Sunday, November 20, 2016

15 Popular Stars Who Became Criminals
by Mark Heidelberger

When it comes to the law, there’s no shortage of celebrities with a history of playing it fast and loose. They may feel like the same rules that apply to us mere mortals don’t necessarily apply to them. It could be that they expect their celebrity status to get them off with nothing more than a slap on the wrist. Perhaps those same emotions they’re so good at controlling for stage and screen get the better of them when the limelight’s not shining. Or maybe it just demonstrates that celebrities are human, prone to scrapes with justice just like the rest of us.

Of course, human or not, that doesn’t mean the media will treat them with the same disinterest and indifference as the next guy. Quite the contrary. When stars commit crimes, the news cycle is utterly relentless in its coverage, counting on viewers who want the guarded personal lives of celebrities demystified. Celebrities are used to riding the gravy train, so you can always count on the public to slow down and watch the train wreck. While this list is by no means exhaustive, here are 15 celebrities who found themselves operating on the wrong side of the law at one time or another (some more than once).

On September 11th, 2002, Nolte was arrested in Malibu after he fell asleep behind the wheel of his car and veered into opposing traffic on the Pacific Coast Highway. It was later found that he was driving while under the influence of a party drug called GHB, whose effects often resemble those of alcohol. Nolte later plead no contest to the misdemeanor charge, served three years’ probation and spent time in rehabilitation. Many of us remember the famous Polaroid that a Malibu police officer snapped of a disheveled, wild-haired Nolte the night he was arrested. However, despite popular belief, that was not the official mug shot, which was never released to the public. Nolte claims he was headed to an AA meeting at a church that night, but for reasons unknown changed his mind when he arrived and decided to go back home. Too bad. That meeting might have been the best thing he could have done for himself.

In December of 2001, Ryder was caught trying to shoplift $5,000 worth of clothes, hair products and a hand bag from Saks Fifth Avenue in Beverly Hills. Clerks had caught her ripping off tags and stuffing the clothes into a shopping bag she was carrying. While she beat a burglary charge, she was convicted of vandalism and grand theft, which ultimately lead to $3,700 in fines, 480 hours of community service, and restitution to Saks. During the arrest, she was also found carrying painkillers without a prescription, but denied being under the influence. While she was not charged with any drug-related crimes, she was ordered to attend drug counseling. Following a five-year hiatus, Ryder returned to acting in 2006, appearing in Richard Linklater’s adaptation of the Philip K. Dick novel A Scanner Darkly. Many fans were shocked as to why a wealthy celebrity would have to steal clothes. However, those who later saw the prices at Saks quickly found their confusion alleviated.

In April of 2007, Vick’s cousin, Davon Boddie, was arrested on drug charges and provided Vick’s home as his primary address. Upon searching the residence, authorities discovered evidence of dogfighting, including 54 malnourished dogs (primarily pitbulls), a blood-soaked fighting arena, training equipment, and various documentation describing the nature of the enterprise. On July 17th, Vick and three cohorts were indicted on federal charges of funding an illegal gambling operation and violating interstate commerce laws by transporting fighting dogs across state lines. The State of Virginia also brought charges of illegal dogfighting and cruelty to animals, where it came to light that Vick was at least aware of, if not complicit in, the hanging, drowning and electrocution of dogs who had underperformed in the ring. At this point, dog lovers everywhere who had never even considered the death penalty for serial killers were suddenly calling for its use on Vick. Instead, he was sentenced to 23 months in the federal doghouse, although he barked his way out in just 18.

Brown’s legal woes began on February 8th, 2009 when he beat up his then-girlfriend Rihanna, causing her facial injuries that required hospital treatment. He later plead guilty to one count of felony assault. But Brown was just getting started. On June 14th, 2012, he was involved in a fight with Drake at a New York City nightclub over Rihanna. On January 27th, 2013, he attacked singer Frank Ocean outside a West Hollywood recording studio over a parking spot. On October 27th, 2013, he was arrested for felony assault (yes, again) for punching a man outside a Washington DC hotel.  On November 10th, 2013, he was sentenced to 90 days’ anger management for throwing a rock through the window of his mother’s car. On June 2nd, 2016, he was accused of punching a woman in the face for trying to snap his picture after a performance. And on August 30th, 2016, he was arrested on suspicion of assault with a deadly weapon after a day-long stand-off with police outside his Tarzana home. Further instances abound, but this is an article, not a novel.

