I’ll find someone in the bathroom instead.”

 

“I really don’t mind, you know.  I’m interested to see which form of intimidation you will try next.  Will you go for a classic, ‘I’ll fail you unless you cower before me’? Or a more subtle, ‘Make friends with the student and let them believe they have an easy A before yanking the proverbial rug from beneath them?’” Abed rattles off in a deadpan tone. “Or it’s possible that you might not do anything at all, giving the student a false sense of security until wham, El Tigre’s jaws clamp down on the jugular.”

 

Chang sneers, “That,” he waves his hand crazily toward where Abed stands perfectly still, “is why it’s not worth it.” He stalks out of the room.

 

Abed waits until he’s completely out and then smiles faintly, satisfied.

 

*****

 

Abed sees Annie later that day, standing forlornly in the quad, eyes doe-like as she watches Troy chat up Lisa from their biology class. Lisa doesn’t look very interested, she’s cutting her eyes away and scooting from him ever so slightly.  Abed could tell him (if he would listen, they don’t talk about stuff like that, it just gets in the way of the fun), that he’s probably ruined his chances with every girl in the class after the rat incident.  Girls don’t like boys that are afraid of rodents. Except girls who are already in love with Troy. Like Annie.

 

A woman tsks directly behind him, lowering her voice to comment into his ear. “It’s a darn shame, isn’t it?” He doesn’t have to turn to know it’s Shirley.

 

“Yes.”

 

“She needs to stop staring after that boy, and say something.”

 

Abed keeps his eyes on Annie as he speaks. “Annie is paralyzed with fear that she’ll be rejected.  She is behaving exactly like the deer in the headlights that she is unintentionally imitating with her stance there.  If she doesn’t move, she might find herself splattered across the windshield of love.”

 

“Um,” Shirley says, at a loss. “A little... graphic... in your choice of metaphors... but I agree.” She hustles him forward then, one hand to his back. “Let’s get her out of the road.”

 

Before they can reach her, Annie lowers her head and speeds toward her next class.

 

“I can catch her, you want me to catch her...?” he says, already calculating the acceleration and number of hurdles he must leap to stop her from entering the social studies wing. Shirley hasn’t answered so he rabbits forward...

 

...to be yanked back by his hood.

 

“No!” Shirley cries out.  “She’s distracted now; she’s going to class.”

 

“Ow.” He rubs at his neck, where the zipper’s metal teeth cut into his skin.

 

She’s looking toward Annie’s retreating figure, though. “We can catch her later. Are you going to class next?” She nods her class toward the business building.

 

“I think I’m going to do some research instead.”

 

She pats his arm fondly.  “Oh, you sweet boy, you spend too much time in the library.”

 

He nods.

 

Shirley waves goodbye and walks away at a quick clip.  Abed sees Britta in the distance and figures Shirley will try to catch her for a chat on her way to class.

 

Abed stays where he is. He said he needed to research, but not at the library. He actually thinks of the Greendale library as center square.  Many of his interactions begin and end there -- the study group, joking around with Troy... He almost never uses the library for its primary purpose.

 

No, this research is best done somewhere else.

 

With a whistle, he hops in a tight semi-circle and makes a beeline for the cafeteria.

 

*****

 

Abed knows everyone’s schedules as well as his own.  Shirley will go to class, chat with classmates for approximately three to five minutes, and then she will go to the cafeteria for her midday snack.  She will not buy anything other than coffee, preferring to bring her own baked goods. (‘Sweetie, you don’t want to eat that,’ she says, plucking the Twinkie right out of Troy’s mouth and filling it with a double turtle brownie instead.) She does not come for the food, but for the company. Though almost everyone has a different class after Spanish is over, they gravitate here afterward.

 

Annie has her class now, too, of course, and Troy should be going to algebra, but he’ll probably end up following that girl to her class and then head over to the cafeteria.  Pierce doesn’t have marketing until tomorrow, so he’s in the practice room in the music department right now.  Napping on the couch.  He’ll show up when the others do in about an hour.

