'Argo' Screenwriter Chris Terrio Describes His Research Immersion to Create Taut Thriller

One of the most talked about screenplays in awards contention this fall is also one of the few screenplays not available for free, legal download for your consideration: Argo. I imagine for guild members and members of the Academy, Warner Brothers has most likely sent out copies of this screenplay, but for the rest of us mere mortals that would like to consider the screenplay for educational purposes, it's "Argo [bleep] yourself." So, instead of reading the screenplay, why not hear from the screenwriter himself? Thanks to David Poland and his DP/30 series, we have an in-depth interview with Argo screenwriter Chris Terrio, covering his filmmaking history, his screenwriting approach, and specifically his process for adapting the original Wired article by Joshuah Bearman for the Argo screenplay.

First, in case you don't have 30 minutes to spare, here's a quick 5-minute video from the Academy Conversations with actor/director Ben Affleck and writer Chris Terrio discussing the project:

Here's the DP/30 interview with Argo screenwriter Chris Terrio:

I personally really liked Argo. I found the storytelling tight, I was emotionally connected with the characters, and I was on the edge as the third act climax played out on screen -- even though I already know how this story ends! Certainly, I grant in retrospect that it may be easy for critics to say the movie's version of the ending felt "Hollywood," but it hit all the right beats at all the right times, and isn't being a bit "Hollywood" the whole point of the story? To get to this point of a tightly constructed script peppered with hints of the greater political story playing out on the margins of this specific rescue mission, I was happy to hear Terrio explain that he immersed himself in the history of the Iran hostage crisis for a year before bringing a draft of the screenplay back to producers George Clooney and Grant Heslov at SmokeHouse Pictures. And hats off to Clooney, Heslov and SmokeHouse for giving Terrio the free rein to spend that much time in the history of the material to create this screenplay.

Terrio sums up this working relationship best when he says:

It never felt like a job, which maybe is the greatest gift that any writer or director or actor or any artist can have, right? That you get to work and it never feels like you’re going to your job everyday.

Terrio is no overnight success as you'll learn from watching the video, even though Argo marks the first time many of us have noticed his writing talents. So keep writing, because overnight success stories like this are usually a decade in the making.

What part of Terrio's research and writing process resonates with you? Share with us in the Comments.


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Your Comment


Didn't the real story take place with the Canadian Government and the movie switched it to the American government as the heros?
I haven’t seen the movie yet.

December 24, 2012 at 1:26PM, Edited September 4, 7:54AM


I'm sorry, but the movie sucks. I can't understand why it's rated at 95 on the tomatomater. It was boring, mediocrely directed and I didn't give a shit for any of the characters. I was really looking forward to it, because of the general hype and I liked "The Town", directed by Affleck. Maybe it's because we're being asked to worry about six people in the Canadian embassy, while over fifty are being held hostage at the American embassy and no one in the movie ever talks about them. I would pay ten dollars not to have to read the screen play.

George - tshit.de/freshdailies

December 24, 2012 at 5:22PM, Edited September 4, 7:54AM


Jealousy is a very ugly thing.

January 13, 2013 at 5:36AM, Edited September 4, 7:54AM


Argo is pure propaganda, plain and simple. typical Hollywood orientalism. go read Edward Said... with his critiques in mind you can tear this shitty movie apart.

hate to bring politics into the discussion, but the movie is pure politics, 'tight' script or not.

December 24, 2012 at 9:30PM, Edited September 4, 7:54AM


The movie itself mentions Said's critique... When a minister of culture accuses Mendez of coming to Tehran to film snake charmers and flying carpets -- when what Mendez finds there are modern students talking about post-colonial theories of history... Watch the movie again and you may find that the filmmakers share your distrust ofmorientalized filmmaking.

January 3, 2013 at 4:47PM, Edited September 4, 7:54AM


The movie was interesting because I was there. I lived in Esfahan for a year and left after the Shah left the country. I was really shocked when they showed the parrot on the counter at theTeheran airport. That was me! Who else had a parrot? There I was , with a 4-year-old girl, a 8- year-old boy, tons of luggage and a damn parrot. What was I thinking? We all got our and the movie portrayed the chaos very well.

I By the way, my parrot was green and had a parakeet-like long green tail. I still want to know who saw me.

December 26, 2012 at 12:33PM, Edited September 4, 7:54AM


I thought that was among the most honest, unpretentious, entertaining and informative interview on screen writing I've ever seen. I was shocked by how much I enjoyed the movie, given how much I disliked Affleck's previous work. I'd love to know the credentials of the people who are excoriating this guy over "Argo." Please, do share with us what movies you have written that have grossed over $100 million and earned 7 Oscar nominations.

January 13, 2013 at 5:35AM, Edited September 4, 7:54AM

You voted '-1'.