Editor’s Note: Last Friday, VICE deduced the true identity of Innocence of Muslims director Alan Roberts. While gathering information on the mysterious director, we spoke with a man named Jimmy Israel who worked on the preproduction of the film. The conclusion of our piece was based on anonymously furnished documents and lots of research; Jimmy refused to speak of the director, a lifelong friend of whose choices in filmmaking Jimmy said he never liked.
It became apparent during the course of our interview that Jimmy was in the possession of a copy of a draft of the movie’s screenplay dated February 25, 2011. He said that he was temporarily hired to replace the film's original producer and director, and that his first obligation was to analyze the screenplay to see if he thought it possible that he could participate in its production. Contrary to other reports (and to Jimmy’s previous recollection in our interview with him last Friday), the screenplay he was given identifies Mohammad by name (and by "Mo") and is blatantly anti-Islamic.
The 2011 revision is significantly altered in comparison to the 2009 version published by Gawker earlier today. The draft VICE received is also five pages longer, with a vastly different—and in our opinion much more incendiary—final scene. Also, the name of “George” has been changed to “Mo” in some portions and “Mohammed” in others. (It is also worth pointing out that although the cover page of the draft in our possession is credited to "Unknown," the bottom of the last page of the script reads "A film by Sam Bassil." The 2009 version posted by Gawker is credited to "Sam Basel.") And while the dialogue doesn't exactly match up with the clips that have set the world ablaze, much of the time it's verbatim.
You can read the Feb. 25, 2011 draft of the script in its entirety here. But be sure to first peruse Jimmy’s analysis below for some insight on how it all happened and why he regrets his short stint working on a production that has been both denounced as a tasteless affront to Muslims everywhere and fiercly debated in the context of the limits of free speech.
I am writing this to set the record straight about the screenplay for Desert Warrior, which the world now knows as Innocence of Muslims, and how I met a man who introduced himself to me as Sam Bassiel, aka Sam Bassil, aka Sam Basel, aka Nakoula Basseley Nakoula. Some say he is responsible for outraging Muslims around the world.
This story begins in the fall of 2010, when an old friend of mine, who I will call Conrad, suggested I audition for a role in a new film he was set to direct and produce called Desert Warrior. I agreed, and when I went to the casting a small man of slight build introduced himself as Sam Bassiel while smiling and offering me his hand.
“Nice to meet you, Jimmy,” Sam said. “Conrad told me that you are a good actor, and I see that you look the part of some of the characters in our screenplay.” He was soft spoken, with a Middle Eastern accent. He said that he was Egyptian.
I read some lines, and we talked for a while afterward. We asked about each other’s backgrounds, and I told him that I was not only a performer, but that I had been a producer-writer of fine films in Europe in the early 80s for a short time and was now in the real estate business.
I wasn't cast to play a role in the film, something I have been grateful for ever since, but because I was a friend of Conrad's I was privy to the film’s progress as well as some of the conversations between him and Sam Bassiel.
Claiming that he was dying of cancer, Sam confided in Conrad that he wished to make a political film before he passed. The former seemed true at the time, but I now believe it was a lie; the latter tragically came to fruition, but Conrad and I had no idea that this terribly under-financed film would ever be completed in any fashion and certainly didn’t think it would be screened anywhere outside of someone’s living room.
Conrad continued working on the screenplay, but told me that Bassiel was willing to change very little of it. The only aspects Conrad was able to improve were to make it more dramatically sound in terms of the story arc.
Over the next nine or ten months, Conrad said that Sam had told him he had experienced a relapse in his cancer and did not know if he’d be able to shoot the film. Conrad asked to visit Sam, but he declined. We both found this evasive.
At this point, my thought was that something had happened in the Coptic Christian community that caused Sam to back off for a while. My guess is that the money to make the film was coming from them and couldn’t be delivered at the time. Whatever the case, it seemed obvious to Conrad and I that something besides Sam’s health was in play.
