Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Me and My Penis

Genre: Comedy
Premise: A womanizing man wakes up without his penis, only to learn that it’s taken human form and is determined to make his life miserable.
About: Deadline Hollywood’s already done the dirty work so I’ll let Miss Finke summarize it for you. “Morgan Creek bought Step Dawg, a comic script by Jeff Tetreault about a 30-ish man who returns home to discover that his single mom plans to marry his former high school stoner best friend. WME sold the script with Energy Entertainment. It's the second script, but first sale for Tetreault. His first effort was widely admired, but didn't sell because of obvious complications. Called Me and My Penis, the comedy focused on a womanizing man who awakens to discover his penis has gone AWOL and refuses to return until he reforms his callous ways. Tetreault found a more deal-friendly premise in Step Dawg.” An added bonus is that you can read Tetreault’s old blog before he hit it big.
Writer: Jeff Tetreault
Details: 108 pages (This is an early draft of the script. The situations, characters, and plot may change significantly by the time of the film's release. This is not a definitive statement about the project, but rather an analysis of this unique draft as it pertains to the craft of screenwriting).

There are those of you who are likely staring at your computer right now saying, “Is this what it’s come to? A script about a man who loses his penis?” To those people I say “you bet your ass." On the outside, this looks like a juvenile attempt at shoveling shit to the lowest common denominator. And that’s because it is! However, Me and My Penis shovels shit in a thought provoking way. As hard as it is to believe, this is a pretty good script.

The introduction of your hero is so important. You should use that first scene to tell us exactly who he (or she) is. If you put your protag in a boring talky scene or a general “set up the story” scene, we don’t get the information we need about them. This leaves us confused about their identity and the longer we're confused about who your main character is, the less involving your story is going to be.

Out of all the genres out there, the easiest one to add this scene into is the comedy, so there’s really no excuse not to do it. Rich Johnson is a selfish asshole who fucks as many women as he can. So how do we meet him? We meet him having nasty sex with a woman when the door bursts open revealing his girlfriend and Joey Greco. Yes, Joey Greco from Cheaters. The scene is funny, it's exciting, but most importantly, it tells us *through action* who our main character is.

Determined to learn from his mistakes, Rich hops into another relationship with Jamie Woo, an Asian hottie, vowing to change his ways and never cheat again. But when he accidentally crashes into a MILF (literally – his car crashes into hers) one thing leads to another and the express train to Blowjobville follows. Jamie, the first girl he’s ever connected with on a deeper level, is horrified and cuts the relationship cord.

In a moment of weakness, Rich laments that he wishes he never had a penis.

Bad. Move.

The next day Rich wakes up without his penis, which is followed by a phone call…FROM HIS PENIS. His penis is in a dark alley and is scared. So Rich heads into town to pick up his penis, only to find out that his penis has taken human form. What. The. Hell?? Not only that, but his penis is even more suave, even better looking, and even cooler than he is!

Forced to allow his penis to move in with him, Rich begins to see firsthand just how much trouble his penis is. His penis starts bringing hookers to the apartment, he starts fucking anything that walks, he’s rude, he’s disrespectful. He’s kinda like Rich times a thousand. I’m not going to tell you that this is deep meaningful multi-layered literature or anything crazy like that, but seeing the physical manifestation of just how much trouble your penis gets you into is nicely played.

Eventually Rich meets Lindsay, a sweet girl who he actually starts to like. Complications arise when intercourse approaches and, of course, Rich can’t do anything about it. In the meantime, for reasons that are a little unclear to me, Rich’s Penis gets really pissed off at Rich and actually wants to kill him. But when he finds out Rich likes Lindsay, he does the next best thing, which is to poach her away. His plan is to have the ultimate sex-a-thon smorgasborg with Lindsay, thereby destroying Rich’s world and, I don't know, hope he commits suicide afterward or something.

Will Rich get his penis back? Does he want his penis back? Those are the big questions.

So look, here’s the thing. There’s nothing great about this script. I giggled here and there, had a few laughs, and thought the execution was adequate. However that’s not what made this script so memorable. What I noticed right away about Me and My Penis was that it took chances. And that alone puts it ahead of 90% of the comedies out there.

The screenplays that fall by the wayside – the ones that the readers forget as soon as they put them down – are the ones that make obvious choices. Obvious is boring. Now you may think a guy’s penis disappearing then coming back in the form of a human is stupid, but as a reader, I’ve never seen that before. I have no idea where that script is going. So I perk up and start paying attention (assuming it’s capably written of course). It’s like walking into a new city. It’s new, it’s different. You want to explore it.

But what it really tells me is that Tetreault is *trying*. He’s not taking the easy route. He’s challenging himself with an idea that is by no means easy to pull off (you're basically building a 100 minute story around a 5 minute joke).

And I liked that Tetreault continued to try different things throughout the script. In the scene where he bumps into the MILF, for example, a superimposed flaccid penis appears at the bottom of the screen. As the MILF’s responses to Rich’s questions range from disgusting to hot, the penis erection goes either up or down. Sophomoric? Maybe. Different? Definitely.

One of the big mistakes the script makes though – and one I’m frankly tired of seeing in comedies – is just how little effort is put into the supporting characters. Rich has a friend, Josh, who could have easily been named “Default Best Friend Character,” he was so bland. And you could kind of tell Tetreault didn’t know what to do with him. He wasn’t even funny.

This reminded me, you can’t make someone funny until you understand who they are. If they’re just some cardboard cut-out with no background that you try to force jokes out of, the reader senses that. But if he has some kind of identity, (i.e. “In a Controlling Relationship Guy,” where his girlfriend always tells him what to do) now you have somewhere to go with the character and now the jokes have a base to emerge from. I had no sense of who Josh was, and therefore a lot of the scenes between him and Rich fell flat. So give your secondary characters goals, give them flaws, give them backstory, give them an *identity*. That’s how you build a character up and make them come alive.

Me and My Penis was risky and different and a script that isn’t easy to forget. The execution could use some work and the plot could use some meat but overall, I definitely see why this got so much attention.

[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[ ] wasn’t for me
[x] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius

What I learned: The “superimposed” penis scene got me thinking. It would’ve been so easy to take the obvious route with that scene. The two get into a fender bender, they step out of their cars to deal with it, she seduces him, they go have sex. But the superimposed penis says that Tetreault asked himself, “How can I make this different?” And it’s a question you should be asking yourself whenever you’re writing. Go through all your scenes and ask yourself that question. “How can I make this different?” Not every scene is going to be unique. But if you can add something extra or fresh to a dozen scenes, your script will be way better for it. Never ever settle for obvious. It’s the death knell for screenplays.