SU seniors’ hookup flick finds interest at film festivals

SU seniors’ hookup flick screens at film festivals

Screening at the Indy Film Fest this weekend, 'Scratch' explores the complexities of sex and dating culture.
Published: May 3, 2019

The first 60 seconds of Scratch hurtles through what feels like a flashback of years of college parties. In a drunken haze, the scene pans through a small apartment, Christmas lights glowing, music thumping and vodka flowing through a sea of people holding red solo cups. Then in a blink, glaringly white morning light floods the screen.

Television radio film seniors Sam Shapiro, writer Spencer Breindel and Alex Golden would argue some of college’s worthiest moments take place after the party’s over. The film follows Damian, a standoffish guy, who embarks on a self-reflective journey to tell the last three women he slept with that he has herpes and that they should probably get tested.

Scratch is based on stuff that actually can be everyday life, but it’s never really talked about,” said Golden, a co-producer who was in charge of sourcing nearly $8,000 for the film’s budget. “You never really see a movie centered on an STD. We went for a very realistic approach.”

While the two Newhouse TRF seniors created the short film their sophomore year, it caught attention off-campus with its acceptance and screening at the Beverly Hills Film Festival. This weekend, Scratch will air the Indy Festival in Indiana, where it will be screened in an American Shorts category called “The Birds and the Bees.”


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Sam Shapiro poses with actress Kathryn Palmer on the red carpet at the Beverly Hills Film Festival in April.

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Sam Shapiro addresses the audience at the festival's screening of "Scratch."

Damian makes his way through the cringe-worthy conversations, crossing each girl’s name off his list afterward. He also pauses a few times throughout to reflect and “scratch” his nether region.

In the script, Breindel wrote the film going for an American Pie, slapstick comedy style, which is evident in a flashback scene of Damian’s sexual encounter with a devout Christian girl who has Jesus-themed bedding.

“It ended up more dramatic. Sam’s vision took it to a darker place,” Breindel added.

The first script draft started with Damian consulting his frat buddies on what to do about his herpes. But as the director, Shapiro made the decision to start off with the flashback encounter of ‘Jesus’ scene.

“It throws you in right off the bat. [As the viewer] I’d rather be thrown into this journey than figure out sh*t as I go on, or have everything spelled out for me,” Shapiro said.

On the set of the film
Sam Shapiro discusses a scene with actor Cameron Leo on set during the filming of "Scratch."

“We ended up deciding to make everyone an unlikable character, and as college kids, we’re all kind of unlikable and irresponsible, which in a way makes them pretty relatable. Scratch is kind of a ‘tour de force’ of immaturity,” said Breindel.

Sexually transmitted diseases can inspire a host of things, like SU doubling up on testing clinics this year. But it’s not often that STDs inspire art. After his first year at college, Breindel saw several of his friends experience the emotional rollercoaster that follows an STD scare and was intrigued.

“Going from the ego and excitement of being on the top of the world to feeling like the actual scum of the earth is interesting and important,” Breindel said. “I think everyone’s felt that way before, that manic fall from top to bottom — and it’s cool to see someone go through that like in Scratch.

“Usually, at first it’s a scare, but for most guys, when you find out you’re clean, you go right back to your old ways. But for a guy like Damian, he really couldn’t do that.”

Scene from the film
Full disclosure: "The third girl" Damian comes clean to turns out to be the one that gave him herpes in the first place.

Three of Shapiro’s shorts have been accepted into festivals in the past year. When it comes to his directing style, he has a knack for bringing personal topics to life on screen in a way both entertaining and harsh when necessary.

The entrepreneurialism minor created his own production company, SES Productions, with a fellow film major at SUNY Buffalo. He first fell in love with directing with his first award-winning film, Scissor Pass, which is based on the memory of his hockey teammate who tragically died in a car accident. The project took him three and a half sleepless months to finish. “I want to continue telling human stories that are relatable to many people and push boundaries,” says Shapiro.

The three co-producers look forward to pursuing careers in film and are considering moving to Los Angeles post-graduation.

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"Scratch" will be available for viewing on Vimeo later this year.