Brad Lichtenstein’s blog

Behind the scenes of What We Got: DJ Spooky’s Journey to the Commons

Day 1 of Writing Retreat

with one comment

I’ve broken Jason’s script into its component scenes and put the scenes on notecards.  I’ve taped them to a white board to try to see the script’s structure.

I’m feeling thankful for the creation of Samir (protagonist) and his invention, a way to cross match an individual’s DNA with the Human Genome Project’s DNA databank and use the information to concoct microbrew treatments for diseases too small for mass market treatments and cures.

There are some strong scenes, like Ben Franklin telling him he doesn’t have to patent everything, or Mickey Mouse encouraging him to infringe. (Really, Mickey should tell him to “open it up”).

But the central issue for me is that the argument of the film — that there is such a thing as commons and that we need to protect them — does not come through.

We’ve all been keenly aware of the difficult nature of this project.  We’re dealing with a concept and it’s hard to make a story out of a concept.

I think I have a solution:  a three stage argument regarding Samir’s invention that would, if patented, privatize DNA.  First, DNA is a natural commons and can’t be privatized any more than anyone has the right to privatize the sky or our water.   Second, what we know about DNA we know because of the publicly-funded open source Human Genome Project — a created commons.  Third, and finally, there is an alternative to enclosing DNA by making the invention intellectual property.  The more innovative, 21st century way is a commons-based approach in which the invention is open-sourced,  shared, and improved as a result.  Still, Samir can make money by supporting the invention — like Linux and countless other open-source solutions.

That’s where I’m at…..

Here is What We Got in the form of notecards on a wall - the structure, scene by scene.  Yellow is live action.  Blue is documentary.  Green is animation or effect.

Here is What We Got in the form of notecards on a wall - the structure, scene by scene. Yellow is live action. Blue is documentary. Green is animation or effect.


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  1. HI Brad, I am grateful to be in your loop. Thanks Anne for the retreat time…well, I completely get that it must be hard to work with with this concept in a script venue. You describe exactly how I had been feeling until about two months ago when it suddenly seemed like everyone wants this big idea, and is getting it. I am trying to catch up with the notion that I am no longer explaining or convincing people about the commons. So I hope this same rush can come to you. I like DNA three step approach. We often use this DNA metaphor, since DNA is unspecified–it works as a great example. I have heard David use it in his speeches about open source, and there is reference to it in his book. I will keep checking in..let any of us know if we can help you more this week. David just back from Germany with many interesting commoners, Jay is also struggling with his book right now and just extended his deadline to August 15. With you, Julie

    Julie Ristau

    June 28, 2009 at 4:06 pm

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