Unfortunately, Winona’s not the only “Heathers” cast member to have run-ins with the law. On December 29th, 1989, Slater was arrested for drunk driving after leading police on an early morning car chase that ended when he wrapped his Saab around a tree. His blood-alcohol limit was three times the legal California limit and the stunt netted him 10 days in jail. In 1994, he was arrested at JFK Airport for trying to board a commercial flight with an unloaded 9mm handgun. Then, in August of 1997, while under the influence of cocaine and heroin, he was arrested yet again for beating up his girlfriend, fashion editor Michelle Jonas, and a man who was trying to help her. When police arrived, he resisted arrest and kicked officer Julio Flores down a flight of stairs. He was sentenced to 90 days in jail, but only served 59. As a star on the top of the “unwanted touching tree,” he was also charged with third degree sexual abuse in May of 2005 for inappropriately grabbing a woman on the street.

Li-Lo’s collection of mug shots is beginning to look like its own yearbook album. Between 2007 and 2012, she racked up more than a dozen infractions. The lowlights: On May 26th, 2007, she’s charged with drunk driving and possession of cocaine after crashing her car in Beverly Hills. The lesson didn’t stick, because she gets arrested for the exact same charges again two months later (as well as driving with a suspended license, natch). She’s sentenced to one day in jail, but is released after serving a staggering 84 minutes. On May 20th, 2010, a bench warrant is issued when she skips a court date to attend the Cannes Film Fest, forcing her to chalk up 100K in bail. Subsequent fines and jail time rack up as she continues to violate the terms of her probation. On December 12th, 2010, a Betty Ford Clinic staff member accuses her of assault, although the charges are subsequently dropped. On February 9th, 2011, she’s taken into custody for trying to swipe a $2,500 necklace from a Venice jewelry store. And on November 29th, 2012, she’s nabbed for punching a woman in the face outside a Manhattan night club. All this lends credence to the theory that she got miscast in Mean Girls.

The Canadian pop star seems to be taking a few cues from the Chris Brown/Lindsay Lohan playbook. One, two or even three times in cuffs just isn’t enough to solidify your street cred. On December 30th, 2013, the Biebs and his entourage assaulted a limo driver who had the unfortunate task of chauffeuring them around. Barely two weeks later, he plead no contest to misdemeanor vandalism of a neighbor’s home and was ordered to pay nearly $81,000 in damages. Nine days after that, he was arrested in Miami Beach for illegal street racing and resisting arrest after unleashing a torrent of profanities at local police officers. Then, on August 29th, 2014, he was nabbed for assault and dangerous driving after his ATV collided with a minivan that, according to his lawyers, was being driven by a member of the paparazzi. While stars deserve some R&R too, it’s still boggling how many turn to violence simply because their picture was taken without their permission. Hello, you are famous!

Beyoncé’s better half may not be that much better after all. In October of 2001, music impresario, Roc Nation mogul and Obama BFF Jay Z turned himself into authorities for a stabbing incident that happened outside a listening party at the Kit Kat Club on December 2, 1999. He was originally charged with felony assault and faced up to 15 years in prison for sticking a blade into record producer Lance “Un” Rivera over what some speculate was a disagreement about female rapper Charli Baltimore. Ultimately, the mogul plead the charge down to third degree assault and was sentenced to a paltry three years’ probation. Rumors have also swirled for years that Jay Z was involved in orchestrating the murder of fellow rapper Big L, although no proof has ever been proffered and most consider it mere tabloid fodder. Either way, none of this seems to have hurt him, as Forbes estimates his 2016 net worth to be about $610 million.

