When you know computers pretty well, you start seeing certain things in certain movies as being rather idiotic. A huge amount of pictures scrolling by during a search, 3D graphics exploding out of an old laptop during hacking in HACKERS, people using Microsoft Word as a magical web search engine, etc. That stuff never happens in real life!
To a techie, it’s as realistic as trouts flying by in the background during a romantic love scene in a desert.
The good thing is, things are looking up. Real hacking is being shown in mainstream movies, a good example being the usage of NMap and an old SSH exploit in MATRIX: RELOADED. Sure, the movie wasn’t centered around it, but it was kind of neat. (There’s more such goodness in the original version of the MATRIX script.)
CONTACT was a movie built entirely around physics and technology that wasn’t afraid to use them and it was successful as well.
Do you think there’s room in the amateur movie scene for a movie that not only portrays the hacker subculture, (and by ‘hackers’ we mean ‘really experienced computer users’ not just the ‘evil’ ones) but literally swims in it, twisting and turning around it, weaving in and out of it, wrapping itself around it and being wrapped inside it, like a Klein bottle? I mean, there’s a market for it, yes, but the market consists of, well, people like us. Could a technical movie be a success on film festivals? And what advice would you give us? (Other than “get a life and do something useful.”)
Great question, and great home country. I only spent about twelve hours in lovely Tallinn, Estonia, but it completely lived up to its over-hype about being the next Prague (but quainter). Doubters, may I direct you to this photo.
Now, on to the matter of your proposed geek opus.
Yes, Elver, yes. There is definitely room in the film universe for a uber-geek movie, be it a thriller, a drama, a comedy or whatever. Film festivals would love it, and even if your film didn’t cross over to become a giant mainstream movie, who cares?
Let me offer proof by way of comparison. Take Jim Taylor and Alexander Payne’s excellent SIDEWAYS, which is overwhelmingly obsessed with wine in ways that no normal audience member could hope to fathom. Even though we don’t really understand the intricacies of what they’re discussing — I dare you to find a topic less cinematic than pinot noir grapes — we believe the characters know what they’re talking about, and that helps make it fascinating. Sideways is a wine-geek movie, and if it hadn’t been brilliant on all its other levels, it still would have had a following among oenophiles.
An even closer comparison is Shane Carruth’s PRIMER. Although it only progressed slightly beyond the festival circuit, it’s certain to do great on DVD. Like Pi before it, Primer consists of geeky people saying a lot of ponderous gibberish without any nod to audience understanding. I loved it.
So by all means, make your geek movie. Hell, shoot it in Tallinn. Just make sure that while you’re being accurate and honest with all the techie details, you’re also being accurate and honest with the human emotions in the story. Do it right, do it well, and I’ll be the first in line.
(Originally posted January 21, 2005.)