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Jess

Ghost of a young gambler hanged in 1884 takes up residence in an old gold mill near Lake Tahoe and raises hell in the life of the tour guide, a Stanford student.

Set in Lake Tahoe and the Sierras, the script begins with a strange murder-suicide of a hiking couple, college students who inexplicably die when the girl pushes the boy from a high scenic cliff and then leaps after him. This shocking event sets the whole area talking.

We meet the hero, TOM TOLLIVER, a high achiever who grew up in a troubled Lake Tahoe family and got himself into Stanford. He pays his tuition by counting cards and by working at a summer job as a tour guide at a picturesque old gold mill in the nearby Sierras. He is rapidly outgrowing his longtime local girlfriend, NANCY ANN LESTER, a dealer at a Tahoe casino. He is also dealing with his heroin addict younger brother, who has reappeared in the family home.

Meanwhile, in historical flashback to the 1880s, a young rowdy, JESS OKUN, is about to be hanged for the jealous murder of a local prostitute and her lover. At the moment of death, however, Jess's consciousness shatters into billions of particles; some of it is propelled into the present day, where Jess discovers he is able to hijack the consciousness of people at will.

Once he has oriented himself, Jess takes up residence in the old gold mill and begins playing tricks on the tourists and especially Tom, whom he sees as a kindred spirit as a fellow rebel, risk-taker, and gambler. Tom sees strange things such as a huge ore-stamping press suddenly creak to life after it has not moved in 150 years. Jess also discovers the casinos --- Tom has been banished for counting cards, but still manages to sneak in and make money gambling from time to time --- a risky behavior.

On one of his tours, Tom meets a beautiful young college student from Berkeley, AMINA DUBASH ---and is instantly attracted. Amina is the roommate of the girl killed in Scene I and she is traveling with her companion and lover, a creepy older professor DR. SCHUMACHER. Amina is a brilliant chemistry student, and she is positive that her friends were not a murder-suicide but victims of foul play. The professor has a theory that at the moment of death, a person's consciousness can, rarely, migrate throughout the space-time continuum and inhabit another time in a parallel universe. Or even take up residence in the body of another.

Meanwhile, the ghoset of Jess proceeds to make himself comfortable in his new environment and "haunts" the gold mill and the casinos, where he raises a lot of havoc among vacationers. He begins to make himself known to Tom, whom he respects and resembles. As Tom becomes increasingly aware of this unsettling presence, he is at the same time falling for Amina, triggering the jealousy of the professor.

Amina tells Tom she had an uncle who may have been killed by the spirit of a business competitor, whom he had ruined and driven to suicide. While strolling along the waterfront years later, the uncle was suddenly attacked by a seagull, which dive-bombed and pecked him so viciously that he died. Amina thinks it was the spirit of his business partner, residing in the gull.

Professor Schumacher finds them. Although friendly on the surface, he is displeased that Tom and Amina are together. He takes Amina back to their hotel. That night, Tom has an unsatisfactory date with Nancy, who feels his love slipping away and storms out of a party, sobbing. Tom, after making a halfhearted effort to stop her, lets her go and continues to party with his friends, getting good and drunk. On the way home, he passes out in the back of his friend's car and....

... dreams of Jess's grinning face. Tom awakens troubled and tells his friends to just drop him off at the mill, since he doesnt want to go home drunk. The mill is deserted and spooky in the early a.m. As Tom enters, Jess greets him as a disembodied voice. Tom is upset, but intrigued and demands that Jess explain himself. Jess cant.

The two return to the casinos, where, in a montage, Jess rigs several blackjack games. When the brutal pit boss and his boys yank Tom outside to rough him up. Jess enters the body of one and beats the others bloody, before witnesses.

Jess and Tom separate. Jess joins some revelers, ending up in a local motel, where he enters the body of a young man and begins making rough love to a girl. When the girl resists, Jess has to be pulled off her by friends. The young man comes to and is shocked to find everybody angry at him. He insists he would never force a woman.

Tom encounters Amina in a casino, playing baccarat. He convinces her to give the Professor the slip, and they steal away to the stamping mill to make passionate love. Meanwhile, Jess raises hell in the casinos, entering people at will. He especially enjoys screwing up the dealers.

As dawn breaks, Tom and Amina awaken together to a glorious sunrise: They are truly in love now. Amina decides she must go back and tell Professor Schumacher it is over.

After Amina leaves the mine, Tom sets up for the days first tour. Jess returns as a creepy, disembodied voice, boasting of his nights adventures. Jess even suggests that they share Amina! Tom is horrified that Jess has gained so much power. He realizes that he has been aiding and abetting Jess. Now he must get rid of him.

Jess realizes that Tom is now his enemy. To punish Tom, he enters the body of Toms poor girlfriend, Nancy Ann, that night. He gets her drunk and has her perform as a stripper for some repulsive conventioneers at a casino hotel party. After Nancy comes to and realizes what she has done, she calls Tom and cries hysterically, threatening to kill herself. Tom, feeling incredibly guilty, tries to comfort her. Things are spinning out of control.

In the meantime, Professor Schumacher pretends to be understanding to Amina, telling her of course she is free to do as she wishes and be with Tom. But inside, he is murderously angry. He wants Jess to kill both Tom and Amina.

Professor Schumacher goes to the mill, where he summons Jess as a disembodied voice. The professor explains that he will give Tom a shot of pentobarbital to immobilize his own consciousness. Then Jess can enter and animate his body and kill Amina. It will look like Tom committed a murder/suicide. Jess will be free, and the professor will have his revenge.

When Tom and Amina show up at the mine, the professor is unable to overpower Tom. Exasperated, Jess enters the body of the professor and chases Tom around with the energy and skill of a younger man. He plunges the needle deep into Toms arm, but Tom, though drugged, is able to set the stamper going. He and Amina push the Professor, who staggers, loses his balance and falls under the stamping press. In a grisly scene, the huge metal stamper methodically crushes and pulverizes the professor into a ghastly sludge. Amina drags the unconscious Tom out of the mine.

They realize that Jess is gone too. Amina says that he must have been inhabiting the professors body and was unable to escape before the brain was crushed. But even as she helps the semi-conscious Tom into the car, the mine still looks foreboding.....

In a bright dawn, Tom awakens in his own bed. His brother Sean is sleeping peacefully; Narcotics Anonymous literature is on his bedside table. Tom glances at it and smiles with hope. As he comes out for breakfast, his mother is cooking cheerfully and his father is up and about, dressing for the job he just found. The phone ringsit is Nancy, her usual nagging self, demanding to know if he remembered it is her mother's birthday. Though Tom's worst fears are over, he still has a big problem (Amina vs. Nancy). He shrugs philosophically.

Script Excerpt
Written by:
Format:
Screenplay
Starring Roles For:
A young Jake Gyllenhaal
Emma Roberts
English female grad student
In the Vein Of:
Miner's Massacre
The Burrowers
Ghost Town
Posted:
05/28/2011
Updated:
08/02/2020
Author Bio:
I'm a produced screenwriter. I graduated from UC Berkeley with a degree in English.

I wrote the feature film, Murder in Fashion, about the murder of designer Gianni Versace, which played at theatres and festivals and was reviewed in the NY Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/22/movies/22murder.html?_r=0

I collaborated with producer Don Murphy (Transformers, Natural Born Killers) on the script "Fast Fade." It was a quarterfinalist in the 2019 Los Angeles International Screenplay competition (top 10% of 2000+ entries).

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