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in Filmmaking
on Dec 19, 2005

While movies are becoming more like videogames, journalism seems to becoming more like the movies. Or, rather, one often can feel the movie-option ambition embedded in print journalism published by Vanity Fair, The New Yorker, and, today, The New York Times.

The Grey Lady’s latest must-read is the shocking and strange tale of Justin Berry, a 13-year old California teen who, over the course of the six years chronicles in the paper’s very long story, goes from innocently flirting with other kids on the Internet with a $20 webcam to running a child porn online empire with himself as the lead attraction. “Through His Webcam, a Boy Joins a Sordid Online World,” is the story’s title, and, indeed, there’s so much bizarre stuff in here, like the part where Barry reunites with his estranged fugitive father in Mexico only to have his dad become a new business partner in an even more extreme XXX site.

But as the story progresses, author Kurt Eichenwald, perhaps feeling that the subject matter is a touch indelicate for the film scouts, decides to help things along by pumping up the action and underlying the redemptive elements. Here’s a bit from the end of the article, after Berry has turned state’s evidence, supplied the Feds with the names of the adults who have partnered in his ventures, and identified other kids under the control of Internet predators. While the Feds get ready to raid a house, Berry draws the prey out in an online chat:

“In a location in the Southwest, Justin glanced from his computer screen to a speakerphone. On the line was a team of F.B.I. agents who at that moment were pulling several cars into Mr. Mitchel’s driveway, preparing to arrest him.

‘The kids are in the house!’ Justin shouted into the phone, answering a question posed by one of the agents.

As agents approached the house, Justin knew he had little time left. He decided to confront the man who had hurt him for so long.

‘Do you even remember how many times you stuck your hand down my pants?’ he typed.

Mr. Mitchel responded that many bad things had happened, but he wanted to regain Justin’s trust.

‘You molested me,’ Justin replied. ‘Don’t apologize for what you can’t admit.’

There was no response. ‘Peekaboo?’ Justin typed.

On the screen, a message appeared that Mr. Mitchel had signed off. The arrest was over.

Justin thrust his hands into the air. ‘Yes!’ he shouted.”

With the action sequence out of the way, Eichenwald then moves on to provide the emotional closure so sought for by Hollywood development execs. Earlier in the article, the teen has said his only ambition was to make his family proud of him, and somehow, he got derailed.

“In recent weeks, Justin returned to his mother’s home in California, fearing that — once his story was public — he might not be able to do so easily,” Eichenwalk writes. “On their final day together, Justin’s mother drove him to the airport. Hugging him as they said goodbye, she said that the son she once knew had finally returned.

Then, as tears welled in her eyes, Justin’s mother told him that she and his grandmother were proud of him.”

Roll credits.

But who does Eichenwald think will option this tale? Years ago this would have been a piece of underground cinema written by Dennis Cooper and directed by Gregg Araki. I’ll be curious to see if the Times has any takers today for Eichenwald’s Hollywoodified take on internet child porn.

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