Film & TV

Anatomy of a Plot

President Trump departs Air Force One in St. Louis, Mo., July 26, 2018. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)
Amanda Milius combines her experience in the entertainment and political worlds to make a film about the ‘Russiagate’ plot against Trump.

Amanda Milius thought she would follow the footsteps of her father, the legendary screenwriter John Milius. After studying at The New School in New York, she attended the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts — perhaps the best film school in the country — and finished her master’s thesis in 2015. Upon graduating, Milius worked in fashion and art photography. She fostered her love for film by working for top producers and directors.

Like her father and mother, actress Celia Kaye, Milius was poised for Hollywood. But she had a few other things in common with her dad, who has been described by some Tinseltown insiders as a right-wing crank: a conservative worldview, an interest in politics, and sympathy for Trump. With nearly a decade of entertainment experience under her belt, Milius left Los Angeles for another shady city, Washington, D.C. — a place equally infamous for its loose morals and its crooked powerbrokers.

Over the next three years, Milius served in the Trump administration, both at the White House and in the State Department. She quickly adapted to Washington politics. Milius served as the project manager for the Office of American Innovation at the White House in 2019. She then worked as the deputy assistant secretary for content in the Bureau of Global Public Affairs through the first quarter of 2020.

But despite the newfound success, Milius would rekindle her filmmaking ambitions when she found herself in the middle of one of the biggest political stories in American history: the “Russiagate” scandal. It unnerved, thrilled, and emboldened Americans and Washington insiders alike. It was dramatic. It was like a movie unfolding before Milius’s eyes.

Along with several producers, Milius optioned The Plot Against the President, the 2019 book by Lee Smith, an investigative journalist and former senior editor at The Weekly Standard. Smith’s book chronicles the story of how Congressman Devin Nunes (R., Calif.) — then chairman of the House Intelligence Committee — uncovered the “Deep State” operation to sabotage the Trump administration. To no one’s surprise, the book became a bestseller.

When Smith’s manuscript “fell into her lap,” Milius was immediately inspired to get back in the director’s chair. It was the opportunity of a lifetime. She could finally combine her artistic life, her passion for politics, and her fascination with the intelligence community. In a press release, Milius describes her experience adapting the book into a documentary and taking the reins as director and producer. “It all came together at that point, it suddenly made sense that I had this filmmaking background that I thought I had left behind but now was a pretty useful skill to have,” she said.

I’m utterly bored of the endless partisanship that permeates everything. I watch movies by left-wing people all the time, I watch every news outlet, I consume the ongoing history of this moment as an American not from a political party perspective, so I don’t know why anyone else can’t do that. I also think it’s time political docs get a little edgier, and have appeal to both sides. It’s of value to all Americans because abuse of power and illegal surveillance is not a partisan issue. It’s a spy thriller. Who doesn’t want to watch a spy thriller? An actual spy thriller that actually happened. It’s the real life All the President’s Men, but bigger. One of my favorite movies, one of the only movies that really captures the desolate evil of D.C.

Milius was moved not only by Smith’s gripping account of the scandal but also by an aesthetic, the atmosphere of Washington, which she described as “very creepy.” The dead of winter, the early COVID lockdowns — it might be the perfect backdrop for a political thriller.

“Every day walking around D.C. during this time, running in and out of imposing dark government buildings in the snow, I felt like I was living in a nightmarish noir,” she said. “It was still in partial lockdown, so we were able to shoot some wide open empty streets. It was an eerie place to be the last year, which works perfectly for the noir-esque vibe of the film.”

While laying out an entertaining, if frightening, story about political abuse and its corrosive effects on democracy, Milius also hopes to provide a “foundation to understand the news as it happens.”

“Understanding what happened in 2016–2018 is essential to make sense of what’s happening every day currently,” Milius said, “because the media is not going to tell you. Neither side has yet to get the story right.”

The Plot Against the President will feature, among other prominent figures, Congressman Nunes, Ambassador Ric Grenell, Sidney Powell, Tom Fitton, John Solomon, Michael Anton, and the book’s author, Lee Smith. There will be additional “John Doe” interviews with anonymous government officials, and an exclusive interview with Kash Patel, the deputy assistant to the president, former senior director of counterterrorism at the National Security Council, and senior counsel at the House Select Committee on Intelligence.

The film was produced by Milius, Johnathan Eisenman, and the teams at Wollman Productions, LLC, and 1AMDC Productions, LLC. It will be released in October.

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