Enemy of the State screenwriter David Marconi says he warned us about the NSA fifteen years ago.
By Eric Benson
Published Jun 30, 2013
Will Smith Already Played
When the NSA story broke last month, many commentators invoked Enemy of the State, the 1998 movie you wrote in which Will Smith is chased by an omnipresent security state. Did this instance of life imitating art surprise you at all?
It didn’t. When Lucas Foster at Simpson/Bruckheimer brought me in, he said he wanted to do a movie about
how a guy gets taken down electronically. Behind him on his office wall was a poster of North by Northwest. So I said, “All right, North by Northwest, a guy is taken down electronically, got it.” I started looking around at possible bogeymen, and I came across this book called The Puzzle Palace, by James Bamford, in which he pretty much lays out everything that the NSA is doing now and has done for years. It was a massive eye opener. Anyone who was in any way paying attention to this stuff knew that the NSA was a big vacuum cleaner and that they were storing everything. This has been going on since World War II.
Did you hope the film would set off a debate?
I did. I thought it was important to bring these issues up. The first director I’d gotten the script to was Oliver Stone. Oliver called up the head of Disney and Jerry Bruckheimer and said, “This is a great conspiracy film, and I’d love to do this.” Ultimately Jerry brought in Tony Scott, who did a terrific job, but Tony made it much more entertainment fare. I think had Oliver been involved, the issues would have been highlighted.
What kind of comments did you get from viewers?
A lot of the critics found the plot far-fetched. At the time, no one had ever heard of the NSA, so when I was telling people about the NSA’s capabilities, they would look at me like I’d just come off a UFO after having been abducted by aliens. They’d say, “The government can’t do this, the government can’t do that.” But I was reading a lot of reports. Several whistle-blowers have come forward saying this is what they’re doing. You had Frank Church and the Church Committee
warning about this stuff years ago. They used to open up every piece of mail that was coming back and forth between East Germany and West Germany. Can you imagine the manpower it would take to do that?
Did anyone from the NSA get in touch with you?
The Department of Defense asked me to come down and speak to them after the film came out. I met CIA guys and NSA guys. I found them all to be very professional. They were very focused on the mission and on defending the country. I didn’t walk away with a sense that any of them were malevolent. But some of them also had a very myopic view—here’s what you do, and you sit at your computer and you do it.
What you have is this machine that’s self-perpetuating. It starts to grow on its own, and the more power it gets, the more power it wants to assume. And as a result of the Patriot Act and 9/11, that apparatus is looking more and more at what’s going on inside this country.
Do you think we now view the privacy-security trade-off differently than we did in 1998? Something that Orwell never figured out in 1984 is that people would embrace the idea of Big Brother if there’s a game attached to it, or if it’s convenient. You buy a monitor at Best Buy that has a little camera inside that allows you to make Skype calls, and you don’t realize what else is behind that camera. As long as you can present that kind of technology with a fun app, it’s no longer the omnipotent HAL with a red glowing eye—it’s a little black dot at the top of your computer that allows you to talk to your friends all over the world. But that comes at a price. You as an individual have to make a choice: Do you want to use this technology and what comes with it, or do you want to move out to a cabin in the woods and start growing vegetables?
Do you think the most recent leaks are going to send more people out to cabins in the woods? I don’t think your average American cares. After a couple of months these kind of things usually blow over, and no one thinks about it anymore. But with the Snowden leaks, it might be a bit different. Every day that he is out and free, he’s bringing more attention to this issue. People get it thrown in their face on the nightly news.
So Snowden is a character who can keep a narrative alive.
Yeah. And he’s not a villain, he’s not a spy. He’s just a man who saw something that he believed was quite wrong. I salute him for his guts and his courage. And I’m sure there are twenty screenwriters in Hollywood right now trying to track down the rights to his story.
Enemy Of The State Is Only The Beginning
By Rita Cook
He cut his teeth watching Francis Ford Coppola direct both The Outsiders and Rumblefish. "I worked for Coppola as his assistant and it was an incredible experience, kind of like my grad school, and I got to see how he would get performances out of the actors and it gave me a grounding as far as the craft was concerned."
And, as if that weren't enough grounding, on one of David Marconis most recent writing assignments, Mission Impossible II, he was hand picked by director, Oliver Stone to write the screenplay.
He has certainly accomplished a lot for himself in the past 15 years he has been in Los Angeles, making a name for himself as a screenwriter and slowly working toward shifting his career from screenwriting into directing.