In the spring of 2011, Conrad told me that Sam was better and wanted to shoot the film. At the time, Conrad was working another job and couldn’t quit on such short notice, so he asked Sam to wait for several months. Then, probably because Sam remembered that I was at one time a producer-writer in Europe, Sam called me and asked if I could produce and direct his screenplay. I asked him to come by my house to discuss the situation. We called Conrad to tell him the news, making it clear that he was still welcome to participate in the film. I assured him that I would not take his place without his consent. Conrad said to go ahead, so Sam and I made a verbal agreement stating that I would produce and direct the film Desert Warrior for $10,000.
It was at this time that Conrad sent me the 111-page script he had in his possession, which was sent to Conrad, by a “Mark Youssef” a name that I was told by a journalist is an alias used by Sam Bassiel.
The screenplay showed that Sam Bassiel (and whoever else may have helped him write the film) is both a radical Coptic Christian and anti-Muslim. I believe his goal was to expose those who have killed Copts and to warn the world of the danger of the extremist interpretation of the Koran. The character of “Mohammed,” called “Mo” and “Mohammed” in the screenplay, was designed to affront Muslims who are known to have turned to violence in an effort to stop anyone who defiles the name of their prophet. It also occurred to me that the film may have been made with the intention of provoking Muslims to rise up against the American government.
I do not think that Sam Bassiel wrote this screenplay alone. Although the final film is terribly amateurish, the screenplay had a subtle literary appeal that I doubt Sam (or Conrad) was capable of achieving. It is my belief that the screenplay was written in part or in full by a Coptic Christian in Egypt and that Sam was “sent to Hollywood” to get it done, perhaps with backing from the Coptic community in Egypt. This, however, is my own conjecture.
After reading the entire script, I found that I could not justify working on the film as it was written. I told Sam Bassiel that if I was going to be involved, I wanted to make the screenplay better (specifically, by cutting the enormous amount of brutality and gratuitous sex scenes). He said that he would ”consider” my suggestions after the casting was completed.
I placed advertisements for the casting call with a synopsis that I wrote after cursorily reading the screenplay. Sam texted me a list of roles to place in the ad. “George” was the character name that Sam used for casting the role of Mo (short for Mohammed) in the screenplay and, as we know now, in the 2009 draft made public earlier today. I had also called SAG to arrange for their low-budget agreement.
Sam wanted to cast the film immediately so that we could be ready at the studio of a supporter in August. Fortunately for Sam, I had been looking for space for another real estate client and had discovered the perfect casting location in West Hollywood. I called the manager, and we ended up renting it.
Sam took me to dinner to celebrate. During our meal I called Conrad once again. Conrad wanted to speak to Sam directly, without my participation. During this conversation, I believe Conrad told Sam that he wanted to meet with Sam over the weekend to see if he could work on the film after all.
Sam didn’t tell me I was replaced that night but Conrad was back two days later. After I was replaced, Sam, knowing I was in the real estate business, contacted me again with a story about a close family member who had just sold a building in Dubai for $10,000,000. He wanted me to arrange some real estate purchases for this person, and then, Sam said, he would get him to put some money into Desert Warrior. This fable dragged on for several months. I caught Sam in several lies along the way, and in the end nothing came from this mysterious person in Dubai or his $10,000,000.
All of this is not to say that Sam lacked intelligence. I met with him five or six times throughout my involvement, and was left with the impression that while he is not an artist he is most definitely a businessman, albeit a dubious one. And, as I said earlier, I don’t believe Sam acted alone in writing the screenplay that would become Innocence of Muslims. I think he was helped by someone who had at least a cursory knowledge of writing screenplays.
Below I present my summary and analysis—based on the original notes I was asked to write by Sam—of the story based on the screenplay in my possession.
Part I (present day)
• In present-day Egypt, Dr. Mathew, a Coptic Christian and pharmacy owner, along with his wife and daughter Youstina, deal with the belligerence of Muslims who say that the Koran obligates them to adhere to its laws.
• An attack on Christians is led by Sheikh Metwali and encouraged by local law officer Constable Zembawy. General Khalil, a military official, witnesses the attack but initially does nothing to stop it. A poor man in rags, Rostom, who the Mathews have just helped by covering part of the price of his son’s medicine, steals from them during the chaos. The attack results in the massacre of Christians and the burning of Dr. Mathew’s pharmacy.
