Three Movie Ideas

When I talk to Nick, our occasional London correspondent, we often kick around ideas for movies — and I realized recently that most of them have a rough theme in common: a group of twenty-something friends who embark on a half-baked criminal plot that winds up changing their lives. It’s been a while since we’ve had a good movie like this (Office Space?), and it seems like the perfect fit for the current apathetic zeitgeist among Millenials.

You may have heard about the guy who got a studio deal from a movie idea he described on Reddit. Frankly, that still sounds like an awful lot of work. I’m not sure even the prospect of Hollywood riches could entice the two of us off our asses to actually write a screenplay. So instead I’ll outline three of our best ideas here in the hope that some more industrious person will take them:

#1. A young aspiring filmmaker gets her first big break, striking a deal to have her own script produced with a sizable budget. She can direct herself and have almost total creative control — the one condition is that she has to accept a particular mid-list young star to play a lead role. And this star turns out to be a holy terror to work with, a caricature of a spoiled actor, verbally abusive to everyone on the set and full of terrible ideas for changing the script.

At some point, the protagonist and her crew get the idea that if this star died in some dramatic way during filming, like Heath Ledger or Brandon Lee, it would generate massive publicity for the movie, give them an excuse to write the character down to a more minor role, and make life on the set much easier in general. So they start plotting (in a clumsily amateur way) to bump the star off by inducing a drug overdose, drunken car crash or some other “accidental” death. Whether they eventually succeed depends on just how dark you want to make it, but a lot of the humor would be in the failed attempts (somewhat like Harold & Maude).

#2. A similar group of aimless twenty-something friends come up with a plan to “kidnap” a rich businessman for ransom, without using any force; instead, a female member of the group will seduce him and convince him to leave town with her for an impulsive weekend affair. Maybe he’s her boss who’s been inappropriately hitting on her at work, or there’s some other revenge element, but maybe he’s just a random target.

Anyway, through a combination of “accidents” (she spills her drink on his cell phone) and clever hacking (intercepting the excuses he emails to his secretary and wife) they contrive to make it look like he’s vanished without a trace. Her job is to keep him busy and out of contact for a few days, while the others contact the family or employer and demand their ransom. Their plan is that by the time he gets home unharmed and realizes what happened, he’ll be too compromised by his own attempted infidelity to report anything to the police. (This part works even better if he’s some kind of public figure.)

From there you could go in any direction — obviously the plan has to go wrong somehow, but that could happen in a variety of ways. Maybe the rich guy actually wanted to disappear (shades of Bulworth) and turns the tables on them somehow, or his wife wants him dead (like in Ruthless People), or he and his “kidnapper” unexpectedly fall in love…

This one literally came to me in a dream, and it may have been partly influenced by a German movie called Die Fetten Jahre sind vorbei, which has some similar elements. Here’s Nick’s UK-centric take on it:

Jeff Bridges, a banking tycoon who routes a lot of money through the isle of Guernsey (a tax haven), travels there to take care of some paperwork. Our three protagonists, parochial high street bank clerks from the island — flashy suits, fancy themselves young Gordon Geckos, pretend to read the FT every day, totally clueless — know that he’s a big hitter (they’ve seen his name again and again on legal documents), and conspire to kidnap him.
Enter [charming up-and-coming British actress], the most beautiful girl in the village. She’s roped in by our heroes and seduces Jeff into extending his stay. He gets stuck in Guernsey, having a quirky romance with the girl, while the kidnappers are in London trying incompetently to extort money from the bank for his “safe return.” Cue comical boardroom meetings in balaclavas, confusion, absurdity.
The whole thing gets tied into increasingly absurd knots: Jeff refuses to cooperate, wants to become a fisherman, etc. But despite their continuing failure to even get the bank’s attention, our three stooges manage to trigger some kind of international market crisis, and the whole thing, once backed into a seemingly inescapable corner, is resolved by a farcical government intervention (we get punctuating scenes of absurd Fed guys, like the CIA characters in Burn After Reading, who prove equally clueless). In the end everyone wins, everyone loses, and the message is that no one has a fucking clue what’s going on.

#3. The basic premise here is that a one letter typo in a common email address connects you to the inner sanctum of someone’s online life. The protagonists are two cousins or siblings who share a common last name. They both have email addresses with their first initial and surname, so they frequently get wayward messages for a particular set of strangers with the same last name and similar email addresses.

And they’re both young Americans in Europe, where they’re sharing a messy apartment, half-assing their way through graduate degrees or dead end jobs in between long nights of clubs, drugs and partying, and generally living a stereotypical bohemian expat lifestyle.

But these misaddressed emails they get are all middle-America banalities from the world they’ve left behind. Ironic snobbery ensues: at first they scoff at these idiosyncratic bobs of exactly what they profess to loathe about America, re basketball hoop zoning, Christmas light bills, Mini Cooper promotional offers, etc.

So they decide to start impersonating these suburban strangers, replying to emails on their behalf. It starts with one of them writing back to a mailing list of soccer moms debating that basketball hoop and whether it’s allowed in their homeowner’s association rules — an angry rant mocking them for living shallow, empty lives. After getting a rise out of their targets with a few emails like this, our two “heroes” get hooked and keep pushing the envelope, eventually contriving to get their targets’ passwords and infiltrate their real email accounts as well as just replying to misaddressed messages.

The movie will cut back and forth throughout between the victims of these email pranks and the perpetrators, comparing and contrasting their day-to-day lives and showing how they’re both affected by these online exchanges.

To our protagonists it still seems like harmless fun, but one of them has a real mean streak and keeps coming up with nastier plans. The other, the sensitive one, is starting to worry that they’re going too far, and also developing an online crush on the similarly-aged son/daughter of one of these families, maybe even a correspondence with them under some other false pretense.

It all comes to a head when the mean one sends a nasty prank email that inadvertently results in a tragedy; for example, he might pretend to be the dad in this same family having an affair and “accidentally” send some incriminating email to his wife, thinking it will shake up their boring lives — but instead it leads to a violent altercation in which someone is killed.

This throws our two leads into a panic, with the good one wanting to come forward and admit their involvement, and the bad one insisting they should cover it up. And then the final twist: before they can agree on what to do, they’re found out anyway by another misaddressed email, sent by one of them to the other but accidentally going to one of their victims. After all, since all the main characters, in Europe and America, are connected by a one-letter email typo, it’s just as easy for the smug protagonists to mess up as it is for their targets. As with the first two ideas, how you resolve it from there depends on how just how dark you want the movie to be.