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Wetware

“Wetware” is set in a near future where people down on their luck apply for genetic modifications to take on tough and tedious jobs that nobody wants to do.

With business booming, programmers at Galapagos Wetware up the stakes by producing high-end prototypes, Jack and Kay, for more sensitive jobs like deep cover espionage and boots-on-the-ground for climate catastrophes and resource wars.

Galapagos genetic programmer Hal Briggs is sharp and creative but impetuous. He’s a socially awkward romantic in a transactional world. He keeps a virtual human clock at home and improvises as he goes on what qualities to include or delete in his gene splicing for Jack and, especially, Kay, to whom he develops a dangerous attachment.

Then word gets out that Jack and Kay have escaped from the Galapagos labs, before Briggs has completed his work. Where have they gone and what do they know? Briggs scrambles to track his fugitive prototypes and, as he reexamines Jack and Kay's codes, he makes a provocative discovery that will change everything

  • MR JAY CRAVEN
    Director
    Where the Rivers Flow North, Disappearances, Northern Borders, Peter and John, The Year That Trembled, et. al.
  • Jay Craven
    Writer
    Where the Rivers Flow North, A Stranger in the Kingdom, Disappearances, Northern Borders, The Year That Trembled, Peter and John, Jack London's Martin Eden, etc.
  • Michael Toscano, India Blake, Jay Craven
    Producer
  • Jerry O'Connell
    Key Cast
    "Blaine"
  • Cameron Scoggins
    Key Cast
    "Briggs"
  • Morgan Wolk
    Key Cast
    "Kay"
  • Bret Lada
    Key Cast
    "Jack"
  • Aurelia Thierree
    Key Cast
    "Clock"
  • Matt Salinger
    Key Cast
    "Mashita"
  • Jeff Zinn
    Key Cast
    "Robert White"
  • Garret Lee Hendricks
    Key Cast
    "Krupp"
  • Nicole Shalhoub
    Key Cast
    "Carr"
  • Project Type:
    Feature
  • Genres:
    Sci-fi, drama, noir
  • Runtime:
    1 hour 43 minutes
  • Completion Date:
    August 10, 2020
  • Production Budget:
    800,000 USD
  • Country of Origin:
    United States
  • Country of Filming:
    United States
  • Language:
    English
  • Shooting Format:
    RED
  • Aspect Ratio:
    16:9
  • Film Color:
    Color
  • First-time Filmmaker:
    No
  • Student Project:
    No
  • N/A
Distribution Information
  • N/A
Director Biography - MR JAY CRAVEN

Jay Craven has made nine feature films including "Where the Rivers Flow North" (w/ Rip Torn, Tantoo Cardinal, Michael J. Fox), "A Stranger in the Kingdom" (w/ Ernie Hudson, David Lansbury, Martin Sheen, Jean Louisa Kelly), "Disappearances" (w/ Kris Kristofferson, Gary Farmer, Charlie McDermott, Genevieve Bujold), "Northern Borders" (w/ Bruce Dern, Genevieve Bujold), "The Year That Trembled" (w/ Jonathan Brandis, Marin Hinkle, Fred Willard, Martin Mull), and "Peter and John" (w/ Jacqueline Bisset, Christian Coulson, Diane Guerrero). He is currently editing "Martin Eden," based on Jack London's autobiographical novel.

Craven's films have played Sundance, SXSW, AFI Fest, Vienna, Vancouver, Seattle, St. Louis, Avignon, Lincoln Center, Harvard Film Archives and many others.

Craven also directs the Semester Cinema program where, every two years, 27 professionals mentor and collaborate with 40 students from 15 colleges - to make a narrative feature film for national release. Craven directed the film studies program at Marlboro College (1998-2018) and curates the Middlebury New Filmmakers Festival in Vermont.

Add Director Biography
Director Statement

The Roots of My New Film, Wetware
By Jay Craven

My new film, Wetware, marks a huge departure for me. I've made eight previous narrative films, all of them deeply rooted in earlier times and a culturally specific sense of place in Vermont. I've made films set in 1872, 1927, 1932, 1952, 1956, 1959, and 1970.

Wetware is set in an unspecified near future. And it takes place in a fictional spot that we've stitched together from locations in Burlington and Brattleboro, Vermont and Nantucket, where we also constructed interior film sets in the American Legion hall.

