A small slice of that story inspired his newest film short.
“With all this going on, there was also the NSA operatives who were keeping tabs on their boyfriends, girlfriends, husbands and wives,” Szewczyk says. “That’s when the whole thing became very real to me.”
He turned that into “The Right Hand of God,” a short film he hopes will share his views on privacy concerns via a compelling narrative. The short follows a government pilot who begins stalking his wife with a drone.
Szewczyk, a screenwriting fellow with Moving Picture Institute (MPI), says he wants to humanize his main character despite his questionable actions.
“How would a human being act with this ability that not everyone can have?” he asks. ”I want my audience to bring in their own preconceptions where they think the story will go … and then I’ll turn it on its head.”
Szewczyk says the media could do more to inform the public about surveillance matters in the 21st century. He thinks the subject’s fuzzy ideological component is hurting that effort.
“This isn’t really a left or right issue,” he says. “That’s why it might have been left behind in the press … the issue is too complex to be on a bumper sticker.”
Szewczyk says working on “The Right Hand of God” with the MPI screenwriting workshop exposed him to veteran filmmakers, information on civil liberties and the kind of creative collaborations that helped him sharpen his story’s narrative threads.
The young filmmaker is looking to Indiegogo.com to help him complete his short, part of two-part plan that includes a feature-length film. He just wrapped the first draft of the latter, one that expands on the characters and narrative.
“This isn’t really a left or right issue” – Matthew Szewczyk
“It becomes much more of a mystery story centering around the disappearance of a younger girl,” he says. Szewczyk hopes the short film, when completed, will make the production of the full-length version a reality.
Ultimately, he wants both versions of the story to thrive on their own merits, and not just based on whether people agree with his take on modern surveillance methods.
“At its emotional care, it’s about a man devastated at the loss of his wife. He’ll do anything to get her back,” he says.
Szewczyk considers himself an activist filmmaker, but he doesn’t want his message to get in the way of the story being told. He cites the 2007 film “Michael Clayton” as a film that delivers white knuckle thrills and a little bit more.
“It showed the large machine at work behind a high-powered New York law firm … and the lack of concern for the little guy,” he says, adding the movie layered those themes throughout via clever use of subtext.
That’s far better than stopping a story cold to deliver what the director really wants audiences to leave the theater knowing.
Any message “can’t come in a five-minute monologue where the character tells you how bad drones are,” he says. “You have to see that develop over time to make it an entertaining story.”