Directing for Marconi came about when he was ten years old. "I got tired of watching my father's home movies go in and out of focus. My father was the originator of shaky-cam."
Marconi decided to take over the camera and make movies with his friends in the neighborhood. "I charged them popcorn money if they wanted to see themselves," he says.
His career continued when he attended film school at USC. It was there that everyone kept asking him, "Where are your scripts?" Eventually that question led him to become not only a director, but also a now well known and accomplished screenwriter.
Although Marconi directed the low-budget feature film called Harvest for Columbia-Tristar, it's his recent screenwriting success that has made the world take notice of him. His recent script, Enemy of the State has catapulted him into the realm of writer extraordinaire.
Not that he wasn't noticed before, he has written scripts for Warner Brothers in the past, however most of those scripts are still in development. Marconi seems to be a workaholic as he explains his work methods.
"I move from deadline to deadline and I have been working constantly for probably six or seven years, so I constantly have some weird deadline or weird pressure hanging over my head and it motivates me to write because there are people waiting on it. Obviously, I take a weekend off here or there, but normally I work."
Of course much of his constant work and continuous deadlines hinge on the thorough research of each subject matter that he tackles as he sits down to write his next script.
"I do a lot of research," Marconi says. "They tell me basically the world they want to work on and then I start diving in and reading stuff about characters and the world that this movie will exist in and I just immerse myself in that. Out of that usually I'll read a story or two that will peak my interest and out of that a story will start to emerge."
With Enemy of the State Marconi says he was approached to write the story. "They basically wanted to work with me and they had seen a movie I had done and they wanted to do a writing/directing deal and we just took the writing deal because at the end of the day the idea that I would be directing it didn’t work. I wrote a very expensive movie so obviously they weren’t going to let me direct. The initial idea was they [the producers] wanted to do a kind of modern day version of a man with an electronic identity who was on the run."
The research and writing of Enemy of the State took Marconi three years. "It was the development process, writing and rewriting – draft after draft and the research of the National Security Agency, which is an agency that doesn’t really want to be researched so there’s very little information published on them. It is very difficult to find anything that even mentions who these people are even though they are bigger than the CIA and the FBI put together," Marconi says.
At the end of the day, Marconi is proud of what he accomplished with Enemy of the State.
"Most Americans when you tell them this stuff they look at you with these deer eyes and wonder how it is possible. I just hope I flipped over some rocks and exposed some of these issues whether or not people choose to believe it or whatever. I just hope I have exposed it and this is what's going on. Whether or not you want to believe it is up to you, but it is all documented."
Marconi's eyes light up when he talks about the message of Enemy of the State.
"The underlying message," he explains, "is the issues of privacy and where we, as a society, are going and what we are becoming. The surveillance society is not something that we need to avoid in the future; it is very much alive here today. We are being watched and that's what I wanted to communicate. As long as it is not apparent and in our face we as a society are o.k. with it, but the reality is that everything we are doing is being looked at and inspected."
Although Marconi is ready to sink his teeth into directing a film, he continues to be hired to write action films, which he feels is his strength. He is currently working on a screenplay called, "WW3.com" for Twentieth-Century Fox.
"I enjoy the process," he says. "It's a constant progression. There are a lot of movies I want to do, a lot of stories I want to tell. I don't think I can ever sit back and say I've done it."
His grounded view of the world comes from growing up in the Midwest, Marconi explains." I grew up in Chicago and Chicago kind of gives you a basis of the every man voice for America. I found there was a certain amount of grounding that came out of growing up there. Actually, wherever you're from gives you a certain world outlook and being from the Midwest you think you really come from middle America."
Wherever his grounding came from, Marconi is definitely a talented and skilled writer with an understanding of the process. "It's a painful process," he admits. "It's just a struggle, I'd much prefer directing. Writing is all self-motivated. When you complete a script you feel great for about a day until you get the notes. When you get the re-write notes it's like all this great stuff you thought you did is suddenly reduced down to zero again."
Regardless of the re-writes, Marconi has certainly found the way to reach his future aspirations of directing by excelling as a screenwriter. His point of view on the whole process isn't so bad either. On life, he says, "Life is to live, life is an experience that you need to grab and live to the fullest. It is something you need to grab and dance with. In order to have stories to tell you need to live life. On the industry? "Well, the industry you can't be concerned with," Marconi notes. "You have to know what the industry is about, you have to know what sells and once you know that, you have to know what they are looking for. Once you have that information you can go out and try to pick the stories that you want to tell with the idea that eventually the industry might be interested in buying it."