 

So as he walks into the cafeteria, his eyes are drawn to the one person who will be there: Jeff. Jeff sits at the group’s usual table, engaged in his usual activity, playing with his smart phone.  Abed stops in front of the disbarred lawyer, raising a hand in greeting. “Hey.”

 

Jeff glances up, only briefly.  “Hey, Abed.”

 

“Skipping Composition 1 again.”

 

Jeff really looks up at Abed this time, mock-offended. “I say, if you’re not going to take attendance, or tie it to the grade, then you can’t actually expect me to attend, right?  I mean, it’s practically inviting your students to skip your class.”  He drops his eyes back to his phone. “I feel sorry for those bozos who actually show up.”

 

“Like Britta?”

 

Jeff frowns.  “Britta’s in that class?”

 

“Since the second class meeting.”

 

“She never told...” Jeff laughs to himself. “Well-played, Britta, well-played.”

 

“Britta possesses a keen strategic mind, when she decides to use it.  She could be a real Lex Luthor except that she refuses to put her skills to devious use.”

 

Jeff doesn’t seem to be listening now. He stands up, gathering his books, and skitters toward the exit.

 

“Where are you going?” Abed calls after him, though he knows, it’s pretty much why he mentioned it in the first place.

 

“I feel the sudden urge to learn how to avoid dangling participles!” he throws back with a charming smile. 

 

“Class will be over in twelve minutes!” Abed calls after him.  Jeff doesn’t hear him.  Abed shrugs. He’ll figure that out for himself.

 

Slipping his messenger bag off onto the seat, he goes to get himself a drink.  A few minutes later, sipping a Mountain Dew/Dr. Pepper/Vault/Coke Zero combo, he waits patiently for his intended target.

 

He doesn’t have to wait long, as expected.  Troy saunters in, smiling confidently. He notices Abed at the table and gives him a wave. Abed waves back, a quick slash at the air. Troy slides into the seat across from Abed, and nods. “You know what I love?” he begins without preamble.

 

Abed knows. Troy loves sports, but only winning; he loves pretty girls, but not the chase; he loves school, but not the classes. But instead Abed says, “What?”

 

“Almonds.” Troy sets a bag on the table in front of him, and pops one in his mouth.

 

It wasn’t what Abed expected to hear, but he runs with it. “They do call it the superfood.”

 

“Yeah?” He pops another. “I call it delicious-food. And so portable. You can even carry it in your pocket when you’re riding your bike.” His eyes get far off and dreamy.

 

“Does Lisa like almonds?”

 

He snaps out of his dream-state and his brow creases. “Who?”

 

“The girl from biology class.”

 

“Is that her name?  You got farther with her than I did.” He doesn’t look that disappointed.

 

“Yeah.  She’s taking four classes this semester, and none of them are nutrition.  I think. She didn’t mention it. I do know she has an interest in Film, though.”

 

Troy sits up straighter.  “You cast her in one of your films? As who?”

 

“She was Annie.”

 

Troy’s mouth drops open.  “But... but she has red hair!”

 

“That was a wig.” And not a good one, but independent filmmakers must operate on a shoestring budget sometimes. He is lucky that the cross-dressing midnight maintenance guy has a spare.

 

“Whoa.”

 

“I couldn’t find anyone who looked exactly like Annie, and Lisa wanted a part, so...”

 

“Is she dating Film!Jeff? The guy she kissed in episode two?”

 

“She’s--” Abed cuts his eyes to the side. “No.”

 

“She told me she was seeing someone, though.” Troy puts another almond into his mouth, unconcerned.  “I’m gonna get a coke, be right back.”

 

Lisa (Film!Annie) is actually dating Film!Troy, and it’s all because of the latest episode of The Community College Chronicles. He hasn’t posted it yet. It’s not like he actually believes that he is even slightly clairvoyant (that belongs in the realms of shows on the SyFy channel). It’s because... well, he isn’t sure why. He may have to watch another marathon of Frasier to figure it out.

 

Abed watches him walk to the soda fountain and have a serious conversation with himself about which drink to choose.  Troy is like that sometimes. He doesn’t always know what he wants until he gets it. The jock watches someone else choose Sprite and then follows suit. Once he’s back to the table, he plops back down in the seat across from Abed.

