The real events behind Ben Affleck’s new movie, Argo, are the sort of thing the phrase “stranger than fiction” was invented for. If you’ve seen the trailers, you know the score: a CIA agent comes up with a crazy scheme to smuggle six Americans out of Iran by inventing a fake science fiction movie production and using it as a cover to sneak his targets out as “crew members.” It’s a plan that would probably be dismissed as ridiculous if you pitched it as a storyline, but it is nevertheless based on real events. And believe it or not, the story behind the “fake” movie script at the heart of Argo is nearly as bizarre and intriguing as all the CIA shenanigans. And now, to make things even more confusingly metafictional, a new documentary project has appeared on Kickstarter, promising to tell the story of the story behind the story of Argo. Wait, I may need to diagram that sentence…
So, the CIA needed a fake movie to establish their cover for the Iran rescue mission. Rather than having one of the interns at Langley cobble something together, they seized upon a failed science fiction script called Lord of Light. Based on Roger Zelazny’s award-winning 1967 novel of the same name, the Lord of Light script was the passion project of a dude named Barry Ira Geller. He bought the rights to Zelazny’s book and had big, big plans for it. Not only did Geller want to turn Lord of Light into a $50 million blockbuster, he wanted to build the world’s first science fiction theme park (dubbed, appropriately enough, “Science Fiction Land”).
That in and of itself already has the makings of a great, crazy story, but it becomes even more jaw-dropping when you factor in some of the people Geller recruited for his dream project. Let’s run down the list: legendary comic artist Jack Kirby. Makeup/effects wizards John Chambers (Planet of the Apes, Star Trek). Futurist Buckminster Fuller. Ray freakin’ Bradbury. If there was an A-Team of “designing science fiction theme parks,” these guys would be it.
But alas, it was not to be. And now Emmy-nominated documentarian Judd Ehrlich has turned to Kickstarter to round up the funding he needs to complete Science Fiction Land, his look at the strange tale of Barry Ira Geller, Lord of Light, and all the rest. He’s set a target goal of $50,000 by November 3rd. So far he’s raised $13,171, with 198 backers. We’ve got Ehrlich’s pitch video embedded below, and you can click over to the Kickstarter page to find out more information about the project, including the different tiers of rewards contributors get, all the way up to a pre-release screening of the documentary with the filmmakers in attendance. Science Fiction Land has all the makings of a ripping yarn, so I know I’m gonna see if I can dig up some cash to throw their way. This story is simply too weird not to be told.
You can read more about the true story behind Argo in this 2007 feature from Wired.