Pray For Me by Paul J. Williams | Script Revolution

Pray For Me

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83pp

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Over the past twenty-five years, a series of horrific events have struck the town of Smithfield, Virginia. This documentary searches through the secrets, conspiracy-theories, and ugly truths for the answers.
Synopsis/Details: 

Smithfield, Virginia is a small town founded by Puritans in the 1600s. Once a prominent community, the past twenty-years have been filled with horror: a decorated police officer was savagely murdered; an old historic church was burned to the ground; and the pastor and his wife have since vanished without a trace. Documentary film-makers and former Smithfield residents, Melissa Walters and Sandy Bernice, who met and fell in love in film school, return to Smithfield to make a movie trying to find answers to all these mysteries.

However, only law enforcement and the prosecutors feel there is no mystery to any of this. A childhood classmate of Melissa’s, Alexandra Burgess, was arrested and convicted in the killing of the police officer, and is currently on death row with her execution looming. So much secrecy surrounds this murder. The police say it’s due to the ghastly nature of the death and do not want to release anymore information than they have to. The public defender says it’s part of a cover-up. Most residents feel Alex, at minimum, didn’t act alone, with many feeling she was wrongly convicted, or worse, scapegoated for everything.

Prison officials agree to two interviews with Alex for the documentary. Melissa hides from Alex that the two were once classmates in hopes that Alex doesn’t recognize her, which she doesn’t. Alex tells her life story, a tale filled with horror: a poor, only-child who bounced from town to town, sexually molested by both parents, and was barely able to escape as a teenager.

Melissa and Sandy profile Officer Shannon Peterson, daughter of the murdered police officer, also a former classmate of Melissa and Alex, and Smithfield’s first female cop. Melissa advises Shannon everything that Alex is saying for the documentary. The three women then reveal that this is all lies.

Alexandra Burgess was actually born and raised in Smithfield, the daughter of a prominent family whose father is the local pastor of the church that was burned down. Her parents are the pastor and wife who are missing. She grew up in a life of love and privilege.

The documentary then chronicles the court proceedings in Alex’s trial: how a religious zealot is assigned as the judge; how the prosecution’s case was completely circumstantial; and how the jury quickly came to a guilty verdict.

The film-making is also starting to take its toll on Sandy. She is visibly tired and exhausted. The deeper she digs into Alex and Smithfield’s past, more questions are raised than answers.

During the making of their movie, rumors start to swirl about video evidence that may exist, particularly police car dash-cam video from the murdered police officer, but was never presented in the trial. Melissa and Sandy investigate this, but can’t find anything.

Sandy fails to show up for work for a couple days and can’t be reached on her phone. Her body is then found in a local river, the victim of an apparent suicide.

After mourning her partner, Melissa decides to continue with the documentary. She reveals another lie of Alex’s: she has a twin brother named Gabriel, who almost drowned as a kid in the same river Sandy was found dead in. Gabriel was saved by a responding police officer, the same officer later brutally murdered by, supposedly, Alex. The boy is saved in time for a full recovery, however, he suffers a medical emergency while in the hospital and lapses into a coma. Police always suspected Alex was responsible for Gabriel’s near-drowning and incident later on in the hospital, but could never prove it. Melissa goes to the hospital and visits Gabriel, now in his late-20s, who is comatose with almost no brain activity. Doctors advise that since the family did not want them to “pull the plug” and consider euthanasia a sin, Gabriel was kept in this condition for years and may live many more decades.

One day, Melissa receives two D.V.D.s anonymously in the mail. One appears to be official-looking from the Smithfield Police Department and the other is homemade.

Alex is transferred to the prison that houses the electric chair. Melissa responds there for their second and final interview. Their conversation eventually becomes tense as Alex asks about where Sandy is, but Melissa doesn’t offer much information. Alex then insinuates that she knows who Melissa really is and Melissa responds by implying she knows Alex is lying about everything. Alex concludes by asking Melissa if she would attend her execution as nobody she knows will be there; Melissa reluctantly agrees. Alex is executed without incident.

Friends, family members, and folks involved with the documentary are unable to contact Melissa; she was last seen on the night of Alex’s execution.

In the meantime, an autopsy reveals Alex was pregnant at the time of her execution; the fetus was killed at the same time she was. Prison officials conduct an investigation, but are unable to determine how Alex, who was in her cell for 23 hours-a-day, could’ve had a relationship with a man to become pregnant. Only unsupervised visits were allowed with clergyman, and the documentary hints this may be the cause, but doesn’t have the evidence to support it.

Melissa is officially declared missing and her family puts out a reward for any information. It is revealed that this documentary was not made by Melissa and Sandy; the movie is about them making their documentary as they have become two more incidents in Smithfield’s horrible past.

The two aforementioned D.V.D.s are discovered and made public: The homemade one was created by Alex, who filmed herself burning her parents to death in the basement of the old historic church, which caused it to burn down. The second D.V.D. is police car dash-cam footage of the officer responding to the church fire. Alex ambushes him and cuts his head off. She writes something in blood on the police car windshield, then vanishes. The second officer to arrive is Shannon, who discovers her dead father and reads what Alex wrote on the windshield: “Pray For Me”

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Submitted: December 4, 2017
Last Updated: December 5, 2017

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Paul J. Williams's picture

The Writer: Paul J. Williams

Born and raised in the Great State of New Jersey, Paul J. Williams started film school at age five when his parents took him to the theater to see his first movie: “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial.” Since then, he has become a multi-award-winning screenwriter, producer, director, and consultant based in the New York City area. In 2010, he founded Rolling Dark Productions and has had several movies screen at film festivals throughout the world. His screenplays have reached the Quarterfinals and Top 15% in the 2017 and 2018 Academy Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting, as well as the Semifinals in the 2017 Austin Film Festival. He is an alumnus of the New Jersey Film School; a Member Emeritus of... Go to bio

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