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PARANOIA

Creating PARANOIA
Paranoia began with Joseph Finder's New York Times best-selling techno-thriller novel of the same name. The book hit upon what would soon become some of the biggest questions of our times: Has corporate power grown out of control? Where is the line between mining digital data and dangerous, invasive surveillance? What happens when CEOs operate outside the law? -- all in a fast, intense read. Finder encountered a world where multi-nationals now have more riches and wield more political influence than entire nations.

"As I was researching the novel, I started thinking what would happen if a corporation needed a piece of transformational technology that they knew their competitor had? How far would they go to get it? That's how I came up with Adam Cassidy," Finder explains. "In some ways, he's the classic guy who is forced into being a spy. But his story also takes on the whole idea of identity, about people forming relationships that are based on falsehoods and impersonation, about conscience and about doing the right thing -- all of which is happening underneath the fun and suspense."

Producer Alexandra Milchan read the book and was inspired to bring the story hurtling into the even starker realities of the 2013 corporate world -- at the bottom rungs of which a savvy, wired youth culture is confronting a changing digital reality and tough economic times.

"I read the book, and I loved it," Milchan recalls, "but since it's about technology and corporate espionage, which are constantly changing, I felt it needed to be updated. I started talking to Joe Finder, and he completely embraced the idea. He was so excited and supportive."

Milchan, joined by fellow producers Scott Lambert, William D. Johnson and Deepak Nayar, next began a search for a director who could bring a fresh, fast, youthful take to the material. This led to Robert Luketic, the Australian director who made his first splash with the influential blockbuster Legally Blonde, and went on to direct a string of hit comedies. But what got Milchan so excited about him was his breakout crime drama, 21, about 6 MIT students who found a way to take Vegas casinos for billions.

"I believed Robert was the perfect director for Paranoia, because every time I described what I wanted to do in this movie, I used 21 as an example," the producer explains. "Paranoia had a complex tone to achieve -- part wish fulfillment, part thriller, part youth culture story. Robert has not only done so many amazing movies, he also really gets that strong youth energy, and he also really gets romance, which is another strong angle in Paranoia. Then, when I met him we developed an amazing bond of trust."

That bond of trust would take them all the way to production. The filmmakers started talking about the story not only in terms of an edge-of-your-seat corporate thriller pitting two ferociously competitive billionaires against each other but also as a young man's search for identity in an age when identity is completely changeable from instant to instant, when technology leaves us feeling watched even in our most personal moments, and when the future couldn't be more uncertain. They saw Adam Cassidy on the brink not only of the most extreme personal danger but also of a cultural shift.

Luketic, too, was excited by this idea -- and by the suspense of the story. "It's a very timely tale that speaks to this new generation of Millennials who feel they've had their dreams stolen away -- but I also love that it's just so entertaining. It has a lot of thrills, and it has characters who are great fun to watch."

The director was especially intrigued by the challenge of mirroring the title and capturing the paranoia of modern life, in which cameras are in every pocket and our daily data is being analyzed by companies and government agencies -- all countered by the fact that what was once private info is now displayed on YouTube, Facebook and Twitter.

"Adam is in the world where we all live now -- a world that is all about data mining, and where everyone leaves all kinds of trails they don't even realize they are leaving," Luketic notes.

"Never before in history have we had so much of ourselves so accessible to the world. That was a lot of the inspiration for what we present on the screen. Ultimately, nowhere is safe for Adam because there is nowhere he can hide out of view. He is being surveyed from cameras hidden in walls and people are tracking him through his phone. It goes to the question of whether there's a danger to having all this information about ourselves out there for the taking."

Using the initial script by Barry L. Levy, Luketic and Milchan spent months developing a draft with Jason Hall, to expand on these themes. Hall notes, "We looked at the cross-section of corporate technology and youth culture -- and at the same time, we also explore the themes of greed, loyalty and friendship that Adam grapples with. It's one thing to hear your parents say 'Money isn't the answer to all your problems,' but Adam gets a chance to prove that to himself."

Contrasting with Adam are the characters of Nicolas Wyatt and Jock Goddard, who embody the no-limits corporate values of the early 21st century to a T. They are the tech gods of their generation, the rarified 1% to whom success has brought more money than anyone can fathom, yet it hasn't slowed down their drive -- just shifted it from creative idealism to a poisonous focus on winning and profit above all.

Everyone was excited about giving audiences a glimpse into the modern-day industrialists who often lead secretive lives. "Our culture is obsessed with billionaires -- the eccentricities that they have, the lives that we imagine they lead, the influence they have on the world. We thought it would be very fun to peek into that world . . . and into its costs," says Hall.

Novelist Finder was thrilled when he read the final adaptation. "The screenplay makes the story a kind of generational statement," he says. "It's about what it's like right now to be in your twenties entering the working world and watching the whole structure crumble. I think it gets to the alienation that a lot of kids feel when they realize the corruption, and the amount of gamesmanship, that are all part of today's corporate life."

The fast-paced intensity and of-the-moment themes of the script quickly drew attention throughout Hollywood. "The script was a bit of a lightning rod," recalls Luketic. "The response was immediate and we very quickly had Liam Hemsworth, Gary Oldman and Harrison Ford joining the cast. I sometimes had to pinch myself to realize this was actually all happening in this way."

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