Mike Fleming

EXCLUSIVE: Would you believe there’s yet another potential movie about a film that was set up as a ruse to smuggle someone across a border? Joshua Bearman, whose Wired Magazine article about how the CIA used a fake film to free six embassy workers from Iran informed the Ben Affleck-directed Argo, has found another true story about a phony flick that is even more difficult to believe.

UTA is right now out to film producers with The Big Cigar, an article from December’s Playboy that details how Easy Rider producer Bert Schneider conjured up a film to help smuggle Black Panthers co-founder Huey Newton out of the U.S. and into Cuba to avoid being tried for murder and another violent crime. Bearman and Jim Hecht will write the script.

Schneider, who died last year at age 78, became a leading figure of the counterculture 1960s after he made Easy Rider. While Schneider did things like quietly fund Abbie Hoffman while he lived underground, he also put together what amounts to a reverse Argo. He was friends with Newton, who had already served time for previous violent crimes when he was implicated in the shooting death of a 17-year-old Oakland prostitute, and also for pistol-whipping his tailor. Newton didn’t want to go back behind bars.

According to the article, Schneider hatched The Cigar, a movie built around Newton that the producer never intended to make. It did help the radical leader leave the country and flee to Cuba, where he stayed for three years before returning to face charges. This is much different than the noble story behind Argo, because the violence in Newton’s alleged crimes are unsavory and continued until he was eventually shot to death at age 47. The idea is to use the article as the basis for a caper film revolving around Schneider, who also hatched the TV series The Monkees and produced the Vietnam docu Hearts And Minds and The Last Picture Show. I’ll let you know if this one sells, as producers mull it while Argo fights for its share of the box office.

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