December 28, 2011

THE WRITE STUFF: SAFE... AND THE PREDICTION OF A SUDAN WAR IN 2008

Okay, kids, this will take a little bit longer to explain, but I'll try to make it as short as possible. In 2007, I had an idea for a movie. A small movie. The kind that doesn't need an awful lot of money, which in this day and age means, you have barely any locations and that in turn means that the locations you do have must be really awesome and/or gruesome.

I had a joke of an idea. You know, the kind of joke that goes "Two men enter a bar"...

In my case it was that idea of "two men are inside a vault"

I called it Safe.

(well, I have this thing about wordplay... I am kind of obsessed with it, and Safe would mean a nice double entendre, since it's both the name of something you keep your money in and the actual fact of keeping somebody "safe")

I'm not going to go into the details here too much, but I wrote a teaster for it, mainly because an artist I "knew" at the time wanted to be a director so much, he'd have sucked every dick in LA, and he continued to bug and bother me a lot with "you should write this, I am going to direct it, write this, it will be a ticket for the both of us, blah blah blah"

If you're a writer, you know these type of things.

So I wrote the teaser... and nothing happened.

A year later, in 2008, the same artist started to bug me again. I was in the middle of writing It Takes A Wizard and 10 Beautiful Assassins, I was also slowly writing (in my not really there spare time) a horror script called Possession, which was my "And I shall end horror films as we know them" script, but he kept on bugging me, and to be quite honest?

I began writing this script for SAFE essentially so that he would stop bugging me.

Because I thought, shit, two guys in a vault. One of them a criminal, one of them the guy who created the vault's security systems... and who had shut them off, including the ventilation... while both of them were being inside. A ticking clock scenario. Not the smartest or most artistic way to begin a movie, but if you don't have much to work with, you take what you can get...

... so this was the opener....






Like I said, if you don't have much (in terms of a "James Bond" opener or in anything, really, that will provide the necessary "boom" for an opening scene) you go straight for the throat. And in this case, I wanted the image to be that the "evil" guy was beating the shit out of the hero...

... and for some reason, he wouldn't break. In fact, despite ahving a gun, the villain does not have the upper hand, or as my hero Ryan Marshall (and everyman in a Hitchock-ian tradition) says, I don't care about the money. That's the problem. Right here, right now... you no longer got an idea what I care about. And that means there's nothing to promise. You think about that. I'm no longer locked in here with you. You're locked in here with me!

That was the basic premise. Two guys in a vault. Trying to get the upper hand while they are both running out of air. Some of you may think now that sounds awfully close to Buried or any given CSI episode or perhaps even Kill Bill, but this wasn't what I was thinking about.

I was thinking Hitchcock. I was thinking "small budget, you have no money".

Still, that scene - as good as it is (and with the right actors, I delude myself to this day, that it would be a good scene) - is very thin, conceptually.

It's a scene. Not a movie.

For a movie you need to have more than this set-up. But don't tell Hollywood that, because they sell shit on premises that are even thinner. But in 2008, while I was getting sicker all the time, trying to juggle my comic book work (most unpaid) with the ever-increasingly desperate attempts to write something that would get my an entrance ticket to the troughs of LA, to feed with the rest of the pigs, I started thinking on what kind of a movie that could be.

And here's where I got into trouble. In order to make a heist like this... there'd have to be serious cash in that vault. Problem Number 1, that was. Nobody the fuck uses cash anymore. Or have you read about some grand and glorious heists these last years? I mean outside the action delusion of Fast Fucking Furious?

No. Because we all have become plastic, and that means whenever you steal something, you steal it from a server, your wire money left, right center... poor heist people are so totally out of a job these days. Damn economy!

Problem Number 2 was that the artist (who wanted to be the director) wanted the movie (for quite understandable reasons) to be set in Portland, which really has not the reputation for being a financial center of any shape or size that would make it plausible for somebody to dump a huge amount of cash in a vault there (and we were already approaching the banking crisis, where millions turned into billions, so 1 million or even 10 million these days would barely sound like making a heist worth your while)

So, my problems came down to this....

