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SWIM FOR YOUR LIVES

A dysfunctional father and daughter vacationing in Bali, conflicted over a pending divorce, are sole survivors of a plane crash at sea and try to swim to the nearest coast, fighting both natural and human elements of danger. Alternate version for a different location: British Columbia, Canada.

We see an enticing photo of a Club Med-styled tropical paradise in Indonesia, viewed on a cell-phone screen by…

MIA WILEY (15), bright, pretty and athletic. “You’re gonna love it,” her mother SHERRI insists. Mia shuts her cell, sullen and disinterested. “What-ever.” A typical problem teen, alienated by her dysfunctional family life.

At LAX’s Bradley terminal, Sherri escorts her to her flight, Mia angry that Mom isn’t coming along. Dad will be waiting for her in Jakarta, flying in from a scientific convention in London. The usual absentee dad, going for the quick-fix vacation. From Jakarta, it’ll be a quick island hop to Sumatra for a week at the all-family resort…

The vacation was planned for the whole family, but things changed: the marriage is now on the skids, divorce imminent, but Sherri wants Mia to spend some quality time with Dad.

Mia doesn’t want to go: “quality time” with a workaholic, irresponsible father seems to her like a foreign concept. She loves Mom but resents her for forcing her into this so-called vacation. Let Dad spend some “quality time” with himself.

Sherri urges Mia to give her father a chance. A heartfelt goodbye between them, as we time-lapse to:

The Jakarta airport. THOMAS WILEY (mid-50’s) greets Mia. A brilliant mathematician in the private sector, he’s put his career ahead of his family for years. By the cool greeting he receives from his daughter, it has cost him dearly.

A brief charter flight to a Sumatran coastal town. Thomas plays up the positives of their tropical oasis: water sports galore; Mia loves to swim. Everything at their fingertips, so they don’t even need to leave the resort. He’s really looking forward to spending time with her. Mia remains glumly silent.

From the airport, the two board a bus to the resort. The bus rumbles past shanty towns and slums. Hopeless ghetto natives in utter poverty, children begging passengers outside the bus.

Then, as if a curtain has been parted, the bus leaves behind the crumbling town into the friendly gates of an insulated resort.

In the resort lobby, Thomas arranges an adjoining suite for Mia with a sea view. Windsurfing lessons, snorkeling cruises, every activity planned to the minute.

Unimpressed, Mia is more taken with ARANA (20), a handsome French-Polynesian who catches her eye. Definitely not a tourist.

We briefly glimpse a scruffy hustler, working incoming guests: FRENCHY (40’s), a fast-talking local pilot with the larcenous grin of a pirate. Eager for your cash, he offers everything from scenic flyovers to island-adventure cruises to God knows what.

That afternoon, Thomas is on the phone with Sherri in L.A. “No, hon, I haven’t told her yet. I’m going to do it tonight.”

A conversation tinged with sadness and bitterness over a marriage that be saved, if Thomas had only cared enough to focus on others’ needs besides his own. Regretting his failings, Thomas swears he’s trying to change. It’s not enough, his wife reminds him. Not as a husband, least of all as a parent.

Over dinner, Thomas and Mia awkwardly catch up. Mia never calls him Dad, only “Thomas.” Finding it hard to communicate on an intimate level, Thomas resorts to his usual logic babble, as if emotions and relationships were equations to be solved.

It doesn’t work with Mia. It never did. Thomas struggles to say what he’s been rehearsing for days. Mia is way ahead of him: “You and Mom are getting divorced. As if I didn’t know.” Thomas apologizes: he tried to give her mom a good life and even encouraged her to revive her legal career, but motherhood got in Sherri’s way. Certainly he can’t be blamed for that.

Suddenly angry, Mia calls him on his self-serving rationales: he didn’t want Mom to have a career – he just wanted her to mind the home front. Always off on some lecture circuit or scientific retreat, he’s been running away from this family for years. And if he thinks he can make up for a lifetime of neglect with one lousy vacation, he can forget it! Maybe he oughta take the blame for that!