Philadelphia native Smith found fame in the 1980’s as one half of the hip-hop duo DJ Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince. But a poor decision in 1989 could have closed the gates to Bel Air permanently. According to police, Smith got into a verbal altercation with promoter William Hendricks – just days after his first Grammy win no less – and ordered his bodyguard to attack Hendricks. The assault left Hendricks with a fractured left eye orbit that required hospitalization, and Smith was subsequently charged with aggravated assault, simple assault, reckless endangerment and criminal conspiracy. Smith spent a night in jail at the West Philly police station as a result, with one witness claiming that the other inmates were bothering him all night long for autographs. Fortunately for Smith, the charges were later dropped, and he denies any wrongdoing to this day. He later starred on screen as Muhammad Ali, where his fighting talents were better suited.

White collar crime might not sound as exciting as good old-fashioned violence, but ask Wesley Snipes about getting caught doing it: it sucks just as much. In 2006, the Blade star was overseas in Namibia filming his new movie Gallow Walker when he was forced to return to Ocala, Florida to answer charges that he fraudulently claimed refunds of almost $12 million for both 1996 and 1997 taxes that he had already paid. He was also accused of failing to file any tax returns between 1999 and 2004, a period during which he made approximately $40 million. He eventually posted $1 million bond and was permitted to return to Namibia to finish his film. He was later found guilty on three misdemeanor counts of failing to file federal tax returns, went behind bars at McKean Federal Correctional Institution on December 9th, 2010, and served about 2.5 years of his three-year prison sentence. He was released on April 2nd, 2013, and as far as we know, has faithfully paid his taxes ever since.

First, a little backstory. A biopharmaceutical company called ImClone was experimenting with a new cancer drug called Erbitux back in 2001. It had submitted the drug for FDA approval and got denied. You’re thinking, yeah, so, what does this have to do with Martha Stewart? Just hold on to your custom boutique throw pillows, we’re getting to it. An ImClone co-founder was arrested for advising family and friends to sell the stock before the FDA announcement was made, knowing it would plummet the value. One of those friends was Stewart. (Aha, now you’re getting it!) She sold some $200,000 worth of the doomed ImClone stock, saving herself from $45,000 in losses. This is called “insider trading” and it’s illegal. She was arrested in June of 2003 and later found guilty of securities fraud and lying to federal investigators. The 62-year-old home décor magnate was sentenced to five months of hard time, five months of house arrest, and two years of probation. While she had to step down as CEO of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, word is she still taught her fellow inmates how to crochet a mean doily.

Fans of the early 80’s sit-com seemed to get pelted with a barrage of bad news over the years as one cast member after another was arrested for various crimes. In 1987, Todd Bridges received a suspended sentence after pleading no contest to making a bomb threat. In 1988, he was tried and acquitted for attempted murder after allegedly shooting drug dealer Kenneth Clay eight times inside a crack house. Then in May of 1990, he was arrested again for cocaine trafficking in North Hollywood. Co-star Dana Plato also had multiple arrests, first for forging a drug prescription in 1982 (netting her 30 days in jail) and then for robbing a Las Vegas video store in 1991 with a pellet gun (she skated by with five years’ probation). Even Gary Coleman was taken into custody in 2010 when, during a civil disturbance involving his wife, authorities learned that he had an outstanding warrant stemming from a prior incident. His response when told of the warrant? “Whatchu talkin’ bout, Willis?!” (Okay, that was bad.)

On April 8th, 1988 in Dorchester, Massachusetts, Wahlberg violently attacked local Vietnamese resident Thanh Lam as Lam walked to his car with some beer he had just bought. According to reports, Wahlberg spewed racial epithets as he smashed Lam over the head with a five-foot-long wooden stick, leaving him unconscious. While evading police, he approached another Vietnamese man, Hoa Trinh, and punched him in the eye. Wahlberg initially believed that he had blinded Trinh, but it was later revealed that Trinh had already lost that eye in the Vietnam War. Wahlberg was initially charged with attempted murder, but later plead guilty to the lesser charge of criminal contempt. He was given a two-year sentence, but only served 45 days at Boston’s Deer Island House of Correction. Many believe that this stint in the brig incentivized him to turn his life around. And thank goodness it did, or we may have been forever deprived of the exquisite melodies of that super group we all came to know and love – The Funky Bunch.

