Filmmaker May Sue Evans, Carter To Stay In the Picture

If you go to the snazzy Web site for the Robert Evans documentary The Kid Stays in the Picture , locate the film’s credits and scroll down near the end to a section called “The Producers Also Wish to Thank,” you’ll find the Argentinean director Hector ( Kiss of the Spider Woman ) Babenco listed among such Hollywood powers as David Geffen, Sumner Redstone and Barry Diller.

What the hell Mr. Babenco is doing on a fairly de rigueur list of America’s media elite is a source of some mystery to those who have immersed themselves in the lost, decadent world of Mr. Evans’ Hollywood as depicted in Kid . But strangely enough, a clue to the answer may lie in a lawsuit that filmmaker David Weisman is planning to file on May 7 against Mr. Evans and makers of The Kid Stays in the Picture -including the film’s producer, Vanity Fair editor in chief Graydon Carter; its directors, Brett Morgen and Nanette Burstein; its distributor, USA Films; and even the cable channel that will premiere it on May 22, HBO. According to James G. O’Callahan, Mr. Weisman’s attorney, the defendants “misappropriated” ideas that Mr. Weisman had about presenting Mr. Evans’ life in documentary form.

Those ideas can be found in a 16-minute videotape that, according to a draft of the complaint obtained by The Transom, Mr. Weisman “wrote, produced, directed and edited” on his own volition between January and April of 1998, in an attempt to convince Mr. Evans to let him direct the documentary of The Kid Stays in the Picture . The complaint, which Mr. O’Callahan said will be filed in Los Angeles Superior Court, charges the defendants with “stealing [Mr. Weisman's] original sixteen-minute documentary concepts presentation of ‘The Kid Stays in the Picture,’ and all of [Mr. Weisman's] original vision, concepts, techniques, ideas and approaches to illustrating [Mr. Evans'] life on film” to make the full-length The Kid Stays in the Picture .

Agita Productions

The 61-year-old Mr. Weisman-whose letterhead bears the name Agita Productions Inc.-is not a newcomer to the world of film, though he hardly swims in the mainstream. A native of Binghamton, N.Y, Mr. Weisman’s Internet Movie Database biography says that he dropped out of Syracuse University’s School of Fine Arts after seein g La Dolce Vita and then moved to Rome, where he met the film’s maker, Federico Fellini, and got hired to design the poster for 81 1/4 2 . Mr. Weisman then worked for another Italian filmmaker, Pier Paolo Pasolini, and, after returning to New York, Otto Preminger before falling in with a group of Warholites. With them, he co-wrote and co-directed that messy touchstone of 60’s New York , Ciao! Manhattan , which starred the doomed socialite turned Warhol superstar, Edie Sedgwick.

In the early 80’s, Mr. Weisman used the proceeds from that film to buy the screen rights to Manuel Puig’s novel Kiss of the Spider Woman . Mr. Weisman served as a producer of the film. Mr. Babenco directed.

Starring Alec Baldwin!

Cut to 1996: Mr. Weisman, who lives in Los Angeles, said he met Mr. Evans through a mutual friend, the actress Beverly D’Angelo. “One day I helped him with something,” Mr. Weisman told The Transom. “He liked what I had to say, and he asked me to work on a script that he was involved with,” called The Cinch that never made it to the screen. According to the complaint, Mr. Evans told Mr. Weisman that after they finished The Cinch , they would “collaborate” on a film adaptation of Mr. Evans’ 1994 memoir The Kid Stays in the Picture . But back then, according to the complaint, Mr. Evans was developing a dramatization of his book and was interested in having Alec Baldwin play him.

Mr. Weisman didn’t need any arm-twisting. “I thought the whole world-the milieu of his house, his butler” and all the other trappings of Mr. Evans’ lush life-were “absolutely fascinating.” And, he said, “As I spent time at Bob’s house, I gradually came to the conclusion there was only one way to do The Kid Stays in the Picture , which was with Bob playing himself.”

Mr. Weisman said he became convinced of this on the day that photographer Helmut Newton visited the Evans household, and the producer told a story about being at the Copacabana with his underage brother Charles when the mobster Frank Costello arrived with an entourage. When a massive feast was set before Costello’s group, Mr. Evans allegedly told Mr. Newton that, on a $100 dare from his brother, he’d smooth-talked Costello into letting him eat from the mobster’s plate. Mr. Weisman, who does a pretty spot-on imitation of Mr. Evans’ gravelly mumble, said that Mr. Evans ended his tale by telling the photographer: “And that, my friend, is the definition of chutzpah.”

“That broke everything for me,” Mr. Weisman said. “I knew I could not come back to the house again without a camera to record these stories.”

But the filmmaker said he also knew he couldn’t just pitch Mr. Evans his idea. “If you try to bring something alien or non-relevant to his vision, he-it’s like a tennis game,” Mr. Weisman said. “You immediately get the ball back. He’s got to serve you; you can’t serve him. He’s counter-suggestible.” Informed of the lawsuit, Mr. Evans’ publicist, Gina Lang, said he was not available for comment.

