Thursday, August 06, 2009

It Had To Happen In Reality Before Anyone Would Believe It As Fiction

By Darryl Mason

So, I've been playing around with a novel/screenplay idea for a few years, based around a small, dying, city newspaper and a serial killer.

The scenario goes like this :

The newspaper owner and lead journalist are desperate, as advertisers bail for the internet and circulation/sales plunge, they are living in the last days of the city newspaper business. The newspaper owner's mini-media empire is old school, he's only now just getting his content online, and he knows he's only a few months away from total financial implosion. He needs an exclusive story that will make his paper famous and rocket circulation, in print and online. A story that takes a while to unfold. Something that will capture the public imagination, make them choose a side, get addicted to the story, for months.

The journalist is a former legendary crime reporter, who had his family slaughtered a decade ago by the brother of a crim he helped put in prison. The journalist is a broken man. He got off the booze and painkillers a few years ago, but hooks hard nto ecstasy instead, an addiction that has stripped his emotional personality of extreme highs and grinding lows. He's not so bothered by that. He sleeps better.

The journalist was planning for the series of true crime books he wrote about Sydney's crime splattered streets, in the 1970s and 1980s, to eventually be optioned for movies, and to continue selling well enough to fund his retirement. That was before the internet came along, and a TV series about the underbelly of Sydney's organised crime scene that strip-mined his
books for historical detail, interview transcripts, criminal CVs, everything, without paying him, without even giving him a credit. He's suing, but the legal costs have cleaned him out. So he's generally pretty fucked off with the world right now.

He needs The Story. The newspaper owner needs The Story. Over a midnight bottle of rare scotch in the office, the journalist and owner put together a solution to not only their dire financial situations, but the city's dark and terrible Problem as well.

The city has a plague of pedophiles. Kids are being abducted in broad daylight, all but snatched from their parents arms. The police force is under-resourced, there's no money to take on some of the worst offenders because they exist at the top of the social order. The most vile of them are rich, well protected, paying all the right bribes. And they don't make mistakes. There is a steady drumbeat of calls from the public, protests, rallies, "who will do something about these monsters?"

The journalist, using his old contacts, tracks down a former target of his investigations. A teenager who was cleared of killing four of his neighbours. The journalist knows the kid did it, the kid knows he did it, but nothing ever stuck. He was never convicted. The kid, now in his early 30s, has nothing going on his life, and listens to the journalist's proposition, and promise : kill the pedophiles, one every two weeks or so, write letters about what you're doing for my paper and I will make you a front page star, you will become a folk hero. A legend to the frightened families of this city. You will do what the police cannot. And they will love you for it.

The unreformed killer now has his life mission, and he goes to work, and by the third murder, his moniker is famous not only in the city, but around the world. The stories and reports go viral. The serial killer's letters to the newspaper are read by millions. His words are turned into songs. Hit songs. But all the letters are written by the journalist, once he discovers what an appalling writer the killer actually is.

The newspaper, now loaded with exclusives about the serial killer, and his targets, and letters from the public and former victims of those killed, triples its circulation, and the journalist's exclusive reports go into mass syndication, the bare bones newspaper website pulls in a million visitors a day from across the planet. The serial killer also occasionally pops up in comments at the website, addressing his 'fans', and the police, who are all but reluctantly trying to track him down. But when the serial killer shows no interest in providing these comments, the journalist again has to write his words for him, and find a way to keep himself anonymous online. This interaction with the serial killer makes the website even more popular, and nobody knows when he might show up in comments. Or on what story.

A small river of gold runs into the newspaper now, all thanks to this killing spree. The journalist gets interviewed on CNN and the BBC. The owner is stoked. Until one of his friends is killed. Then an innocent man is killed, wrong place wrong time. Then it happens again.

The newspaper owner is terrified, it's gone wrong, he wants out, he wants the journalist to either kill the serial killer, or hire someone to do the job for him. If the journalist doesn't agree to working with the owner to extract themselves from the mess, and now growing public outrage, the owner will hire lawyers and give him up to the police.

The journalist has to make a decision about who he must kill. The serial killer, or his boss.

Or. the serial killer dies at the height of his fame, the journalist finds him dead at a murder scene, and the journalist decides to hide the serial killer's body and continue his work.


So anyway, I wasn't intending to outline most of the story to you, but once you get started explaining something like that, it's hard not to pile on the detail.

I pitched that idea to a couple of producers in 2007 who kind of liked the idea but said it was impossible to pull off as a movie because the whole basic plot was so unrealistic. A journalist hiring someone to commit murders so his newspaper had murders to report on? Fucking ridiculous. Yeah, it was. I already knew that, which is probably why I never wrote anything more on it than a couple of screenplay outlines, and a few trial chapters of the novel.

The point of all that, is this story from today's headlines :
A Brazilian TV host ordered murders and then presented exclusive stories about the crimes on his show, police say.

Wallace Souza built up a huge audience on the program Canal Livre by regularly obtaining dramatic film of police raids and arrests, The Sun reports. "Investigations indicate they created scenes themselves," a police chief said. "They determined which crimes would be committed in order to generate news for the program."

The TV presenter is charged with murder, gun possession, drug trafficking and threatening witnesses.
Who thought something as nuts as that above outline would actually turn out to be not all that far from the truth?

The true crime TV host who actually hires people to commit the crimes he can exclusively report on will be an episode of Law & Order before I get around to getting the tale down.

Doesn't matter.

I've just been inspired by CNBC to write a different kind of thriller.

This time the prime minister is the serial killer.

The prime minister's staff, naturally, want to keep the bloody goings on secret, until they start disappearing themselves. Nobody cared when it was just lobbyists who were the PM's victims.

I think I'll call it 'In Due Season.'