• Later Dr. Mathew says, “…the Islamic terrorists kill the Christians under the Islamic law and the Egyptian government gives them permission.”
• Dr. Mathew and Youstina begin a study of “Islamic history” to illustrate the dangers of the Koran and its blind use in the most heinous manners, as well as the supposed excesses of Mohammed.
• Dr. Mathew relays to Youstina the formulas “Man + ‘X’ = Islamic Terrorist” and “Islamic Terrorist minus ‘X’ = Man.” He then asks Youstina to solve for “X” as they continue to study “Islamic history.”
• The doctor tells his daughter the story and the screenplay shows the story of a character named Hanafi, the son of Sheikh Metwali, who went to America and married a young woman named Vicky solely to acquire a green card. After their marriage, Hanafi completely disregarded her and took up with his “real Muslim wife.” Vicky was humiliated.
• Sheikh Metwali claims that he has received $30,000 in American aid for converting an infidel (Vicky) to Islam. She now wears Muslim veils. The money was given to him by the Egyptian government for Vicky’s conversion and to facilitate the publication of books that turn Muslims against Christians by a man named Dr. Mohammed Emarh. He also spends money on kidnapping women and forcing them to convert to Islam.
• Dr. Mathew asks Youstina to go back in time to discern the reason “Muslims act the way they do.” The screen fades to black.
Part II (antiquity, during the time of Mohammed)
• The next portion of the movie takes place during the early life of Mo (aka “The Father Unknown,” who later in the screenplay is explicitly referred to as “Mohammed”). Mo was born out of wedlock, and then orphaned when his prostitute mother dies. Taken in as a slave at the age of 15, he was brought to work for Khadija, a wealthy older Christian woman. At 20 Mo married Khadija, who was twice his age.
• Mo hears voices and senses an apparition he thinks is the devil. Khadija and her cousin, Waraqua, plot to convince Mo that he is the Messenger of God and of the State, believing that they can gain power from him.
• Waraqua, a cleric, creates a book entitled the Koran for Mo. It’s a mix between versions of the Torah and the New Testament.
• Over the next 12 years, Mo becomes recognized as benevolent and peaceful, offering material incentives to converts. He does, however, employ subterfuge, agreeing with the Torah of the Jews and the Gospels of the Christians in order to get the money he needs for his own teachings.
• While spending time in seclusion in the mountains to pray and reflect, Mo contemplates suicide before being visited by the angel Gabriel. Mo then begins what the screenwriter believes are the true diabolic actions of Mohammed. He and his band brutalize Jews, Christians, and especially women. They torture, rape, pit brother against brother, make a wife watch her husband slain before her eyes, force a husband to watch the rape of his wife, and other horrifying acts. Mo takes a seven-year-old child as his wife.
Part III (the conclusion)
• Youstina has deduced from Mohammed’s story that the “X” in the aforementioned equation is “the Book.”
• Dr. Mathew explains the control of “infidels” via the Book, which contains passages that can be used for or against others depending on their beliefs. The book teaches its followers to act according to the animalistic/material/sexual needs of the followers.
• A montage of scenes of human malfeasance against Coptic Christians (monks, youths, a Christian Plumber named Hany Sarofeem, intercut with Mohammed’s final days still declaring that the land, women and children of infidels are the spoils of the Bossas, comparing Osama Bin Laden to Mohammed, a Nuclear explosion, comparing Iranian leader Ahmadinejad to Mohammed, Mohammed in full battle).
Please do not mistake my willingness to participate in the production of this film for intolerance of anyone’s right to worship as they please. I am a pacifist, a lover of all races, religions, and people who have different views than myself; however, I consciously work to use only words of peace. I was raised Jewish but I am now more philosophically Buddhist. As a Buddhist, I simply want to stop any suffering and let go of what causes it. I choose what Buddhists call “the right path.” I want a world of love-and-let-live. Elitism of all kinds, any sort of dogma that separates me from you destroys peace and thwarts any semblance of love.
Jimmy Israel worked in the motion picture business from 1968 to 1984 as founder of a motion picture supply business and as an assistant director/associate producer/producer-writer/production manager. Since then, he has established several businesses in different industries.