Title: Skinny House
Writer: Julie L. Seely
Contact Information: firstname.lastname@example.org
After he is seriously injured in a crash, a college bound rapper struggles to recover, until he discovers the courageous story of his great-grandfather’s famous ten-foot-wide Skinny House, built out of salvaged materials during the Great Depression.
SUBURB 2007-DEV STERRETTE (18), a high school senior, eager to be on his own, starts packing his duffle bags in May in anticipation of starting college in the fall. On a rainy night, headed to a senior class party, Dev becomes distracted while driving and crashes. He survives but becomes depressed and devastated to learn that the surgeon advises he delay starting college. Dev’s mother, Julie (40s), a physician, hoping to distract him from his painful recovery and to convince him not give up, brings in a box of family memorabilia, thinking that sorting through the box may be good physical therapy. Dev resentful of his helicopter mom’s tactics, scoffs at the idea, Dev’s friends Ollie and Ethan visit him in the hospital. Ollie accidently knocks over the box and discovers intriguing artifacts. She questions Dev about his ancestors and items in the box. Dev has not a clue and is somewhat embarrassed he can’t answer her questions. Later, he questions Julie about an orange, tattered pamphlet, titled Homes for Colored People, he discovered at the bottom of the box. The pamphlet appears to glow every time he picks it up. Julie has not a clue what Dev is talking about, and she reassures him that it is the pain medication that is making him loopy. When she sees the pamphlet, it takes her breath away. The first paragraph reads:
“Every colored man needs a home. That statement does not require proof. It is the dearest wish of every individual of every color or race to have a clean, decent place in which to house his family, in which to bring up his children in peace and comfort.”
She begins to tell Dev the moving story of her grandfather Nathan’s short-lived success as a black builder and an entrepreneur in Mamaroneck, New York in the 1920s. Dev becomes a captive audience especially when he realizes aspects about Nathan’s personality and habits seem eerily familiar.
Nathan’s Story begins through Julie’s Narration and Flashbacks
MAMARONECK, NY 1928-NATHAN SEELY (early 40s), a successful black carpenter-turned builder, hints to his wife LILLIAN (late 30s), that he is worried that construction work orders are drying up. Lillian brushes him off, but his children, outgoing SUG (16) and shy TOMMY (14) pick up on her worried tone of voice. MANNY (late 20s), Nathan’s brother and business partner, warns him that they can barely make payroll this week. Tommy unknowingly leads a debt collector, ALVIN (40s) into his father’s office, where Alvin proceeds to humiliate Nathan. Manny kicks Alvin out of the office, and Nathan takes his anger out on Tommy and slaps him. Nathan and Tommy’s relationship begins to fracture. At dinner, Lillian informs Nathan that Alvin visited their home earlier that day. Sug tries to lift the sullen mood at the table by announcing that her voice teacher feels she is ready for her first recital. She tries to persuade Tommy to accompany her on piano, but he refuses. Nathan is denied a loan and must confess to Lillian that his company is bankrupt and foreclosure on their home is certain. Lillian falls apart. “Are you going to let them put your family out in the street?” Tommy overhears and races to tell Sug the bad news. She in turn gathers the courage to beg for a job at the local speakeasy. Nathan moves his family across the railroad tracks into a ragged tenement apartment.
Lillian resents that she now must work as a domestic. Nathan cannot find steady work, and his marriage deteriorates. Having little left except his carpentry and drafting skills, Nathan secretly begins work on a blueprint for a new house. Nathan meets with his company attorney MR. WARREN (50s) and his neighbor MR. ROCCA (late 30s) who wants to purchase the Seely lots. Both men are unaware that Warren is a crook who will later make front page news when he is sentenced to Sing Sing prison for embezzlement. Nathan finally shows Lillian the blueprint of a 10-foot-wide, 3-story single family home. He tells her they still own the narrow strip lot adjacent to their old home. Lillian is skeptical, but she is desperate to move out of the tenement. Manny and Nathan begin stockpiling construction materials from salvage yards and old jobs. The new home poses obstacle after obstacle: a huge boulder in the cellar, no indoor plumbing, an unstable foundation, and a wet cellar. They think creatively and develop solutions to overcome each roadblock.
