By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
“[In] the type of film that I do — action films,” says Red under oath, “vehicular action sequences, crashes, are as routine and commonplace as the use of horses in westerns.” More recently, in a statement Tuesday to the Weekly, Red rejects any similarity between his art and reality. “It is ludicrous and sensationalistic to draw a parallel between a filmmaker's work and real-life tragedy.”
Within days of the accident, families of the victims mobilized to bring a civil lawsuit in Los Angeles Superior Court, with the trial to be held in Santa Monica. Nilda Roos, the mother of David Roos, is a Chilean-born Sephardic Jew, a social worker who immigrated to this country 30 years ago, working to earn a bachelor’s degree and enough credits for a master’s (she is just shy her thesis on sexual abuse in children) while raising three children as a single mother. David, her youngest, was studying to be an English teacher. A small-boned, attractive woman, she speaks in measured tones that, five years later, still conceal a great animate anger. “He was very close to me, a good friend, so intelligent,” she says. “In my opinion, I feel that a person, a life, is the supreme [entity] in the universe. Nobody has the right to kill another person. . . . I don’t understand this case at all.” Nilda Roos was represented by Carlos Lloreda (replacing Ron Sokol, her first lawyer), a half-Colombian, half-Mexican personal injury/wrongful-death attorney and comical Columbo type who keeps autographed posters of bullfighters in his office.
In contrast, Noah Baum came from a family of lawyers. Although his mother, Willa Baum, almost 80 but still forceful and articulate, is the other plaintiff of record, the civil trial was largely driven by Noah’s brothers Eric, a vice president of Legal Affairs for Sony, and particularly Brandon, currently at Mayer, Brown, Rowe, and Maw, a prominent Chicago-based firm with offices in the Bay Area. Brandon Baum spent 10 years early in his career as a prosecutor in Contra Costa County in the homicide gang unit, mainly trying murder, rape and felony bodily injury cases — hard-won procedural experience he has tapped in pursuing what he believes was an intentional crime investigated as a traffic accident.
Mercury Insurance, Red’s liability carrier, automatically offered to pay the policy limit of $15,000 per victim, or $30,000, which was rejected out of hand. For one thing, Red was driving on a suspended license resulting from an at-fault collision in October 1999 that occurred while his insurance had lapsed. Although he later told police he was unaware his license was ever suspended, he still managed to renew it in December 1999, even though it was not due to expire, and before police discovered his insurance was out of compliance. A provision of the suspension allowed him to drive during the course of work — a fact that apparently only came to light after the traffic collision on Wilshire. According to the District Attorney’s case summary, it was only this exception which precluded charges from being filed against him. Red later admitted under oath that he had lied to police, and assumed in May 2000 that if stopped, he would be arrested and taken to jail.
Moreover, there were indications Red was besieged with enduring financial pressures and custody issues with his ex-wife. Despite earning, by his own estimate, between $1 million and $1.5 million over the course of his career, and having declared bankruptcy in 1995 (with at least $200,000 in additional earnings since 1996), his financial records indicate that Red owed the IRS between $200,000 and $300,000, the California Franchise Tax Board in excess of $100,000 and an additional $100,000 in back child and spousal support, for which a court ruled that his wages could be garnished. His spacious Mulholland Drive home of seven years with dual city-Valley views had been foreclosed on, and he was living in a small apartment off the 405. He had gone from flavor-of-the-month writer in the mid-’80s to directing Cohen and Tate — which grossed an ignominious $64,000 in extremely limited release — in 1989. His next directorial attempt, Body Parts, had the misfortune of being released two weeks after Jeffrey Dahmer was arrested in Milwaukee for cannibalism. Paramount pulled all regional advertising for the film.
His last two films, both released in 1996, were for Showtime (Undertow) and James G. Robinson’s last-chance production factory Morgan Creek (Bad Moon) where, according to one long-time Hollywood observer, “You can park across the street and watch the souls of the damned tramp in and out of there all day long.” Red went from being represented by industry powerhouses UTA and ICM to the Chasin Agency, a three-person talent outfit that handles fading icons like Bo Derek and Adam West. By 2000, he was writing production notes for American World Pictures, a straight-to-video company with titles such as Blowback with Mario Van Peebles and Hitman’s Run with Eric Roberts. His deal at Artisan, flush with cash from their success with The Blair Witch Project, had a lot riding on it.
In his trial testimony, Red claimed of Teacher’s Pet, “We’d attached a cast member, Pamela Anderson, to play the lead role. We had secured domestic — a verbal, not a written — domestic distribution guarantee from Artisan Entertainment. We still had to find foreign distribution before we could complete the financing.” But sources familiar with the project describe it as cast-driven: The company would only consider providing domestic distribution on the strength of Pamela Anderson or a star of equal caliber. And, according to Lewis Chesler of Chesler/Perlmutter Productions, an executive producer on Undertow and someone who Red tapped in approaching the actress, “There are always discussions, but until it’s documented and memorialized on paper, it’s all just speculative. To the best of my recollection, and I wasn’t ever really attached, there was never verification of her participation, only just the suggestion.”