OpEd: Film Producer/Director’s Analysis of ISIS “Fraud” Video


In the last 24 hours, a video was posted online, which claims to show a “behind the scenes” filming of an ISIS/ISIL “beheading” video.  The video shows what looks like the typical ISIS beheading videos being clearly filmed with actors on a film or television set in some sort of controlled studio environment.  (Read our article on the initial video HERE)

As someone who has spent the bulk of the last decade working in front of, behind, and all around film sets, when I first saw the video, a few things immediately stuck out to me (**I’m not a film expert by ANY means, but these are just a few interesting things I noticed from my experience working in the film industry):

1.)  When it was first sent to me as a YouTube link, it actually scared me.  I didn’t know what I was looking at or why I was even looking at it, or if I should be even watching it…. AFTER I gathered some more info, I watched it a few times…. and the first thing that I noticed was that around the 1:35 minute mark, you can see the “actor” portraying the ISIS “Jihadi John” character go to fake “cut off” the actor portraying the hostage’s head.   Right after, the actor playing the ISIS man stops and playfully slaps the actor playing the “hostage” on the back, then on the head lightly – in, what looks like to me, a playful way.  This is very common on sets – especially with smaller crews and casts – you get to know everyone very well, and sometimes take after take can be daunting, so the actors often try to lighten up the environment (believe me, the irony of that sentence is not lost on me considering what this could potentially really be…).  At one point, I thought it looked the the man playing the hostage was crying, with his hands to his face, but upon watching it a few more time, I think he is laughing, and so is the Jihadi John figure.  This struck me immediately as something very “on” – if this is a fake, it is a very well done fake – all the way down to subtle behaviors.  However, it isn’t enough to convince me of anything.


Screen Shot 2015-07-12 at 3.35.50 PM

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2.) The crew is very small – very small.  The last feature I filmed was for a documentary and it had a very small crew – 1 camera person, a secondary camera, a lighting person, two sound people, and two assistants plus myself and usually a producer.  That’s a total of 9 plus whoever the subject we were filming was.  Now, I’ve been on sitcoms and dramas where the crew alone can (and often does) swell to over 100 people – but those are for big budget films and television or well funded independent productions.  The video of the supposed ISIS beheading being filmed has, from what I can count, a crew of 7.  At first, I only counted 5, until I lightened the photograph using iPhoto and noticed some important things – there is a second main camera, second camera person, and another, taller lamp (light) directed at the people “acting” in the scene, with ANOTHER person standing by that light.


Then I SUPER lightened it (by dragging the lightened photo onto my desktop and then re-uploading it into iPhoto – this is not high-tech stuff here, just basic computer knowledge.  I took the screenshot on my mac by using the shift+command+4 option, which lightens the screen a bit, which is how I noticed there were more people and more equipment in the first place – if you use a mac, you can try all this yourself) HERE IS AN EXTREMELY LIGHTENED VERSION, WHERE YOU CAN CLEARLY SEE SEVEN CREW MEMBERS:


And here is the original, lightened, without my numbers, just for reference:Screen Shot 2015-07-12 at 3.27.47 PM (1)

3.)  This size crew makes more sense to me (seven instead of five) – more so, because, although I understand WHY, if this is, in fact, real, whoever is behind it would want to make it a small crew.  However, five seemed more like a small photoshoot than a small film shoot to me – seven is more common, even why working on a “locked” production, which this would be, I imagine.  There is clearly, to me, a director – the man in the red cap who you can see talking to the “Jihadi-John” and “hostage” “actors” (I really don’t know what to call ANY of these people regardless of whether this is a hoax or real, so bear with me and my use of quotations..).

IT’S ALMOST LAUGHABLE TO ME HOW MUCH THE MAN IN THE HAT IS ACTING AS A DIRECTOR – The man playing the ISIS man nods at the man in the red hat several times, which to me indicates understanding of an instruction.  Which, in and of itself is strange – if that is really the big, mean ISIS man, why would he be so sub-serviant in behavior to a tubby little guy in a red hat?  Just food for thought…


4.)  One thing that stuck out as strange to me are the two people who appear to be holding some sort of cue cards or light reflector (to make it appear more realistic, lighting technicians will often use things called bounce boards to “bounce” the light from the unnatural studio lights back onto the actors to make the light appear more natural, or a million other reasons) – this is what they look like to ME, but again, these are just some things I noticed from experience, I am not a forensic video expert or even close – I just have lots of experience on sets and with film.


