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10-Page Treatment 4 - Mars or Bust

Oh man! Number four. On Monday I start my first screenplay. Well, I mean, fourth screenplay, but first screenplay from this writing plan! Exciting!

As for this treatment, it's short, but I think that's because it doesn't need to be longer, and not because I'm, like, lazy. I really like how it turned out, but if I choose it to turn into a screenplay,* I'm going to want to brush up on NASA and space and that sort of thing. It's definitely a kids' movie, so I don't have to be Hard Sci-Fi accurate, but I'd like to make something that people who know NASA would enjoy, rather than roll their eyes at.

On that note, I'm worried the Sally and Petunia subplot is a little off. Having never been to public school, all of my knowledge is based off of hearsay and movies, so I suspect that part of the world will end up a little cliche if I'm not careful.

All in all, though, like I said, I like it.

The original logline:
When a 12-year-old girl invents a propulsion and landing system that will allow NASA to go to Mars, she refuses to sell it unless she'll be on the first ship there. 

And a link to the 3-Page Treatment.

*Oh, yeah, I need to write up a ranking for that, don't I? That'll probably be up early next week.


Mars or Bust


Mira packs everything up for the science fair, and is nervous. Her parents encourage her, and tell her they can help, but she says no, it’s a secret - given that her parents are geniuses (her mom is a literal rocket scientist, her dad is a literal brain surgeon), she doesn’t want anyone to think that she got any help.

Mira’s science project is a crazy, experimental new propulsion system. It uses some new alloy that she designed, that’s capable of flying at 1.01g, without any external tanks or solid rocket boosters; in fact, very little fuel at all. With it, a ship would be capable of taking off and landing on Earth with no external assistance, and could travel to Mars in a matter of days.

Needless to say, she wins the fair to massive acclaim. Her two best friends, Sally and Petunia, serve as cheerleaders for her, getting pro-Mira chants going. They also mock the second and third-place winners - or as they call them, the first and second losers - saying that their creations compared to Mira’s are like a vinegar and baking soda volcano. Mira sees a kid who actually brought in a volcano, and she semi-reluctantly points him out to Sally and Petunia, who mock him, too.

A week or two later, Tom, a representative from NASA, shows up at Mira’s house. He’s work friends with her mom, so she’s met him once or twice, and they invite him in for dinner.

After dinner, Tom explains that the reason he’s there is to check out Mira’s propulsion system. Her parents contacted NASA to let them know about it, and if it’s half as impressive as they said it was, NASA is definitely interested.

Mira excitedly runs to get her project, and she shows it off by flying a model rocket into space right in front of him. He’s astonished. When she explains some of the mechanics behind it, he’s even more astonished. He tells her they could use this to fly to Mars and back in three days. They could get to edge of the solar system in under a month. Depending on how it works relativistically, they could eventually use this to actually fly to other stars. This is incredible.

But it’s Mira’s invention, and she’s already working on getting it patented, as well as keeping part of the creation process secret. Tom asks her if NASA could use it, or buy it from her. She agrees to sell it to them, in exchange for a pony, and for her to be on the first flight to Mars.

Everyone laughs at first, but when Mira makes it clear she’s serious, they get serious, too. For one thing, a pony is a lot of work - you need a stable, food, plenty of land for it to run around. For another thing, flying to Mars is dangerous even for people who have trained their entire lives for it. Mira going is simply out of the question.

But Mira insists. If she can’t get a pony and go to Mars, then NASA can’t have her technology. Period. Her parents and Tom all try to reason with her. They eventually get her to agree to a puppy instead of a pony, but she refuses to budge on the issue of Mars. Mira’s parents try to tell Tom that they’ll let him use her technology anyway, but she reminds them that she’s the only one who know how to make the key alloy, and without it, it won’t work.

Tom comes up with a compromise. The rocket will take a couple years to be built. How about, during that time, NASA trains Mira to go on the trip to Mars. She gets all of the real training, with high standards and tough hours. If, at the time the rocket is ready, both he and her parents think that she’s ready to go, then she can go. Otherwise, she’ll stay behind, keep training, and be guaranteed a seat on the first trip to Mars once she’s turned 18.

