ByAngelique Moss, writer at Creators.co
I am as random as Skittles
Angelique Moss

The inception of mobile phones has made many screenwriters anxious about crafting a believable storyline. In horror movies, especially at the outset of 2000s, they have all tried to get rid of cell phones in order to allow the killer or the much-awaited climax caulk into the screenplay seamlessly.

The predicament has gotten even worse when these over-ubiquitous gadgets have become Internet-capable in the guise of smartphones: it can now be used as almost-anything, giving the characters some kind of a quasi-superpower.

As versatile as James Bond.
As versatile as James Bond.

Now, the group of students losing their way into the woods is no longer believable. We have Google Maps, or Messenger, to alert an app-subservient friend that they are, well, lost. This has now made the idea of making the next Yellow Brick Road (2010), The Cottage (2008), even The Blair Witch Project (1999) highly implausible, and may even be a box-office suicide.

Now that it’s almost impossible to get rid of these devices in films with present-day settings, screenwriters are forced to innovate. The easy solution is to cut off the signal, or at least make it weak, a trope that would make the likes of 5BARz International, EE or Netgear overly happy. Although, this has also cloyed audiences, as this has become somewhat the saving grace of most thrillers and horrors—say, The Hitcher (2007), Detour (2013)—in the past few years. At least now, those who salivate over getting an Oscar or a Palme d’Or know what folly they need to avoid.

The Hitcher (2007)
The Hitcher (2007)

Rom-Coms have brushed the quandary off quite effortlessly. In Love, Rosie (2014), the idea of voiceover (VO) as a rather corny way to narrate a letter, chat message, or an SMS being read by the characters are solved by simply leaning on the power of CGI. Here, whenever Lily (Rosie Dunne) exchanges text/chat messages with Sam Clafin (Alex Stewart), a cutesy word balloon graphics bearing the conversation appears on the screen.

Love, Rosie (2014)
Love, Rosie (2014)

The same thing helped the drama less-outlandish in what could be a straightforward rom-com The Spectacular Now (2013). It has also been utilized in non-rom-coms such as The Social Network (2010), Non-Stop (2014), and The Fifth Estate (2013), making it an effective way of making phone/gadget conversations a little less intrusive and noisier.

This, however, has disadvantages, too: showing too much of “screenshots” to the audience may diminish the mystery—subtext and nuance, that is—overtone of the scene, so it’s all up to the director, (or the editor, maybe,) to make these graphics flawlessly appear on the screen without ruining anything: meaning, drama, sincerity, and, sometimes, even comedy.

The Fifth Estate (2013)
The Fifth Estate (2013)

In The Hangover (2009), writers Jon Lucas and Scott Moore thought of a simple but clever way of putting the prowess of smartphones out of the equation. They simply drugged Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, and Zach Galifianakis so they end up totally oblivious of everything and virtually incapable of making that one, short phone call that could have alerted their wives that they’d be late for Justin Bartha’s wedding.

The Hangover (2009)
The Hangover (2009)

It was so effective that such a simple plot has spawned two more sequels, making it one of the highest grossing R-comedy films in 25 years. Ted (2010), also a drunken/high comedy, broke the record a year after, by the way). It has also given birth to a new genre—colloquially called as Hangover-esque, or “modern-day drunken comedy”—in which the plot simply revolves around partying, drinking, and gambling in strip clubs or at a house party before forgetting everything. Good examples are Robert de Niro’s hilarious Last Vegas (2013), Todd Phillips’ Due Date (2010), and John Cusack’s comedy comeback Hot Tub Time Machine (2010).

In other words, writers have plenty to pull out of their creative cap by simply, lo and behold, making an imaginative excuse. Aside from dealing with the fantastical to avoid explaining how smartphones just don’t work in this and that scenario, some writers just have to leave things as they are. On such, many action flicks thrive.

In James Bond films, for instance, chiefly the latest ones with Daniel Craig in them, all plot twists that could have been solved by a simple app button or a call are always counterattacked by Bond’s enemies’ “more-high-tech” machines. The same case happens in Tom Cruise’s Mission Impossible (or almost all of his recent action films!), as well as in most dystopian films set in not-so-distant-years. In Spike Jonze’s brilliant Her (2013), smartphones are just an antediluvian gadget since a new technology has invaded the market, which is an OS with artificial intelligence that can even reciprocate (virtual) affections.

Her (2013)
Her (2013)

Perhaps it’s safe to say that not even these great, potent smartphones could kill the screenwriter’s imagination (or, stubbornness?). However, the creative and smooth integration of these nifty little gadgets into the stories and its effectiveness is a still a tricky challenge for many writers and filmmakers.

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