 

“Troy,” Abed starts before his friend can say anything. “You like girls, right?”

 

“Uh... yeah,” Troy answers, as if that were the most obvious thing in the world.

 

“What kind of girls do you like?”

 

Troy opens his mouth, and then places a hand on his chin thoughtfully. “They gotta be pretty,” he begins, listing on his fingers. “And nice. And they can’t be stuck up about a guy who doesn’t have a car. They have to like sports... or at least, watching me play them.” He nods vigorously.

 

“What about smart?”

 

“Mm... I guess that, too. That would really help with the grades.”

 

It is time to go full-on-matchmaker-mode. “Then I’ve got the girl for you.”

 

Troy raises his eyebrows. “You know a girl? Who?”

 

Abed nods, but before he can speak, Shirley appears at Abed’s shoulder.  “I couldn’t help but overhear. What are we talking about? What girl?” She bats her eyelashes frantically at Abed like some sort of Morse code.

 

“Abed says he has the perfect girl for me.”

 

Shirley sits down beside Abed in a flash. “He does, does he?” The eyelashes go double-time, and her voice drops from sugary-sweet to strained.

 

“Yes, I do...” He scoots away a little, blinking rapidly. “...but it’s a, it’s a secret.”

 

“A secret?” Troy’s face falls, and he rests his cheek on one fist in disappointment.  “I hate secrets. I never figure them out.”

 

“Oh, secrets are wonderful,” Shirley puts in, overenthusiastic.  “They’re like little birthday presents that you get to open when you least...” She trails off, remembering that Troy doesn’t celebrate birthdays. “Trust me, they’re great.” Pulling a paper-wrapped brownie out of her purse she shoves it at Troy. “Here, eat your brownie. Abed and I need to talk.”

 

Troy happily picks up the brownie and starts chewing, already forgetting his disappointment.

 

Shirley drags Abed by the arm over to the corner of the cafeteria.  He doesn’t fight her; she’s much stronger than he is and twice as determined. “What are you trying to do, boy?”

 

“You know that musical, Fiddler on the Roof? I am taking on the role of Yente. Except that she is female and there at Golde and Tevye’s request. So maybe it’s more like Emma, playing matchmaker to her friends, though I’m reasonably sure that I would have a much better success-rate.”

 

“Honey, Troy is barely out of high school. He hardly needs an arranged marriage!”

 

“Oh, I’m not arranging his marriage, though there’s nothing wrong with that,” he says, undeterred. “It’s been going on for thousands of years. My dad will probably have one of my aunts set one up for me. In about ten years.”

 

Shirley seems shocked.  “This is the 21st century! I didn’t need any matchmaker, and neither does he!”

 

“Considering that over fifty percent of all love matches fail...” he says, gazing pointedly at Shirley’s ringless left hand.

 

She looks hurt for a moment but recovers. “That might be appropriate for... your culture...” she argues not-so-tactfully, “but Troy is... Jehovah’s Witness. He doesn’t need a matchmaker.”

 

“So all of the hinting and nudging of Annie and Troy together is not matchmaking?” He tilts his head to the side in thought. “Hmm, interesting.”

 

Shirley glances back at Troy, who is almost to the end of his brownie.  It is a very large one. She lowers her voice even farther, almost a growl. “Maybe it is, then, but Annie really likes Troy. Not like... whoever this random stranger is.”

 

“Then you shouldn’t have any problem.”

 

“Why not?” She grips her purse strap harder.

 

“Because I was going to set up Troy with Annie.” Abed sneaks a look over at Troy as well. He’s pecking at the remaining crumbs with a saliva-moistened finger. “Only she doesn’t know it yet.”

 

*****

 

Annie looks up as Abed enters the library study room that evening. “Oh, hi, Troy, I didn’t...” She realizes who it is with a blush.  “Sorry, Abed.  I was just--”

 

“--expecting Troy? I think we both know that this is his usual study spot on Thursdays.”

 

“Yeah,” she says with a hopeless sigh.  “I wonder where he is?”

 

“Shirley’s taking him out shopping tonight.”