I was spurred to make this picture for several reasons. First, I wanted to tell an entertaining and timely story that had potential to engage audiences in open-ended consideration of our near future. I found the characters compelling. And although “near future” was totally new for me, it felt suddenly upon us. I welcomed the challenge.

I also work with three dozen college students (and twenty-five professionals) for most of my current filmmaking projects and, while the students lit up at every 19th century detail we unearthed for my last film, Peter and John, I thought they'd be keen to take a look into a story set in the future. They were. I wondered if younger viewers might be also drawn to the film.

Students contributed substantially to more than fifty hours of script and story discussions. Indeed, through our extensive weekly deliberations, we concluded that the future is now, especially in the rapidly shifting worlds of climate, technology, politics and intensifying conflicts at home and abroad. We saw what the Canadian-American science-fiction writer, William Gibson, meant when he wrote, "The future is already here - it's just not very evenly distributed."

We can live our lives oblivious to at least some of this - but in many ways the future IS here. A recent New York Times article, Damien Cave’s “The End of Australia as We Know It” (February 16, 2020) makes this point, indelibly:

“In a country where there has always been more space than people, where the land and wildlife are cherished like a Picasso, nature is closing in. Fueled by climate change and the world’s refusal to address it, the fires that have burned across Australia are not just destroying lives, or turning forests as large as nations into ashen moonscapes.”

“They are also forcing Australians to imagine an entirely new way of life. When summer is feared. When air filters hum in homes that are bunkers, with kids kept indoors. When birdsong and the rustle of marsupials in the bush give way to an eerie, smoky silence.”

“I am standing here a traveler from a new reality, a burning Australia,” Lynette Wallworth, an Australian filmmaker, told a crowd of international executives and politicians in Davos, Switzerland, last month.

“What was feared and what was warned is no longer in our future, a topic for debate — it is here.”

The recent pandemic, with a deadly and uncontrollable virus on the loose, where daily life routines are turned dramatically upside down, only adds to this sense of sense of an unanticipated future for which we are not prepared.

I wanted to explore some aspects of this. Earlier in our Wetware release, someone would start our post-screening Q & A with a question about what the “cars under water” meant. That doesn’t happen anymore.

Around 2003, I read Craig Nova's novel, Wetware, a poetic noir thriller set in a dystopian near future where there are tough and tedious jobs no one wants to do - and people down on their luck who volunteer for genetic modifications to gain the focus, stamina, and synthesized sense of well-being that makes them right for this otherwise undesirable work.

I was captivated by Nova's emotionally stranded main characters and the ways they navigate the cool and transactional world he vividly describes. Few writers achieve the color and texture of Nova's descriptions of character, incident, and place. I also liked Craig Nova's subplot dealing with music. I have spent a lifetime working in both film and the performing arts - and I liked how Nova used classical music to explore questions of beauty along with music's redemptive and humanizing power. I’m also always pleased to collaborate with my longtime composers, Judy Hyman and Jeff Claus who, again, bring so much to my films.

Around the time that I read Wetware, I made a documentary film, After the Fog, with my older son, Sascha, then in college. The film was triggered by the interest and support of longtime Brattleboro activist and WWII veteran, the late Robert Miller. It explores the impact of combat on the post-war lives of veterans from World War II, Vietnam, and Iraq. We didn't fully expect it - but we discovered that, for most of the vets we met, the experience of Post-Traumatic-Stress (PTSD) figured substantially into their lives after combat.

During our filming, Sascha and I were further surprised to learn, from a senior U.S. government medical researcher, that plans were in the works to use gene-splicing on soldiers preparing for battle, to reduce their traumatic response to violence. Subsequent research indicated that these genetic modifications could also erase emotional memory and render soldiers fearless in the face of extreme danger. This is the first either of us had heard or thought about this.

In a July 2018 New York Times op-ed, “Rebooting the Ethical Soldier,” retired Air Force Major General Robert Latiff, poses a number of questions about this rapidly approaching future where “enhanced humans” and increasingly sophisticated machines will work side by side on highly automated battlefields.

Latiff imagines “a sort of warfare most people associate with video games or science-fiction movies — combined forces of augmented or enhanced humans, robots operating in swarms, laser weapons, intelligence systems and cyberbots fighting in a highly contested information environment.” And he poses a number of ethical questions surrounding the technologies of human enhancement and augmentation, which he says will include “improving physical strength, stamina and pain tolerance, as well as using neurological implants and stimulation.”