5.)  Now, I know a lot of people are tirelessly trying to compare this specific clip against the “official” ISIS released videos.  My advice would be to not waste your time – why?  Because, if this is like most film shoots – there will be MULTIPLE takes – in other words, the actors will film the scene many times and the director and editor will pick their favorite version in the editing room.  It is clear to me that they are in the middle of multiple takes just from the nature of the behavior of everyone on set, but more so by the SET and fact that it’s being shot on a controlled stage.  I have NEVER heard of all of this sort of equipment being set up for hours, bringing a group of people in, doing one take, and then packing up and going home.  The closest I saw to anything that might resemble this actual take was this:


Again, this is off, but it very well could be that we are looking at the final take that they used in the lower right, and one of the unused takes in the “behind the scenes” videos.


Overall, I think a few things need to be kept in mind:  This could very well be a video shot from behind the scenes of the infamous Turkish television show “Valley of The Wolves” (Wikipedia info here) – it made headlines last year for airing an episode of the popular drama series that dealt with ISIS, replete with a scene that mimics the videos ISIS had been releasing.  There are only a few remaining videos left about the topic, where people automatically assumed that the “same people” who directed the Turkish television show “MUST HAVE” been behind the beheadings – I AM IN NO WAY SAYING THAT BY POSTING THE VIDEO BELOW, It is for informational purposes only and you can do more research on the show itself –


There are some similarities – namely the frame of the man as hostage – that makes me think this could be from a camera behind the scenes at this studio where a real, known television show IS filmed and DID film an episode which had an ISIS scene…..  BUT, what is wrong about that theory to me is how small the crew appears – like I said above, this is a SKELETON crew – meaning it is as bare bones as you can go while still having some quality – Turkish TV has bigger crews, from what I understand and the “behind the scenes” camera leads me to my sixth and final observation:

6.) WHERE the heck is the camera FILMING the cameras filming the “ISIS execution” and exposing it located?  To me, at first, the angle looked like it could, maybe, possibly be some sort of CCTV camera – but, upon further inspection, it appears to be a camera set up on a tripod – it is much to stable to be handheld.  Now, if this is really a video of someone, somewhere staging headings for ISIS, don’t you think they would take EXTRA care not to have any random cameras on tripods sitting around recording you film?  That says to me two things:  either someone wanted this to be filmed, which would be in line with the reasoning being floated around the internet that it could be used as a political tool of some sort to show certain people that ISIS, or at least their videos, are mere propaganda….OR, it means that whoever made this video, if it was a hoax, remembered to do everything but figure out how to explain WHY it was being filmed by another camera from such a strange position…..

I suspect time will only tell.  Director Mary Lambert did a fabulous dissection of an ISIS video, explaining how the entire thing was fake and it’s a fascinating read (You can read that HERE).  Many have come forward claiming that the ISIS videos are fake or staged and they all claim that the videos are done so by various different people, organizations, or governments.

The video was released by Cyberberkut,a pro-Russian hacker organization out of Ukraine.  The best political motive essay on why this COULD be real is from the blog (Read HERE), which I am reproducing in full here for you to read and decide for yourself (note: italicized words indicate direct text from WillyLoman’s article about ISIS):

Needless too say, I cannot confirm it’s authenticity at this point. However, if it’s fake, whoever did it did a good job. They’ve been around a studio. The layout is right. The small bored staff seems right. Were this a typical propaganda script it certainly would have been more flashy.

It’s been released by Cyberberkut who are a pro-Russian hacker outfit out of Ukraine. Needless too say, they have their own reasons for wanting to get back at our intelligence agencies.

When I first became aware of this video it seemed rather odd that it was released by Cyberberkut. Then, as two readers have pointed out, in their release of the video, they suggest that John McCain is ultimately the source of the video itself, not the leaker, but the one who somehow had it.

