Science gets some spotlight in this week’s In the Works column. Specifically, psychology is the backbone behind New York University student Robert Cohen’s “Bystander,” which looks at the reasons behind witnesses’ apparent cold-heartedness in a ’60s-era murder. The project won an Alfred P. Sloan grant. Also this week, synthetic biology, Wonder Woman, love via the Internet and hurricanes.
EDITOR’S NOTE: “In the Works” is a weekly column taking a look at upcoming films, in addition to projects in production. It spotlights films in development, as well as completed films that are taking creative paths towards distribution and occasionally ventures away from films to look at other types of projects, such as interesting new film distribution, funding, or exhibition mechanisms.
Robert Cohen, a 2009 screenwriting graduate of NYU MFA program, realized that he was interested in using narrative filmmaking to explore the field of psychology. During his courses at NYU, he developed “Bystander,” a screenplay that dealt with the psychological theories that came out of the 1964 murder of Kitty Genovese.
“I never actually thought it would be a movie. I still didn’t until a week ago,” Cohen told indieWIRE. Last week, it turns out, Cohen won $50,000 from the Sloan Foundation and Tribeca Film Institute in a contest for science and technology-themed screenplays by film students. A jury, which included Morgan Freeman, “Forrest Gump” screenwriter Eric Roth, and the President of HBO Films, awarded Cohen the Student Grand Jury Prize for “Bystander,” $30,000 cash and $20,000 to use directly for the production of the film.
And now that it’s on the right direction to becoming a film? “Obviously I was very excited. It’s by far the biggest recognition of my work.”
Kitty Genovese was murdered in 1964 outside of her apartment in the Kew Gardens neighborhood in Queens. Amidst screams and several attacks by her perpetrator, not one of Genovese’s neighbors called the cops or came to her aid until it was too late. A media frenzy ensued after the murder: How could these neighbors be so heartless? But the psychological community was less intent on pegging these people as villains, and so they theorized “the bystander effect” to explain the actions of Genovese’s neighbors.
In Cohen’s screenplay, the story lies in the lives of these psychologists, though he admits, “The characters are fictional and the actual events in the immediate aftermath is fictional.” In his version of events, a psychologist, David Swingley, becomes entrenched in the details of the case. Believing that people are generally good, Swingley sets out to explain the behavior of the “38 who saw murder.”
“Swingley has trouble getting the witnesses,” Cohen explains, “He starts to meet them and there’s a sense that he feels a strong connection to them. Too strong? One of the witnesses, Liz, becomes a love interest in the story and questions of ethics arise.” Bob Little, Swingley’s assistant, is always present to be his voice of reason, but as the research continues, we’re led to believe that Swingley may have ulterior motives for explaining away this phenomenon in human behavior.
Cohen, though incredibly excited at the prospect of making this film, must continue his job as a writer’s assistant on a Current TV show, and will spend the next year under the arms of Sloan and TFI as they help him find the network that will be able to advise and help take “Bystander” to the big screen.
Untitled Synthetic Biology Documentary
Logline: This documentary explores the ideas and people behind Synthetic Biology a new engineering discipline which makes genetics function like lego bricks, and turns DNA into a programming language like binary code.
Production team: Director/Producer/Editor: Sam Gaty; Cinematographer/Editor/Graphics: George Costakis
About the film: “I can’t remember what it was exactly, a video online, an article, something; but I do recall vividly walking from my office to the kitchen feeling overwhelmingly excited by the idea of synthetic biology. It is crazy, for example, that there are DNA foundries that can print DNA to order. The people who use this service take it for granted but if you don’t know this exists, if you don’t even know this is possible, then the knowledge that these companies do exist is crazy. It seems like science fiction.
“The process of researching this documentary has been like this over and over constantly discovering ideas which at first sound completely impossible, but are in fact already tested and proven – like making a colony of bacteria that collectively works as a camera, like designing goats that produce spider web silk in their milk, like creating e. coli that make the smell of fresh rain, like modifying yeast to produce jet fuel in the way other yeast might produce beer.” — Sam Gaty
Current status: The team is wrapping up production and will soon begin editing their 200 hours to a feature-length film.
For more information and to support the film: Kickstarter page. As with all Kickstarter projects, the filmmakers will only receive donated funds if they reach their target goal of $30,000 by the end of the campaign (March 4).
“The History of the Universe as Told by Wonder Woman”
Logline: “The History of the Universe as Told by Wonder Woman” is an independent documentary feature about female superheroes, warrior princesses and other popular icons of female empowerment. The film explores our culture’s love of comic book superheroes and raises questions about the possibilities for women within the genre.