A draft New York Times article, slated for publication early in 2020, underscores these government intentions, noting that "the Pentagon could use genetic modification on soldiers’ brains to steel them from fear, anxiety, and stress. Some of this work is already underway inside the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), where officials are developing neuroprosthetics that can alter memory formation, heal soldiers’ mental wounds, and transfer thoughts between soldiers’ brains. A December 2019 report from the Pentagon estimated widespread adoption of these and other technologies before 2050."

So, General Latiff’s important questions are timely. Will an altered soldier with enhanced capacity for pain, “be held to account for their actions?” And “might a soldier who fears nothing unnecessarily place himself, his unit or innocent bystanders at risk?” And what might altering or eliminating memory do to “the soldier’s sense of guilt, which might be important in decisions about unnecessary and superfluous suffering?”

Latiff’s concerns lead me to another consideration – of expendability – that grew out of the Army program during the 1950’s and early 60’s, where off-duty soldiers were secretly given LSD and then observed for their extreme responses, that included suicide, after the psychedelic drug was slipped into their drinks by military and intelligence officers.

One subject of Army drug experimentation, James Stanley, an Army sergeant, brought an important, albeit unsuccessful, suit. The government argued that Stanley was barred from suing under a legal doctrine—known as the Feres doctrine, after a 1950 Supreme Court case, Feres v. United States—that prohibits members of the Armed Forces from suing the government for any harms that were inflicted "incident to service."

In 1987, the Supreme Court affirmed this defense in a 5–4 decision that dismissed Stanley's case: United States v. Stanley, the majority argued that "a test for liability that depends on the extent to which particular suits would call into question military discipline and decision making would itself require judicial inquiry into, and hence intrusion upon, military matters."

In dissent, Justice William Brennan argued that the need to preserve military discipline should not protect the government from liability and punishment for serious violations of constitutional rights:

“The medical trials at Nuremberg in 1947 deeply impressed upon the world that experimentation with unknowing human subjects is morally and legally unacceptable. The United States Military Tribunal established the Nuremberg Code as a standard against which to judge German scientists who experimented with human subjects... . [I]n defiance of this principle, military intelligence officials ... began surreptitiously testing chemical and biological materials, including LSD.”

Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, writing a separate dissent, stated:

“No judicially crafted rule should insulate from liability the involuntary and unknowing human experimentation alleged to have occurred in this case. Indeed, as Justice Brennan observes, the United States played an instrumental role in the criminal prosecution of Nazi officials who experimented with human subjects during the Second World War, and the standards that the Nuremberg Military Tribunals developed to judge the behavior of the defendants stated that the 'voluntary consent of the human subject is absolutely essential ... to satisfy moral, ethical, and legal concepts.' If this principle is violated, the very least that society can do is to see that the victims are compensated, as best they can be, by the perpetrators.”

In June of 2016, I read a front page New York Times story about a meeting of scientists and doctors at the Harvard Medical School to discuss prospects and advances in the work to create an artificial genome that would create humans without biological parents. A likely utilization of these people, noted in the Times article, was as soldiers.

Similarly, when covering a November 26, 2018 story of a Chinese scientist who used gene splicing on twin embryos, National Public Radio reporter Rob Stein discussed the prospect of using gene splicing to “create soldiers who can’t feel pain.”

I had seen and read stories of fictional artificial "replicants" in films like Blade Runner but I had not thought about how genetically modified humans might exist. Would these people have civil rights, for example? How might they integrate into human society, once their missions were completed? Would their resistance to trauma and danger make them more prone to acts of violence, as civilians? Would they be ultimately be considered human?

These and other questions bubbled up during our screenplay development, casting, and planning for production. Through our research, we learned how genetic modification in any organism can have random additional impacts and results. When one system is modified, another system in the same organism can also change in unpredictable ways. Literally, anything can happen.

Our film is not really “about” all of this – but it shows characters caught up in aspects of it. We wanted to put ideas and themes in motion that hopefully express themselves in unexpected ways. Wetware is set in an imagined near future – and a fictional place. Still, it may yield some opportunities for relevant reflection about our collective life and times. I hope so.

In all of my films, I have been interested in characters under pressure. Through my collaborations with actors, I try to explore multiple dimensions of character, to see where they lead. Wetware provided me with the chance to work with imaginative actors who discovered fresh details, in every moment, of what it is to be uniquely human in trying times.