Below director-writer Jeff Phillips shares a scene from his social networking teen thriller “@urFRENZ.” The film is currently available On Demand. Go here to find out how to watch it.
What It’s About
“@urFRENZ” is about a solitary teenage girl (Lily Holleman) who meets a secretive boy online (James Maslow), and begins to come out of her shell. But is he a suitor or a stalker, a friend or foe? The mystery of his existence and the obsession, denial and deceit that results, is at the core of the film.
A Story Close to Home
“@urFRENZ” was inspired by my own experience parenting a teenage daughter in the world of cyberspace. The bullying and related anxiety led my daughter to become a severe self-mutilator, in addition to trying to take her own life. She is the basis for the lead character of Catharine in the film. It was made to serve as a talking point for the subject matter of bullying and cyberbullying, the number one hot button issue between parents and teens today. In the film, Catharine is a girl trying to make sense of a world of uncertain identities. A world filled with cliques, boyfriends, and digital drama. Her search to connect to someone she’s only met online goes to the heart of what makes us human and why we watch films: the emotional bond we share.
Unfortunately for Catharine, the internet is filled with predators, people who prey on the hopes of others. The hidden nature of the web can bring out the worst in people. And in “@urFRENZ,” everyone is guilty and innocent, victim and victimized.
But I wanted to make certain that each of the characters had defendable reasons for the lies and rumors they spread. Catharine spreads the rumor about Madison’s sex life because of a past slight. They used to be friends until Madison started to run with a popular crowd and ditched her. Madison doesn’t confront Catharine directly after the rumor, partly out of deep-rooted guilt for dumping her former friend. And like a large segment of her generation, the reliance on “faceless” communication via technology has hampered her ability to address her problems face to face. She responds with her own catty comments towards Catharine online. Debbie’s interest in the online world begins with the best of intentions: she wants to protect her daughter. After learning that a schoolmate and former friend, is spreading rumors about her, she becomes a grizzly mama. Her interest in Catharine, however, becomes an obsession, causing her to overlook her own daughter’s depression.
Setting Up the Scene
In the previous scene, Debbie (Gayla Goehl) learns over a heated dinner table discussion, that a former neighbor girl, Catharine, has spread a vicious sexual rumor about her daughter, Madison. Later that night, Debbie logs onto Madison’s social networking site, urFRENZ, to get insight into her daughter’s state of mind. Like many parents who grow frustrated with their children’s reluctance to share what’s happening in their lives, she eavesdrops online to fill in the blanks.
The scene begins the next day at Debbie’s office. She’s just hired a young high school senior, Jacob (Michael Robert Kelly) as her office assistant. Jacob is a get-over kid. He knows the future is out there, but right now he’s too busy trying to put cash in his pocket to be bothered with such weighty issues. So when his new boss asks him for assistance navigating a social network site, he’s all too eager to assist. Debbie shows her ignorance of the net by her inability to correctly pronounce the name of the site. The title of the film is taken directly from the name of the ironically named site: urFRENZ (pronounced “at your friends”). Debbie’s smarter than she portrays herself to be to Jacob, feigning, in part, a reluctance and intimidation ensured to gain his participation. She realizes she needs to be careful in recruiting him as a co-conspirator, though at this point she has no idea how deep her deception will go.
The subtext of the scene is a seduction. Debbie, as employer, is operating from a position of power. She has what Jacob needs, money, and uses that power to subtly manipulate him into conspiring with her. The power shifts, however, as Jacob becomes the teacher instructing her how to create a fictitious online identity.
While the lighting in the scene reflects a normal working day, Lisbeth’s Scott’s brilliant score sounds ominous notes in the background suggesting the dangerous nature of the game they’re about to begin playing.
Why I Chose This Scene
Like many adults who didn’t grow up with Facebooking and Tweeting, Debbie is a little uncertain of how to proceed. Jacob, on the other hand, represents the first generation of kids who have never known a world without the internet. The scene reflects some of my own reflections and concerns about our brave new venture into technology. As parents, I think that at least subconsciously, we’re all a little frustrated because we remember a simpler time when our jobs might have been easier. We not only have to parent over our kids in terrestrial space, but cyberspace as well. Kids have traditionally had a limited worldview, one shaped and governed by adults at home or in school. But the internet changed that. They can now enter a world with near equal access as grownups. They have time on their hands, which allows them to master that world quickly, often more quickly than adults. Additionally, it’s a world more in line with their constantly changing attention spans and one in which they develop a sense of entitlement.