Seeking help with my ASD-themed Sci-Fi short film

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01 Jun 2011, 11:32 am

Hi:

I am interested in your ideas and opinions on a creative project I'm working on.

A bit of background: I am an NT who is deeply involved with the ASD world. My wife teaches drama to kids with autism as a means of facilitating social skills. My step-daughter is a young adult with Asperger's. I work for a company that's active in the field of serious autism research (not Autism Speaks), but I'm not a scientist myself.

I am an artist, musician and writer, working on my first original short film.

I've decided to make a science fiction film with no special effects, similar in approach to a classic sci-fi film from 1965 called ALPHAVILLE, by Jean-Luc Godard, which I think many of you might enjoy. Godard filmed Paris in black and white as his setting and it looks as futuristic today as it did 45 years ago. I think New York City in black and white, just after a soaking rain, looks like it could be 50 years ago or 100 years in the future.

I don't like sci-fi that goes off on wild paranormal trips, like some hairbrained version of Dune. I decided to take some current trends from real life and extrapolate as best I could, to come up with a realistic hypothesis of the future, place my characters in it and tell their story.

So, in this world of the future (I'm not specifying a year but let's assume it's 100 years or more from now):

1) The ratio of NT vs. ASD worldwide population has been reversed. One out of a hundred people are NT, the rest is ASD, so the NT people are the "special needs" folks. I'm not interested in explaining WHY this is. For the purposes of this story, it's just the way it is.

2) Technology has advanced to the point where everyone is basically artificially telepathic to some degree. Computers have disappeared into the fabric of everything. Something resembling a global Hive Mind is how the Internet has manifested itself.

This part is actually less important to the drama, but I figured it's likely to be part of any future landscape. It's possible I may have my NT protagonist be unable to communicate in this way for some reason - otherwise there would be no need for dialogue! It's also possible I might ditch this idea entirely. The film is only supposed to be a short and I don't want to just cram it full of ideas. I could always revisit this world later in a longer, more detailed piece.

At this point, I want to make sure you understand that this film is not ABOUT autism, nor is it about technology. That is simply the SETTING in which the story takes place.

What the film IS about is -- if you're an artist, it doesn't matter what era you live in, you're out of luck! ;)

Here's the basic outline of the story:

//

My protagonist is an artist who cannot hold down a job because he's at a disadvantage, being an NT person in an ASD world. He can't mono-focus on a narrow topic of interest to the exclusion of everything else for hours on end, like most people. The capacity to do that does not lend itself to much social interaction, but that's not all that important anymore, and in a world of extreme specialization, it does make for a good worker. So he feels very isolated and depressed.

In this society, since social awkwardness has become the "new normal," my protagonist's habit of painting pictures of pretty girls he sees in the park is seen as a huge invasion of privacy, to the point where he's gotten busted by the cops so many times, and been fired from so many jobs, that his family is fed up and he's in danger of becoming sent away to become a "ward of the state." If that happens, his autonomy will be completely taken away and he won't be able to do the one thing he lives for - which is to paint, to make art.

He needs to find a job he can stick with. The folks at the government placement agency for people with "special needs" finally find one for him -- painting. However, in the last shot, the camera slowly pulls back to reveal that what he's painting is a giant bridge that seems to go on forever, like the Great Wall of China.

In his mind, he's able to drift away and pretend he's making art, but in reality, what he's doing is so monolithic and endless that he really is just another cog in the wheel, so to speak.

//

As you can see, I have a basic story arc, with an ending I like. What I need to do is fill in more of the details of what this world is like, but I need to do it visually -- cinematically.

I need to put the dramatic needs of telling my story first. By that I mean, I need to not become overburdened explaining things in too much detail. I need to leave a lot to people's imagination to make it more believable.

I also need to depict the characteristics of Aspie behavior so the audience will understand what this future world is, without resorting to simply TELLING them via text crawling across the screen or hokey voiceovers ("In a world..."). At the same time, I'm trying very hard not to be stereotypical nor perpetuating myths about how the spectrum manifests itself. That's a trap I really don't want to fall into. This world is not necessarily bad, it's just different, and society has had to adjust.

It has occurred to me that I might be able to subtly depict how isolating and alienating it can feel to be a special needs person by turning the tables in this way, though I wouldn't want to be heavy-handed about that. Again, the story must come first. Along the way, though, I wouldn't mind if the degree to which the NT was misunderstood by the ASD society was analogous to how a lot of ASD people are misunderstood by a lot of NT society.

In short, it's important to me that the film be interesting, provocative and realistic, but I would be very unhappy if, as an NT writer, I ended up offending a wide swath of the ASD community, who are very special to me. NT people can deal. I'm not so worried about offending them! ;)

I actually have a lot of faith in this community. I find it fascinating that so many NT people find things like the "Asperger's High" spoof or the Onion's autistic reporter to be offensive, yet all the aspies I know think they're hilarious! I think that's awesome!

So what do you think?

Does this sound interesting? Does any of this sound like I'm doing the wrong thing? What do you think a world like this would be like?

Any and all thoughts and feedback would be so greatly appreciated. Thanks for your time.

best regards and respect to you all,
FBC



Mack27
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01 Jun 2011, 12:10 pm

oops, double post.



