Production of the anti-Muslim film that has fueled violence and demonstrations in the Middle East this week was apparently held up by one of its creators’ stint in federal prison.
The California man most closely linked to the production, Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, was arrested June 18, 2009 on federal bank fraud charges. A year later, according to federal court documents, Nakoula, 55, was ordered to pay more than $790,000 in restitution and sentenced to 21 months in federal prison. He was also ordered not to use computers, cell phones, or the Internet for five years unless he got an OK from a probation officer.
It appears that the now-infamous film was already in the works in the days leading up to Nakoula’s 2009 arrest. A casting call for a film called “Desert Warrior” ran in Backstage magazine several times between May 21, 2009 and June 11, 2009, a week before his arrest. An actress who worked on the project, and who said she and others on the set were duped by the producer, told the website Gawker that she knew the film by the name “Desert Warriors.”
The 2009 casting call, found in online archives, included the following synopsis: “When current events affect a doctor’s family, he relates in flashback the story of early desert warriors.” The notice said that shooting was planned for mid-June, listed “Alan Roberts” as the director, and advertised the following roles:
Seeking—Male: 40-55, bearded, warrior, romantic, demanding, LEAD;Bearded Warriors: 20-60; Warrior: male, 25-30, African-American; DayPlayers: males, 20-85, to play Doctor, Police Captain, General, Priest, Trader, Elder Statesman, Stunt Fighters, Horse Riders; Female #1:18, must look very young, LEAD; Female #2: 45, rich, smart, LEAD; Females: 18-50, strong characters; Attractive Females: 18-30, romantic interests; Old Woman: 75+; African-American Women: 18-30; Large Woman: 30; Teenagers: female; Non-Speaking Extras: males and females. Note: All 45 speaking roles are 18-75, Middle Eastern types/accents unless otherwise stated.
Federal Bureau of Prisons records show that Nakoula was released from prison on June 22, 2011. (According to The Smoking Gun, he was released from federal prison in September 2010, spent three months in a halfway house in Long Beach, Calif., left, and then apparently violated terms of his release and returned to the halfway house until June 2011.) On July 14, 2011, the ad for Desert Warrior appeared again in Backstage, slightly altered. The film was described as a “historical Arabian Desert adventure film,” and a “Sam Bassiel” appeared as the producer. The list of roles had also changed a bit:
Seeking—Dr. Matthew: male, 45-55, Middle Eastern, modern day pharmacist, well educated, intellectual, LEAD; Captain: male, 40-50, modern day policeman, accent, featured; George: male, 20-40, a strong leader, romantic, tyrant, a killer with no remorse, accent, LEAD; Warriors: male, 18-60, numerous character roles, fighters, muscular, bearded, shaved, ethnic types, featured; Bilal: male, 25-35, African-American,strong, warrior, featured; Solyman: male, 60-70, bearded religious leader, featured; Asaad: male, 45-60, bearded tribe leader, intellectual, Israeli accent, featured; Moshei: male, 30-40, a trader, businessleader, Israeli accent, featured; Mathew’s Daughter: 16-18, Middle Eastern, modern day, accent, featured; Condalisa: female, 35-45, a Queen, self-assured, a boss, cunning, featured; Hilary: female, 18 but looks much younger, petite, innocent, featured; Olivia: female, 80+, older character woman with principles, featured; Females: 20-45, various supporting roles, strong dramatic abilities, exotic qualities, attractive middle eastern types, accents, featured; Character Females: 30-40, various types, sizes, featured; Males: 20-60, modern day villagers.
In an interview with the Associated Press on Wednesday, Nakoula admitted to being the manager of the company that created the movie. But he denied that he was the man who used the name Sam Bacile. In another interview with the AP earlier this week, a man who called himself Bacile claimed to have produced the movie, said he was an Israeli Jew, and that the film had been financed by more than 100 Jewish donors.
In its report Wednesday, the AP noted that Nakoula was tracked down at an address linked to a cell phone used by Bacile. Documents related to his bank fraud case, meanwhile, state that Nakoula was a man with a thing for creating aliases, among them: Thomas J. Tanas, PJ Tobacco, Ahmad Hamdy, Kritbag Difrat, Amal Nada, Erwin Salameh, Daniel K. Caresman, Robert Bacily, and Nicola Bacily.
Eric Lach is a reporter for TPM. From 2010 to 2011, he was a news writer in charge of the website’s front page. He has previously written for The Daily, NewYorker.com, GlobalPost and other publications. He can be reached at ericl(at)talkingpointsmemo.com