Journalist Josh Bearman has written for Harper’s, Rolling Stone and many other outlets; you may have also heard his stories on This American Life. But he’s best known for a Wired magazine piece called “Escape from Tehran: How the CIA Used a Fake Sci-Fi Flick to Rescue Americans from Iran.” That article inspired one of the year’s most celebrated movies, Argo. Here is his list of other must-read features that should get the big-screen treatment.
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I wrote a piece several years ago in Wired magazine about a CIA mission during the Iran hostage crisis which, miraculously, has been adapted into the feature film Argo. I have a list of several other articles that I think also would make great films on the big screen.
“Into the Zombie Underworld” by Mischa Berlinski
Nobody talks about this story even though it was the best story of the year. This guy was living in Haiti, the actual writer, and he starts hearing about how there’s a zombie in town. So and so has been turned into a zombie. The woman’s name…I think it’s pronounced Nadat. The writer gets to thinking, “What is the deal? Is it real, is it true? What’s the story? How does this work?” And he starts trying to find the woman and he finds himself unspooling this whole system of zombie culture there.
There’s some kind of plant that sorcerers synthesize a toxin out of and they put it on you and it makes you appear dead and then you get buried and this is traumatizing that when you are taken out of the grave by your sorcerer-captors you kind of believe you’re a zombie. The system of sorcery is specialized and regionalized. To take one zombie from one area to the other you’ve got to get permission from the local sorcerer. It’s like human trafficking, basically.
It’s totally insane. Eventually the writer has this interpreter going to these conclaves of sorcerers trying to bargain back for this woman. I think it would be great as a movie because it’s like a zombie noir: this guy winds up playing the role of private investigator.
“The Last Ride of Cowboy Bob” by Skip Hollandsworth
This one’s from some time ago. It’s about this series of bank robberies. A guy dressed like a cowboy, Cowboy Bob, who is going in no guns, passing a note, getting money and doing that over and over again. Eventually it turned out it was actually a woman, Peggy Jo. She’s this nice, sweet Texas lady that everybody says, “You would never imagine that Peggy Jo would rob a bank.”
Life didn’t turn out the way she wanted. She’s taking care of her sick mother and at a certain point her mom dies so she very politely, Southern hospitality style, starts robbing these banks in disguise. Then one day she’s robbing a bank and the cops get her as she’s leaving the bank in this RV that she’s driving around. Eventually the door opens and she comes out and has a gun and she is killed. Then they realize it’s a toy gun.
It’s really this heartbreaking story, it’s very beautiful. It would be a 70s style movie where there’s this haunting tragedy at the end. Those are the best kind.
“My Father and Me: A Spy Story” by Yudhijit Bhattacharjee
Yudhijit Bhattacharjee wrote this great piece in GQ about this CIA agent who turned out to have been providing secrets to the Soviets. This is in the 90s. The guy is in prison and his son, who kind of idolized the dad but was seen to be socially troubled, reconnected with his dad by making prison visits and then his dad recruited him to be his agent on the outside and to pick up the spy trade.
Sure, I would have loved to have written a story like that. Fathers and sons, sad dad who’s proud but stuck in prison, is exploiting his son but maybe also wants to see his son excel at something because the son is lost. There’s some interesting stuff in there.
If I was casting this,maybe the dad would be Bryan Cranston — Walter White in Breaking Bad — the good guy gone wrong. And the son could be … well, the casting people would like to hear Ryan Gosling. A handsome young kid could also be vulnerable. The Lars and the Real Girl Ryan Gosling, the sad case.