 

Annie sits up straighter in confusion.  “Shopping?”

 

“Yeah, he has a big date coming up this weekend, and Shirley thinks he should wear something other than a fleece sweatshirt. Though I’m not sure why since it seems silly to pretend to be something you are not when on a date, but I haven’t been on many dates myself, so I shouldn’t assume. But Shirley was insistent, and you know how she gets.”

 

During his explanation, her eyes slowly fall until she is studying her own hands.  “Well, that’s very nice for him, I’m sure. We could all use some nice, new clothes.”

 

Abed knows she’s hurting, so he cuts to the chase.  “Do you have a date this weekend?”

 

Her eyes widen in shock and she’s immediately focused on him. “Are you... are you asking me out?”

 

“Yes.”

 

She looks even more shocked.

 

“But it’s not for me.  I know the perfect person to set you up with.”

 

“Oh!” She lifts a hand to her mouth.  Then, “I mean, thank you, Abed, that’s really... sweet... of you... but I’m not really interested in going out with anyone right now.”

 

“Anyone who isn’t Troy, you mean.” He sits in the chair beside her, where Shirley usually sits, instead of his normal spot across the table. “Everyone knows, Annie.”

 

“Everyone except Troy...” she says with a hint of a moan in her voice.

 

“He thinks of you as ‘just friends’ right now.”

 

She nods sadly.

 

“Or maybe even ‘like brother and sister’....”

 

She winces.

 

“So if you want that ‘relationship upgrade,’ you’ve got to make him see you as a viable romantic candidate, not the former pill-popping girl from his high school who helps him out with astronomy every once in a while.”

 

Annie is looking at Abed like she has just seen his value.  Eyes narrowing with purpose, she asks, “How do I do that?”

 

“I happen to know that Troy is taking his date to the premiere of a new movie tomorrow night.” He keeps his voice light and innocent. “If you show up with a date, too, I promise, he will notice.”

 

She brightens, but still has misgivings. “Isn’t that sort of... unfair to my date?”

 

“I think you two will really hit it off. So maybe you will enjoy the date anyway.”  He touches her shoulder lightly. “Do you trust me, ‘Chandler?’ As a friend?”

 

She smiles. “All right, ‘Phoebe.’ I’m in.”

 

*****

 

Annie arrives first. Early.  Her hair is down and her skirt is short. She sits down on the brown striped couch in the study room with a puzzled expression. Set up front of the couch is a netbook with a blue post-it note on the screen. She lifts it to read.  Abed knows (though he can’t actually read it from his hiding spot with Shirley on the other side of the glass) that it says: When your date gets here, press play.

 

Annie sets the note on the table, and her fingers hover over the touchpad...

 

“Oooh, I knew she couldn’t resist,” Shirley hisses into his right ear. “I’d better distr--”

 

He stops her with a hand to her back. “Just wait.”

 

Annie’s hands slowly move back to her lap. Shirley sighs in relief.  Abed looks up at the clock.  Troy will arrive in about ten minutes (unless all the spots are taken at the bike rack by the ramp and he has to go across campus to the parking lot), so he settles in to wait.

 

He feels a harsh whisper in his left ear.  “What are we doing?” It’s Britta, crouching beside him.

 

“Watching Annie and Troy on a ‘blind date,’” he whispers back.

 

“Aw, that’s sweet! Mind if I join you two?”

 

“Not at all.” He looks her up and down, dressed all in black.  “What are you up to?”

 

“I’ve been ditching Jeff since yesterday,” she says with an impish smile.  “It’s like an awesome game of hide-and-seek except he doesn’t know he’s playing.”

 

“Playing what?” Now it’s Jeff, kneeling on the other side of Shirley. “And ‘tag,’ you’re it.” He winks and taps Britta on the top of her curly blonde head.

 

“Damn, I knew I took too long crossing the quad.”

 

“I do have years of stalking and ambulance-chasing experience on my side,” Jeff snarks.  “What do I get for catching you?”

 

“You can get--” Britta begins, but Shirley reaches across Abed to clamp Britta’s mouth shut.

 

Troy has arrived.  They all scoot forward a little to get a better view.