1932-Nathan and his family move into the Skinny House. With great fanfare, he demonstrates his custom-designed interior features. Lillian is moved when she sees that Nathan saved her piano and favorite chair. Nathan and Tommy’s relationship begins to improve, but Nathan and Lillian’s marriage crumbles. Arguments escalate while Tommy unsuccessfully mediates. Nathan counsels Tommy about overcoming his shyness and becoming the man of the family. He tries to convince Tommy to follow him into the construction business when he graduates from high school. Tommy has his mind set on going to college. Nathan hides his disappointment. He instructs Tommy to accompany Sug on the piano at her first recital. At the speakeasy, Sug invites everyone to come to her recital. As she is speaking, Nathan shows up in a chauffeur’s uniform. Sug suspects he has one of his bad headaches he looks like he is in pain. He promises to be at her recital.
Recital Hall Montage – Sug takes the stage in front of a packed audience. A large bouquet of flowers blocks the audience’s view of her shy accompanist Tommy. Sug hesitates, expecting her father to enter the auditorium any minute. He doesn’t show up. She enthralls the audience with a beautiful aria. The audience gives her a standing ovation.
Skinny House – Manny delivers the sad news to Lillian that Nathan has died of a stroke. Tommy overhears and comforts his mother and sister. He assures Manny that they’ll be fine, as he is the man of the house now.
Return to Dev’s Story
2007–Julie sums up Nathan’s story. She tells Dev that Nathan and Lillian separated in 1938 although they remained married until Nathan’s death at age 67 in 1962. Lillian lived in the Skinny House until 1982. On the day she is taken to a nursing home, Lillian pins a handwritten note to the front-door curtains of the Skinny House that reads: “To anyone, I was happy here.”
Dev continues to recover at home. Ollie and Ethan hang out with him. He tells them that Julie has traveled to Mamaroneck to make her case to the Mamaroneck Village Board that Nathan’s Skinny House is worthy of being listed on the prestigious National Register of Historic Places. He shows his friends the Mamaroneck notice and asks them to help with his social media campaign to boost support for the national designation. Posts about the Skinny House go viral. Dev, Ollie, and Ethan take a road trip to Mamaroneck. They arrive just as Julie begins her presentation in front of the committee members of Mamaroneck Village Board. When his mother is overcome with emotion, Dev steps up and delivers a jaw-dropping speech about the importance of family legacy and perseverance. The Village Board overwhelmingly recommends that the Skinny House qualifies as a national historic site.
College Campus Footage – Dev limps on crutches with high spirits toward a campus courtyard. Ollie and Ethan catch-up with him and the best friends head to class.
FADE IN- PICTURE OF THE SKINNY HOUSE and BLUEPRINT on the wall of Julie’s dining room.
MONTAGE of vintage family photos, letters, the pamphlet, the Crisis Magazine, African Americans taking part in the Great Migration,
Julie Loretta SeelyWriter
Number of Pages:105
Country of Origin:United States
Sokolow Award: Screenwriter's Network
June 1, 2021
Julie L. Seely is an author and screenwriter. Her nonfiction book, Skinny House-A Memoir of Family debuted in 2019 to positive editorial reviews. It remains popular with diverse readers attracted to untold family legacy stories and inspirational biographies. Her fictional screenplay on the skinny house placed as a June-July quarterfinalist in the 2021 Sokolow Screenplay Awards competition. She lives in Northern Virginia with her family where she and her son, Devereaux, manage Skinny House Productions. So far, their recent short documentary, Ten Feet Wide-The Story of a Skinny House, has been accepted at more than a dozen U.S. film festivals in 2021.
As a society, we tend to disregard old items like faded photographs, diaries, and journals. However, these hidden treasures contain the intangible spirit, dreams, and aspirations of those who came before us. My company hopes to inspire audiences to appreciate the benefits of salvaging the generational gifts from our ancestors and forging them into new life lessons to pass on to our children.
--Skinny House Productions LLC: Sharing one family legacy story at a time--