Sunday, January 22, 2012

New Technology = new problems

I was watching the movie Road Trip this week - there's a blast from the past - and it struck me that the whole premise would be unworkable now. For anyone who hasn't seen it, the movie concerns Breckin Meyers' character, a college student who has accidentally sent his girlfriend a video tape of him getting frisky with another girl instead of the romantic tape he meant to send her. Doh.

Of course now, chances are that he would email her the wrong clip by mistake, or accidentally post it on Facebook. The girlfriend would discover his cheating pretty much instantaneously, cutting out the need to drive cross-country with Seann William Scott, blowing up cars and getting into hilarious scrapes along the way.

And this is far from being the only movie that would be ruined or rendered impotent by new technology.

Nowadays Tom Hanks wouldn't need to be sleepless in Seattle - he could Google Meg Ryan and follow her on Facebook/Twitter/LinkedIn before they ever met up.

Eddie Murphy wouldn't get very far in Beverly Hills Cop 2 - his boss would be ringing him every two minutes and establishing via GPS that he was not in Detroit.

Janet Leigh would never stay at the Bates Motel after reading the reviews on Trip Advisor.

Okay, so I'm being slightly facetious. But there's no doubt about it - mobile phones, the internet and social networking have made the job of a screenwriter that bit harder. We need to push ourselves more, to think of new scenarios that won't be spoiled or solved by a character simply pulling out an iPhone.

Romantic comedies, for instance. Yes, in some respects it's now harder, in that it's not believable for a character to remain ignorant of their love interest or lose contact with them for half the plot. But you could argue that social networking has made the whole process of  courtship and dating more of a minefield than it's ever been. Maybe you can use this as part of your story? Maybe it will be the story in itself?

Same with horror films. Yes, the heroine can now dial for help on her cell instead of running screaming for the nearest payphone. But what if the killer now stalks her via creepy texts and mobile messages as well as in person? What if her online date isn't all he seems? New technology can increase horror and tension if it's used properly.

Ultimately, this is a brave new world - and as writers we have to make the best of the opportunities that tech provides, or risk going extinct. Embrace the future, or remain stuck in an internet-less past. It's our choice... and there's always period flicks!

1 comment:

Steven Kogan said...

Yanno, on one hand I totally agree. Technology has made classic stories far less feasible. After all, William Alland's character in Citizen Kane could have easily Googled "Rosebud" and that would have been that.

On the other hand, I do think it is cutting both ways. While technology is making old plot devices obsolete, it is paving the way for new ones. The BBC remake of Sherlock Holmes does a pretty good job of using technology while still leaving plenty of room for Holmes' deductive brilliance. Cell phones and GPS devices are omnipresent in that series, but it's still up to the characters to put the pieces together.

I imagine a cell phone makes horror a bit more difficult, but on the other hand it may make it a bit easier. After all, have you seen the terror on some people's faces when they find they've left their house WITHOUT their phone? Or what if you're in a place where there's no signal? Being so conditioned to being connected at all times makes the fact that you are not connected already a scary thought. Or even worse, what if you're not in control of that constant connection, and the killer or whatever is sending false info from your phone? No one questions a text message these days, after all, and the information is instant and permanent.

I'd say that new technology and the changing social landscape do present a challenge to screenwriters and storytellers, but it can also work in their favor if you're creative. Yes, everyone is always connected these days, but that in and of itself is a potential plot device. Being TOO connected can backfire, as can assuming your connected when that connection fails.