Entertainment

Staircase: Michael Peterson Blasts HBO Series & Documentary Director

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Antonio Campos’ depiction of documentary filmmakers Jean-Xavier de Lestrade and Sophie Brunet in HBO Max’s “The Staircase” has led to a public dispute over their portrayal in the miniseries adaptation. But now, the real-life main subject of both series – Michael Peterson – is speaking out in an exclusive series of emails to Variety.

Peterson’s wife Kathleen was found dead at the bottom of the staircase of their North Carolina home in 2001. Authorities discovered that Peterson, who identifies as bisexual, was having sexual relationships with men. He was charged with murdering his wife and convicted in 2003. He’s now free, after the charges were reduced to manslaughter in a retrial.

Peterson allowed a camera crew to film him and his family as he awaited trial, which became an extended documentary series that premiered in 2004 (it’s streaming on Netflix). While Peterson isn’t happy with Campos’ HBO series, he’s livid with de Lestrade.

“I have read about Jean de Lestrade’s sense of betrayal by Antonio Campos and HBO Max’s presentation of ‘The Staircase,’ but what has been forgotten or overlooked or simply ignored is his betrayal of me and my family,” he says. “We feel that Jean pimped us out – sold OUR story to Campos for money – what word other than pimped describes what he did?”

De Lestrade produced and directed the docuseries. In addition to a fee, he received a co-executive producer credit on the adaptation starring Colin Firth as Peterson.

“He released his archive to Campos who then created a fictional account of events, most of which trashed me (which I really don’t care about) and my children – which I really do care about,” Peterson says. “There are egregious fabrications and distortions of the truth in the HBO series, well beyond what may be considered an ‘artistic’ license.”

One of the revelations of the case is that Peterson knew a second acquaintance, a neighbor in Germany, who also died by falling down a staircase.

De Lestrade suggests that Campos would have made the miniseries without his involvement. He says that when he met with Campos over a decade ago to discuss fictionalizing the “The Staircase,” the eventual showrunner made it clear to him that Peterson and his case were in the public domain. At the time, Fox Searchlight was attached to make the story into an indie film. Ultimately de Lestrade decided to sell Campos the rights to his materials, the actual amount of which is disputed by de Lestrade and Peterson.

“Since I knew that Antonio had in mind to tell the story of Michael and the documentary, I thought it would be better to cooperate, and be involved in the process then to stay totally outside as a stranger,” de Lestrade says. “In a way I thought I was protecting Michael and his family by being involved, but I was wrong.”

In an interview with Varietyde Lestrade says he never looked at Campos’ scripts and did not take part in the HBO Max production despite his producing credit on the series.

“Antonio and I talked a lot throughout the years, and I really thought he got the story right,” says de Lestrade. “So when they started the writing process there were writers in the same room with many ideas and they worked for many hours. I couldn’t be involved in that process from Paris. Also, since I really trusted Antonio, I didn’t ask for the script. I know it’s difficult to understand, but I now know that I can’t trust anyone in this business. I should have asked. It’s my mistake. ”

Campos did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Peterson’s statements about the miniseries, which aired its finale on June 9. HBO Max had no comment on disputes swirling around the fictionalized series. Each episode contains a disclaimer that it is “a dramatization based on certain facts.”

In his email to Variety, Peterson states that de Lestrade never informed him that he sold materials to Campos. De Lestrade disputes this, saying that he told the Peterson family in and around 2008 that Campos wanted to make a feature film about the docuseries. De Lestrade cannot recall if he informed Peterson about the HBO Max series.

“If I didn’t, I should have,” de Lestrade admits.

While de Lestrade maintains that he was paid just € 7,500 ($ 9370) for the materials he sold to Campos, Peterson asserts that the director should have been wary of the deal and concerned for the Peterson family. He also claims that the filmmaker received significantly more than that amount.

