"Innocence of Muslims" was filmed and first released in Southern California, but much else about its origins remains a mystery.

Share story

LOS ANGELES — In a rundown theater on a stretch of Hollywood Boulevard this summer, an independent movie made its debut. The acting was amateurish, the dialogue clunky and the costumes laughable. Fewer than 10 people attended.

Months later, the movie — “Innocence of Muslims” — would be blamed for inciting mobs in Egypt and Libya. The movie was filmed and first released in Southern California, but much else about its origins remains a mystery.

A man who identified himself as an Israeli-American filmmaker claimed Tuesday that he made the movie with backing from wealthy Jewish donors, but there were indications Wednesday that the name and story he gave were false and that the movie was tied to a group of Middle Eastern Christians who live in the U.S. and hold extreme anti-Islamic views.

Steve Klein, who said he served as a script consultant, said he and the producers originally called the movie “Innocence of Bin Laden” in hopes of drawing underground Islamic extremists in the Los Angeles area.

This week, save 90% on digital access.

“The movie was only supposed to show in Hollywood,” said Klein, who described himself as “an unsophisticated James Bond.”

Klein said the video was filmed this year, but he would not reveal the shooting location or the names of the producers. “Innocence of Bin Laden” premiered at the Vine Theater in late June, according to three people. One said the movie was notable for its terrible acting but did not seem anti-Muslim.

Less than two weeks later, a 14-minute trailer for the movie — now called “Innocence of Muslims” — was posted on YouTube by a user identifying himself as Sam Bacile. The scenes in the trailer portrayed the Prophet Muhammad as a buffoon, suicidal, gay, lascivious and condoning of pedophilia.

A crew member said the cast and crew were told the film was to be a war drama called “Desert Warrior.” In an email interview, the crew member, who asked not to be identified, said the dialogue in the trailer that makes specific attacks against Islam was rerecorded after the actors left the set.

“The original actors said one word, and then the producer and editing team (whom I don’t know) dubbed,” he wrote.

The trailer posted in July appears to have attracted little notice. But last week, a second version of the trailer was posted, this time in Arabic. Morris Sadek, an Egyptian-American Christian activist who has been a virulent critic of Islam, began promoting the trailer on his Facebook page, saying it revealed the “truth” about Muhammad’s life.

Subsequently Al-Nas, an Egyptian television channel, began broadcasting clips. Protests in Egypt and Libya followed.

After the killings at the consulate in Libya, a person identifying himself as Bacile told The Associated Press that he made the movie for $5 million with donations from 100 Jews. He described himself as an Israeli Jew and a California real-estate developer.

However, searches of public records — including court, voting, telephone or property databases — showed no one named Sam Bacile in California.

The Associated Press reported Wednesday afternoon that Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, 55, a Coptic Christian who uses the alias Nicola Bacily, had acknowledged managing a company that produced the movie. He insisted Bacile was a real person and had directed the film. But federal court papers said Nakoula’s aliases included Nicola Bacily, Erwin Salameh and others.

Klein, the script consultant, is well-known to those who monitor right-wing extremists. The Southern Poverty Law Center has an extensive file on Klein that goes back decades.

An ex-Marine who served in Vietnam, Klein founded Courageous Christians United in 1977.

Custom-curated news highlights, delivered weekday mornings.