Stunned by her outburst, Thomas tries to defend past actions, but these are problems beyond solving. Mia leaves the table in frustration. Crestfallen, Thomas knows that deep down she’s right. He’s screwed up everything. Maybe this time for good.

That evening, Mia hangs with a pack of American teens at the resort’s nightclubs. She breaks down over the divorce and cries. Her new friends commiserate and share their own stories of dysfunctional-parent hell. Mia shrugs it off, concealing her pain behind a façade of bravado.

Then along comes Arana. The young French stud, here on the island on some mysterious business, takes a fancy to Mia. For a girl who’s had little social life back home, his attentions are wildly exciting.

They dance late into the night, Mia in love. She gives Arana an Indian bracelet, a gift from Mom during a trip to Sonoma. Arana offers to show her native life outside these fairy-tale gates. Mia really wants, but she’s not allowed to leave the grounds.

Thomas wakes up after 3 a.m. with a bad feeling. Mia’s room is empty. He heads down to the lobby for a hasty recon…

He finds Mia and Arana making out by the poolside. Going ballistic, he orders Mia to her room and warns Arana to stay away from his under-aged daughter or he’ll have him arrested. Arana shrugs him off. Totally humiliated, Mia storms away.

Back in the suite, Thomas bangs on Mia’s locked door. She refuses to talk to him. She’s grounded! he shouts. No more fraternizing with local Eurotrash! Mia weeps in silence.

The next day, Mia evades her father like the Black Plague. She wanders the resort with her teen friends, all of them eager to ditch their parents and blow off this prison in paradise.

A midday phone confession to Sherri in L.A., Thomas feeling like a failure. Mia already knew about the divorce, her raging hormones at critical mass, Thomas’ attempts at father-daughter bonding a total fiasco. Sherri advises him to be patient. Take her on a cruise. He would, Thomas sighs, if he could find her.

By late afternoon, Mia and the teens make good their Great Escape, hijacking a parent’s rental car…led by their Pied Piper, Arana. He hard-charges out the resort on his Harley chopper, rumbling through the potholed suburbs, the kids burning rubber to keep pace. All of them roar into…

The airport town. Streets teem with local hustlers, hookers, drug dealers, all the walking wounded of the Sumatran ghetto.

Mia becomes the envied queen of the teen group, arm in arm with Arana, the kids’ idea of a cool, local hottie.

A seedy shanty-town bar. A colorful crowd mixes it up, the corrupt with the corruptible. Arana, Mia’s dream crush come true, dotes on her. Except when he moves off to confer with…

BERNARD, a grizzled, venal French Corsican, who seems to be Arana’s boss. Mia notices them briefly across the bar. Then…

Arana redirects all his attention on Mia. They slip out to a rear alley for a romantic interlude…as the teens carouse out front, trouble brewing like a storm.

The two are at it hot and heavy when they’re suddenly drawn to a violent commotion: one of the kids lies bleeding on the curbside – stabbed in a dispute with a drug dealer. An ambulance arrives, the teens frightened.

Arana diffuses the situation. He hustles Mia away and spirits her back to the resort on his Harley. The others follow.

At the resort, Thomas waits with other concerned parents. Arana arrives with Mia, her father watching in shock as the two kiss and Arana speeds off, Mia in a daze…

Word of the stabbing spreads, parents in a panic, hotel security interrogating the kids who were at the scene…

For Thomas, it’s the last straw: this trip was a mistake from the beginning. Losing control to his emotions, he resolves to cut the vacation short – they’re going back to L.A. Right now!

There are no more night flights to Jakarta, the hotel concierge informs Thomas. Better to wait until tomorrow morning…

Thomas won’t wait. He wants to leave before Mia gets deeper into trouble. Desperate, compulsive, he insists on getting off this island tonight – price is no object! The concierge relents: he knows someone who can help him. He directs him toward…

Frenchy, pilot-for-hire who offers anything for the right price. Emergency? Pas de probleme! In fact, he’s taking a couple back to Jakarta tonight. He has room for two more passengers.