Marconi is inspired, he says, by "people that rise to occasions where they need to become better than they once were." Could his next goal in life, directing, be his own call to rise to the occasion and become better?
"I want to be remembered for making films that were about something, films that had something to say." Down the road, it is inevitable that Marconi will have a lot to say both writing and directing in Hollywood. I've pretty much always known what it is I have wanted to do," he says. Now it's just a matter of the world sitting back and watching him do it.
Rita Cook is a producer, writer and currently President of Cinewomen Los Angeles. She was an associate producer on Trimark's Route 666 and co-producer on three films Schizophrenic, Gabriella and Lost Soul. Editor-in-Chief of Insider Magazine and Staff Writer for SCREENTALK, Cook will be producing a horror film in November, The Kiss Of The Vampire, of which she is also co-writer.
(Originally from www.screentalk.biz/art016.htm)
As the U.S. Congress moves to pass new legislation that dramatically expands the surveillance powers of intelligence agencies, Congressman Phil Hammersley remains firmly opposed to its passage. To ensure the bill's passage, National Security Agency official Thomas Reynolds kills Hammersley, but he is unaware of a video camera set up by wildlife researcher Daniel Zavitz that has captured the entire incident. Zavitz discovers the murder, and alerts an underground journalist, at the same time transferring the video to an innocuous computer disc. Reynolds learns of Zavitz's footage, and sends a team to recover the video. While fleeing, Zavitz runs into an old college friend, labor lawyer Robert Clayton Dean. Zavitz secretly passes the computer disc into Dean's shopping bag without his knowledge. Zavitz flees and is killed when hit by a fire truck. Reynolds soon has the underground journalist killed.
Hotshot Washington lawyer Robert Dean becomes a victim of high-tech identity theft when a hacker slips an incriminating video into his pocket.
Soon, a rogue National Security agent sets out to recover the tape -- and destroy Dean.
Dean ultimately rids himself of the final device and, fleeing his pursuers, escapes.
With Dean and Lyle in hiding, the NSA agents kill Banks and frame Dean for the murder. Lyle is able to find evidence that the NSA executed Hammersley's murder, but it is destroyed during an escape from an NSA raid.
It is then revealed that Lyle was an expert in communications for the NSA; he was stationed in Iran before the Iranian Revolution. When the revolution occurred, Lyle made it out of the country, but his partner, Rachel's father, was killed. Since then he has been in hiding. Lyle tries to coax Dean into trying to run away, but Dean is adamant about clearing his name.
Dean and Lyle blackmail another supporter of the surveillance bill, Congressman Sam Albert, by videotaping him having an affair with his aide. Dean and Lyle "hide" bugs that Reynolds had used on Dean in Albert's room so Albert will find them and have the NSA start an investigation. Lyle also deposits $140,000 into Reynolds' bank account to make it appear that he is taking bribes.
Lyle contacts Reynolds to tell him he has the video of the Hammersley murder and asks to meet. Dean tells them that the Hammersley murder footage is in the hands of Mafia boss Paulie Pintero, whose office is under FBI surveillance. Dean, Reynolds, and the NSA team head into Pintero's restaurant, precipitating a gunfight that kills the mobsters, Reynolds, and several of his NSA team.
Dean and Lyle escape, with Lyle quickly disappearing from the authorities. The FBI discovers the plot behind the legislation, causing it to fail, though they cover up the NSA's involvement. Dean is cleared of all charges and is reunited with his wife. Lyle escapes to a tropical location, but sends a "goodbye" message to Dean.
When the NSA discovers that Dean may have the video, a team raids his house and plants surveillance devices. Unable to find the video, the NSA proceeds to falsely implicate Dean of passing classified information to Rachel Banks, a former girlfriend. The subterfuge destroys Dean's life: he is dismissed from his job, his bank accounts are frozen, and his wife throws him out of the house. Trailed by the NSA, Dean meets with Banks, who sets up a meeting with "Brill", one of her secret contacts. After meeting an NSA agent posing as Brill, Dean realizes his error, only to have the real Brill, retired NSA agent Edward Lyle, ferry him to temporary safety and help rid Dean of most of the tracking devices he is unwittingly carrying.