Writing and the Cell Phone Problem

by Chris McGinty of AccordingToWhim.com

I wrote a little bit about the old summer projects, and my angle was to just say that taking some time during
your summer vacation (or during your college friend’s vacation, as was the case
for me) to work on a longer video project might be a good idea this summer.
Today, I would like to talk about the script for Summer Project ’95, and some
retroactive thoughts about the project I started having about twenty years
after we shot it.

The project was a 20 minute long
short video. If we ever get it uploaded to YouTube, I’ll come back, edit this,
and link it. It was a comedy that maybe gets a little dark at some point. The
important part was that it was supposed to be silly at times, so we didn’t
worry too much about full realism. The plot somewhat centers on communication
and the methods of communication, though it mostly centers on one character
being patiently obtuse as the other character is annoyingly obnoxious.
As a little spoiler to something
that you can’t really watch at the time of this writing, the Miguel character
takes along his car phone. In 1995, this was a large device that had to be
plugged into the cigarette lighter to work, and cost per minute. The two
characters end up not being able to use it because after a long dialogue about
all the things the Chris character needs to repair on his car, and Chris’s car
subsequently breaking, it turns out that the cigarette lighter is one of those
pending repairs.
What I found fascinating about
this scene 20 years later was that if real life Miguel didn’t actually have the
car phone, we would have never thought to write this scene. It’s almost as much
of an afterthought, as the Miguel character’s afterthought to take the phone
with him. Meanwhile, cell phones are actually an issue for modern writers. They
have to come up with reasons that the phones won’t work, so the characters
can’t call for help. When we did Summer Project ’95, no one would have thought
twice about them not having a phone. We came up with a reason the car phone
didn’t work just for a punch line joke to a scene that was unnecessary
exposition to explain why Chris’s car breaks down.
I’m not a fan of remakes and re-imaginings.
They can work sometimes, but for the most part I can do without. In spite of
that, I’m actually fascinated with the idea of making an updated version of
Summer Project ’95 just to update the story to 2019 communications technology,
and to figure out how to solve the problems those would create.
Nathan Stout as Miguel and Chris McGinty as Chris in “The Less You Expect of Miguel…”
Here’s the thing about technology
and writing. Stories have to evolve with the evolving technology, whether real
or imagined. It’s like in Star Trek: The Next Generation when they cured
someone of a disease using the transporter. It’s all imagined technology, but
it took many of the disease based plots out of the mix without an obligatory
explanation that the transporters can’t seem to fix it. Basically, you should be
careful about using clever methods to solve problems in ongoing fiction that
might create issues later. It’s better to find an unrepeatable method to get
out of the predicament.
That’s based on fictional
technology though. We have a different problem with modern technology. In some
cases, it solves problems. If you need to communicate with someone undercover
on the other side of the world, modern technology is on your side. You don’t
have to explain that your characters have access to technology that no one else
has even heard of. They can just get on a webcam. On the other hand, the stories
need to evolve to account for technology. There are only so many times that
characters can lose their phones, or can’t get a signal if they’re going to
need the phone later. It’s time to find some conflicts that can’t be solved
with a cell phone, or even better – conflicts that are caused by the cell
I’m a fiction writer, so I
completely understand that we use elements from stories we’ve read as a way to
tell our own stories. It’s difficult, maybe impossible, to write something
completely original. I’m just saying that we were able to adapt to our
characters having cars rather than horses, and phones rather than telegraphs.
It’s time to start writing stories that allow our characters to be able to call
for help, text for help, use a GPS map for help, and whatever else, while not
allowing those things to solve the whole problem.
I might have to sit down sometime
before Summer ’20 and try to rewrite Summer Project ’95 to reflect the current
technology. It may not be doable, but it might be a fun experiment. And maybe
we can finally get Brian to play the role he was supposed to play, especially
since we have no more K-Marts in the area.
Chris McGinty is a blogger who
actually went to work after writing this blog post and figured out how to
rework the script in question. Don’t worry. He has no intention of trying to
get Will Smith to play a part.

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