Thursday, September 10, 2009


Genre: Drama
Premise: Crash-like look at how technology has disconnected us.
About: Marc Forster will be directing this one. Forster’s trying to rebound from the backlash of the difficult-to-follow “Quantum of Solace”, a movie that many critics faulted for its plodding screenplay. Forster is on record as shaping the entirety of the script, so if you didn’t like it, he’s definitely the one to blame. The thing with Forster is that he’s always gravitated for the brooding, the sad, the depressing, and Quantum of Solace was all about the brood. In other words, if you hire a cow, don’t be surprised when you get milk. Anyway, “Disconnect” is much closer to his sweet spot. It’s got that indie feel, and plenty of depressed people to exploit. -- Producer William Horberg will produce for Nala Films. Nala's Darlene Caamano Loquet and Emilio Diez Barroso optioned the script and will act as producers. William Horberg and Brad Simpson will also be producing. Nala’s recent credits include "Dan in Real Life" and "In the Valley of Elah,". They’re currently in post-production on the supernatural thriller "Shelter," starring Julianne Moore and Jonathan Rhys Meyers, which I wouldn’t mind taking a look at (hint hint – ahem).
Writer: Andrew Stern
Details: 125 pages (July 11, 2008 draft)

Disconnect is what you might get if the founder of Google saw Crash and said, “Hey, we should do that… but with the internet!” The script is really trying to say something about the state of the world. But I’m afraid that in all its preaching, it may have forgotten to add an interesting story. I’m not going to discount Disconnect because I’m a fan of multi-storyline ensemble pieces, but I couldn't help but feel, while reading it, that I was watching a play where all the characters were speaking another language. I witnessed the emotion. I witnessed the pain and the hurt. But because I couldn’t understand what was being said I wasn’t able to *feel* it. It just never allowed me in. Ah, but Carson, it’s called “Disconnect”. Isn’t that the point? No. Even in a movie about our lack of connection, we still have to connect with the characters. We always have to connect to the characters.

The first act of Disconnect is not unlike a college history lecture. Lots of people are introduced to us so if you didn’t break your notebook you’re pretty much screwed. You have Jay, a Wall Street prick who likes looking at young girls online. You have Mary, newly appointed Director of Investigation and Enforcement for the Federal Trade Commission. You have Cindy, whose ill-fated attempts to get pregnant have led her to an online message board for unhappy people. There’s her husband Derek, who’s so attached to his laptop he even surfs the internet during dinner (ugh, that one hits a little too close to home). There’s Rich Boyd, a brilliant tech entrepreneur. There’s his wife Lydia, who updates the most mundane things on her blog regardless of how personal they are. Their daughter Abby has 3000 Myspace friends and their son Ben uses the internet as a desperate bid for any friend, since he doesn’t have any in real life. There’s Peter and Keri Dunham, who just found out their 11 year old has been watching gang-bang pornos online. There’s Mike Dixon, a former cop who’s dedicated his life to helping parents monitor their children’s online activity. And that’s only the beginning. There are many more.

I don’t really know how to review Disconnect. Its stories are watchable, but never compelling, the way you’d expect observing a regular person through their daily routine might be. The most exciting thing about it might be checking their e-mail to find out an old friend said hi. It’s not as mundane as Gus Van Sant’s “Elephant”, but large chunks of screenplay do go by with very little happening.

The two storylines that take precedence are Ben Boyd (the son with no friends) being baited by two kids online to kill himself (one of whom is Mike’s son, the cop who specializes in monitoring children online). The other, and my favorite of the script, is when Cindy (can’t get pregnant) and Derek realize that their identity has been stolen and their entire bank account’s been wiped out.

Ben’s story was disappointing because it was blatantly ripped from the headlines (If you remember, there was that girl from Myspace who killed herself for the exact same reason). But the identity theft storyline was good. Part of its appeal is learning just how terrifying identity theft can be. It’s not just stealing a couple hundred bucks from the ATM machine. It’s someone having access to every single piece of information from your entire life. It’s people being able to become you, to open accounts in your name, to commit crimes in your name, to sell your identity to others. Anybody who knows how difficult it can be to get an incorrectly assigned parking ticket off their record can imagine what it must be like to get a crime erased that you didn’t commit . But what I really liked was that it was the one story that really *showed* how technology’s torn us apart. Cindy and Derek are the married couple who have drifted apart over the years. Forced to work together to solve the mystery of *how* their identity was stolen, the two must reveal to each other their extensive private online activities. In the process, they learn things about each other they never would’ve learned otherwise – both the good and the bad (but mainly the bad). It’s an extremely powerful point Stern makes in regards to how little we know about the person we spend every minute of our life with. I wish the rest of the stories could’ve made their point as effectively.

There are some other storylines as well. A reporter goes after an online quasi-porn webchat ring that exploits teenagers. A non-religious guy poses as Jesus in webcam chats to hawk faith-based merchandise to help his girlfriend pay for hospital bills for her cerebral-palsy infected sister. Mary (Federal Trade Commission job) is haunted by some sexually explicit e-mails she wrote more than a decade ago. She sees the job she’s spent her life trying to get slipping away in a matter of minutes. The threads range from obvious to imaginative, but never quite capture the personal wallop that the identity-theft storyline does.

I have a ton of respect for Stern because these scripts are a bitch to pull off. I know from experience. I think the big mistake writers make in approaching them is to focus more on how everybody is connected rather than making the individual stories as good as they can possibly be. Do that first and *then* try to connect your stories so you can have that Robert Altman “Short Cuts” moment where two people we know well but who don’t know each other, pass one another by in a store, obliviously.

Disconnect brings up that often-asked question: Is technology bringing us closer together or pushing us further apart? There’s a moment in the script where the mom doesn’t know where in the house her son is. So she IMs her daughter who in turn texts her brother to come downstairs. I think the intention of the sequence is to make us look pathetic. But is it really that much of a downgrade from: “BEEENNN! GET THE HELL DOWN HERE I NEED TO TALK TO YOU!!!”? That’s the way I grew up and I have to wonder, is it any better? Either way I applaud Stern for giving both sides of the argument, even if he makes it blatantly clear which side he falls on. As I lay back in my couch, typing away on my laptop, simultaneously checking my e-mail, watching streaming tennis matches from the U.S. Open, occasionally browsing new music on Itunes, preparing to upload this document to my blog…uh, I think we know which side I fall on too.

This script is still a few drafts away from achieving what it sets out to be. For that reason, I can’t quite recommend it, but it’s definitely interesting.

[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[x] barely kept my interest
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius

What I learned: When you have a million characters in your script, it’s okay to remind the reader who they are the second or third time around. For example, the second time we see Jay, Stern writes something like: “Jay (the Wall Street prick we met earlier) barrels down 5th avenue.” It’s definitely a judgment call but I recommend you consider it if you’re setting up a ton of characters in your first act. The reality is we’re probably not going to remember them all and will need a little help.