[translation] “We ” KiberBerkut ” received at the disposal of the file whose value can not be overstated ! Dear Senator McCain ! We recommend you next time in foreign travel , and especially on the territory of Ukraine , not to take confidential documents” canadaslava

Now, this seemed even more suspicious too me at that time. For these pro-Russian hackers to name McCain specifically seemed rather suspect in that it’s very conveniently aligned with their efforts.

But then I thought about it and it occurred to me that one thing I have learned is that these “leaks” never happen in a vacuum. And what’s going on in Kiev right now might explain a whole lot.

The fascist, neo-Nazi right sector wants our puppet regime out of Kiev. They want control and have at least one of Ukraine’s oligarchs backing them.

They gave Poroshenko an ultimatum last month: invade the eastern breakaway regions by the 7th of this month or they would overthrow his government and take over themselves.

That didn’t happen and now there is open warfare starting up between our puppet regime and the thugs we empowered to help overthrow the last one.

Two right sector fighters were shot and killed yesterday in a gunfight with local police loyal to the current Kiev government. There are demonstrations taking place tonight calling for the ouster of the president we installed.

Militants from far right armed group ‘Right Sector’ clashed with police in western Ukraine on Saturday. Kiev called the incident an “act of terror,” while the group said its forces would stand against the authorities across the country. RT

Like we see in Libya, the failed states that we create in order to neoliberalize them, are failing miserably with various greedy and brutal sectors fighting amongst themselves. Iraq was similar in the early days.

Well, with that in mind, lets take another look at what we read about the translation of the Cyberburkut video statement.

Remember, McCain has been photographed with both the ISIS terrorist group destabilizing Syria as well as the right sector group which did the same in Ukraine.

Also remember, the right sector wanted to find a way to justify a full on invasion of the breakaway regions in the east.

What if McCain had a copy of that video provided to him by some State Department or CIA flunkie who was serving as a kind of Project Manager on the fake ISIS beheading propaganda as a kind of a progress update report.

And what if someone in Ukraine was talking with McCain and was wondering about ways to speed up their invasion into the eastern regions but didn’t have an idea of how to do it?

It’s entirely possible that John McCain, not being the brightest bulb in the box decided to show them how it’s done by providing them a copy of the ISIS production video?

And what if, just “what if”… what if someone in the right sector, with the intention of discrediting McCain and the western (U.S.) ties to the puppet regime depends on decided to leak it to Cyberberkut?

Is it possible that they are threatening McCain and the west because they are backing Poroshenko and not them?

Are they getting even for promising them control of the country and backing out?

Could it be the right sector got sloppy sharing the video and Cyberberkut intercepted it via a legitimate hack?

Anyone of these possiblities goes along with the current situation in Ukraine, doesn’t it?

Again, I don’t know if it’s legit at this point or not but I can’t say I feel like the mentioning of John McCain in the accompanying statement erodes credibility like I thought before. When you consider what’s happening on the ground in Kiev right now, anything is possible. (END OF QUOTED ARTICLE)

In closing, I feel like there are a lot of questions that need to be asked.  Author Naomi Wolf summed it up quite well on her Facebook page when she said the following regarding the video:  “I must report that many alternative news sites today are reporting that the russian hacker group CyberBerkut released a video they claim to have hacked via the phone of a colleague of John McCain’s, that appears or alleges or purports to show the staging of one of the ISIS beheading videos, in a film studio. The only place this has appeared originally is on Sputnik news, a organ of the Russian government, so it can’t be seen as independent — Russia is interested in embarrassing the US. But the story is going viral, as is the video. In an ideal world real journalists with real news organizations follow up and either confirm and add to or debunk this story. You will need to post it if you want to share it and investigate or ask reporters to investigate for themselves. UPDATE, OK Shad Khateeb posted it via Liveleak. I stress that I have NO KNOWLEDGE of this video, can’t possibly assess its origin, and once again this is the kind of thing that must be subjected to expert video analysis by real news organizations with real budgets. It could easily be Russian propaganda to discredit the US.”

I agree with her, and as such, I wonder why this isn’t all over the media today – that is a bit strange itself.  Either way, hopefully some answers will be given soon – real answers.  BELOW is the original posted video for your reference:

Royce Christyn
About Royce Christyn (3467 Articles)
Documentarian, Writer, Producer, Director, Author.