Sunday, July 13, 2008

Spy Scare (III)

A few years ago, I had a brief stint to run the story department of a Beijing-based production house. Being a development executive, besides receiving and reviewing submissions from outside sources, I spent a lot of time looking, identifying and developing the so-called "in-house" ideas, i.e. stories created or found by the company on its own. Many movies and TV series were originated from in-house ideas. This was true in Hollywood and also in China.

One day, from a rather obscure website, I found a post that blew my mind away. It's a first person narration of the life of a secret agent, a Chinese agent. The story detailed the entire journey of how he was recruited and then trained to become an agent, how he survived and excelled in a number of clandestine and dangerous operations and how, because of an innocent "mistake," was forced to retire and live anonymously thereafter. Never have I ever read a story like this. Besides the breathtaking battle scenes in which he was involved - which were both intense and visual thus perfect for a film, the revelations of his psychological journey were also fresh and of depth. I have always been curious about the real psyche of an agent: how he perceived himself as one of duplicity and what part of him or his feelings was true. I thought I've found gold and immediately shared it with my colleagues.

The response from my colleagues was as excited as mine. We all agreed that the post must be the true account of a real spy as no writer could imagine a story with such insights and details unless he had lived it. Without much arguing, we put the story on the list of our in-house ideas and began to look for ways to secure rights and bring it to the development stage.

Then, the first huddle appeared. Given the subject matter, would the censorship allow us to make it into a film? Even if we obtained the shooting permit and got it made, could it be released without any interferences from authorities other than the film board?

With those questions in mind, we conducted a series of meetings debating the sensibilities of the subject matter and the likelihood of getting it onto the screen. In China, besides the film bureau, authorities in other fields also had a say in deciding the fate of a movie if it involved of such subject matters as police procedures, religion and others.

Someone suggested that we test the water first by submitting a one or two page synopsis to both the film board and the national security services and see how they would respond. Others thought, without a concrete story outline, that it would be a waste of time because the authorities could simply say that they needed to know more of the details. The debates went on and on, and because the company didn't want to waste a drop of money developing a story that might or might not be made, the project was stalled.

I have left the job since and as I'm writing this post, I still haven't heard any move on the project. As to the original story, it has dropped sight long ago from the hosting website and can't be retrieved from anywhere else. Good thing we have kept a copy. I plan to read it again, soon...

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