Bill Birney Screenwriter
Synopsis - The Back Door
The Back Door
When Genessa Thode (20), a journalism student at a community college, interviews for an intern job at the Willits Star newspaper she isn’t expecting to get thrown in the deep end. The first rule of journalism, according to her boss Franklin Deloit is, “You got to figure stuff out, so the readers don’t have to.” So, she takes the advice to heart and dives right in without bothering her surly coworkers for help.
In researching a story about a new federal building, she calls a number she finds in an old rolodex labeled, “White House Guy,” and has an alarming conversation with a very nervous man who tells her she will get everything, it goes all the way to the top, and warns her not to tell anyone about the conversation. After the disturbing phone call, she decides to stake out the building lot at night and witnesses the arrival of five men who sweep the area with weird little electronic boxes. Next day, someone in a black SUV takes her picture and she hears unusual clicking sounds on her work phone. Near panic, she asks her boyfriend Hudson to drive her home and finds the front door unlocked and evidence that her hard drive had been tampered with.
The next day, the White House Guy appears out of nowhere at the café where Hudson is a waiter, and hands him an SD card to give to Genessa with the warning that two strange men in the café will kill them if they find out.
Genessa has to cover a basketball game that night in Lucerne, so Hudson picks her up in his truck and drives, while Genessa views the SD card on her laptop. It contains an immense trove of top-secret information about a data mining operation at the new federal building. They panic. She decides she must do something with the data ASAP, so she starts copying it to her laptop. She makes a deal with a school journalist Mason to send her his notes, and at half-time they blend in with the crowd and sneak out through the locker room, to get past the two killers who followed them to the game.
Clueless about what to do next, she heads back to the Star. But when they enter through the back door, they are surprised to find Deloit and others waiting in the back room. Then, the White House Guy shows up and points out Genessa. Apparently, she was not the intended recipient of the card. Deloit takes it and begins an upload. Then, the group decides Genessa should drive the White House Guy to the airport, so he can catch a flight to Ecuador. On the drive, Genessa stops in Ukiah for a fill-up and the guy passes out from a massive heart attack. Genessa calls the Star and learns the Internet has been cut off so the data can’t be uploaded.
Amidst all the chaos, Genessa has a breakthrough take-charge moment and gets Deloit to tell her the whole story. Apparently, the guy is a whistleblower, and Deloit was sending the data to an international site to expose the nefarious operation. Genessa tells Deloit, “I’m a journalist and these things happen.” With the data safely copied to her laptop, it is up to her to save the day. After the White House Guy is rushed off to a hospital, Mason calls and tells her he’ll transfer the game notes to the school’s server and send her a link. Genessa has a brainstorm.
At the Lucerne high school, Mason leads Genessa and Hudson through a window into the school newspaper workroom, and they start uploading the data to the school servers. When Mason finds out he is transferring top-secret data stolen from the government and agents are after them, he has second thoughts. But Hudson and Genessa convince him of the importance as fellow journalists, and he reluctantly agrees to take the risk. However, their situation becomes more precarious when Genessa calls the Star and listens in as FBI agents confiscate the SD card and haul Deloit and the others off in handcuffs.
Next morning, the upload finally finishes and the three go to a coffee house by the school to decide what to do with it. Genessa locates the White House Guy at a hospital, and he tells them they need to publish the data to a website ASAP. She manages to convince Mason to publish it to the school newspaper site and they head back to the school to get started. On their way, Genessa spots the FBI’s black SUV waiting by the school entrance. She figures it out and comes up with a plan to design the website, write connecting pieces and publish the data before the agents can grab them.
Somehow it all works, they evade the FBI, and the data goes live. Back at the coffee house, Genessa contacts a tips line reporter at a San Francisco paper and links him to the school site. Reporters at the paper upload and verify the data, and the site goes viral.
News outlets worldwide cover the story and the three become instant international celebrities. Genessa writes a book called The Back Door, and three years later the federal building opens without data mining. But the mayor of Willits June Betch tells her she may not have got the whole story. There was a mysterious man who came to the meetings with the city but was never named. Genessa agrees to do some research. The man turns out to be Melvin Taykar, a big shot at a giant investment firm.
After spending a few days investigating Taykar in the city, Genessa and Hudson drive back to Willits late at night armed with enough information to conclude that his company and others may have made shady deals with the government to use mined data to give them a financial advantage in high-frequency trading. Suddenly, Genessa’s car loses power and goes completely dark, and a tow truck appears out of nowhere and takes them to the next town. As Hudson orders coffee in the service station, a Man approaches them. To their surprise, he knows who they are and tells them he’s there to alarm them. They listen in stunned silence as he tells them he has been sent by “them” (a consortium of trillion-dollar businesses) to warn Genessa’s team to stop their investigation. To prove his point, he shows them a live FaceTime video of Mason getting beaten to a pulp. “They” have the money to do anything they want, including start conflicts in the Middle East and stop a car dead on a highway. Genessa agrees to stop, and the Man shows them a live shot of Hudson’s house with the threat that “they” know where the three live.
Their car mysteriously works again, and they drive off. At the hospital, Mason is in bad shape. Genessa and Hudson tell him they’re ending the investigation without telling him why. Mason is insistent they keep digging. Genessa and Hudson are conflicted. And an unnamed text appears on her phone, “Our thoughts are with you.”