Last edited by Mack27 on 01 Jun 2011, 12:14 pm, edited 1 time in total.

Mack27
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01 Jun 2011, 12:13 pm

link <---this link is to a post with a similar concept.

For some reason I pictured a mother fighting for her hopelessly NT child that everyone else has written off when I read your idea.

I've been playing around with an idea for a story set in prehistoric times where Autistic Neanderthals and NT Cro-magnons are at odds. Hybrid Aspie children have the ability to walk between the two worlds to make peace.

This gave me the idea. Maybe in the world of your film the Neanderthals became the dominant species and inbreeding with Homo Sapien Sapiens resulted in a minority NT population that persisted through the millennia.



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01 Jun 2011, 12:52 pm

Fascinating responses -- thanks!

I want to clarify one point. When I said, "I'm not interested in explaining WHY this is. For the purposes of this story, it's just the way it is." -- I wasn't suggesting that the "why" part wasn't interesting, just that if I delved too far into it, it would become a story ABOUT autism. My purpose here is to create a story about an artist in a technologically advanced future society that just happens to be primarily ASD.

The idea of an ASD society is intriguing enough that I may revisit it at some point in a longer, more in-depth story. For now, though, I'm more interested in what it would be like to live in such a society than in how it got that way.

My thanks again!

best,
FBC



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01 Jun 2011, 1:04 pm

As a current film student and a writer, I can see both some good things and some bad things in there.

The first thing that came to mind for me when you started explaining the world the film is set in was Cyberpunk:

"Classic cyberpunk characters were marginalized, alienated loners who lived on the edge of society in generally dystopic futures where daily life was impacted by rapid technological change, an ubiquitous datasphere of computerized information, and invasive modification of the human body."

While not all of that stands the same for your film, it's pretty much spot-on in terms of characterization and the idea of pervasive information technology.

That being said, having those elements in there, particularly the info-tech background, and not using them to their full potential is kind of pointless. If it's going to be much more of a social fiction piece, rather than a technical fiction piece, then I don't see much of a reason to set it in such a distinctly cyberpunk-like setting. It might be less distracting and conceptually less fragmented if you just did some kind of alternate universe or something, as cyberpunk elements like those call to mind a much different type of story.

And, even in a short, you should still have definable conflict to drive the story. While the central driving question of whether the protagonist will ever find a place for himself in society is there, showing it only as him wandering around aimlessly or sitting around doing nothing other than art wouldn't be a good way to portray it. I don't know what kind of resources you have access to, but I'd suggest focusing on his attempts to make something of himself, rather than just his failures; focus on stuff like job interviews, working with unemployment agents, interacting with the general population and that sort of thing.

And, if you're going for a slave-to-the-system type of ending, then you need to find a way to make it impactful, rather than an uninteresting letdown.

Again, the whole thing just exudes an air of cyberpunk, but if that's not what you intended, try to stay away from the cyberpunk elements as much as possible, maybe even going as far as to eliminate them if need be.


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fbc21ca
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01 Jun 2011, 1:18 pm

Wow, Zokk. Spot on - thank you!

I'll respond in more detail later...



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08 Jun 2011, 1:17 pm

>>I'd suggest focusing on his attempts to make something of himself, rather than just his failures; focus on stuff like job interviews, working with unemployment agents, interacting with the general population and that sort of thing. <<

That's exactly what I had been doing, actually. Good call. I just need to re-write it so it's more visual and less dialogue.

I agree with you about the Cyberpunk angle, too. I'm increasingly feeling like that may belong in a different picture. This is definitely going to be much more of a social fiction piece.

We got the footage for the final scene completed a few days ago and it looks amazing and incredibly bleak. Exactly what I wanted.

I'd also be very interested in hearing from Aspie actors, or actors who can play Aspies realistically and sympathetically, in the New York City area. It's a zero-budget production, so I can't pay anybody, but we'll be happy to feed you, take care of transportation and make sure you're properly credited and get a DVD of it for your reel when it's all done.

Send me a PM if interested, or if you have a referral.

Thanks so much, everyone!



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08 Jun 2011, 2:10 pm

As a generalised comment, an 'ASD-norm' society would be less interested in enforcing compliance than an NT society, so I don't think that premise bears much scrutiny. The project otherwise sounds interesting, anything creative that isn't mainstream identikit filmmaking has to be good news .



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08 Jun 2011, 3:10 pm

Thanks.

My thought was to try to get across the idea that it wasn't that society was sympathetic, not hostile, to NT types, but that they just "didn't get him."

>>As a generalised comment, an 'ASD-norm' society would be less interested in enforcing compliance than an NT society<<

Interesting. I wonder if that would be the case and I'm curious as to why you think that might be. A certain rigidity, or perhaps a certain discomfort with "grey areas," if you will, has been a pretty firm characteristic of all the Aspies I've known...



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08 Jun 2011, 8:13 pm

too bad u in NY....i would have liked to be in it!


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08 Jun 2011, 8:34 pm

I'm sorry, I completely messed up that last reply.

What I MEANT to say was....

>>> "My thought was to try to get across the idea that the rest of society WAS sympathetic, not hostile, to NT types, but that they just "didn't get him."

My apologies for any confusion.