It seems almost like the plot of a Hollywood movie that Blake himself might have starred in. On May 4th, 2001, the Baretta star went to dinner with his wife, Bonnie Bakley, at Vitello’s in Studio City. Witnesses described their appearance as “unhappy.” After the meal, she waited in the car on a side street while he went back to retrieve a gun he had left inside (later determined by police not to be the murder weapon). Bakley was shot to death in the car while he was gone. On April 18th, 2002, Blake was arrested and charged with her murder, while his longtime bodyguard, Earle Caldwell, was arrested for conspiracy. Two former stuntmen came forward with stories that Blake tried to hire them to kill Bakley, and gun residue was found on Blake’s hands shortly after the shooting. However, the defense team was able to poke enough holes in the prosecution’s case to create reasonable doubt, with jurors later describing the evidence against Blake as “flimsy.” Although he was ultimately found not guilty, he later was forced to pay a $2 million civil settlement to Bakley’s children. Ah, karma, the real killer.

Perhaps one of the largest and saddest falls from grace is that of Mr. Simpson – once a heralded football star, sports commentator and film actor. On June 12th, 1994, the bodies of his ex-wife Nicole and her friend Ron Goldman were found brutally slain outside her Brentwood home. Five days later, the LAPD requested that Simpson turn himself in on first degree murder charges; instead, Simpson fled in a white Bronco owned by his friend Al Cowlings and lead police on a long freeway chase that was beamed across the world via helicopter news feeds. The trial lasted from January 24th to October 3rd, 1995, eventually resulting in a not guilty verdict and Simpson’s freedom. However, like Blake, Simpson was later ordered to pay a multi-million-dollar civil judgment to Nicole’s and Ron’s families. Then, on September 13th, 2007, he was arrested again in an unrelated case and ultimately found guilty of robbery, burglary and kidnapping. He is currently serving a 33-year sentence in Nevada and will be eligible for parole on October 2nd, 2017, where he’ll likely have several reality show offers awaiting him if released.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Here's a treatment for a Foot Locker spec spot I wrote. See what you think...

“My Court”

We start on a young, athletic, well-built BLACK MAN walking down the steps of a courthouse. He wears a suit and holds a briefcase.

He arrives at an outdoor basketball court with no one around. He sets down the briefcase and starts taking off his tie, then his jacket, then his buttoned-up shirt to reveal a sleek nylon tank top underneath. He slips off his pants and shoes to reveal a pair of gym shorts, then slides into a pair of brand new high-tops. He stands up and faces the hoop.

During this, we hear his voice-over:

“This is my court… It won’t ask me how my day was… Or whether I’m ready to proceed... This court doesn’t exchange pleasantries...”

BOOM. Suddenly our main man explodes to the basket in a series of slam dunks, reverse dunks and lay-ups, intercut with threes, jumpers, dribbling and the kind of sick ball handling that would impress Phil Jackson.

We continue to hear his voice-over as we watch this awesome display:

“But it doesn’t have any objections either… It doesn’t require any witnesses… There doesn’t have to be order at this court... Here, “all rise” has a whole different meaning… At this court, I’m the law… It doesn’t care if I take the fifth… In fact, it’s better if I don’t talk at all... This is my other practice…”

We see him go up for one more monster dunk, which changes from REGULAR SPEED to SLOW MO and back again, as we hear his final voice-over explain:

“Here, I’m the judge, jury and executioner.”

We show a CLOSE-UP of his face – it’s serious, a game face.

And then a FLARE CUT takes us to the FOOT LOCKER logo.


Sunday, June 19, 2016

Christmas Comes A Little Early This Year

I recently produced a movie called "A New York Christmas," which Shoreline Entertainment will be releasing later this year. As part of the delivery items, I needed to create a press kit with production notes about the making of the film. Here is what I wrote. See what you think....

A New York Christmas

               The story’s origins are rooted in the filmmakers’ deep-seated love of Christmas – a time each year when people of all colors, creeds, sizes, sexes and ages come together in joyous celebration. It’s a time for sharing and togetherness, a time for romance, a time to be with the ones you love. It’s a time to set aside differences and remember what makes us the same. At the heart of the story, writer-director Nathan Ives wanted to explore the lives of some people who appeared very different on the surface, but were united in their dramatic, funny and sometimes painful life experiences. In the early screenwriting stages, there seemed like no better city for this ensemble journey to unfold than the great melting pot that is the Big Apple. A downtown hotel, with its transient nature, also presented the perfect stage, both literally and figuratively, to glimpse briefly at the lives of eleven strangers... strangers who don’t look all that different from you and me.

