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‘Untraceable’: Cracking the Case with Director Gregory Hoblit and Special Agent EJ Hilbert

[IMG:L]Gregory Hoblit has covered a lot of “courtrooms and cops” in his career as a director, including TV hits Hill Street Blues and L.A. Law, and features films such as Primal Fear and Fracture just to name a few.
“The audience knows when you are messing with them,” he explains. “[If] they feel it is authentic, if they feel it is grounded in reality they are gonna stay with you.”

When he’s looking to bring credibility to a project, the director turns to the real deal for support. For his latest film Untraceable, it was former FBI Special Agent EJ Hilbert who took him to the frontlines of the war on cybercrime to tell the story of an internet-savvy predator.

After watching clips of Special Agent Jennifer Marsh (Diane Lane) discovering a Web site streaming video of a torture victim and the investigation that follows, Hollywood.com had the chance to talk with Hoblit and Hilbert about how realistic the thriller really is.

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[IMG:R]Hollywood.com: Why are you so determined to get it right?
Gregory Hoblit:
I have sort of a personal interest in this because my dad was an FBI agent for 26 years–and I knew what it meant to him. You know, serious job, serious guy who made a career out of it, and was proud of it. Between my dad’s era and EJ’s era, there is this huge gulf, and the technology has made a massive jump–it is not even the same universe. But in order to tell a good story and tell it in a responsible way, you give a hopeful audience a window into how the Bureau proceeds to track people and get the bad guys.

HW: Do agents really use Google and AOL Instant Messenger like they do in the movie?
Anything that the bad guys would be using. If you are on AIM, if you are on Yahoo chat, if you’re on MSN, they’re on MSN. I spent two years as a hacker, online. Meaning, they thought I was the moneyman. They brought me all of the stolen goods. They sold it to me via IRC or AIM, or something of that nature. You’ve gotta use what they’re going to use.

HW: Do you ever fear you will give away too much?
No. The step by step … is a Web site completely untraceable? No. It goes back to IPs, it goes back through mirrors, it goes back through Proxy bounces. It goes through all these things. And to solve that, it takes time. Its just a simple factor. It goes international … the crimes against children, the pedophilia, it’s the only known undercover operation that the FBI is running, and yet we still catch people doing it every single day.

[IMG:R]HW: There is a scene in the film where Agent Marsh locates a criminal and calls local law enforcement to arrest them. How realistic is that?
It would take a bit longer than that. It wouldn’t go that quickly. But does the FBI take things like that seriously [fraud and online theft]? Absolutely. Is it kids? Often times. Is it adults? More so. The average age of the hacker, or the person doing this right now is probably 18 to 45.
GH: There was a whole section in there, probably about seven or eight minutes I took. She called a judge and we went through a whole thing and my eyes were crossing. It was good … I mean, I’m glad we did it because it got it right, but do we really need this to tell the story?

HW: You will have to save those scenes for the DVD.
Yeah. Then you’ll see why we didn’t put them in. [Laughs] A movie like this wants a certain pulse to it, a certain movement. I like it when the audience just has enough information from scene to scene to start putting things together themselves instead of being lead around by the nose.

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