Terrordise: a comedy about the surveillance state

Feature Screenplay by V. N. Alexander

Logline: The Schwartz-Johnson family love their new home in Paradise, an exclusive high-security gated community in Dallas, believing it is worth sacrificing their privacy for the ultimate in safety against any kind of terror threat—until Mr. & Mrs. Schwartz-Johnson are accused of terrorism themselves

Audience: The film targets an Indie demographic of those unhappy with NSA spying, wall-building, and water privatization (Occupy groups, civil Libertarians, Greens, ACLU groups, and Progressives).

Synopsis: In the year 2028, close-circuit cameras are everywhere and smiling citizens submit to intrusive bag checks and body searches by military police. The winning the war on terror, according to billboards, and the surveillance state makes citizens feel safe.
The Schwartz-Johnsons travel to La Guardia airport in an armored taxi. Mohamed Johnson, a tall pudgy black man, and his petite wife, Esther Schwartz, believe their new home in Paradise will be a kind of utopia, providing the ultimate in safety against all kinds of terror threats, foreign and domestic. The children, tech-savvy edgy tween twins Elba and Able, are not so naive as their parents.

Arriving in Dallas they pass through suburbs without noticing the widespread drought or the tree stumps that line the streets. Arriving at Paradise, they find, not just a gate and wall around the development, but a drawbridge and a moat. Disney-style medieval castle-like homes are surrounded by lush green gardens and fountains. The Mexican lawn workers are costumed like medieval peasants, reinforcing the amusement-park-like atmosphere. The new family meets their neighbor, Dallas waterlord Glorilee Cheney (water has been privatized) and her husband, Arthur, who live in a large home they call “Camelot.”

The Schwartz-Johnsons befriend their Mexican housekeeper Esmeralda and the hard-working landscaping crew. After a while they begin to suspect that they are stealing gray water from Paradise to water their own vegetable gardens. This turns out to be true, and Mohamed decides to help them help all of Dallas recycle their gray water to deal with the drought conditions.
Meanwhile agents working for I.C.U., a private intelligence firm with lucrative contracts with the NSA, have been spying on the Schwartz-Johnsons, despite the efforts of the twins to keep the home clean. The I.C.U. CEO is using his company’s access to information to blackmail politicians and pass legislation that his corporate clients, like Glorilee, want. Small-time I.C.U. agents likewise blackmail people and get special favors. Agent Rico spies on Janet, whom he finds attractive. Janet’s husband, Hunter, a millennial with massive college debt and several low-paying part-time jobs, struggles to make ends meet and is hoping for a chance to work for Glorilee.

I.C.U. informs Glorilee about Mohamed’s gray water recycling plans and, in order to stop him, she accuses him of planning to poison the Dallas water supply. To avoid being arrested on terror charges, the Schwartz-Johnsons have to escape over the gated community wall with the help of Esmeralda. Then they discover that Esmeralda and friends are doing more than water recycling. They run an “underground railroad” using empty sewer tunnels to help those wrongfully accused of terrorism by I.C.U. escape under the border wall into Mexico. The family—along with Hunter, Janet and their children, who have also had trouble with Agent Rico—make it to Mexico and join an ex-pat organic farming community with celebrity activists who have arrived ahead of them, such as Ed Snowden, Medea Benjamin, Dennis Kucinich, Bill Binney, Oliver Stone, Thomas Drake, Ron Paul, and Chris Hedges (look-a-likes or real, making cameo appearances).

Style, tone and setting: On screen Terrordise should have a look somewhere between Jared Hess’s Napoleon Dynamite and Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom. The overall tone is slightly surreal. In the opening scene there is a disconnect between the depressing world of the dystopian militarization of the United States and the cheerful Mohamed and Esther. When the Schwartz-Johnsons arrive at the Paradise gated community, long shots allow the viewer to register the absurd setting as with Coen brother’s Barton Fink. The satire should mock the pretensions of the residents of the community, but also show the beauty of the castle-like homes. The children’s playground takes the Medieval theme to its absurdly logical conclusion as they children play with torture racks and actual Medieval weapons. But the playground scenes don’t become too dark; the childhood innocence keeps irony in play, as in Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom.

Characters: The characters are lovable but absurd stereotypes.

Mohamed Johnson is a pudgy Black poet with a stale sense of humor, always awkwardly imitating different foreign accents making people more uncomfortable than amused. He is a poet who has become rich as a social media meme with a lot of YouTube hits. His family pretends that he is a respected poet not just an Internet joke. Esther Schwartz is tiny compared to her husband, about four foot ten. They are both happy and optimistic, completely unaware that their mixed race, Muslim-Jewish marriage might seem surprising to people in Dallas. Their children, Able and Elba, are edgy preteens, with a slightly Goth-like style. They can hack into anything online and like to play pranks and spy. Their precocious intelligence makes them somewhat sinister.

