After YouTube clips of his amateurish, green-screen-heavy film "The Innocence of Muslims" or "Muslim Innocence" were translated into Arabic and led to riots in Egypt and Libya this week, Sam Bacile has become the most famous independent filmmaker in the world, despite the fact that nothing is known about his past, his roots or how he actually funded his project.
Bacile had no internet presence and was a member of no social media networks prior to this incident. There are no early casting calls or production notices for the film. Nor does the film have a page on IMDB, the film database. No actors or crew members have been named or identified, and only a couple of the film's apparent backers -- fringe figures like pastor Terry Jones, Morris Sadek of the Coptic Church and Steve Klein, a "consultant" on the film who self-released an anti-Islamic book in 2010 -- have come forward to reveal themselves.
What we know about Bacile and his film comes solely from his own mouth. During an interview he gave Tuesday from an undisclosed location, Bacile said he was an Israeli-American real estate developer who raised $5 million from 100 Jewish donors, none of whom he identified. He doesn't appear to have a California real estate license, according to a review of online real estate databases.
Using a "thick" accent, Bacile said he used 60 actors and 45 crew members and that the project was shot in 2011 over three months in California. He called Islam a "cancer" and railed on the lack of security at the American embassies. He also said he planned to go into hiding as protests escalated.
Laura Rozen, who writes the Back Channel news blog for Al-Monitor, suggested that the name Sam Bacile may be a pseudonym for someone involved with the "Egyptian Coptic diaspora." Many people on Twitter have been attempting to figure out possible anagrams for the name, in case there might be a signal there. Jeffrey Goldberg, national correspondent for the Atlantic, tweeted, "Would anyone in the Jewish Twittersphere who has ever met 'SamBacile' please speak up."
Though Bacile is a mystery, we do know a bit more about Steve Klein, who told the Associated Press on Wednesday that he was a "consultant" on Bacile's film. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, the former Marine was part of the controversial California "Church at Kawea," near Fresno, and a member of a "secretive cohort of militant fundamentalists" preparing for war against Muslims in spring 2012. He believed that California was riddled with Muslim Brotherhood sleeper cells "who are awaiting the trigger date and will begin randomly killing as many of us as they can."
Klein is currently listed as the "Secretary and Founder" of Courageous Christians United, a group that protests outside of Mormon temples, mosques and abortion clinics. Leah Nelson of the SPLC said Klein founded the group back in 1977. Multiple requests for comment from Courageous Christians United have gone unreturned, but Klein himself spoke with the Atlantic's Goldberg on Wednesday afternoon.
Klein told Goldberg that "Sam Bacile" is not a real name, nor is the man actually Israeli or Jewish. "All these Middle Eastern folks I work with have pseudonyms," Klein said. "I doubt he's Jewish. I would suspect this is a disinformation campaign." Klein also told Goldberg that only 15 people were involved in the making of the film.
"I'm taking everything about this strange and horrible episode with a grain of salt," wrote Goldberg.
Amy Lemisch, the director of the California Film Commission, which issues permits for films that shoot in the state, told The Huffington Post no permits were given to anyone by the name of "Sam Bacile," nor to any project with the title of "Muslim Innocence" or "The Innocence of Muslims." If the filmmakers shot anything on state property, they would need a permit from the commission.
"We went to our internal database field," she said, "and we searched under 'innocence' or 'Muslims,' and we did not issue a permit for it."
A film with a supposed $5 million budget -- no small change for an independent project -- and a 45-member crew would be difficult to shoot under the radar, Lemisch said.
"It means they didn't shoot on state property, a state park or a state beach," she said. "They could have shot and didn't tell anybody, or a Ranger didn't catch them. But that would be pretty hard to do without getting a permit, unless they were in the middle of the desert on private property."
It's possible the filmmakers requested permits from local commissions, though without knowing where the film was shot, it's difficult to tell. HuffPost has reached out to other local commissions in California and is awaiting comment. But judging by the film itself, most of the "desert" scenes occurred in front of a green screen, so they could have been shot anywhere.
UPDATE: Gawker interviewed Cindy Lee Garcia, one of the actresses from the film, who is living in Bakersfield, California. She says she was never told that the film was a spoof of Muhammed. The casting notice she had originally received from her agent was titled "Desert Warriors." She said the director called himself "Sam Bacile," and he claimed he was an Israeli real estate mogul. But Garcia said Bacile told her on set that he was actually Egyptian. Read the rest of this bizarre story on Gawker here.