If you watch a lot of movies and TV shows, there’s a good chance something you like has been tampered with by government agencies. That may not sound like a surprise anymore given all that we have learnt about government control in the past few years but it should not be given a pass.
A new report by Tom Secker and Matthew Alford details how government agencies have been vetting, vetoing and drastically altering scripts and storylines of major Hollywood blockbusters in order to promote their agendas. With documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, Secker and Alford claim that over 1,800 movies and TV shows have been influenced in some way by government agencies; an astonishing number that exceeds any previous estimates of a largely secretive process.
This raises new questions about freedom of expression in entertainment and to what extent secretive deals by filmmakers to accommodate government propaganda deliberately misleads the audience into thinking these projects are the visions of creative people on and behind the camera. If you hate studio interference, you should despise government interference.
Here’s how the process works:
When a writer or producer approaches the Pentagon and asks for access to military assets to help make their film, they have to submit their script to the entertainment liaison offices for vetting. Ultimately, the man with the final say is Phil Strub, the Department of Defense’s (DOD) chief Hollywood liaison.
If there are characters, action or dialogue that the DOD don’t approve of then the film-maker has to make changes to accommodate the military’s demands. If they refuse then the Pentagon packs up its toys and goes home. To obtain full cooperation the producers have to sign contracts — Production Assistance Agreements — which lock them into using a military-approved version of the script.
This can lead to arguments when actors and directors ad lib or improvise outside of this approved screenplay.
It’s probably not a major surprise Transformers was one of the most willing participants in this secretive project given their thirst for large scale combat scenes that would require military equipment and CGI vomit accompanied by army personnel.
On another movie, the one that started it all for Marvel’s Cinematic Universe, Jon Favreau wanted a military character to say a particular line of dialogue that the DOD did not approve of. The line being, ‘People would kill themselves for the opportunities I have’. It led to a heated confrontation between Favreau and Strub and according to Strub:
“He’s getting redder and redder in the face and I’m getting just as annoyed. It was pretty awkward and then he said, angrily, “Well how about they’d walk over hot coals?” I said “fine.” He was so surprised it was that easy.”
However, this line did not end up in the finished film, whether that was simply a creative choice or Favreau being unsatisfied with having to accommodate the DOD is a question that only Favreau could answer.
Another Marvel project affected was Ang Lee’s Hulk. The US military reportedly made ‘radical’ changes to its script. They removed a reference to the Vietnam war from its screenplay. Moreover, the laboratory in which Hulk was created was also re-branded as a non-military facility and the director of the facility was made an ex-military character. They also changed ‘the code name of the military operation to capture the Hulk from ‘Ranch Hand’ to ‘Angry Man’.’
‘Ranch Hand’ is the name of a real military operation that saw the US Air Force dump millions of gallons of pesticides and other poisons onto the Vietnamese countryside, rendering millions of acres of farmland poisoned and infertile.
Further dialogue was also removed referring to ”all those boys, guinea pigs, dying from radiation, and germ warfare’, an apparent reference to covert military experiments on human subjects.’ The military is not credited for these changes highlighting that it was in fact supposed to be kept secretive. The information was obtained through a ‘dossier from the US Marine Corps’.
Other notable movies thought to have been affected include Top Gun, D.C Cinematic Universe, James Bond, Meet the Parents and Salt.
It’s worth noting that studios always pay for the privilege of using military equipment provided by the government which is why the need to exercise creative restrictions on the material seems to be a little troubling.
Tom Secker and Matthew Alford have written a new book together on this breaking story titled: National Security Cinema: The Shocking New Evidence of Government Control in Hollywood.
Source: Medium, Featured Image by Derek Swansonn