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Although Bryan Singer accuser Michael Egan‘s lawsuit against the X-Men director and other industry figures helped expose the existence of Berg’s documentary, in the works for years before Egan filed his lawsuits last spring, the film barely mentions Singer, whom Egan sued for allegedly sexually assaulting him, or even the subsequent lawsuits Egan filed against other Hollywood execs, all of which were dismissed, something the film only notes via onscreen text at the end, along with updates about other alleged abusers the film exposes. In fact, the first reference to Singer comes via an image of his name typed out on a piece of paper. After that, Singer’s mentioned a handful of times but never directly accused of sexual assault.
Still, Egan figures prominently in the documentary as one of the several former aspiring actors who detail in interviews how they were allegedly abused by Hollywood insiders and the damaging effect those experiences had on them.
Read more ‘An Open Secret’: Film Review
Berg said in a Q&A following the screening that Egan conducted his first interview with them roughly a year and a half before he filed his lawsuits and indicated that the film isn’t about the case, which she also can’t speak to.
“We were all kind of hit by a storm when that happened,” Berg said of the suits Egan filed. “Mike definitely encountered an attorney that he probably shouldn’t have encountered, and there’s been so much negative publicity. … We don’t know about the case, this isn’t about the case.”
She added that Egan participated in the film because he wanted to help his friend Mark Ryan, whose tragic story is one of the most compelling parts of the documentary. A fellow aspiring actor, Ryan moved to Hollywood and was introduced to the founders of late ’90s Internet company Digital Entertainment Network, Mark Collins-Rector and Chad Shackley, when Egan brought Ryan to a party with him. Ryan claimed in a deposition, which his father reads in the film, that he was drugged and abused one night at a DEN party, waking up naked in Collins-Rector’s bed. Ryan left Hollywood and his life changed dramatically after he descended into alcoholism.
“[Egan] has so much guilt that he brought his friend to that party,” Berg said, adding that when she learned of Ryan’s story she really wanted to meet him and found his experience so compelling they oriented the film around what happened to him.
“Mike opened that door for me; I don’t think I would have been able to meet him otherwise,” Berg said.
Egan also approached BizParentz founders Anne Henry and Paula Dorn, who run a foundation that supports child actors, years before he got involved with the documentary, Henry, who also appears in the film, told The Hollywood Reporter ahead of the screening.
Henry said that they couldn’t really help Egan when he first approached them, but over time they found more victims as others came forward and turned their records over to the filmmakers behind An Open Secret “hoping they could do something more with it than we could do as a foundation.”
Henry added that she believes Egan with respect to the allegations he made in his lawsuits.
“We knew that he was telling the truth from the very beginning,” she said. “We had heard his story years before [he filed his lawsuits] so we knew that this had happened and wasn’t the timing that the media liked to portray that it was, because we’d heard it before, so we knew that’s not really how it was playing out.”
But again, Henry and Dorn stressed that the film and the history of sex abuse in Hollywood goes beyond Egan.
“As compelling and horrifying as Michael’s situation is, when you see the film, you’ll see that there’s more and so much more,” Dorn told THR.
Henry added: “[Egan’s story] was a teeny part of a much bigger picture.”
In addition to Egan and Ryan, An Open Secret tells the stories of other, previously unknown victims, who claim they were abused by figures including Marty Weiss, Bob Villard, Michael Harrah, Collins-Rector and Shackley.
Indeed, the film devotes a significant portion of its 100-minute running time to the alleged sex and drug abuse that occurred at DEN’s parties, which was already revealed in lawsuits filed against Collins-Rector, Shackley and child actor turned DEN co-founder Brock Pierce (The Mighty Ducks, First Kid), 14 years ago.
But the strongest reaction to the film from what looked like a nearly sold-out crowd at the SVA Theatre came during an incident in which one of the alleged victims, identified as “Joey C.” calls talent manager Harrah on speakerphone and after recalling how he was abused by fellow manager Villard, Harrah tells him it’s not that big of a deal. An audible gasp was heard emanating from the audience.
The crowd let out an equally loud expression of disbelief shortly thereafter when Joey C. recalls to Harrah that he too abused him, and Harrah says he shouldn’t have done that. Later Harrah is shown in an interview not recalling what he’d admitted to Joey C. The film adds that since his interview, Harrah has left SAG-AFTRA’s Young Performers Committee. Harrah told THR earlier, “[Berg] quoted someone she had apparently talked to, and that information didn’t seem to be correct. It’s hard to respond to anything that is so nebulous.” A SAG-AFTRA rep added, “We have not received complaints nor suggestions of any wrongdoing regarding the former committee member, who resigned earlier this year.”
Friday night’s screening was the first chance for the public to see Berg’s film, and the Oscar-nominated director indicated it may be the only screening. The film still doesn’t have a distributor.
“We get one screening, maybe we’ll get distribution. It’s not very likely, but we really hope that someone will help us out,” Berg told the audience during the postscreening Q&A. “Hopefully this screening will lead to something great like that. But I just think it’s a step forward, people will talk about it and people will be progressive.”
Indeed, other film participants in attendance Friday night said they hoped the movie would lead to the prevention of further abuse, partly by educating parents about warning signs to predatory behavior. The people behind the film also urged audience members to donate to the film’s Courage to Act Foundation.
The DOC NYC festival runs through Nov. 20.
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