And also, she’ll get a puppy. Her parents shake their heads. She’ll get… a goldfish? They nod.

Mira is certain that she’ll be able to convince her parents to let her go over the course of a couple years of pestering, and her parents are certain that, once she sees how much work it’ll be, and how grueling that work will be, that her desire will wane. So, both parties agree.

Mira’s first day at NASA is overwhelming and amazing. She’s given a full tour of the training facilities, and she’s introduced to the astronauts who’ve been picked to start training for a potential Mars mission. She’s excited and running around and looking at everything, explaining what all it’s for before Tom can explain it to her; it’s clear she’s done her research.

There are a dozen astronauts alone for her to remember, and she has trouble keeping them all straight. But she does remember Paul, who gives her the tour, and Fatima, who thanks her profusely for inventing the engine that she did, because it’s going to let her achieve her life goal of going to Mars. When Mira tells her that that’s her life goal too, they hit it off pretty well.

After Mira leaves, some of the other astronauts start worrying about taking a little girl with them to Mars. “I don’t know how I feel about having to babysit in space.” Fatima chews them all out, reminding them that she was able to design the engine they’re using on her own; she’s sure the girl will be able to pull her own weight. And besides, given that she’s the one who designed the engine, none of them would be capable of going without her.

Mira’s training is everything she dreamed it would be, and more. The “and more,” here, is a lot of work, though. She comes home from training exhausted each day, and her grades start slipping (admittedly, from all As to As and Bs). Her parents aren’t thrilled about that, but I mean, come on. She designed a rocket engine and is training to go to space. A couple Bs are acceptable.

At school, things are bonkers, in a great way (for her). She’s become a superstar. How many kids did you know who were training to go to Mars, after inventing a new rocket engine? Her teachers all love her, and she’s swamped with kids trying to talk to her, sit with her, whatever.

Sally and Petunia adopt roles a pseudo-PR agents and bodyguards. They carefully manage who can talk to Mira for how long, who gets to sit with her at lunch, even who gets to be her science lab partner.

Mira takes well to being a school-wide superstar. She heaps praise upon Sally and Petunia for helping her - who both heap praise back at her for being so popular - and, as soon as she realizes she’s hot stuff, starts looking down on the lame kids who aren’t as cool as her. So, like, everyone.

At NASA, though, she’s a part of all of their team-building exercises, and even goes to a couple lectures on how to be a good leader and how to be a good follower. When she goes back to school after those days, she starts seeing some problems with how she and her friends interact with the other kids.

She talks with Fatima one day after training about bullies, and why bullies are mean. Fatima assumes that she’s being bullied, and explains to her that bullies don’t actually dislike you, they dislike themselves, and are trying to put you down so they can feel better about themselves. That doesn’t excuse what they do, though; they’re still mean, and bad, and she should tell her parents or a teacher if she’s being bullied. When she says that she thinks she’s the bully, Fatima tries to backtrack, but Mira thanks her; she thinks she understands now.

The next day, at school, she tries to get Sally and Petunia to tone it down. But when she uses the word “bully,” they get really offended, and accuse her of being mean to them. After all, they’re only trying to help her. If they didn’t do what they do, she’d get overwhelmed. Mira apologizes, and says she guesses she was the bully, not them.

Fatima talks to Tom about Mira. She loves her, she really does, but Mira is struggling with a lot of the training exercises; she’s a constant ball of talkativeness, and is distracting everyone as she distracts herself from what she’s supposed to do. Fatima’s not saying she shouldn’t go, but… maybe she is saying that. Maybe she should wait until she’s older.

Tom assures Fatima that Mira won’t be going to Mars; he explains the details of his compromise with her and her parents, and tells Fatima that Mira’s parents all but promised him that they wouldn’t allow it, period.

Rather than making her feel better, that kind of pisses Fatima off. She doesn’t know that bringing Mira to Mars is the best choice, but she knows that either way, you shouldn’t be lying to her about letting her go. Isn’t that basically the same as stealing her engine? Tom manages to wrangle out a promise that Fatima won’t tell Mira, but Fatima is seriously angry about it, and only agrees because she doesn’t want to be the one to break Mira’s heart.

