Wednesday, September 14, 2011

"Betrayed," or, I Was A Screenwriter For The FBI


"Betrayed" is a terrific forty-something-minute narrative featurette I wrote for the Counter-Intelligence Division of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Chances are very slim that you will ever see this film unless you work in the counter-intelligence community.  It is a training film to make people aware of the danger signs that one of their co-workers might have been compromised.  What is fascinating is that instead of making a traditional training film, the powers-to-be decided they to make a narrative film to try to capture the emotions as well as the minds of the viewers.

That isn't the way things normally work.

Here's the plot:

Doug Collins has been a highly-respected analyst at the FBI for twenty-five years.  He is liked and admired by all the members of his team, but they've seen changes in Doug recently:  an attractive young girlfriend, working odd hours, increased frustration at work.  And then there was the time he was seen texting on his Blackberry from inside the SCIF.  It's all probably nothing.  They know his recent divorce has been tough on him.  It's not like he's a spy.  But what if he is?  What is the price of silence?

So how did I become a screenwriter for the FBI?

The film was being produced by a Northern Virginia company called Rocket Media Group.  Normally, they would hire a copywriter for a training film, but since the FBI wanted a narrative film, they decided they needed an experienced screenwriter.  The producer/director of the film, Tom Feliu, called a friend at the office of Baltimore's most famous resident director and asked for a recommendation.  Someone in that esteemed office recommended me and I was soon brought onto the project.

A famous resident Baltimore director,
who will remain discreetly nameless here.

In my opinion, the success of project depended entirely on decision made in my first meeting with the FBI.  To me, it was essential that compromised agent, Doug Collins, be portrayed as a real human being and not a stock villain.  I wanted his slide from patriot to traitor to be realistic and understandable.  Furthermore, I thought it would be good for him to take the first step out of a misguided desire to help his country.  Fortunately, everyone, Tom and the folks at Rocket Media, and our handlers at the FBI were in total agreement.

The details for film grew out of meeting and conversations with various FBI Special Agents with direct knowledge and experience in these matters.  The counter-intelligence community is very tightly-knit and every agent in those meetings knew at least one of our recent traitors.  They walked Tom and I through non-classified reports on the careers of many traitors and explained their motives and methods.

The time I spent with those agents were some of the most memorable in my life.  My admiration for them and the work they do is boundless.  They live in a complex, high-stakes world of secrets and lies.  Not even their spouses or children can know exactly who they work for or what they do.  Imagine that.  Never being able to tell your family or friends about your successes or failures.  Never being able to complain about the boss....  Or get a high-five when you've earned one....  I don't think I could do it.  (I mean, look at me, I've got a freaking blog!)

I was determined to do right by those valiant men and women.  My greatest struggle was to find their voices.  I have probably seen hundreds of movies with FBI agents portrayed in them, and none of those films captured the voice and attitude of the people I found myself working with.  I hope this film succeeded.

There was some talk that they would add classified material to program.  Fortunately, they didn't.  Otherwise, I would not have been given a copy.  That would have been too bad, because the film turned out very well.  Tom did a great job directing it and the cast was excellent too.  The production values, per minute of screen time, were much higher than any other film I have worked on and it shows.  Plus, when you're the FBI, you have no problem securing great locations in DC.

When the film premiered, the cast and crew was invited to watch it with an audience of movers and shakers in the intelligence community.  The agents who guided us through the process were extremely happy with the final film and they believe it will be very useful.  Also, happily, the audience found the film realistic and believable.  They didn't find the characters or the things they said phony.  That was great.

I wish I could show it to you, but, since I can't, here's the trailer for the film "Breach" which is based on the most damaging case of espionage in American history.  Some of the agents I met and worked with on "Betrayed" were actually portrayed by actors in this film.



5 comments:

  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Just to give a heads-up, This movie is showing now on the Pentagon Channel (Comcast channel 185). So it's working it way out to the general public. So far, my impression is that it seems a mix of the Hanson, Walker and Ames spy cases with a touch of honey-trap.

    As far as a training film goes, it's OK. The acting does seem a bit stilted but I've seen worst in espionage warning training films back in my service days in the '70s. At least you don't feel like you're being lectured to.

    This seems to be the type of training film where it's presented first followed likely by a group discussion to extract meaning from the presentation as to what to look for as warning signs among co-workers. That way the combination of film/discusson reinforces the lesson desired.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I just saw this today. I thought it was great!! Best training video I've ever seen. I want to attend the next training session just to see it again (even though we only need to go annually). Well done.

    ReplyDelete