Thomas quickly packs their luggage, despite Mia’s protests. He phones his wife quickly – they’re coming home on the red-eye flight from Jakarta. Sherri doesn’t get a chance to ask why.

Before the late-night departure, Mia manages a fleeting farewell with Arana. Then, unobserved by her, Arana rendezvous with Frenchy. Something unseen is exchanged between them.

Thomas, Mia and a 30ish couple, STEVE and his wife ANNE, board Frenchy’s rickety, two-engine Cessna.

Frenchy announces casually he’ll be making a quick island stop en route. Under his pilot’s seat…a waterproof diving case.

The night flight begins, the Cessna taking off. An agitated Thomas finally relaxes. Mia sits in silence beside him, refusing to acknowledge his existence.

The Cessna crosses over the vast, moonlit Java Sea. Their pilot detours from Jakarta toward an unidentified isle amongst the Karimunjawa Islands, the plane veering far off course…

Clouds obscure the moon. Frenchy grows disoriented, the sea below a foreboding expanse of inky blackness. Thomas notices the plane shifting direction and queries the pilot, but Frenchy insists that everything is A-okay. He chatters urgently on the radio in French, his passengers sensing things are not okay…

An island with a dirt airstrip, the kind used for drug smuggling. With no landing lights. In a tin shack, a ham-radio operator babbles French to the pilot, hearing the Cessna in the distance.

On another frequency: Bernard, the Corsican, waiting on Sumatra. And his accomplice – Arana. To the island operator’s Gallic curses, radio contact with Frenchy goes dead.

Airborne, Frenchy is hopelessly lost, dangerously low on fuel. Too low – he can’t make it anywhere. The Cessna spirals down, losing altitude fast. Panic in the cabin…

Frenchy frantically radios, “Mayday!” He tosses around life jackets. Anne blubbers fearfully and clings to Steve. Thomas throws life jackets on himself and his daughter. Protectively, he holds Mia in his arms. She’s too scared to resist him…

The Cessna hurtles downward, sky and ocean indistinguishable! Passengers shout, gasp, sob and pray. Braced for death…

Splashdown! The plane plunges into the Java Sea – Frenchy killed on impact! The cabin fills with water, its passengers scrambling out. A hellish turmoil of water and debris…

Mia climbs onto the sinking wing, unhurt to her father’s relief. Thomas follows behind her, stunned and bleeding, but alive.

The Cessna submerges rapidly – all four passengers tumble into the drink. Steve is disoriented from a concussion. Losing all sense of his bearings, he swims away on pure instinct. The four swim out and drag him back into their watery fold.

Anne, who can barely swim, goes into a full-blown panic. Thomas urges her to stay calm, checking on his daughter, who brushes off his concern. “I’m okay!”

Mia seems remarkably composed, outwardly at least, tossing out an occasional sarcasm at her father’s expense. The full impact of their dilemma hasn’t fully sunk in yet.

We pull back on four life-jacketed souls. Floating together in the moonlit dead of night. In the middle of dead nowhere.

REST OF SYNOPSIS AVAILABLE UPON REQUEST.

Script Excerpt
Written by:
Format:
Screenplay
Budget:
Modest
Starring Roles For:
16-Year teen Girl
Bruce Willis
Josh Hartnett
In the Vein Of:
Adrift
The Shallows
Open Water
Posted:
01/03/2011
Updated:
12/31/2020
Author Bio:
ANTON DIETHER is the writer of the Hallmark TV miniseries Moby Dick, the highest-rated long-form show in basic cable history, nominated for five Emmys and two Golden Globe Awards; ABC-TV miniseries Cleopatra; and Hallmark miniseries Stranded. Anton developed Beauty and the Beast for Fox, Land of Oz for Disney, Gold Fever for Phoenix Pictures, Operation Greylord for Showtime, Lost At Sea for TNT; currently Gang of Dreams TV miniseries for Little Studio Films, The Revolt for Revolt Prods, Taj Mahal for Threshold Ent.

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