Esmeralda, the housekeeper, is a mysterious woman who ends up being the being the all-powerful mastermind behind the rescue of the families. Her son Luiz and Glorilee’s daughter Lily are in-love tweens.

I.C.U. agent Rico is the likeable small-time, chaotic-good con man.  Glorilee is stock figure superficial rich Dallas evil character, and her cuckolded husband, Arthur, starts out bland but ends up being the hero-dad for his daughter, Lily.   Longhorn and Precious are Paradise neighbors and friends of the Schwartz-Johnsons are stock-figure rich Dallas good guys.

The plight of Hunter and Janet and their two kids drive the sub-plot. They are the “normal” characters, with whom American viewers should most identify. Hunter and Janet are the over-educated, under-employed, debt-ridden hardworking suburbanites, going about their uninteresting lives, which are about to get turned up-side-down…and then end well.

Theme: Stanley Kubrick’s Dr Strangelove dark comedy about the Cold War is similar in tone to Terrordise. The more recent attempt by Michael Moore to do a political comedy feature, Canadian Bacon, shares some of Terrordise’s political themes, but Moore’s standard American slapstick fails where slapstick a la Terry Gilliam’s Brazil would be funnier. Popular cartoons, such as Rick & Morty and South Park explore similar political themes.

Unusual Shooting Locations:  The gated community scenes require access to exterior locations such as Newman’s Castle in  Bellville, Texas, which has a moat and castellated walls, and/or Medieval Times dinner theater in Dallas, and fancy home exterior/interior locations such as Château Woda Nymphée in Joshua Texas,  Cottonland Castle in Waco, Texas and/or any number of Tudor style homes in the North Texas area.

Unusual Production Requirements: One calls for a three-minute video-game-like dream sequence (somewhat cheesy), involving a Lady of the Lake character, riding a horse in waves, and a knight, One scene requires a stunt with a big man hurtling himself over a wall.

Spanish translation of Terrordise by Xiomara Nonya available.

Ghost Soldiers, TV drama pilot (in progress)

A special forces team, lead by Captain Israel Fitch, specializes in stealth actions and disarming the enemy. They can invade a compound in the middle of the night and have every man immobilized in a matter of minutes, often without a shot being fired. Fitch believes that showing an enemy that you are honorable is the best way to win a war. He knows his history and knows that armies lose when they were too brutal and inspire the population to fight back even harder.

Fitch and his men start becoming national heroes and their methods are being mimicked by other regiments. Fitch strives to catch the enemy alive so that they can learn as much information as possible from them. He tends to try to find out what the enemy populations’ needs and grievances are. And then gets information out of the enemy that will help end the war and call a truce. The weapons/oil industry leaders are becoming concerned. They make too much money off war.

Some enemy groups are even beginning to surrender to Fitch. He is becoming a hero over there too. The enemy groups don’t want to talk to the President; they want Fitch.

Fitch’s team are ambushed during the raid and slaughtered mercilessly. Fitch goes to the afterworld and meets other “brothers” throughout history who have been similarly deceived and killed by their own leaders. They form an army of ghost warriors (all different uniforms from different centuries) who return to the living world and take revenge against all the corrupt leaders.


The heroes of Ghost Soldiers are brave and competent soldiers who have learned, as the pilot episode “Friendly Fire” shows, that war is a racket. They use stealth methods to disarm and capture the enemy alive. When it looks like their actions might help bring an end to the war in Syria, they are killed by their own leaders and wake up in purgatory. As ghosts, they have the supernatural power of haunting the past and present. Their actions can change the future, but only very slightly. But since they have all the time in the world they keep revisiting past wars to try to change the outcomes so that the future can become, little by little, more peaceful.

In the second episode the special forces team will join Civil War soldiers, as well as soldiers from other eras, to go back to a day before the first shots were fired at Fort Sumter. They go into slave country, organize a rescue mission, bringing hundreds of thousands of slaves to freedom in the Western territories, causing the Southern slave economy to crash and forcing the South to want to rejoin the Union. When the Ghost Soldiers return to purgatory after this mission, they learn that thwarting the Civil War had some lasting effects on the future of the U.S. (there are a lot of Black people in Wyoming and Nevada, and the U.S. had its first Black President in the late 90s,) but not as many improvements resulted as they imagined. There is more work to do.

In each new episode the Ghost Soldiers return in time to a different war and use their super stealthy methods to get the bad guys out of the game and to somehow prevent the bloodiest battles and to save as many lives as possible.

Fitch, the main hero, is super-motivated. If he can change the past enough, then he can change his own timeline, and that means that maybe he can somehow avoid getting killed and be back his wife and newborn son.

PILOT: “Friendly Fire”
EPISODE TWO: “Civil War”
EPISODE THREE: “War of 1812”
EPISODE FOUR: “Playing Both Sides WWII”
EPISODE FIVE: “It’s the French, Vietnam”
EPISODE SIX: “Persian Wars”
EPISODE SEVEN: “Unrecognized Republic of Biafra”
SEASON FINALE: “The War to End all Wars”