'CSI' creator launches new movie project on Yahoo
Anthony E. Zuiker's latest project is "Cybergeddon," a motion picture that will appear not in movie theaters but as a series of weekly episodes available online this fall through Yahoo.
"Cyber crime is the 2.0 version of crime," said Zuiker, who spent a year researching computer threats, even flying to Washington, D.C., to meet with investigators at the FBI, Central Intelligence Agency, Defense Department and National Security Agency.
"They scared the daylights out of me," Zuiker said. "I was officially scared even to log in, which all makes for great drama, as long as it's fictionalized."
Zuiker developed a story that revolves around Chloe Jocelyn, a white hat hacker in the FBI’s cyber-crime division, and newly transferred agent Frank Parker, who together uncover a massive digital conspiracy. They join forces with incarcerated master hacker Chase “Rabbit” Rosen to crack a worldwide ring of cyber-terrorists who have been responsible for a range of malicious behavior -- from mobile stalking of U.S. senators to tricking consumers into revealing confidential information on the Web, through a technique called "clickjacking."
Norton, the antivirus software for computers, mobile phones and tablets from Mountain View, Calif., software company Symantec Corp., provided Zuiker with technical advice about aspects of cyber crime and ultimately became a sponsor.
"It was a real natural partnership, where Anthony had this vision to do what he did for 'CSI' in bringing the forensics to the forefront. How does it really happen?" said Rhonda Shantz, Norton's vice president for global brands. "He wanted to do that for cyber crime."
Shantz said "Cybergeddon" provides a compelling way for Norton to alert consumers to little-known threats, such as the malicious apps that can spread viruses through tablets, smartphones and Facebook accounts.
"Our whole purpose is to educate in a way that people find comfortable," Shantz said. "'Wow, is that possible on a mobile phone?' 'Wow, I had no idea that could happen on tablet.' The whole surge of what's happening in the mobile world -- that's where we find we have to do the most education."
"Cybergeddon" is Zuiker's second digital venture. He also plans to produce 12 original short films for the YouTube channel BlackBox TV. Zuiker said he sees digital distribution as a way to reach vast global audiences of viewers who are watching entertainment in new ways.
"When you go wide, as with movies like 'Avatar,' this is thousands of screens," Zuiker said. Yahoo "is 50 million screens a day. "
Yahoo's deal with Zuiker marks the second such big Hollywood partnership it has struck in recent months. Tom Hanks' Playtone Productions is developing an animated series for Yahoo targeting men ages 18 to 34. These content agreements fit with the site's efforts to be thought of as a leading source for high-quality content online.
"Projects like 'Cybergeddon' are part of our tentpole strategy where we're really bringing major event programming to the network," said Yahoo's head of video, Erin McPherson. "What's fascinating about 'Cybergeddon' is it's theatrical in its scope. Everything from production values to the cast to the way we're going to market and promote it is going to be like a big theatrical event."
-- Dawn C. Chmielewski
Photo: The characters Nick Stokes and Sara Sidle (George Eads, Jorja Fox) from an episode of "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation." Credit: Monty Brinton / CBS