Thursday, May 10, 2012

The 'Argo' Story -- Freakier Than Fiction

After seeing the excellent trailer for Ben Affleck's upcoming 'Argo' I casually looked for more info. I think I was looking for stills that might be floating around the web. The first thing I happened on was the poster above.

It's the production announcement poster the CIA put together. Not bad, kinda B, but okay. What's striking is how fast you get deep into things. This from the Wired article "How the CIA Used a Fake Sci-Fi Flick to Rescue Americans from Tehran" (on which the movie is based) regarding Studio Six (named in the poster):
  • The new production company outfitted its office with phone lines, typewriters, film posters and canisters, and a sign on the door: studio six productions, named for the six Americans awaiting rescue.

Really... You can't make that stuff up. This flick will be filled with stuff like that, moments like that.

And, who is Robert Sidell (and associates)? Again from Wired:
  • To build his cover, Mendez put $10,000 into his briefcase and flew to Los Angeles. He called his friend John Chambers, the veteran makeup artist who had won a 1969 Academy Award for Planet of the Apes and also happened to be one of Mendez’s longtime CIA collaborators. Chambers brought in a special effects colleague, Bob Sidell. They all met in mid-January and Mendez briefed the pair on the situation and his scheme. Chambers and Sidell thought about the hostages they were seeing each night on television and quickly declared they were in.  
  • In just four days, Mendez, Chambers, and Sidell created a fake Hollywood production company. They designed business cards and concocted identities for the six members of the location-scouting party, including all their former credits. The production company’s offices would be set up in a suite at Sunset Gower Studios on what was formerly the Columbia lot, in a space vacated by Michael Douglas after he finished The China Syndrome.
You know what that reads like -- lousy plotting conjured up by a hack writer. But, that's what happened. That's what they did.

A cool looking book just released (coincidental timing?) in March 2012 is called 'The CIA in Hollywood', written by Tricia Jenkins. Here's a clip about Studio Six's production of 'Argo':
  • The fake production company was so convincing that it had acquired twenty-eight scripts from screenwriters during the time it was open, including submissions from Steven Spielberg and George Lucas.
No way. That's too too. I think I'll set up a production company...what the hell.

Above is Antonio Mendez (played by Ben Affleck in 'Argo') with President Jimmy Carter, from the CIA website about the movie. How often does a president have that expression, look at someone that way?

Here's a clip written by Mendez:
  • Jerome and I then set about picking a name for our movie. We needed something catchy from Eastern culture or mythology. After several tries, we hit on it! During our 10-year association, he had proven to be a great story and joke teller. He once told a group of us a profane "knock-knock" joke, with the word "Argo" in the punch line. 
  • This word became an in-house disguise-team recognition signal and battle cry. We used it to break the tension that often built up when we were working long hours under difficult circumstances preparing for an important operation. Jerome remembered this. He also recalled that the name stemmed from mythology. He looked up the definition of Argo and confirmed it as the name of the ship on which Jason and the Argonauts sailed to rescue the Golden Fleece from the many-headed dragon holding it captive in the sacred garden. Perfect! This precisely described the situation in Iran. 
  • I quickly designed an "Argo" logo, which we used for full-page ads in the trades. The ads proclaimed that "Studio Six Productions Presents 'Argo'... A cosmic conflagration ... story by Teresa Harris." (Teresa Harris was the alias we selected for our story consultant; it would be used by one of the six awaiting our arrival in Tehran.)
An amazing story. Can't wait to see the movie.


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