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Giving Writers an Inside Look at the FBI

From Fact to Fiction
Giving Writers an Inside Look at the FBI

10/06/08

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Imagine you’re a writer working on a film or television script about the FBI, but you really know very little about us beyond what you’ve seen in other movies or TV shows.

What do you do? For decades, you’ve been picking up the phone and calling us. Every year, in fact, we get calls from hundreds of writers, directors, and producers seeking our advice and guidance.

We are happy to help, because we understand that the entertainment industry plays a key role in educating the public about our mission to keep the nation safe from terrorists and criminals. And we know that the more educated people are about the Bureau, the more likely they will help us solve—and prevent—crimes and terror attacks.

Any writer or producer can ask about our procedures, our history, and our cases in the public domain. They are not required to consult with us, though, and we don’t edit or approve their work. As a result, some story lines about the FBI are relatively accurate, while others, well, not so much.

For example, the popular TV series Without a Trace—which we provide assistance to and which helps us by publicizing some of our cases—features an FBI New York missing persons squad. But even though we do help search for those who have gone missing, we don’t actually have a missing persons squad, in New York or elsewhere.

John Miller, Assistant Director of FBI Public Affairs
John Miller, Assistant Director
of FBI Public Affairs

We understand dramatic license, but writers who take the time to discover the real Bureau, said Assistant Director of Public Affairs John Miller, may come to understand that “the reality of the FBI is much better than its fiction.”

Miller recently spoke to about 25 members of the Writers Guild of America East and the Producers Guild of America East in New York City as part of an “FBI 101” program. This day-long seminar periodically brings together members of the book, film, and television industries to streamline the process of providing information about the Bureau—to make it easier and more efficient for everyone involved.

“The world is a dangerous place,” Miller said, “and the FBI seems to have a piece of every one of those dangers.”

On any given day, he explained, agents are engaging in undercover operations to get the goods on organized crime figures, tracking suspected terrorists, investigating corrupt politicians, and using technology to stop child predators. Somewhere within our worldwide field of operations, a hostage negotiator may be helping to resolve a life-threatening situation, and a SWAT team is ready to breach a door to make an arrest.

“And that is not some special day,” Miller said. “That is an average day at the FBI.”

The veteran writers participating in the workshop heard from agents who specialize in evidence collection, organized crime, counterterrorism, cyber crimes, and SWAT. The writers followed up with questions on everything from the Russian mob and online pornographers to wiretaps and knockoff Prada handbags.

Afterward, one writer noted, “The seminar could have been twice as long, and it still would have been terrific.”

Twice as long would not have been a problem for the SWAT team leader. After regaling his audience with tales of foreign deployments, hijacking cases, and the arduous training required of team members, he concluded by saying, “I haven’t even used up half my stories.”

Resources: How writers can work with the FBI