Production team: Director: Kristy Guevara-Flanagan; Producer: Kelcey Edwards; Cinematographer: Gabriel Miller; Editor: Carla Gutierrez
About the film: “The goal of the film is to explore how female heroes have fared in popular culture. We’re using Wonder Woman as the central figure in this story, as she’s the rare example of a female hero who doesn’t require rescue and determines her own actions and adventures. At first a radical alternative to her contemporary World War II-era superheroes, by the ’60s Wonder Woman character had become an uninspiring boutique owner. It wasn’t until the ‘, that Wonder Woman was rescued. Gloria Steinem and the women of Ms. Magazine proudly put her on the cover of the very first Ms. Magazine and convinced DC Comics to restore Wonder Woman’s remarkable powers. Wonder Woman’s fame grew with the mid’-70s television series starring Lynda Carter, and her legacy continues to resonate today, despite the fact that she has yet to make it to the big screen. Her story parallels much of the women’s movement in modern times.” — Kristy Guevara-Flanagan
Current status: The team has interviewed a number of subjects including Gloria Steinem, Lynda Carter, and Lindsay Wagner (“The Bionic Woman”), as well as a host of comic artists and writers, sociologists, authors and many others — including women and men, young and old, who find inspiration in Wonder Woman and her legacy. They are currently in post-production.
For more information and to support the film: Kickstarter page. As with all Kickstarter projects, the filmmakers will only receive donated funds if they reach their target goal of $10,000 by the end of the campaign (March 17).
Logline: “xoxosms” is a documentary about first love, long distance and Skype. It’s the true love story of Gus and Jiyun — a home schooled 19-year-old from a religious family in small-town Illinois and a 19-year-old Korea-born New York City art student — who met over a year ago in possibly the only place two people so different might ever find each other: The Internet.
The Team: Director/Co-Producer: Nancy Schwartzman; Director of Photography: Isaac Mathes; Editor: Sarah Devorkin; Graphics: Thomas Cabus
About the film: “Instead of the usual panic about young people meeting strangers on the Internet like kidnapping(!) or sexting(!), I wanted to tell a story that happens more often, one that reflects how countless relationships are made. I heard about Jiyun and Gus’s real-life modern love story last summer. Since making ‘The Line’ and launching ‘The Line Campaign,’ I’ve been exploring the convergence of sex, new media and growing up. I was chatting with my 18-year-old niece over the summer, and she told me about her best friend, Jiyun, who was in love with a guy she had never met. Gus and Jiyun were very willing to share their story, and told me how they’d fallen for each other online but, even more compellingly, they were able to show me: They’d saved every single chat and text they’d ever exchanged. Those archived, real-time conversations tell the story of their courtship — line by literal line — and allow us an intimate view of how their relationship bloomed.” — Nancy Schwartzman
Current status: “xoxosms” is in post-production. The team is in the process of bringing a rough cut to fine cut, creating motion graphics and working on a score and sound mix. The film is being made with the support of the Cinereach Film Fellowship and will be completed and ready for festivals by April 2011.
For more information and to support the film: Kickstarter page. As with all Kickstarter projects, the filmmakers will only receive donated funds if they reach their target goal of $8,000 by the end of the campaign (March 16).
“Eye of the Hurricane”
Logline: “A town in ruins, a family torn apart, and a young boy’s quest to find what he has lost in the hurricane that triggered it all.”
Production team: Director/Writer: Jesse Wolfe; Executive Producers: Sean Myers, Giovanni Lovatelli, Giuseppe Pedersoli; Producer: Susan Johnson; Associate Producer: Reyna Rosenschein; Casting: Deanna Brigidi-Stewart; Editor: Phillip Bartell; Production Designer: Lawson Brown; Cinematographer: Nicola B. Marsh; Music Supervisor: Linda Cohen; Cast: Campbell Scott, Melanie Lynskey, Jose Zuniga, Nicola Peltz, Brian Doyle-Murray, Colin Ford, Gregory Cruz, Joyce Guy & Wendi Motte
About the film: “I am drawn to stories about the strength of the human spirit, and (writer/director) Jesse Wolfe beautifully captured that moment post-disaster when people examine themselves and their relationships with renewed intensity. We wanted to make a film about the psychological aftermath, what happens after the winds and rain have passed, when people are forced to face the changes they were skipping over when life and death wasn’t as much of an issue. Global estimates hover at 46 hurricanes annually affecting more than seven million people. Our film is centered on a small Everglades community and is based on Jesse’s recollections of the storms he endured growing up in Orlando, Florida.” — Susan Johnson
Current status: The RED-shot project is now in post-production.
For more information and to support the film: Kickstarter page. As with all Kickstarter projects, the filmmakers will only receive donated funds if they reach their target goal of $27,500 by the end of the campaign (March 13).