“Jean should have known that when you sell your ass / property, you assume the risk of getting fucked / betrayed,” Peterson says. “Every hooker knows this. So he got betrayed / fucked. Why should he be surprised? He was compensated – paid off. But we didn’t sell our story to Campos – were never even consulted or informed that Jean had done this. We are the ones who were betrayed, falsely depicted as fighting among ourselves (which NEVER happened), and with made up story lines that denigrate all of us in the eyes of millions. ”

Campos’ dramatization depicts Lestrade and Brunet as a documentary director and editor who are ethically compromised. Shortly after the May 5 premiere of the first episode of “The Staircase,” by Lestrade and Brunet publicly accused Campos, as well as co-showrunner Maggie Cohn, of taking their artistic license too far. But Peterson doesn’t feel sympathy for de Lestrade.

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“It is disingenuous and hypocritical for Jean to talk about his integrity being challenged when he sold himself to Campos and showed no integrity or sense of responsibility to us,” says Peterson.

Peterson continues: “He is the individual responsible for what happened to us, and while I am sorely pissed at Campos for all the liberties he took with the truth (and for stealing from my book“ Behind the Staircase ”- the only source for his prison scenes, and for which I of course was not compensated), I am angrier at Jean who should have had our interests in mind when he sold our story. I have no sympathy for him, any more than I would for a hooker who contracted an STD after peddling her ass. Sounds harsh — but look at the result to our family for what he did. ”

De Lestrade feels empathy for Peterson. “I’m working in France doing a big drama show,” he says. “I don’t need to sell the rights to [‘The Staircase’] to make money. But I can really understand Michael’s position because [the series is] terrible for him and his family. But I think in the documentary I really tried to do it with great respect for Michael, and all his children. ”

Peterson asserts that de Lestrade received $ 75,000 for selling the rights to the docuseries materials, pointing to his knowledge of earlier deals to adapt the project, but the filmmaker firmly refutes that, stating that the production company may have received a greater sum than him. In Peterson’s view, even that disputed higher figure was too small a sum for the damage the miniseries inflicted on his family.

“I like and respect Jean, but no matter how he tries to spin it, he received somewhere around $ 75,000 for our story, a paltry sum, certainly in light of the horrific damage my family suffered,” Peterson says. “And he failed to mention how he opened his entire archive of footage on us to Antonio.”

Peterson told Variety that he plans to be in New York this weekend for the Tribeca Film Festival premiere of “Subject,” a documentary that explores the subject of ethics in documentaries. Peterson’s daughter Margaret Ratliff, a documentary filmmaker herself, is a participant in it, as is her father.

Writes Peterson: “I intend to bring up the matter of documentary ‘ethics in selling their documentary to others who might exploit them, as Antonio and HBO did to us.”

Here is Peterson’s initial email to Variety:

Dear Ms Morfoot,

These are my first public remarks on the HBO Max and French documentary Staircase. Warning: obscenities to follow. Blame my daughter Margaret – she gave me your email address.

I have read about Jean de Lastrade’s sense of betrayal by Antonio Campos and HBO Max’s presentation of Staircase, but what has been forgotten or overlooked or simply ignored is his betrayal of me and my family.

We feel that Jean pimped us out – sold OUR story to Campos for money – what word other than pimped describes what he did? He released his archive to Campos who then created a fictional account of events, most of which trashed me (which I really don’t care about) and my children – which I really do care about. There are egregious fabrications and distortions of the truth in the HBO series, well beyond what may be considered an “artistic” license.

Jean should have known that when you sell your ass / property, you assume the risk of getting fucked / betrayed. Every hooker knows this. So he got betrayed / fucked. Why should he be surprised? He was compensated – paid off.

But we didn’t sell our story to Campos – were never even consulted or informed that Jean had done this. We are the ones who were betrayed, falsely depicted as fighting among ourselves (which NEVER happened), and with made up story lines that denigrate all of us in the eyes of millions.

It is disingenuous and hypocritical for Jean to talk about his integrity being challenged when he sold himself to Campos, and showed no integrity or sense of responsibility to us. He is the individual responsible for what happened to us, and while I am sorely pissed at Campos for all the liberties he took with the truth (and for stealing from my book Behind the Staircase – the only source for his prison scenes, and for which I of course was not compensated), I am angrier at Jean who should have had our interests in mind when he sold our story. I have no sympathy for him, any more than I would for a hooker who contracted an STD after peddling her ass.

Sounds harsh – but look at the result to our family for what he did.

Sincerely and with best wishes, Michael Peterson

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