               The journey began in early 2014 when Ives had caught the eye of businessman Brian Conley during a screening of Ives’s first feature film, It’s Not You, It’s Me. Conley saw that Ives had a knack for telling personal stories with a bittersweet blend of humor, pathos and empathy. The two decided to team up on a feature film, and the seeds of A New York Christmas were planted. During the script’s development phase, Ives and Conley worked closely on the characters together and flushed out the meaning behind each storyline. Once the script was further along, Ives reached out to his friend and former manager, Mark Heidelberger, to join him and Conley in producing the picture. Heidelberger had been producing movies and television for 15 years, and was not only a skilled line producer, but brought an abundance of knowledge in development, casting, post and distribution. At that point, the core producing team was assembled, and the three set out to make movie magic together.

               Once the script was in solid shape, they began reaching out to cast. One of the first actors on Ives’s go-to list was big screen veteran Ross McCall, who Ives had cast as the lead in It’s Not You, It’s Me. McCall had brought a great depth of emotion to the lead character in that film, and Ives had already conceived the role of Ben with McCall in mind. In addition, McCall’s great relationships with other strong actors (and his ability to get them on board) earned him an executive producer spot on the team. When casting director Sherrie Henderson began auditioning other leads, it quickly became obvious who was right for the roles. Jaime Ray Newman’s instant chemistry with McCall made their pairing a no-brainer. Richard Herd and Lee Meriwether literally brought decades of experience and a grandparent-esque likeability that’s so often missing in older characters today. Newcomers Maurice Mejia and Catherine Toribio simply knocked their auditions out of the park. Jamie Bamber, Linda Park, Jasika Nicole, Tracie Thoms and Chris Backus rounded out the ensemble, each bringing an impressive toolbox of acting skills that allowed them to fully embody their characters.

               Production was scheduled to begin in May of 2015. Ives had flown to Manhattan the Christmas before with a second unit cinematographer to get establishing shots and B-roll of the city. Now, the next big challenge was finding a location for principal photography in Los Angeles that could play as New York. It not only had to have that early 20th century urban architecture that so readily captures the feel of Manhattan, but had to pass for it outside the windows as well. Heidelberger had decided it was just too expensive to build all the hotel sets on a stage, which would have at least allowed for the use of matte painting backdrops, and therefore a normal daytime shooting schedule. Instead, the film would have to be shot mostly at night in order for the world outside the windows to believably play as Manhattan, which meant a tiring and unorthodox schedule for the crew. In addition, the tight budget meant many hotels that were used to big budget productions were out of the question. Ives and Heidelberger scoured downtown Los Angeles for just the right place. Fortunately, the Millennium Biltmore across from Pershing Square, right in the heart of the metropolis, met the producers’ artistic and budgetary qualifications; the team had found their new home for the next 12 days.

               The production took up one whole hallway on one floor for the first five days and the two-story, multi-room Presidential Suite for the remaining seven. Rooms served as the actors’ dressing rooms, makeup and wardrobe facilities, production offices and equipment staging areas. The shooting schedule was as tight as the budget, and with only two six-day weeks to shoot everything, Ives and director of photography Kenneth Stipe found themselves having to rip through an average of seven and a half pages a day. In addition, production designer Julian Brown was tasked with making each room look just different enough to create some aesthetic diversity, while still remaining similar enough to feel like they were all in the same hotel. Not having to load in to the location and wrap out each day allowed for more valuable shooting time. And the hotel rooms often doubled as crash pads for cast and crew weary from an entire night of shooting; but at the very least, they were extremely comfortable. In fact, the crew was consistently reminded that there could have been worse places to shoot all night.

