‘Borat’ crew ends up shooting blanks in jail

Times Staff Writer

Not everyone was bamboozled by Borat.

The jailers for the Imperial County Sheriff’s Department were eager to cooperate with the area’s film commission when a request arrived to show a reporter from Kazakhstan the County Jail. The filming was presumed to be for a documentary comparing modern, humane treatment in U.S. jails with the brutal conditions in his homeland.

But midway through the shoot, a department employee figured out that all was not what it seemed with Borat Sagdiyev, the dippy character played by Sacha Baron Cohen, and put an end to filming.

“The deputy kind of caught on, so he didn’t fall into their joke,” said Imperial County Film Commission President Susie Carrillo.


The film crew was ordered out of the jail and Sheriff Harold Carter, thoroughly unamused, followed up with a threat to file a lawsuit if the footage was used in the film “Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan,” which quickly became a box-office sensation after its release last month.

The tipoff may have been when Borat started pretending he was being arrested.

“I like-a this place,” he tells the jailer. “Very nice. When you make all the mens do a pyramid, can I be on top?” The comment, of course, was meant to play off the pictures from the Abu Ghraib prison scandal in Iraq.

For whatever reason -- the lawsuit threat or the lack of appropriate reaction from the sheriff’s employees -- the scene never made the movie. But it is included as a deleted scene on the Borat website and the ubiquitous YouTube.


The Imperial County scene appears to have been planned as part of a plot twist in which Borat is arrested as an illegal alien attempting to cross into the U.S.

Don’t be fooled. The subtitle says Arizona state prison, but it’s really Imperial County.

The county is still interested in being a location for movies. Parts of “Jarhead” were shot in the local desert, as were scenes from the upcoming “Into the Wind” directed by Sean Penn.

Carrillo is in negotiations with at least two Hollywood companies. Her job is to sell the region’s cinematic attributes -- the desert, the dunes, the existential Salton Sea, the fields of wheat and alfalfa, lots of locals willing to be extras, and, best of all, no permitting fees or zoning hassles.


Imperial County is eager for the movie industry to come calling. With one exception:

“If Borat comes back,” Carrillo said, “I think the sheriff will run him out of town.”