Earlier this week, the FBI posted a video on their website. It’s a 25-minute movie called Game of Pawns, based on the true story of Glenn Shriver, an American college student who was recruited as a spy by the Chinese government.
According to the FBI’s website, the film is aimed at college students about to study abroad themselves. The message is obvious: Don’t be a spy. The rationale is that a dramatic movie will capture young people’s attention better than public service announcements or PowerPoint.
In recent years, the FBI has been making movies to get their message across — both to the general public and their own agents. In fact, the FBI spends between $500,000 and $800,000 each year on videos for training and development.
“They really demand accuracy,” says Sean Paul Murphy, the film’s screenwriter. He tells NPR’s Arun Rath “they want something that is as close to reality as possible.”
When it came to actually writing the script, Murphy says FBI agents were far easier to work with than Hollywood types.
“Generally, everybody’s on the same page, and you’re not being pulled in different directions by people’s egos. On this, everyone was pulling in the same direction.”
Murphy has written movies for two other FBI films. Betrayed, his first film, is about an inside threat in the intelligence community. His other film, called Company Man, is about selling trade secrets to foreign powers. Both are short, dramatic narratives that emphasize the importance of national security.
In the week since its release, Game of Pawns has generated a lot of Internet ire and snark. Critics call it cheesy and cliche.
“I think it actually has very decent production values,” Murphy says. “Some people were complaining about cliche dialogue, and some of the things they cited as examples were things that Glenn had actually said in the interviews.”
Shriver himself cooperated extensively with the FBI in the making of Game of Pawns. Murphy says Shriver was pleased with the final result.
“He didn’t like the way his father was presented,” Murphy says, “but other than that, he had no complaint that I’m aware of.”