If Amy Berg’s documentary An Open Secret eventually finds the distribution that is currently eluding it, it’s going to mean more problems for director Bryan Singer, who earlier this year was accused of repeatedly drugging, threatening and forcibly sodomizing a minor in a lawsuit. It could mean problems, in fact, for a whole lot of people in Hollywood. Our awareness of the exploitation of minors by powerful men is just the tip of an iceberg, according to Anne Henry of the non-profit BizParentz.
Watching An Open Secret last night at its world premiere at DOC NYC, I was floored by its power. It struck me that this movie, if seen by enough people, could change things. It could contribute to making the world a better place by righting objective wrongs, a la Blackfish.
Singer’s accuser Michael Egan has since dropped his case, but Singer’s connection to Marc Collins-Rector’s teen-filled party scene hosted at his Hollywood mansion is detailed with specificity in the damning An Open Secret. Singer, according the doc, was an investor in Collins-Rector’s Digital Entertainment Network, an early purveyor of original video content on the internet a la Netflix. Collins-Rector founded DEN with Chad Shackley. Collins-Rector and Shackley became romantically involved, according to the documentary, when Shackley was 15. DEN, then, was their way of luring teen guys (some of whom were interviewed in An Open Secret) who aspired to stardom. Some of these guys would attend the parties at Collins-Rector’s house—parties that Singer allegedly frequented.
Though much of our reporting focused on the “barely legal” relations at Collins-Rector’s parties, An Open Secret suggests that there were decidedly illegal guys who were being preyed upon. Guys who were 14, 15, 16, 17. We see footage of a young Ben Savage being greeted by Collins-Rector at his home. Collins-Rector’s embrace drops so that he can grope Savage’s ass. “Your buddy’s here: Michael Huffington,” says Collins-Rector. Savage replies that he’s excited. Huffington, a former congressman and film producer, was another of DEN’s investors.
The allegations against Singer seem like a distant memory, just months later. Egan, who’s interviewed in the film and provided boxes and boxes of documents that he’d Xeroxed after sneaking into Collins-Rector’s office, eventually dropped his case. Singer’s X-Men: Days of Future Past was a huge hit, and he’s already at work on X-Men: Apocalypse. Since the allegations, he announced that he is bisexual and having a child with a woman he says he’d previously had a romantic relationship with. Terrific timing.
But consider the company Singer has kept. Consider the fact that he enlisted his buddy Brian Peck to record the commentary for the first X-Men. In 2003, Peck was arrested for lewd acts with a child. He pled guilty to two. He is a registered sex offender. The child actor was well-known for his work on a Nickelodeon show that Peck also worked on. In his lawsuit, the kid remained anonymous so that he could continue working. Part of what complicates this particular line of abuse is that the survivors who speak out risk either never being hired or never working again. That An Open Secret presents multiple examples of kids who were abused by men of power in Hollywood is a feat in itself. The movie is brimming with courage.
Singer’s attorney Marty Singer spoke to The Hollywood Reporter regarding An Open Secret:
Singer’s attorney Marty Singer (no relation) has not seen the film yet, but he questions why Egan’s allegations were included. “It’s disappointing and pathetic that Amy Berg would rely on the word of Michael Egan, a proven liar, who recently was admonished by a federal judge for lying in court,” Singer tells THR. “Egan has no credibility at all and can hardly be considered a reliable source for her so-called documentary.”
The movie’s climax has nothing to do with Singer, but concerns Michael Harrah, who until recently worked as the Chairperson of the Young Performers Committee at the Screen Actors Guild. When a publicist named Bob Villard was arrested for child molestation, the LAPD publicly sought additional victims of Villard to step forward. The LAPD specifically called on SAG to help with the investigation. At a meeting, Harrah “vehemently opposed SAG getting involved,” according to Anne Henry, who worked on the YPC, as well.
Harrah would at times have several aspiring young actors living with him. One of them, identified in the movie as Joey C., calls Harrah on camera, and says, “I didn’t like when you tried to make me sleep in your bed and touch me. I hated that.”
“That was something unwanted I shouldn’t have done, and there’s no way you can undo that,” says Harrah who doesn’t know he’s being recorded.
When Harrah is interviewed about the allegation he unwittingly admitted to, he says, “I don’t know what Joey is remembering, but I don’t remember anything that would have caused him to feel that way. All I can say is that as a result of the situation he was in, not only with me but with others, that that was how he perceived something. It certainly wasn’t anything I intended and that was going to be my response to it.”
Berg asks Harrah if he’s attracted to young boys and his response is, “Not particularly, no.”
To the Hollywood Reporter, Harrah and SAG had this to say:
“[Berg] quoted someone she had apparently talked to, and that information didn’t seem to be correct,” Harrah tells THR. “It’s hard to respond to anything that is so nebulous.” Adds a SAG-AFTRA rep, “We have not received complaints nor suggestions of any wrongdoing regarding the former committee member who resigned earlier this year.”
An Open Secret does not yet have distribution, as Berg told the crowed after the screening last night. Here’s more on that, again from The Hollywood Reporter:
Will a distributor now step forward, or will the film, which cost about $1 million to make, prove too hot for Hollywood, forcing the filmmakers to take the self-distribution route?
Several distributors have looked at it, and [producer Matthew] Valentinas says there is one, which he would not name, that has expressed definite interest. Says another distributor who passed, explaining there wasn’t room for it on his release slate: “It’s extremely compelling. How explosive it is remains to be seen. But I would not have any issue working on this film and think it would be a very interesting release.” Valentinas adds, “I think it’s going to come down to how courageous the executives are who look at this film. I think Hollywood is obviously nervous about the film, but I think once it is out there and everyone sees it, I’m sure we’ll have a lot of suitors for the film. I’m glad it’s premiering in New York, and I’m grateful for [artistic director of DOC NYC] Thom Powers for giving us this venue to get the film out there.”
People need to see this movie.