 

“Hey, Annie,” Troy says, searching the room for another person.  “Have you seen a girl waiting for me?  We have a date tonight.”

 

“I don’t think so,” Annie says. “Have you seen a guy looking for me?”

 

“Nope.” Troy flops down onto the couch.  “If you see a smart, pretty girl walking this way, let me know.  What’s your guy look like?”

 

Annie is pretending not to be disappointed.  “Abed said he would be friendly, athletic and...” She pauses, looking at Troy with dawning realization.  “...handsome, like the boy next door.”

 

“Wanna wait with me?” Troy asks, patting the cushion beside him.

 

“Sure, great!” Annie quickly reaches for the post-it note and slips it out of sight. “We could watch this movie here, I guess...”

 

Troy shrugs, shifting to get more comfortable. “Go for it.”

 

Annie hesitates briefly.

 

“C’mon, Annie...” Shirley breathes like a prayer.

 

Then in one swift, decisive motion, she clicks play. 

 

The netbook flashes with multi-colored light, and the Abed’s Films logo fills the screen.  He can hardly hear the dialogue from their hiding place, but he doesn’t need to, he wrote the script.  Shirley watched it earlier, and Jeff and Britta are going to have to catch a repeat engagement.

 

“Hey, wait a minute, this is...!” Troy says in a strange voice.

 

Annie’s laugh is stilted. “We might as well watch it while we wait...”

 

After the credits and several scenes which suspiciously resemble his and Shirley’s matchmaking yesterday, and, Film!Annie and Film!Troy are sitting on the exact same brown striped couch. “Do you think Abed set us up, Troy?” Film!Annie asks dramatically.

 

“You mean the blind date was supposed to be... with each other?” Film!Troy asks, his dreads vibrating with his overacted shock. Abed knows that his script makes the episode’s theme a little too obvious, but it’s Troy.

 

Annie has already figured it out. She has her eyes on Troy, not the screen, looking for a reaction. He is wearing a wrinkled brain expression.

 

“I think so, Troy.” Film!Annie scoots closer to Film!Troy and puts a hand on his knee. He’s tried to coach Lisa that Annie would never make the first move with Troy, but Lisa claims she’s taking ‘artistic license’ with the character. He mentally rolls his eyes. Actors.

 

“I never knew you liked me.” Film!Troy puts his hand over hers.

 

“I’ve always liked you, Troy. But I could never find the courage to tell you before.”

 

Film!Troy puts a hand on Film!Annie’s cheek and brings her face close to his.  The camera zooms in on their lips touching for the first time, and then fades to black.  His films are decidedly PG. If he’d kept the camera running, he would have have to upgrade to TV-14 if not higher.

 

The real Troy is finally looking at Annie instead of the screen, understanding blooming at last. 

 

“Troy, I...” Annie says in a faint voice, her body stiff with panic.

 

His hand drifts over to hers and their fingers intertwine.  Pulling her over onto his lap, he kisses her soundly. She relaxes into his arms.

 

Shirley applauds silently, and Britta is smiling fondly.  Jeff is focused more on Britta’s lips than anything.

 

Suddenly a loud snore emanates from the other side of the study room. Annie gasps and with a shriek, Troy leaps out of her arms to dive over the couch.  An unnoticed pile of pillows in the corner erupts into the bear-like form of Pierce.  “Yes, sweetheart? I’ll have the rhubarb pie, please!” he cries out in his sleep, and then settles back down.

 

Troy slowly peeks over the edge of the couch to see that the coast is clear.  “Man, that is one scary dude sometimes.” He holds out his hand to Annie.  “You wanna finish our date at the movies for real?”

 

She places her hand in his. “I’d love to.”

 

The other three peepers had taken advantage of Pierce’s distraction to sneak out of sight. Abed simply stands next to a bulletin board as if he’s just arrived.  As Troy and Annie leave the room, Annie catches sight of Abed; he sends her a thumbs’ up.  Placing her free hand behind her back, she sends one back.

 

With a small smile, he watches them go. It’s perfect, better than he could have scripted.  He’ll call the others for reshoots tomorrow.