Ghosts With Shit Jobs

Posted by – March 5, 2009

Ready for a sharp turn?

I got some feedback from Craig on the Advantage outline that he didn’t feel like it was visual enough. My natural inclination being to fix rather than ditch, I went through it looking for the problem areas, and realized I had to get one of the characters a more interesting job. So I started thinking about jobs in the future.

I then had a meeting with Rose where she was wondering why people would care about the Advantage kids. I realized I didn’t really care too much about these overadvantaged underachievers myself. Then Sanford offered to do some matte paintings for futuristic backgrounds and I started thinking about the CN tower covered in giant space spider webbing. So this is the new idea:

Ghosts With Shit Jobs is a 2040 documentary for the entertainment of the Chinese mainland, “ghosts” being slang for white people. The western economy has completely collapsed and China and India are the new first world. While laughing at the North American slumdwellers, the documentarian (a tiny fly camera who follows them around) also cultivates a paternalistic concern about these people.

Subject one is, Oscar, a pixelator. The future of Google streetview is an immersive experience indistinguishable from reality, and they’re planning to unroll the Wayback feature — where you can visit every moment in the past fifteen years from when they started filming. However, for legal reasons they have to blur out copywritten images. This is obviously a huge task, and has to be done by humans. It’s a boring job, and the sustained time required in the virtual world gives most employees nose bleeds.

Subject two is Anton, who’s in silk recovery. In 2025, giant arachnoid egg sacks landed on earth, and quickly hatched. Before they left in search of octopi prey, they covered the CN tower and many other buildings with space spider webbing. The webbing turned out to be an exceptionally useful building material, favoured by the big Shanghai architects, and so people like Anton spend their days collecting it from increasingly difficult spots around the city.

Subject three are Karen and Gary, who are freelance robot assemblers. However, the main demand for robots in 2030 is in lifelike babies, so Karen and Gary must care for these very demanding products for months before they can certify them as tested. They have sworn an oath never to become parents.

The documentary brings them together over beers to discuss why they don’t get better jobs. Oscar wants to go back to school to learn an Asian language. Anton’s saving up to bring back his girlfriend, a nanny for a wealthy technocrat in Mumbai. Karen and Gary started out planning to make customized robots, but the robot fairs where they could pitch their designs are so expensive to attend. Money is an issue for all of them. Karen has an idea about the Wayback feature Oscar has access to — doesn’t that mean you can watch someone unlock a safe? Or type in a pin number? or a password?

They trap the documentary maker’s fly cam in a beerglass and go out to change their destinies…

I started the script on this new idea today.

Feedback welcome, especially brainstorm ideas that start “In the future…”

8 Comments on Ghosts With Shit Jobs

  1. Craig says:

    this sounds a bit more juicy, as long as the stakes are high.

    with Oscar it could be good to explore the idea of “blurring” reality, where he works so much he’s not sure what’s real or virtual. reminds me of the time when i was walking around and wanted to remember something, so my fingers automatically hit the shortcut for ‘save’ on a mac (apple-s). things could start blurring in his own life. themes of life purpose, altering the past, work/life balance, etc.

    Karen and Gary have some great built in themes like adoption, ownership, procreation, parenting, competition, jealousy (of the rich asians who get these). in the start you could see the ‘cores’ they have to build, which could be little tech/machine balls they program/”raise” (in lieu of getting real babies) then progress to a few real ones we see/have access to. could they want one themselves? do they start programming them with their own weird values?

    Anton is a bit trickier, as giant spiders might be a bit cheesy. but the idea of precious materials that have to be harvested from dangerous urban locations is pretty cool, kind of like those birds nests – – themes are good here too: supply and demand, worth of a life (what if he’s just lost his partner to an work related accident?), elite/ boutique economy, etc.

    is there any real reason they have to meet at a bar? why do they have to know each other? it might be too convenient. you may want to write the stories first, then see the threads that connect them all. a lot of docs have related people that never cross paths. instead of talking about what they want to do, why don’t you just have them *do* it.

  2. Anthony says:

    sharp turn alright.
    this feels more sci-fi.
    and i love actually taking us into a predicted future that i am sure north america tries hard to not imagine.
    ghosts with shitty jobs seems like a funny reality show that the chinese and indian people may enjoy, but can it maybe be a narrative?
    it may be interesting to just feel what the westerners are going through in 2040.
    the key is, as rose mentioned, is making the characters interesting, making the viewer care about them (negatively or positively).
    good luck jim.

  3. Jim says:

    Thanks Anthony!

    Yeah, I feel like a 3rd world Toronto is, as you say, not something people want to think about even though folks are endlessly talking about the economic meltdown.

    It’s less of a reality show and more of a high-minded almost anthropological look at us in the west — like the 7 up project was an examination of class. Can they rise out of their unfortunate situation? I think the show itself will be a good introduction to the characters, but I don’t know if it’ll play out entirely within this structure.

    And I’m liking dealing with more basic motivations — survival, upward mobility — rather than characters struggling with less visual ennui and ethics.

  4. Sean says:

    I like the idea of harvesting spider webs — a cheap, easy (but perhaps cheesy) way for us to do special effects.

    And to agree with Anthony, making the audience care about the characters. Something you veterans likely already know, but I just learned in improv class, is to make the audience care about the characters, and twisting them around.

    Has the term “ghost” been around long enough for the oppressed white people to claim as their own?

    I wonder what the prospering world (China and India) have access to that Toronto folk generally don’t? For example, when I was in India, where a lot of people can’t read, they had signage with pictures instead of words.

  5. Lucas says:

    I like this. I wonder if this prosperity in the new first world would be fueled by the waste dumping/recyclables of the old…or would there be a reversal, and all their discarded/hazardous shit comes here instead (possible alternate job for Anton)?

  6. Sean says:

    I’ve been thinking about how to justify North America become the third world and China/India becoming the first. Although I can see China and India becoming superpowers as wholes, I wonder how they can spread the wealth amongst their huge populations? (how come Northern countries were the powers for the 20th century, with it being much more difficult to live in than southern countries (who have much nicer climates)? Is just because Northern countries got the power, so it was easy to keep by continually exploiting southern countries?

    Toronto — is it so overpopulated now that houses are much closer together? One idea I had (I may have mentioned it on this blog) was to film only in alleyways… i.e. they become the regular streets, creating a city with a different kind of streetscape.

    How is the message of how Toronto got to be the place it is conveyed to the audience? A debate about it in a bar or on a walk?
    “It was the ten year drought between 2015-2025 that did us in”
    “No, no, it was the democratic revolution and all the bureaucracy that came with it that paralyzed us” (i.e. the political scenario idea I posted about)
    “At least we’re not living in Europe”

    What about other countries and continents —

    Australia – those fires back in early 2009 were just the beginning. Because of global warming, the country is now an inhospitable desert, a place where no one chooses to live, and once again it’s being used as a penal colony.

    Central and South America – the rise of the socialism without too much democracy getting in the way, it’s smaller population density and fertile grounds, have made it truly the envy of the world. Chavez is still in power and Venezuela is the centre of the continent.

    Europe – perhaps the true third world, and north america is the second world. It might be easier to justify “nice toronto streets” sets.

    Africa – still absolute poverty.

  7. Sanford says:


    These are great ideas. I think there is so much you can do visually. From being conservative to far out there. Here are some great links to feed your imagination. Lots of these are concept illustrations. there are clusters of buildings built on top of each others, to one reference to an egg structure.
    Even simple props, that reoccur in the streets, where actors walk past can be made. Even cardboard painted etc, hotglued etc.
    Anyhow I hope these images feed the brain:)


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