LOS ANGELES -- The film that set off violence Tuesday across North Africa was made in obscurity somewhere in the sprawl of Southern California and promoted by a network of right-wing Christians with a history of animosity directed toward Muslims. When a 14-minute trailer of it -- all that may actually exist -- was posted on YouTube in June, it was barely noticed.
But when the video, with its almost comically amateurish production values, was translated into Arabic and reposted twice on YouTube in the days before Sept. 11, and promoted by leaders of the Coptic diaspora in the United States, it drew nearly 1 million views and set off bloody demonstrations.
The history of the film -- who financed it; how it was made; and perhaps most important, how it was translated into Arabic and posted on YouTube to Muslim viewers -- was shrouded Wednesday in tales of a secret Hollywood screening, a director who may or may not exist, and used a false name if he did, and actors who appeared, thanks to computer technology, to be traipsing through Middle Eastern cities.
One of its main producers, Steve Klein, a Vietnam veteran whose son was severely wounded in Iraq, is notorious across California for his involvement with anti-Muslim actions, from the courts to schoolyards to a weekly show broadcast on Christian radio in the Middle East.
Yet as much of the world was denouncing the violence that had spread across the Middle East, Klein -- an insurance salesman in Hemet, a small city two hours east of Los Angeles -- proclaimed the video a success at portraying what he has long argued was the infamy of the Muslim world, even as he chuckled at the film's amateur production values.
"We have reached the people that we want to reach," he said. "And I'm sure that out of the emotion that comes out of this, a small fraction of those people will come to understand just how violent Muhammad was, and also for the people who didn't know that much about Islam. If you merely say anything that's derogatory about Islam, then they immediately go to violence, which I've experienced."
Klein has a history of making controversial and erroneous claims about Islam. He said the film had been shown at a screening at a theater "100 yards or so" from Grauman's Chinese Theater in Hollywood over the summer, drawing what he suggested was a depressingly small audience. He declined to specify what theater might have shown it, and theater owners in the vicinity of the busy strip said they had no record of any such showing.
The amateurish video opens with scenes of Egyptian security forces standing idle as Muslims pillage and burn the homes of Coptic Christians. Then, it cuts to cartoonish scenes depicting the Prophet Muhammad as a child of uncertain parentage, a buffoon, a womanizer, a homosexual, a child molester and a greedy, bloodthirsty thug.
Even as Klein described his role in the film as incidental, James Horn, a friend who has worked with Klein in anti-Muslim activities for several years, said he believed Klein was involved in providing technical assistance to the film and advice on the script. Horn said he called Klein on Wednesday.
"I said, 'Steve, did you do this?' He said, 'Yep.' "
As the movie, "Innocence of Muslims," drew attention across the globe, it was unclear whether a full version exists. Executives at Hollywood agencies said they had never heard of it. Hollywood unions said they had no involvement. Casting directors said they did not recognize the actors in the 14-minute YouTube clip that purports to be a trailer for a longer film.
The original idea for the film, Klein said, was to lure hard-core Muslims into a screening of the film thinking they were seeing a movie celebrating Islam.
"And when they came in they would see this movie and see the truth, the facts, the evidence, and the proof," he said. "So I said, yeah, that's a good idea."
Among the film's promoters was Terry Jones, the Gainesville, Fla., preacher whose burning of the Quran last year led to widespread protests in Afghanistan. Jones said Wednesday that he has not seen the full video.