Mira has a tough day at school. Nothing is too special about it, just that it’s rough. She has a test in English, she gets her test grade back from Math and it’s not an A+, etc.. She would probably handle everything okay if she could talk it out with Sally and Petunia, but they only want to talk about inane things, or her schedule, or who she’s sitting with at lunch.

The straw that breaks the camel’s back, though, is when Petunia straight-up drags away a girl who was talking to Mira without permission - because Mira was trying to ask her about the English test.

Mira flips out at Sally, and then Petunia when she sides with her. What did she think she was doing? Why can’t Mira talk to whoever she wants to talk to? She’s not famous or anything. She probably wouldn’t even be as popular as she is if not for Sally and Petunia. The pair of them get upset at that. Of course she wouldn’t be as popular without them. That’s the point! If she doesn’t appreciate it, she just has to ask them to stop, not yell at them for trying to help!

Mira apologizes, and they work things out to an uneasy truce.

That evening, at NASA, everything is the exact opposite of how it was at school. Mira nails everything that gets put in front of her, everyone is really supportive on the one thing she messes up on, the atmosphere is happy and upbeat - it’s just a great day. She talks to Fatima about how excited she is to go to Mars, and get away from all of the drama of life on Earth.

Mira asks Fatima about what it’s like to be an adult. Are things so nice at NASA because it’s NASA, or because it’s mostly adults? Will life be simpler when she’s an adult? More importantly, will there be less drama and weird navigating of friendships? Fatima can’t take it. No, she says, there won’t be. And she tells Mira what Tom told her, about how Mira’s parents had all but promised that Mira wouldn’t get to go to Mars.

Mira stomps her way to Tom, and confronts him with what Fatima told her. Tom hems and haws, and really does an admirable job of explaining it. He doesn’t talk down to her; he tells her yes, he misled her, and he’s sorry, but you have to trust a child’s parents. You just have to. It wasn’t his call.

Mira knows he’s right - though she’s still mad at him - and as her parents come pick her up, she picks a fight with them. They argue the whole way home. How could they lie to her like that? She thought they had a deal! They didn’t even have to promise she could go, they just had to not promise she couldn’t go! Her parents get defensive about it, and resort to the classic, “You’ll understand when you’re older.”

Mira can’t take it. She goes up to her room, and quietly packs a bag. She brings all of the essentials for survival - pajamas, her schoolbooks, her toothbrush, and fresh underwear. Then she sneaks out of the house and hits the road.

Fatima is woken up at one in the morning by her doorbell being rung repeatedly. When she manages to make it to the door, she sees an exhausted Mira, who just walked seven miles to her house.

Fatima gets her inside and gets her some water. Mira tells her that she ran away from home and she wants to live with her, now. Fatima isn’t sure whether to be annoyed or flattered, but she settles on flattered.

Fatima makes up a guest bed for Mira, and puts her to sleep. As she’s falling asleep, Mira asks Fatima to call her parents and let them know she’s okay. Fatima agrees.

She calls Mira’s parents. She tells them that Mira is there, and safe, and she’s welcome to stay there for as long as they’re okay with it - or she could drive her home right now if they want. They agree to let Mira sleep, and they’ll figure it all out in the morning.

The next morning, Fatima and Mira talk about things. Fatima tells Mira that she’s going to have to go home eventually, and Mira says she knows, but she just doesn’t want to yet. They call her parents again, and it’s decided that Mira will spend the weekend with Fatima, and then go back home. Fatima even drives over to Mira’s house to get her homework.

Mira also says that she doesn’t want to go to NASA anymore. When Fatima tells her that she’ll do everything she can to keep Tom off of her back, Mira tells her it’s okay; they can still use her engine. Mira doesn’t want to stop Fatima from fulfilling her dream to go to Mars, just because she can’t. Fatima is touched by that, and thanks her.

