'Game Change' Writer Fires Back at Sarah Palin Allies

Phillip V. Caruso/HBO

Danny Strong says a McCain-Palin staffer lied when he claimed he was promised advance access to the script and the upcoming HBO movie.

As a debate rages between Sarah Palin’s allies and HBO about the accuracy of the network’s upcoming Game Change, its writer and co-executive producer is vehemently denying that he misled former McCain-Palin staffers or that he is hiding the finished product from them.

Danny Strong, who wrote the Emmy-winning HBO film Recount as well as the upcoming Game Change, says he never promised he’d share his script with McCain-Palin advisor Jason Recher, who told journalists Wednesday that Strong promised access to Game Change ahead of its March 10 debut.

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“I am adamant – adamant -- that I never promised to show him the script because I never promised anyone I’d show them the script,” Strong tells The Hollywood Reporter.

Game Change, based on the book by the same name, portrays Palin as uninformed about global affairs, a characterization that Recher and six other former staffers objected to during a conference call with journalists on Wednesday, though none has seen the movie.

Recher says he is standing by his assertion that Strong reneged on promises but admits he can't prove it.

“I stand by my claim,” he says. “However, I don’t have evidence to back it up. So, out of fairness to Danny and his professionalism, I’m not going to call him a liar or say that he’s making things up.”

Strong also says he’s not hiding the movie from Recher and other Palin allies, many of whom are invited to a March 7 premiere in New York or one the following day in Washington.

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“We invited Randy Scheunemann and Jason Recher to our premiere in D.C., which would be before the movie aired,” Strong says. “So, if they wanted to make comments -- attack the film or praise the film, whatever they want -- they would have time to do so.”

Recher, who says he tried to convince Strong a year ago that the Game Change book was loaded with inaccuracies, said he is unable to attend the premier.

“I actually sent Jason an email letting him know the invitation was coming, because I appreciated the help he gave me in the interview,” Strong says. “I thought we had a really good relationship on this project, until I was stunned to see what he said yesterday.”

Scheunemann, who assisted Palin with debate preparation during the campaign and was also on Wednesday's conference call, said he will intentionally avoid the movie.

In the movie, Scheunemann, played by Brian Howe, tries in vain to teach Palin, played by Julianne Moore, routine concepts. The campaign staffers eventually ditch the strategy and tell her to simply memorize lines to deliver during her debate with now-Vice President Joe Biden. Scheunemann said nothing like that took place.

Also, John McCain and Palin have been offered a pre-screening of Game Change, though they have declined, and HBO screened it for Steve Schmidt, the film’s protagonist, played by Woody Harrelson, and a source for John Heilemann and Mark Halperin, who co-wrote the book.

“HBO offered to show the movie to the main characters portrayed in the movie, out of no obligation, just as a courtesy,” Strong says. “They figured it was probably a very emotional thing for them and we wanted to show them what we did.”