I needed to come up with a reason to (a) have a major amount of cash (I settled for 150 million) locked away (2) in a town like Portland in a bank that wasn't used for this.

Here's where your writer goes, okay? Who uses cash these days? Drug dealers. Terrorists. Shit You can't use either of those. Too generic. Too boring. Who uses cash these days? And for what?

Now, all three readers of this blog know that I'm very much an observer of world affairs, and so I - after getting drunk on hot honey milk in the desperate attempt to sleep - I found two things that could work, if I had the big fucking brass balls to pull this off.

(1) The news item that the CIA and the Pentagon had shipped vast amounts of cash, proper cash, over 10 billion, to Iraq in the aftermath of the war (and in the middle of the guerilla warfare) to pay off the Sunnis... and that a lot of that money just went walkies... gosh, how do these things happen, eh?

(2) The overlooked news that the Sudan was on the verge of being broken up in the referendum of 2011into South Sudan and its delightful oil reserves and the North Sudan, pretty much controlled by radical Islamists. And that the CIA was positioning itself to get a little piece of that pie by supporting the "democracy" of South Sudan... okay, getting the oil.

Click. Click. Click.

Where would the CIA store such money? Why, certainly not in one of the bigger banks, you know, no, they'd use a smaller bank, something that nobody would really look at.

Like a bank in Portland.

That would for some strange reason hire a guy to give them a state-of-the-art security system.

A guy who'd get into deep shit, who has his life destroyed... for something that happens half a world away. Like I said, Hitchcock... but in a more modern way, a bit like North by Northwest or The Man Who Knew Too Much...

Hey, I thought to myself, this just might work...

One of the things I always had problems with (in modern cinema) is that if you look at e.g. the Bourne franchise, people die. Normal people. And they're almost like extras. They walk onto the stage with the express purpose of getting their heads blown off. Like in the first Bourne, Matt Damon and Franka Potente seek refuge in that farmhouse in France, her ex-friend (or lover) and his kids show up... for the express purpose to provide some kind of tension.

And I thought, well, what if you make a movie from the point of view of a guy like that? You start with him getting ready for a nice weekend, and then shit that is way too heavy for him to understand, and people are destroying his life? And what if that "normal guy", that Everyman... starts to fight back?

Again, not a terribly original idea, but something I could work with, because from that one opening scene with "two guys in a vault", I could develop a structure that would slowly reveal that a Jason Bourne movie had crashed into my hero's life...

After that, I wrote the script relatively quickly, and with each new scene I revealed more about the backgrounds of this heist, changing only one thing from how it might work in real life. The two intelligence services that fight it out over the money (and much more about its use) are in the script the CIA and the English MI services, whereas in the real world, it would be the CIA and the Chinese Intelligence Services.

But I chose the Brits primarily to not give away the game too early.

And this is what this game was...















Yes, I wrote about the overt and covert support of the South Sudan in 2008, thinking that - if the move were to get funded and released in roughly 2010 or 2011, it would add some credibility or realism to what most cetainly is an outlandish story.

I mean, the USA supporting or building up an army in a country that has economic and strategic value? No, never... only that is exactly what is happening right now, because the "transition of the former South Sudanese militia into a proper army" is wholly funded by the Pentagon, which means, hey, by your tax payer money. 

In my script, I take the very American notion of "One man at the right time can make a difference" and put it on its head. Because, yes, my hero stops the heist and thus will allow the money to be used for its intended purpose... and thus triggering a civil war... half a world away.

Incidentally, the reaction to the script in Hollywood was... "We like the idea, but the backstory of the CIA funding something in Sudan to rig an election or referendum is ridiculous, this is not logical, make them drug lords or something".

Yeah.

Totally ridiculous.

Watch for the war, kids.