Five of the Most Heavily CIA-Assisted Films and Television Programs
By Tricia Jenkins
The Recruit (2003)
The Recruit (2003)
This spy thriller stars Colin Farrell as a young CIA recruit, training at The Farm under the watchful eye of agency veteran and mentor, Walter Burke (Al Pacino). What the public doesn’t know about this film is that the CIA’s Entertainment Liaison, Chase Brandon, wrote The Recruit’s treatment and original draft alongside the credited screenwriter, Roger Towne. The documents discussed in the revised edition of The CIA in Hollywood reveal that Brandon’s role far exceeded the one that even an aggressive studio executive or producer would play in the development of a film, even though Brandon is merely listed as a technical consultant in the film’s credits.
Zero Dark Thirty (2012)
The Agency (2001-2003)
A CBS television series, The Agency was created with the guidance of Chase Brandon, the CIA’s entertainment liaison. While the public record suggests that the CIA and Brandon only collaborated on the pilot episode, later conversations with series creator, Michael Frost Beckner, revealed that throughout season one, the two would often converse about the show’s storylines, with Brandon offering up ideas that eventually led Beckner to suspect that Brandon and the CIA may have envisioned The Agency as a useful intimidation tool and a threat scenario workshop, in addition to a way to help the CIA burnish its image in a tumultuous time.
Winning the Academy Award for Best Picture, Argo uses docudrama to tell the tale of Tony Mendez, a CIA operative who successfully freed six Americans trapped inside of Iran during the hostage crisis of the late 1970s. The film’s production is based on both Mendez’s memoir, Master of Disguise, and a 2007 Wired article entitled “The Great Escape.” The CIA arranged for several members of the cast and crew to consult with former and current officers in order to get the look and feel of the agency in the 1970s just right. Screenplay writer Chris Terrio and director Ben Affleck were also in regular contact with the CIA’s official historians to discuss the finer points of the Iranian operation. CIA officials also granted permission for scenes to be shot at the agency's famous Langley headquarters, and Mendez himself became an active participant in the film’s development. In fact, Terrio spent a week at Mendez’s Maryland farm talking about the Iranian mission and the inner life of a CIA operative, and Mendez's wife, Jonna, eventually and affectionately christened Terrio their “mole” because the writer would often send them script updates, as well as photos of the sets to keep them in the loop.
Claire Danes plays Carrie Matheson, a CIA analyst and eventual station chief, in this Emmy-award winning Showtime series. The show’s creators, Alex Gansa and Howard Gordon, report that they regularly work with a CIA liaison, who answers questions about agency culture and practices. The writers also run invented story elements past the CIA “to ensure [they aren’t] laughable to those in the know,” and those contacts also help to generate story ideas.