Fatima asks Mira why she didn’t run away to one of her friends’ houses. Mira says she is her friend. But when Fatima presses, asking why she didn’t run away to someone who lived closer, Mira tells her that she’s not sure she can still be friends with Sally and Petunia, because they’re bullies, and she’s a bully when she’s around them.

Fatima tells Mira that she needs to confront Sally and Petunia about their bullying. Not just mention it, but force them to make a decision. They may not want to be friends with her after that, but it’s in their best interest, and Mira isn’t a good friend if she doesn’t. Mira says that’s mean, but Fatima says she’s her friend, not her mom; she doesn’t have to be nice to her.

Mira protests, telling Fatima that they probably won’t want to be her friends anymore after that. Fatima says that Mira just said they’re not really her friends right now. Mira knows she said that, but this is different! Fatima tells her that yes, there is that chance.

Doesn’t Mira know how dangerous it is to go to Mars? Of course she does. Then why is she willing to go anyway? Mira thinks about it, and finally answers that it’s just a good thing. It’s dangerous, and hard, but if they pull it off, they’ll have opened up space to humanity. Fatima says this issue with her friends is the same. Yes, it’s risky, and hard, but if she pulls it off, her friends will be better for the experience - and Mira will have nicer friends.

But everything worth doing is dangerous, Fatima says. Everything that’s not dangerous has already been done.

When Mira gets home, she and her parents hug, though Mira is a little reluctant about it. Mira apologizes for running away, and says she should’ve asked permission first. Her parents apologize for lying to her, and say they should’ve been more frank about things. All of them hug again, and this time Fatima joins in. Her parents thank Fatima for watching Mira, and Fatima tells them it’s no big deal. It’s agreed that Fatima will visit regularly.

Life goes on.

One day at school, Mira comes across Sally and Petunia picking on another girl who had the audacity to not invite them to a party she’s throwing. It’s a birthday party, she doesn’t even really know them, but they’re pissed about it.

Mira steps in, apologizes to the girl, and issues an ultimatum to Sally and Petunia - they need to stop doing stuff like this. They need to stop picking on people, being mean, and just generally being bullies, because yes, they are bullies, and they need to deal with that.

Sally realizes, holy crap, Mira’s right. She was just shaking down a girl because she wasn’t invited to her birthday party - and she doesn’t even want to go. Petunia doesn’t respond as positively, though; she yells at both of them, calls Mira a bully, and stomps off. They try to stop her, but she ignores them and runs off.

Sally goes home with Mira after school, and when they get there, Mira’s mom asks them where Petunia is - normally you don’t see two of them without the third. Mira and Sally explain what happened. They express worry that Petunia won’t want to be their friend anymore, but Mira’s mom tells them that she’s sure it’ll all work out in the end.

Later, at dinner, after Sally’s gone home, Mira’s parents talk to her again about what she did. They tell her that they talked to Petunia’s parents, and tell Mira that Petunia’s parents have talked with Petunia, and they think everything is going to work out fine. Mira is very happy to hear that.

They tell Mira that they’re very impressed, and proud of her; it had to have been hard and scary to confront her friends like that. Mira tells them that it was scary, that everything worth doing is dangerous; if she had let fear of losing her friends stop her from helping them, she wouldn’t have been a real friend herself.

Her parents latch on to that: everything worth doing is dangerous. What does that mean? Mira tells them that Fatima told it to her. Everything not dangerous has already been done. She’d already tried everything else to get her friends to stop; she had to do something dangerous to actually accomplish it.

Her parents dig further. What else had she tried? She tells them about the things she learned at NASA - both in courses and just from interacting with everyone - about teamwork, and helping each other, and how she applied those at school, especially with Sally and Petunia.

Her parents are surprised she learned so much from NASA. They ask her why she’s not still going, when the training is still available to her, then realize they shouldn’t have asked that. They know the answer. They agree that maybe they should… rethink their stance.

Mira asks if that means what she thinks it means. They say yes. Mira asks if they’re just going to say no when it’s time. They look at each other. No, they won’t say no. In fact… they’ll say yes. They just give her blanket permission to go. She’s thrilled, and she hugs them.

A couple years later, Mira boards the MIRACLE with Fatima and the other astronauts.