"Man Behind the Curtain" is a documentary film centered on a former CIA field operative's attempt to adjust to civilian life after a decade undercover with the world's most dangerous terrorists.
Douglas Laux, the director of the film is a former CIA field operative having served undercover in the Middle East and Afghanistan. Upon leaving the CIA, Laux wrote a New York Times bestselling memoir entitled, "Left of Boom: How A Young CIA Case Officer Penetrated the Taliban and Al-Qaeda," which details his experiences serving amidst the Global War on Terror.
In 2017, Laux appeared in the Discovery Channel series, "Finding Escobar's Millions," alongside his former CIA colleague, "Ben Smith." He is also credited as the executive producer and creator of the series.
Debuting on January 20, 2020, Laux appeared in eight episodes of the Bravo Channel series "Spy Games." Laux's role was as an "Assessor" responsible for building challenges for contestants and then critiquing them on their performance. His first feature documentary, "Man Behind The Curtain" won Best Documentary at both the Pasadena International Film Festival and Silicon Beach Film Festival in 2022.
What makes you fascinated with the cinematic language and what was the first film project you worked on?
• What I find most fascinating, at least in the documentary space, is the decided upon structure of the story and how it is eventually delivered to the audience. I really don’t like when films skip around on a timeline back and forth for artistic effect. Maybe once for a big reveal but I much rather the story be told linearly with events sequenced as they occurred. For example, if you have two big historical plot points that took place in 1985 and 1999 but the bulwark of your story is set in present day, I think it’s important for the audience to have that historical context up front so they know what you know and are as invested as they should be in the main characters. If you can tell a non-scripted story on a timeline from left to right and keep me engaged the entire time, well, I find that fascinating.
• As for my first official film project, it was a short documentary and accompanying trailer on the Black Dahlia murder I put together to pitch what would later become an award-winning audio series for Audible. I filmed everything with a variety of cameras ranging from your standard
set-up, to drones, to 360 VR. I learned a lot through trial and error, and it was the first time I had to wear every hat during the process as I was operating as a one-man-show.
Please tell us how your film came to life and let us know about the process from pre-production to completion.
• I had written a memoir about my time in the CIA and it was scheduled to be published in April 2016. My agent had obviously read it and set me up with a production company in New York interested in turning it into a feature film or series. A few weeks into the process, they realized I still hadn’t told anyone in my life about my past occupation — to include my parents, siblings, friends, and girlfriend — and that they wouldn’t find out until the book was released. Since I had lived undercover for over a decade, I didn’t think anything of it but the guys in NY obviously thought that was pretty profound and so we decided to film revealing my secret life to family and friends…starting with my parents. It went better than expected, and from there we just started filming interviews with everyone closest to me and I bought a camera and started self- recording all of the events surrounding the debut of my book. There was a lot of drama, which, of course, at the time was tough to go through, but ultimately, we caught all of it on camera and I suppose it makes for a better film in the end.
What was the most challenging aspect of working on this genre?
• Well, like I said, there was a lot of drama occurring in my life at that time both with the media and loved ones…and we were recording all of it. It’s a documentary. It’s real. It’s authentic. That’s what a documentary is supposed to be but unfortunately, I think we can all tell when the scripted
world starts to bleed into the non-scripted to heighten the drama. But if you refuse to fall into that trap, and you demand 100% authenticity, then the drama actually has to occur — and so you have to physically put yourself in uncomfortable scenarios. It wasn’t fun telling my parents, “Oh
hey, by the way, I’ve been lying to your face for the past ten years. I’m not in sales. I was actually in Afghanistan fighting the Taliban.”
What is your next film project and what you currently working on?
• I’ve only had this film on the festival circuit for a few months, so this is a primary focus for me right now. I’m not sure what my next film project will be, but my other main focus is a book I’m writing about an unsolved murder that took place in Australia in the 1940’s — which, could of course also turn into a documentary as I plan to film everything when I’m in Australia next summer.
What is the most creative part of directing a project for you?
• Oh that’s easy and it’s the same thing a realtor would say — location, location, location. I love interviewing someone for a documentary in an unusual environment that you weren’t expecting, but it still makes sense. A few years ago, a film student contacted me about being part of a documentary they were making and asked if I would self-tape my responses to their questions. I agreed due to the kindness of their initial request and brought my camera with me to the Subway located inside the
Walmart in my parent’s hometown. I explained at the top I was visiting my folks and they were currently shopping around the store so why not kill two birds with one stone. It added a lot of levity to the piece which is exactly what I was looking for to contrast the gravity of discussing the
Does the language of cinema stand out more than other arts to you? And why?
• I wouldn’t say it stands out more than other arts because, ultimately, any film worth it’s salt would have started out with the written word. This is especially true with scripted films but it applies to documentaries as well. While the dialogue should never be rehearsed or scripted for a
documentary, the “plan” should definitely be down on paper for everyone involved with the creation of the film to see. I’ve assisted a lot of fellow filmmakers on their projects and every so often I come across a team with a “let’s just see what we get” mentality. Or the director and producers know what they are looking for but the talent is in the dark. So, with regards to the language of cinema, I think that language needs to be available for everyone to review before the project begins.
Why do you make films?
• It generally begins when I find myself saying, “Oh, I would love to get that on film.” Because if I’m going to potentially spend years of my life and quite a bit of money on a project, I have to be emotionally invested up front. If I truly care about the content and believe in the idea, it’s a lot easier to stay dedicated and manage the rejections that will inevitably accompany any project. And ultimately, I think the whole point of creating films is for others — it’s for an audience, and yeah, you definitely want them to like it.