Sent Away

LOGLINE: When an abused teen gets sent to stay for a summer with his dad, who just finished doing time for murder, their shared memories of the night of the killing uncover a dark family secret that leads the teen to run away rather than return to his mother and stepfather.

SYNOPSIS: Michael (13) and Davy (11), live in constant fear of their tyrannical stepfather Frank’s physical violence: a backhand at the dinner table, a humiliating ritual punishment with Frank’s belt. When they are told by their mother that they will be staying with their ex-con father, Ethan, for the summer, they should rejoice; instead, they balk. They don’t know Ethan. He’s been in prison for manslaughter for the last nine years—for killing an intruder in their home. Michael, four years old at the time of the incident, has memory flashes of Ethan unconscious next to a dead body with a bloody knife stuck in its back. Staying with a killer seems dangerous to them, but they aren’t given a choice.

After an awkward start with Ethan, who’s still adjusting to post-prison life, Michael and Davy discover he is more caring and gentle than Frank, especially when the boys get into trouble; first, when a firecracker explodes in Davy’s hand, and again when the boys end up at the police station for trespassing. The boys decide they want to stay with Ethan longer than just the summer, and once Ethan sees marks of Frank’s abuse on the boys’ bodies, he is determined to make that happen.

After the boys beg their mother to stay—and she rebuffs them—Ethan decides to go to court to gain partial custody, despite his prison record making it a long shot. Before the custody hearing, he and Michael discuss the night Ethan was arrested and discover an inexplicable discrepancy in their memories: Ethan remembers seeing the murder weapon in his own hand, not in in the dead body, as Michael recalls.

At the custody hearing, the Judge refuses to hear the boys’ testimony about Frank’s abuse and orders the boys returned to Mary and Frank. Mary’s lawyer, upon witnessing the boys’ horror and despair at the judge’s decision, convinces Mary to give them a couple of hours to say goodbye to Ethan. During those hours, the boys, who are deathly afraid of returning to Frank, concoct a hasty plan to run away and hide in the woods. Ethan purposely leaves Michael and Davy alone in the house to give them time to make their escape. He returns to his house just as Mary and Frank come to pick up the boys, and Frank beats Ethan into a coma, believing him to be hiding the boys himself.

Will the boys be forced to return to face Frank? Will Ethan wake from his coma? Will Michael’s memories lead to justice or place the boys in even more peril?

  • Joel McElvaney
    Dragons of the Gloaming; Lockdown Generation
  • Project Type:
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  • Country of Origin:
    United States
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  • First-time Screenwriter:
  • Student Project:
  • Finish Line Script Competition

    November 9, 2021
  • Los Angeles International Screenplay Awards

    January 31, 2022
  • Atlanta Film Festival Screenplay Competition
    Atlanta, GA
    April 2, 2022
  • Emerging Screenwriters Genre Screenplay Competition

    June 8, 2023
  • Filmmatic Inroads Fellowship Season 5

    June 8, 2023
  • Selling Your Screenplay SYS's Six-Figure Screenplay Contest

    June 8, 2023
    2nd Rounder
Writer Biography - Joel McElvaney

A former high school teacher and screenwriting instructor, McElvaney has spent most of his life helping others craft meaningful, emotionally-resonant stories. Now a full-time screenwriter himself, McElvaney applies a deep understanding of structure and character development to his features, which often show what happens when the underestimated and overlooked take action.  

Just getting started in the industry, McElvaney has fared well in screenplay competitions with his risque TV dramedy pilot Not Swingers, a 2nd-rounder at AFF in 2022; his fantasy action/comedy Dragons of the Gloaming, a Top 5 Finalist in the 2021 Save the Cat! Screenplay Challenge; and his coming-of-age drama/thriller Sent Away, a Semi-Finalist in the 2022 Atlanta Film Festival Screenplay Competition.

In a writers' room or on a set, McElvaney brings a veteran teacher's comfort with collaboration and the ability to adjust on the fly.

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Writer Statement

At its core, Sent Away is a hopeful story about the endurance of a father’s love and the powerful bond between two brothers who must navigate a dangerous and cruel world in their quest for independence and justice. As a practical matter, the film would require only a small cast and a few commonplace shooting locations.