Are you an aspiring filmmaker who wants to produce a spy thriller? Well, you’re in luck because the CIA has a pile of script ideas lying around.
Ironic, you say, that an organization known for secrecy is doling out helpful hints to Hollywood? The CIA doesn’t think so. For them it’s all about image control. And they’re just the start of it. The Department of Defense and just about every branch of the military has an entertainment industry liaison similar to the CIA’s.
If you want to make a war film and need a fleet of F-22s, a crowd of Marines, or a Navy aircraft carrier, just call up the Department of Defense’s entertainment media office and they’ll tell you if the Army can spare that M1A1 Abrams tank you’ve always wanted for a day or two of filming.
“The scripts we get are only the writer’s idea of how the Department of Defense operates,” Vince Ogilvie, deputy director of the Defense Department’s entertainment liaison office, told Danger Room. “We make sure the Department and facilities and people are portrayed in the most accurate and positive light possible.”
Hollywood has been working with government organizations to make more credible films for years (for instance, Jerry Bruckheimer and Paramount Pictures worked closely with the Pentagon when filming the 1986 blockbuster “Top Gun”). But the phenomenon is under newfound scrutiny. There was a bit of a kerfuffle recently when some in the press and in Congress speculated about whether the government will give Sony Pictures any pointers while they make a film about the killing of Osama bin Laden.
In a letter to the Defense Department and CIA last month, Rep. Peter King expressed outrage at the Pentagon’s relationship with the film’s director, Kathyrn Bigelow. King claimed that she had already been made privy to sensitive information that could put American lives at risk. (King may have also have been thinking about the fact that the movie is scheduled to hit theaters one month before America decides whether or not to reelect President Obama.)
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney assured the media that the Pentagon does not discuss classified information and suggested that King could work on “more important things to discuss than a movie.”
Ogilvie told Danger Room that until the Pentagon sees a completed script, they won’t make a decision on whether they’ll assist Bigelow. Standard procedure is to review the script, make notes on what the Defense Department would like changed, and kick it back to the producer. If the changes are made, the military will provide whatever help they can — declassified information, equipment, personnel, etc. — for a price. If an agreement can’t be reached, the project is either scrapped or made without Pentagon help.
“We try to find a middle ground,” said Ogilvie. “We want the portrayal of the military to show professionalism, cohesiveness, jointness, and dedication.” He cited NCIS and NCIS: Los Angeles, two shows the Pentagon has collaborated on, as examples of entertainment in which bad behavior in the military is often depicted, but at the end of each storyline, someone always takes action to correct it. In other words, the U.S. government wants us to know that the military is not made up of selfish rogues and the CIA doesn’t exclusively employ people who look like Brian Cox.
“We want these movies to help us in terms of recruitment and retention,” said Ogilvie.
OK, fair enough I guess, but why has the Defense Department recently partnered with 20th Century Fox to make an X-Men/U.S. Army ad or with explosion-enthusiast Michael Bay to make all three Transformers movies? In The Washington Post, David Sirota suggests entertainment like this is “government-subsidized propaganda.”
Ogilvie assures Danger Room that the Pentagon’s Hollywood ventures are much more innocent than that. Sure, they’d like to see a boost in military support, but it really all comes back to accuracy in terms of standard operating procedures — “whether it be a combat mission in Iraq or how we might fight a three-legged alien in outer space.”
While our military is busy pondering defense strategies against Camaro-bots and aliens, I’ll do something equally worthwhile and tweak one of the CIA’s “inspirations for future storylines” into my first feature-length action flick: “The Ten Commandments of Counterintelligence.” I’m thinking early-20th-century religious allegory with lots of explosions, fedoras, and Mel Gibson. But if Mel’s busy, I’ll just start an indie band called “Robert Fulton’s Skyhook and Operation Cold Feet,” named after one of the Agency’s canned movie treatments. Thanks, CIA! You’re my heroes!