How Argo's fake movie studio even fooled Steven Spielberg

Contributed by
Dec 17, 2012

The CIA's creation of a fake movie studio as part of a covert rescue operation was so believable that even Steven Spielberg thought it was a real company.

The new movie Argo tells the true story of how a CIA agent named Tony Mendez (played by director Ben Affleck) staged an operation to rescue six Americans who had escaped and were hiding at the Canadian embassy in Tehran during the 1979 hostage crisis in which the Iranians held 52 other Americans in captivity.

Mendez came up with the cover story of pretending to be a Canadian producer looking to shoot a science fiction film on locations in Iran, with the idea being that the six Americans would leave with him, posing as his production crew.

To make the cover work so that the Iranians could not poke any holes in it, Mendez enlisted actual Hollywood producers and filmmakers—including Oscar-winning Planet of the Apes makeup man John Chambers—to set up offices for their fictional production company, take out ads announcing the beginning of production and even hold a table read of the script for the fake movie, which was called Argo.

Well, the ruse worked so well that it even fooled other filmmakers and screenwriters. Mendez says in his notes on the mission that by the time the offices of the production company, called Studio Six, were closed, some 26 scripts came through the door—including one sent by Steven Spielberg.

Mendez doesn't say what the script was called, but The Playlist theorizes that it could well have been E.T.: The Extraterrestrial (or perhaps the original script that E.T. evolved out of, Night Skies?). The hostage crisis and rescue mission took place roughly when Spielberg was filming Raiders of the Lost Ark, and he might have been shopping his new alien visitation movie around at the time.

The whole Argo story is incredible to begin with, and worth reading or seeing, and now that Spielberg addition just makes the whole thing even more bizarre ...

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