Snowden versus James Bond

The media spotlight hit Hong Kong last year when former government contractor Edward J Snowden spilled the beans on the NSA's extensive spying program. The youthful tech guru then hightailed it to Russia, where he remains. In April, the Washington Post and Guardian US won the Pulitzer Prize for public service, one of journalism's more prestigious awards, for their articles based on NSA documents leaked by Snowden.

He's a hero to most and a villain to some, kind of like...Ian Fleming's mythic alpha male, James Bond, right? Well, last month, Sony Pictures announced it has optioned Glenn Greenwald's "No Place To Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the US Surveillance State"--a motion picture. And Barbara Broccoli and Michael G Wilson of EON Productions, the production company behind James Bond films, have been named as co-conspirators in the proposed big-screen epic.

"Barbara Broccoli was a non-presence in Hollywood until her father, legendary Bond producer Albert 'Cubby' Broccoli, brought her under his wing and gave her full producer credit on the first Pierce Brosnan Bond film--GoldenEye," said Wade Major, Los Angeles-based co-host/producer of the IGN DigiGods! podcast and regular film critic for NPR affiliate KPCC-FM. "When her father died the following year, Barbara took over as producer on the Bond franchise and, as proven by the success of the franchise's reinvention in the Daniel Craig era, kept his legacy alive." Among her contributions: casting Judi Dench as Bond's boss "M"--the first actress to play the iconic role.

Exercising the option

The term "optioned" means the studio has purchased an option on a book. That doesn't mean they'll actually make the film--it means they're preventing anyone else from making a film based on that material, and they'll decide later if they want to exercise the option.

"Hard statistics are elusive on the number of projects optioned that fail to become screenplays, much less feature films, though it's likely in the low single digits," said Major. "For every film that's actually made and released, there are dozens that never made it out of development and many dozens more that exist in perpetuity simply as options."

"Often a property is optioned by parties with no intention of making it, just to make sure nobody else gets their hands on it," he said. "Given the timeliness of the Snowden story, that latter scenario seems unlikely, but--as the commercial failure of DreamWorks' Wiki-leaks film The Fifth Estate proved--simply dramatizing a popular news story is no guarantee of commercial success. Unless the project attracts top talent, it, too, could end up in what industry-watchers call 'development hell'."

Box-office ennui

The Fifth Estate was directed by Oscar-winner Bill Condon and produced by Steven Spielberg's DreamWorks SKG, but wasn't a popular film at the box-office. However, Snowden has received more press and plaudits than the silver-haired Julian Assange. Also, according to The Hollywood Reporter, a politically themed drama would "be in the vein of other Sony true-story films like The Social Network and Captain Phillips."

The unassuming Snowden isn't known to drive flashy cars, demand his martinis shaken-not-stirred, or wield exploding cufflinks. He's hardly the tuxedo-clad Commander Bond first portrayed on film by Sean Connery in the early 60s.

Yet the James Bond character is synonymous with heroism, and in this respect, the fictional Bond and the factual Snowden dovetail. Snowden's revelations have brought much-needed attention to the ongoing issue of data privacy--something far more relevant to Netizens than fictitious super-villains.

While a cinematic treatment would naturally emphasize danger and romance (handsome tech nerd flees cushy job and girlfriend for exile in Russia!), the real lessons Snowden taught us are important. We're more aware of digital profiling, and the importance of keeping our data private. We use multiple browsers, and plug-ins like Do Not Track and Adblock Plus. And privacy-centric search engine DuckDuckGo now has plug-ins for multiple browsers as well.

Perhaps James Bond has secret gadgets that keep his personal data safe. But the rest of us have tools we can use in our online lives to help maintain our data privacy. If the Snowden biopic features a character like "Q" the gadget-master ("Now pay attention, 007!"), perhaps there's a wristwatch that magically erases dodgy clickable e-mail links, phishing ploys, and private info flowing into the wrong databases.

But life's not a James Bond film and we must guard our private information in the cyberdrome. The Snowden story may be prime cinematic material--a ripping good yarn worth the price of a ticket and a massive bucket of popcorn. Yet when the credits roll, it's still up to us to safeguard our digital identities.

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