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CREATING POTENT VILLAINS - David's Pitch Workshop

Hey, folks--

A few weeks ago, loyal reader David submitted to the Pitch Workshop a synopsis for his hacker thriller, Hacktivism. So first of all, thanks to David for submitting... and thanks to all of you who responded with comments and constructive criticism.

For those of you missed it, here's the synopsis, followed by my notes. And feel free to post more of your thoughts in the comment section below...

Working
Title:
Hacktivism

Genre: Thriller


Logline: An
honest young programmer loses his job and finds out his wife is pregnant in the
same night - and must save his family by hacking the world bank for an
egotistical madman.


Synopsis: When
young programmer Jack unexpectedly loses his job, he dejectedly goes home to
tell his wife Brooke - but stops short when she reveals news of her own: she's
pregnant. Desperate to find work before the medical bills pile up, Jack takes
the first job offer that comes his way, a position at an internet start-up
headed by Bruce, an intense man with a passion to change the world.

But it
quickly becomes apparent that all is not as it seems, as Jack's new job turns
out to be hacking into banks, stealing from the rich to give to the poor.
Meanwhile his relationship with Brooke is strained by lies, as he's unable to
tell her of his new job - or risk ending up like Tom, a coworker who had
befriended him but is now destitute and living in the slums thanks to Bruce's
sense of 'justice.'

When
Bruce asks Jack to hack the world bank, throwing the world into mass chaos
leaving him to remake it as he pleases, Jack wants out. But with Bruce
threatening him and his pregnant wife, and his relationship at home all but
destroyed by lies, Jack must make a choice: save his life, or save his soul.

Well, first of all, David (and as snoozn pointed out)-- I think you're definitely playing in some fertile narrative territory, not only because computers and cyberspace are becoming more integral parts of everyone's lives, but because your tapping into issues-- corporate greed, bank power, unemployment, medical bills, etc.-- that are certainly topical hot buttons. And smart, savvy hacker movies-- when well done-- can be really fun and intriguing.

Having said that, there are 3 places where-- for me-- this is falling down a bit right now...

1) We're not entirely sure what makes Bruce evil and, therefore, a formidable foe for Jack. The first thing we learn about Bruce is that he has a "passion to change the world," which-- while vague-- sounds fairly admirable. In fact, he never seems to exhibit any behavior that's truly dangerous, despicable, or "villain-worthy." Sure, he's stealing money... but he's giving it to the poor. So while he's breaking a law, he actually has a respectable moral compass; we can't hate him any more than we would hate Robin Hood, and we recognize that they both answer to a higher, more righteous law.

(And by the way-- I love "righteous villains," bad guys who have understandable, pseudo-moral motivations... the fact that they have SOME type of twisted moral compass makes the human and relatable. So don't lose this. But we also need to see exactly how diabolical they are... and I'm not sure we get a good sense of this with Bruce.)

Now, we and Jack soon come to realize that Bruce has a much grander plan-- a plan that DOES seem more insidious-- but what is it? Sure, Bruce wants Jack to hack the world bank, throwing the planet into chaos so he can "remake it as he pleases," but what does that MEAN? Does Bruce envision a Utopian world where everyone is equal, living peacefully side-by-side, and all our basic cares (food, health care, etc.) are taken care of? Or does he envision a world where he is the sole leader, ruling with an iron fist, using cyberspace to watch and control everyone's every thought and moment? Either scenario-- or any other scenario you might have in mind-- would make us feel VERY differently about Bruce... and help us discern exactly how evil he is, how much danger Jack is in, etc. Without knowing this, however, it's tough to determine exactly how much trouble Jack is actually in.

2) Bruce doesn't seem very dangerous. This goes hand-in-hand with my note above, but rather than focusing on Bruce's big-picture plans, I want to look at the small actions Bruce does... which aren't much. In fact, I'm confused as to why Jack can't just leave. You say that Bruce keeps threatening Jack and his pregnant wife, but Bruce doesn't seem to have much real power. After all, Tom, the one guy who opposed Bruce before, simply got fired and is now "destitute." ...Which, frankly, doesn't seem like a very powerful or scary punishment coming from Bruce, someone who's supposedly an evil megalomaniac. I mean, Jack's "soul" is at stake here... and the worst Bruce does to people is leave then "destitute" when they leave? Not very dramatic. Tom, Jack's co-worker, should end up dead... or get publicly framed for some international terrorist plot, where he's shipped off to be tortured in a Middle Eastern prison... or wind up getting beheaded in some horrible snuff film. If we're here to believe that Bruce is a serious force to be reckoned with, we need to see how his wrath and power is EXTREME. His opponents won't be left "destitute," they'll be left completely destroyed in the worst possible way.

3) What does Jack DO? You end your synopsis by saying that "Jack wants out... [he] must make a choice: save his life, or save his soul." Well, first of all-- I'm not quite sure what this means. Does this mean that if he tries to do the moral think and save his soul-- I'm guessing by protecting his wife and baby-- he'll lose his life? So his only way out is suicide or sacrifice? Or does this mean that if he does the right thing and extricates/protects himself and his family, he'll lose all the material things he's acquired-- his house, his car, his nice suburban existence, etc.? What, in specific and tangible/material terms, is Jack's choice?

Perhaps more importantly, you've set up a nice battle between Jack and Bruce, but the real meat of the story, the true action and conflict, lies in how this battle plays out... how Jack will act as he tries to solve that final question, saving his life or soul. I.e., once Jack decides he wants out of Bruce's plan, what does he DO? Does he try to hack Bruce's personal computer to dig up dirt on Bruce? Does he warn the authorities? Does he try to murder Bruce himself? In HERE is where the real substance of your story lies. These are the moments after John McClane decides to free the hostages... after Carl and Russell decide to move the house to the falls... after Frodo determines he must continue to Mount Doom.

...Yet this is exactly where the synopsis ends! I'm not suggesting the synopsis needs much more in length, it just needs to give us-- and you, the storyteller-- a sense of where the STORY is going, how it plays out, what happens.

Anyway, I hope this is helpful. Thanks again for submitting... and keep reading!

Talk to you soon...

Chad

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