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This isn’t really an imperative screenwriting question, and is something below your answering pay-grade, but…in fact it’s a petty squabble, though hopefully it’ll amuse you enough to intervene.

A few friends and I, on a lark and to make one another laugh, have been writing a script off and on, sometimes with it gaining more seriousness than other times. It starred us as us, writing a meta-movie which you would see coming together on-screen. But most of that involved our bickering and insults. And, well, art imitated life imitating art imitating — y’know. Now the argument devolves into whether or not we’re being needlessly mean puppeteers to one another.

Lately I’ve been coming back on one guy in particular, Sam, saying that I can dish and take whatever he writes as long as it’s good and funny. I’ve written three screenplays myself and I’m reasonably content with them, but, since I don’t have any objective validation for them (never sold any fiction writing, said friends are kinda dicks when it comes to helping others with their work), it’s hard for me to “lecture” to him certain screenplay “rules” (cohesiveness, economy, flow, momentum). Add to that, I can’t help but to continually tell Sam he’s a “shitty screenwriter,” which he takes the insane pejorative assumption that I’m calling him a shitty writer.

For example, here’s a scene from Sam’s latest draft, involving a 500 word scene about me masturbating to “Star Trek”:

  • INT. SHANE’S BEDROOM – NIGHT
  • Shane crosses the room, turning on the television and throwing his keys down on a table or couch or something giving the illusion that he just came home. With the TV on, Shane walks over to his computer. Still standing up, Shane starts to look at pornography. This could be shown with brief glimpses of nondescript nudity along with some sexual moaning noises. It should be clear that he’s looking at pornography.
  • Shane looks over at the TV set, and then concentrates on the computer screen.
  • Shane starts to masturbate. This should be done as classy as possible, with Shane keeping his boxers on or something, and the camera view either being a chest/body shot where we can see his arm fluctuating like mad, or from behind arm fluctuating like mad. Obviously no one wants to see Shane’s penis, but it should be clear he’s masturbating.
  • ((If Shane’s comfortable with “kindergarten style” as in the way kindergartners use urinals, where the pull their pants all the way down to their feet and then tuck their shirts under their chin, sticking their mid section out. It’s almost a universally hilarious human position that has rarely been exploited.))
  • We then hear the TV a bit clearer. It’s a star trek like show. Shane, hears it a few seconds after we do, and he slows his rhythm a little and looks over his shoulder at the television set, hesitating in his masturbation.
  • Almost with a renewed sense of duty, Shane turns his head back to the computer and masturbates with more furious abandon than previously seen. He’s obviously trying to hurry up.
  • The sound from the star trek TV show get a little more intense, maybe it’s a space battle or a battle down on some planet, either way we hear laser sounds and sound effects enough of a distraction that Shane turns his head again, slowing his pace.
  • He stares for a moment, almost stopping, then as if jolting back to life, he turns back to the computer and begins pumping his manhood but, more of a regular pace, not as much vigor as before, more determined this time, less frantic.
  • At this point, Shane needs to be looking back and forth from the computer screen to the television, keeping a steady pace regardless of where his eyes are at.
  • Gradually, Shane spends longer time looking at the television and less time at the porn. He should make the transition to only looking at Star Trek on the television, possibly turning his body away from the computer screen and towards the TV, but still maintaining a fluid, steady masturbation motion.
  • We still don’t want to see him actually masturbate, so the camera should be chest level, if we indeed do a shot from up close.
  • He essentially is masturbating to Star Trek as the door to this room opens and Dustin wanders aimlessly in, followed by Sam.
  • DUSTIN
  • Hey-a Shane.
  • SHANE
  • Ah!
  • SAM
  • Hey Shane.
  • DUSTIN
  • Ah!
  • SHANE
  • Ah!
  • SAM
  • Ah!
  • DUSTIN
  • Ah!
  • SHANE
  • Ah!
  • DUSTIN
  • What the hell are you doing, Shane?
  • SHANE
  • Masturbating?
  • SAM
  • Were you just masturbating to Star Trek?
  • SHANE
  • No, I had it on but I was masturbating to this inoffensive porn on my computer why the fuck didn’t you guys knock?
  • SAM
  • Settle down there, Shane.
  • SHANE
  • (mocking voice)
  • Were you just masturbating to Star Trek? No, I wasn’t just masturbating to Star Trek! You have no right to come in here, in my house and just start accusing me of things I’m not doing!
  • DUSTIN
  • Were you going to time it so you came when the crew beamed back to the ship?
  • SHANE
  • Get the fuck out of here!

If you’ve read this far in the email, is there any chance you could help me? I can’t see you wanting to post something this long yourself (unless you want to make me an example of collaboration do-not’s, in which case I can’t say I don’t have it coming). But something as simple as “[Sam/Shane] is right, [Shane/Sam] is wrong” to post on my blog with WGA-writer certification would be great. You don’t even have to point out that his scene is based on a caught-jerkin’-it! joke that makes “Porky’s” cutting edge, or that he finally sticks it to those Trekkies who have for far too long gone on an unmocked free ride. Just something so I can say, “John August, screenwriter of ‘Go’ and ‘Big Fish,’ whose blog has been a featured screenwriting resource in the New York Times, says this could’ve been done in 30 words. So suck it, Sam.”

[Scene Challenge]Suck it, Sam.

This scene has the potential to be funny,1 but is undermined by very sloppy writing. This makes it the ideal candidate for the first-ever John August Scene Challenge.

Everyone can play. Here’s how it works.

  1. Rewrite the scene. You’re not limited to 30 words, but it shouldn’t take more than 200 to get to the dialogue. (Shane/Sam’s takes 490.)
  2. Post your entry in the comments.2 Don’t worry about the fancy formating. We’re friends here.
  3. All entries must be submitted by 8 a.m. PST on Wednesday, Feb. 28th., 2007. Remember that comments are sometimes held in moderation. Don’t submit twice. It will show up. Promise.
  4. I’ll pick a winner later that day.
  5. Winner receives bragging rights, which may be exchanged for a sense of self-worth.

Begin.

  1. Not hilarious, not genre-defining, but satisfactorily awkward to elicit laughs from people who like the American Pie movies but wish they could have incorporated more geek nostalgia.
  2. Links to videotaped versions of the scene are also encouraged, though this is technically a screenwriting thing.