More than 150 friends of Moneta resident and author Gary Noesner, a former FBI chief hostage negotiator, and his wife, Carol, were invited to Westlake Cinema on Jan. 20 for a preview of the first episode of the TV miniseries “Waco.”
The miniseries was adapted in part from Noesner’s 2010 book “Stalling for Time: My Life as an FBI Hostage Negotiator,” which recounted Noesner’s time with the FBI in 1993 during the Branch Davidian siege in Waco, Texas. Noesner was the FBI’s special agent-in-charge of hostage negotiations, speaking often with the compound’s leader, David Koresch, during the standoff.
The 51-day standoff began Feb. 28, 1993 when agents with the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms raided the compound on suspicion that illegal weapons and explosives were being stockpiled there. The FBI, including Noesner, took command of the operation following the initial raid. Noesner guided the hostage negotiations strategy for the first 26 days of the siege before being rotated out.
The FBI was able to release 35 of the compound’s residents, including 21 children, during the standoff before it ended on April 19 when agents raided the compound to remove Koresh and his followers. A fire began during the assault, which led to the deaths of Koresh and more than 70 others.
Producers John and Drew Dowdle (John Dowdle also directed the first episode) acquired the rights to Noesner’s book for the miniseries, as well as the rights to a book by David Thibodeau, who escaped the compound on the final day of the confrontation.
“Several producers had expressed interest in telling the story over the last several years,” Noesner said. “I was delighted with this outcome.”
Noesner said he began meeting with producers more than two years ago, and pre-filming negotiations and planning took more than a year.
During production, an exact scale replica of the Branch Davidian compound was reconstructed near Santa Fe, New Mexico at a cost of approximately $1 million, Noesner said. He added that it was bizarre to see the compound and watch it burn as part of the miniseries.
“That was incredible to watch,” he said.
Noesner said he was surprised by the logistical and manpower requirements of the filming. Production cost nearly $50 million, and included 200 people making up the cast and crew.
“Seeing the complexity of the filming operation was a real eye-opener for me,” Noesner said.
Noesner, who spent three weeks on location as a technical adviser during filming, was present when most of the scenes involving his character were filmed.
“I had the chance to make a number of suggestions to both the director and Michael Shannon, who played my character,” Noesner said. “Some of them were incorporated and others were not.”
Noesner is the only FBI agent whose real name was used in the miniseries. The others were fictitious representations — mostly composites — of other agents due to limitations of permissions and legal liability. While none of the other FBI agents in the miniseries represent real people, Noesner said they accurately present key issues, challenges and conflicts within the FBI at the time.
“Much of the dialogue among FBI agents comes directly from my book,” Noesner said.
Since he was not inside the compound during the siege, Noesner said he’s not sure how accurately the Branch Davidian point of view is represented.
“My only concern is that, in their quest to represent both sides of the story fairly, the producers may have characterized David Koresh without fully representing his darker, more manipulative side,” Noesner said.
Still, Noesner said he credits the film with accurate portrayals of himself and his wife. The producers drew heavily from his book and from conversations they had. “They even asked for old photos of Carol and the kids and the inside of our home at the time,” he said.
Almost every night he was on location in New Mexico, Noesner said he had dinner with Shannon, and the two became good friends. Noesner added that he never considered that he would be featured in a miniseries, and Shannon doesn’t try to emulate him in the film.
“He puts his own spin on the hostage negotiator character,” Noesner said. “But my words and behaviors from that time come through fairly accurately.”
There was one difference Noesner said he noticed between himself and Shannon’s portrayal. “I am a fairly upbeat guy, even during a crisis event like Waco,” he said. “Michael presents a more serious and brooding profile in keeping with the seriousness of the subject matter.”
Noesner dedicated the Westlake Cinema preview to his friend Brandon Handy, a special needs neighbor he holds weekly reading sessions with.
“Brandon patiently suffered through my book at our first read together two years ago,” Noesner said.
Following the film, Noesner answered questions from guests for more than 40 minutes. He discussed the production, his contacts with the cast and crew and his career with the FBI.
A separate pre-screening was attended by Noesner in New York on Jan. 21. He was a guest on “Megyn Kelly Today” on Jan. 22 and will appear on NPR’s “All Things Considered” on Jan. 24.
The first episode in the six-part miniseries airs Jan. 24 at 10 p.m. on the Paramount Network channel, which was formerly Spike TV.