               Despite all the obstacles, the production remained on schedule, and at the end of the 12 days, the producers had a treasure trove of footage that was beautifully designed, shot and acted. Now it was time to turn it into a cohesive narrative. Ives and Heidelberger began interviewing potential editors during principal, often before crew call or at lunch. Ultimately, they settled on Lori Ball because of her take on the material and experience with similar films. While she and Ives slaved away on a director’s cut, Heidelberger, also serving as post production supervisor, began hunting for a composer who could create a score that simultaneously captured the spirit of the season and the drama of the plotlines. While many candidates seemed qualified, it was Alex Kovacs who most impressed with his whimsical melodies and passion for yuletide nostalgia. With the key post team in place, Ives and Heidelberger set about on an ambitious but doable 21-week schedule to finish the picture.

               By November of 2015, the film was complete, with the exception of a pesky little song called “Cuddle Up” by Catey Shaw, which the producers and Sony Music were still hammering out the publishing rights for. (This would finally get wrapped up almost six months later!) A cast and crew premiere was held at the AMC Burbank 8, appropriately, two weeks before Christmas, providing a stress-free venue for celebrating the achievement and the season. With the exception of a projector malfunction during the last five minutes, which was quickly fixed, all went well. Applause was genuine and excitement was palpable as credits rolled over a shot of downtown Manhattan while the track “Could Be” by The Lollygaggers, an original ditty created just for the film, played over the speakers.

There was a feeling in the air that the cast and crew had all been a part of something special, that they had made some sort of statement – even a small one – on the cultural significance of the country’s favorite holiday. Hugs and handshakes continued at the Barney’s Beanery after-party while guests sipped on stout and noshed on hors d’oeuvres. But despite the festive atmosphere, the same nagging question kept arising in conversation, one the producers would be tasked with answering at the top of 2016: Where will the film be shown? It was time to find the film’s audience. The producing team had scaled Everest. Now it was time to get back down.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Check out this synopsis for "Walking on Palmettos," written by Jim Christell, a new feature film I'm packaging about the true life story of convicted drug smuggler and playboy, Myles Richards...

Walking On Palmettos

“I believe I must have had a pirate somewhere in my bloodline…”

Myles Richards could easily have become a CEO in the corporate world but would have found it too confining. He had the brains and certainly the fortitude for running a global enterprise, and eventually he would put his own spin on just that; but, in 1967 he was only interested in surfing the world’s biggest waves. This is a true story.

“…When you put an entrepreneurial spirit hand-in-hand with traveling to the world’s far corners, the whole idea seemed to naturally fall together. We wanted to surf the world’s best waves. Before anything else, we were just surfers…”

At the age of seventeen, during the “Summer of Love,” Myles began smuggling marijuana into the United States.

“…The general public’s perception is that smuggling always involved violence and guns. There were no guns. No violence. Never. It was nothing like that, not with me. It was all very educated people who chose this. We were upper-middle class kids…”

Myles’ smuggling career began modestly, evolving then into “the subtle art of bringing in a load, and never doing it the same way twice.” He played a high stakes game in competition only with himself. For Myles, there was no other rivalry. He was part-man, part-boy, with a steel-trap mind completely at ease in taking huge chances; yet, so naïve as to trust friends who had no capacity to keep his elevated code of “never telling on pals.” So, although it took fifteen years before the D.E.A. even knew his name, and five more years to get their hands on him, in the end- “friends” got Myles caught.

He lived a life most people could only dare to vicariously experience through the telling of his story. Of taking astonishing degrees of high risk where the air was razor thin, before then descending to incredible and violent lows when he faced a life sentence in Lompoc Federal Prison for “conspiracy to import 215 tons of marijuana”; which, in fact, was only a fraction of what he actually smuggled into the country.

After more than a decade behind bars, Myles was resigned to languish in Solitary Confinement before fate offered a chance at redemption; in part, from the love of a brother who Myles had scarcely noticed their whole lives, and from the love of two very different women who along Myles’ path had both found their way into his heart. Together these three people, each in their own way, reached out and saved him.

“…When we were young we had no concept of repercussions. It was just different back then. No one was looking for us. You just had to have the stones to go out and sail around the world. And the world’s a big place. But then, it can happen. Like always looking for that next bigger wave, you get caught up in it.”
Walking On Palmettos is an adventure from another time, not so long ago.