By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
Photo by Brian Flemming
Brian Flemming and Keythe Farley were casting about for a topic for their next episode of Split Screen, a TV magazine show on the Independent Film Channel, when they spied the L.A. Weeklystory "Hailey’s Comet" detailing Bruce Willis’ failed business forays in the tiny town of Hailey, Idaho. In early August, the filmmakers spent four days tracking how Willis, after pumping $10 million to $20 million into Hailey, abruptly closed businesses (Shorty’s Diner, the Mint nightclub) or allowed them to go unleased (the E.G. Willis Building), putting half of Main Street out of business.
"We didn’t really have an agenda," Flemming explained. "By our last day of shooting, we still had a pretty ambiguous story — some thought Willis was great, others were still bitter about the way he handled his business."
All that changed, however, on August 11, when two men in a convertible BMW pulled up and began snapping pictures of the filmmakers shooting outside Shorty’s. When the filmmakers drove away, the BMW followed them to Willis’ Liberty Theater (which remains open). The two men — who later identified themselves as employees of Willis’ company Valley Entertainment — parked and ran inside.
"I decided to shoot the license plate of their car," Flemming said. The men came running out of the Liberty shouting, "Get the fuck away from my car right now!" Pinning Flemming against the wall, one of them wrestled him for the camera, forcing the lens toward the ground. (Sound, however, continued to roll.)
"This bald, obese guy held his face four inches from mine and accused me of ‘stalking’ Willis," said Flemming, "although we had attempted to neither contact nor photograph Willis while in town." A third man appeared and, in slightly slurred speech, told Flemming, "I’m an ex–Navy SEAL, and you guys are screwing up." He then flashed a badge and two pieces of ID, adding, "I’m a licensed security officer and I have the right to ‘obtain’ you."
"Well, he certainly didn’t ‘obtain’ me, thank God," said Flemming. "But one might say he detained me." (Flemming has since filed a police complaint, which Hailey Police Chief Jack Stoneback said is under review by the Blaine County prosecuting attorney.)
"At this point, I yelled to my partner to call the cops, who showed up in about one minute flat," Flemming said. While the two original men were persuaded to go into the Liberty, the Navy SEAL ignored Flemming’s repeated requests to back away, until backup officers arrived from the nearby town of Bellevue. Three days later, Flemming received a call from Willis’ L.A. attorney Marty Singer, of Lavely & Singer, who demanded that Flemming stop "harassing and defaming" his client.
"He [threatened] a lawsuit for my ‘tortious conduct,’" Flemming said. Singer said he stepped in after receiving a number of calls from Hailey residents complaining that the filmmakers had invaded their privacy.
"It seemed he was doing a stalkerazzi, paparazzi type of filmmaking. Sometimes when people do this, they create a scene, and the only thing you see on film is the reaction," Singer said.
"I’m perplexed by his accusation of my violating people’s rights, especially in light of the fact that he will not give me one specific instance," Flemming replied.
Flemming does not fail to see the irony in all this. "This obvious attempt to intimidate me into not reporting anything about Willis turned out to give me a story far more sensational than anything I had previously shot." Photographs and text about the rumble in Hailey are posted on Flemming’s Web site, www.slumdance.com/thugs. The episode is slated to air on Split Screen(Mondays, 8 p.m.) sometime in October.—Nancy Rommelmann
LEVI’S KEEPIN’ IT REAL
Levi Strauss Co.’s "what’s true" advertising campaign, featuring artists in their own words and images, wants you to think that their venerable jeans line is keepin’ it real. But here in L.A., some community arts organizers are suggesting that the Levi’s campaign is getting a little unreal.
A Levi’s ad on the side of a building along the Santa Monica Freeway (10) at San Pedro Street in downtown Los Angeles features a photograph of artist Money Mark, against a backdrop of the Watts Towers, holding a sign that reads "restoration and rejuvenation." The suggestion is that Levi’s is supporting the $2.1 million restoration under way at the folk-art landmark, which was damaged in the 1994 earthquake. But while Money Mark is a Watts Towers supporter, Levi’s emphatically is not.
"The implication of the billboard is that [Levi Strauss] has something to do with restoration of the Towers," says Mark Greenfield, director of the Watts Towers Arts Center. "But they aren’t contributing a penny to this." Moreover, Levi Strauss gave Friends of the Watts Towers Arts Center, the center’s fund-raising arm, the cold shoulder when members asked for help. "We were told there were no funds available to help out with T-shirts for the drum festival," says Coni Nettles, a member of the Friends group, referring to the 18-year-old percussion event slated for September 25 this year at the Towers. The price tag for the T-shirts was about $1,500, she adds.
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