Monday, July 4, 2011

Sex Tape

Genre: Comedy
Premise: A married couple who get a night off from their kids, get adventurous and decide to spice up their lives by making a sex tape. When they wake the following morning, the tape is missing, and they must find out who took it and how to get it back.
About: Sex Tape is one of the biggest spec sales of the year, taking us back to the early 90s with its giant 7 figure price tag. As is usually the case, these huge sales don’t go to newcomers, but rather established veterans. Angelo’s been around for awhile. She was a writer on the TV show, Becker. She was a producer on Will & Grace. And she wrote the script, “The Back Up Plan,” starring J.Lo.
Writer: Kate Angelo
Details: 118 pages – May 31, 2011 draft (This is an early draft of the script. The situations, characters, and plot may change significantly by the time the film is released. 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).

Here’s what my peeps are telling me about Sex Tape.

Married Folks: This totally captures what your life (and sex life) becomes once you have children.

Single Folks: I don’t get it.

So there seems to be a sharp divide. Just looking at the concept alone, I have mixed feelings about it. On the one hand, it seems like one of those ideas where you say, “Why didn’t I think of that?” On the other, it feels a bit dated, doesn’t it? I mean we had the “Zoey and Chachi Make A Sex Tape” or whatever that Kevin Smith movie was, and that script had been lying around for a decade. So has the sex tape thing run its course? Of course, this script isn’t as much about the gory details of the sex tape as it is about getting the sex tape back. In fact, it’s very much similar in tone to Date Night, another big spec sale, and kind of a family film. Does that mean Sex Tape is a family film? I don’t think you can make a family film about a sex tape, can you?

Anyway, the script opens with a wonderful fifteen page montage of our two leads, Jay and Annie, meeting at college and falling in love. And fucking. Lots and lots of fucking. They fuck in the school library, in the car, in their dorm rooms – anywhere where two people can fuck, they fuck.

But then they get married and start having kids and the sex starts to slow down. But they still love each other so they keep trying, but now there are babies crying and kids sleeping in beds and kids peeing in beds and Annie being exhausted and before you know it, Annie just doesn’t have time for sex anymore. It’s not that she doesn’t want to. She just has too many things going on.

But when she realizes how much this non-sex is affecting Jay, Annie decides to do something special. So she sends the kids away with their grandmother and gives Jay 12 straight hours of access to her body to do whatever he wishes. Well, one thing leads to another, they turn on a video camera, they eat a few pot brownies, they find an old copy of The Joy Of Sex, and they decide to try every position in the book (and then some) while making the really big mistake of taping it all.

Cut to the next morning and they don’t remember much. What they do remember is that sex tape though, and to their horror, when they look up at the tripod, the camera is gone. Uh-oh. They run downstairs to find the maid, a construction worker, and about ¾ of their house torn up. Whoa, they really went wild last night. Why the construction worker is here is a “wtf” detail I’ll get to later. But basically, they suspect that one of these guys took the tape.

So they follow them and eventually realize they didn’t, and then become suspicious that some other entity stole it, or that the maid passed it on to someone else, and that it’s very likely to end up on the internet, something that cannot happen, since Annie’s blog is a parenting website that is about to be purchased by Fisher-Price, a company that probably wouldn’t embrace an employee with a well-known sex tape, (though you never know these days).

Jay and Annie run around like chickens with their heads cut off, desperately pulling together every little clue and trying to stop the inevitable from happening, all the while wondering what the hell they did on that damn sex tape. In the process, they learn about the importance of putting your partner first in life, even if it takes a little extra effort to do so.

So, how was Sex Tape?

Well, I thought the first act was great. It got a little broad there with the sex tape itself (getting high on pot brownies and turning into Joy of Sex characters and using the baby swing for a sex move? -- why not just cut to black and have them wake up - so the audience is just as curious about what happened as them?) but I absolutely loved the montage of them meeting and getting married. I thought it really captured two people falling in love mainly through the copious amounts of sex we all have when we’re first in a relationship.

I also liked the third act. As they’re running around, by this point having absolutely no idea where the tape is, you get some great little scenes, like them at their son’s recital realizing that there’s a very good chance their tape is about to be played in front of their son’s friends and parents.

Also, if you’re like me and have read too many scripts where the writers answer the burning plot question with a total copout (the camera ran out of tape 10 seconds after they started taping so there was never any sex tape in the first place), I have to admit that the explanation for what happened in this one was extremely well set up and satisfying. Always a good thing when you leave your reader on a happy note, and Sex Tape does.

What I didn’t like about Sex Tape was the second act, and the reason is, there was no form to it. And I see this all the time, especially in comedy specs. Where writers set up the first act perfectly. Where they nail the third act. But the second act is just a formless mass of wackiness. And that’s what happened here. The second act was an excuse to throw a bunch of shit against the wall and see what stuck.

It started with the construction worker. First of all, if you plowed a wall over during a wild sex night, how the hell would the construction worker know about it BEFORE YOU EVEN WOKE UP? Can this construction worker predict the future? Did he know you were going to call and so showed up ahead of time? They attempt to explain this by saying the Grandmother sent him over. But that would require some sort of ESP on her part as well. Either that or really good intuition (“Hmm, they probably got so wasted and had so much sex that they knocked over a wall. Better call the construction people.”) So the fact that this guy (and the maid) are our prime suspects right away destroys the early credibility of the piece, and makes getting into the mystery a forced endeavor.

From there on, there’s no real plan or form to the chase. The two just sort of stumble around a lot and run into crazy situations, like the Porn Con, which is a logical place to take this story, but it wasn’t logically explained how we got there. It was more like, “Ooh, they should have to go to the Porn Con.” And that idea was inserted into the script with only threadbare motivation.

Someone who read Sex Tape e-mailed me and said, “If this happened to my husband and I, we would sit down and logically map out all the possibilities of where the tape could be. Then we’d methodically go down that list until we eliminated every one.” These two never do that. They act like they’re 14 years old and in movie world, where things don’t need to make sense as long as the wackiness is in full supply.

Despite this, I can see why Sex Tape sold. You have an easily marketable concept. You have a great first act. The ending is satisfying (so important – since that’s they last thing you leave the reader with). And it does have a few good set-pieces and laughs. Combine that with a studio that’s looking for this kind of movie, and you’ve got yourself a sale. I just hope they get that second act into shape.

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

What I learned: I’ve been reading a lot of scripts lately where a key character’s profession is “blogger.” I would warn against this, partly because every writer’s been doing it, but also because it’s a job clearly chosen out of laziness. Who needs to research a blogger? Anyone can blog! Which means you don’t have to think up the job or what they’re doing at the job or any of those difficult details that flesh out a character’s life. You just have’em hang out all day on the computer! Perfect for someone who doesn’t like effort. All I ask is that if you're making your character a blogger, ask if you're doing it because it's right for the story and for the character and fits with the theme, or if you're doing it cause you don't want to be bothered with figuring out the details of "a real job."  As long as the decision makes sense for the story, blog away baby.  

What I learned 2: A question to all those with kids out there. When you have kids, does projectile vomiting all of a sudden become hilarious? Because to me and all of the non-married people I know, a projectile vomiting joke is near the top of the list of desperate humor, right up there with stepping in doo-doo and an inappropriate fart. Yet I keep seeing writers use it over and over again. I’m thinking you just have to experience it yourself before you understand its genius? Help me out here.