‘Anything You Want’

Mr. Weisman recognized his opportunity in January 1998. In a strange twist of fate, he said his brother, Sam Weisman, who is also a filmmaker, was hired to direct Mr. Evans’ remake of The Out-of-Towners. The three met for dinner and then later headed to Mr. Evans’ mansion, and Mr. Weisman said that while Mr. Evans was “showboating” for his brother, he asked the terminally tanned producer if he could use some of the stills from Mr. Evans’ extensive collection of movie memorabilia. “You can take anything you want,” Mr. Evans replied, according to Mr. Weisman. And so while his brother talked to the producer in his screening room, Mr. Weisman pored through a collection of hundreds-perhaps thousands-of movie stills. For instance, that evening Mr. Evans had shown the brothers a film of Dustin Hoffman impersonating the producer, and Mr. Weisman said he shot images of that clip “right off the screen” with the Canon digital-video camera he’d brought with him. For the next several weeks, Mr. Weisman returned to Mr. Evans’ mansion to retrieve the stills he wanted to use. He scanned these images into his Macintosh computer.

According to the complaint, Mr. Weisman spent the next three months creating “his own original concept presentation” of his vision for the film adaptation of The Kid Stays in the Picture -a 16-minute tape that he created, he said, on his Mac computer. The presentation married the stills and film clips that Mr. Weisman had obtained from Mr. Evans’ collection to the producer’s own audiobook narration of his autobiography, and “used innovative and original editing techniques to give the predominantly black and white, two dimensional still photos a three-dimensional texture, soft color tones and movement.” For example, Mr. Evans’ “black and white image would appear to float into the foreground of the film’s frame, while the background remained flat and still, but subtly colorized and/or animated.” Mr. Weisman said it wasn’t the first time he’d animated still photographs. “Andy Warhol makes no appearance whatsoever in Ciao! Manhattan , except for the stills I had animated,” he said.

Bob Tears Up

In April, according to the complaint, Mr. Weisman screened the completed tape for Mr. Evans at his Woodlands home. Mr. Weisman sent The Transom a copy of the tape that he said he showed Mr. Evans. Set to the producer’s audiobook narration of The Kid Stays in The Picture , it includes the story and images of Mr. Evans’ being discovered poolside at the Beverly Hills Hotel by the actress Norma Shearer-the incident that led to the Darryl Zanuck utterance that became the title of Mr. Evans’ memoirs-and a ghostly snippet of the Hoffman tape, superimposed over a cloud-dappled sky. At the end of the film, the credits say simply: “By David Weisman.”

“I sit behind him,” Mr. Weisman said of the Evans screening. “Sixteen minutes later, no reaction.” But when Mr. Weisman got a look at Mr. Evans’ face, he said, the producer was crying. Mr. Weisman said that in a display of Godfather -esque affection, Mr. Evans pinched both of Mr. Weisman’s cheeks and said: “You have showed me something that nobody in this town has been able to show me.” Mr. Weisman said he doesn’t remember exactly what Mr. Evans said next, but the complaint puts it this way: “Upon viewing the sample documentary, Defendant ROBERT EVANS told Plaintiff DAVID WEISMAN that from that moment on, DAVID WEISMAN would direct, write and produce the film adaptation of ROBERT EVANS’ autobiography.”

The ‘Oral Contract’

“That’s when he made the oral contract. And his actions from that moment on supported the oral contract,” Mr. Weisman said. He acknowledged that there was no written contract of his attachment to The Kid Stays in the Picture , but said: “I have a videotape of my brother and Evans that I made, in which Evans is instructing my brother how to sell the concept [of the documentary] to Sumner Redstone.”

The complaint also includes a purported excerpt from a “late 1990’s” interview with Mr. Evans in Empire magazine in which he said: “Alec Baldwin was all set to play me in what I thought was a unique take on my life, until I saw another way to do it. It’s a groundbreaking project that was developed by David Weisman ( Kiss of the Spider Woman ).”

Mr. Weisman said that approximately one month after he showed Mr. Evans his demo tape, the producer suffered the debilitating stroke that became a dark part of his legend. Five weeks later, he said, he and Mr. Evans attempted to pick up the pieces-Mr. Weisman filmed the producer’s sudden wedding to actress Catherine Oxenberg, and producer Howard Rosenman was hired to try to sell the picture to Showtime-but when the marriage was annulled a few weeks later, he said, Mr. Evans “went through a long period of doom and gloom” that stalled the documentary project.

‘It’s Different’

Mr. Weisman said he kept in occasional touch with Mr. Evans, and when he began to hear that the documentary had been revived with Mr. Carter, Mr. Morgen and Ms. Burstein at the helm, he became curious. He claimed, however, that whenever he asked Mr. Evans or others connected to the producer how the project was shaping up, he was told: “It’s different.” But the complaint alleges that Mr. Weisman “is informed and believes” that Mr. Morgen and Ms. Burstein were shown the 16-minute tape “while negotiating with [Mr. Evans] to create the full-length documentary,” and that Vanity Fair ‘s Mr. Carter saw it while negotiating with Mr. Evans to obtain the producer’s “life rights to secure an interest in the full-length version of the documentary.”

According to Mr. Weisman, though he told Mr. Evans that he was “dying” to see the finished film, he was never invited to any of the screenings of The Kid Stays in the Picture that Mr. Evans held in his home screening room, where miniature brushed-metal lunchboxes, filled with candy and bearing the film’s logo, were passed out to the invited.

When the film was finally released, he went to see it at his local theater. “I was astounded, flabbergasted,” he said, “both because of the way that they usurped my original concept in such a blatant way, and also because it’s a great movie.”

The draft complaint alleges: “In particular, the full-length documentary exactly replicated several aspects of [Mr. Weisman's] original sixteen-minute sample documentary concept presentation,” including Mr. Weisman’s use of Mr. Evans’ “audio-book as the primary narration,” Mr. Evans’ “still-photograph library as the primary visuals” and Mr. Weisman’s “original photo-editing techniques”.

Mr. Weisman said that he waited so long to file the lawsuit because “it took me a while to absorb all this” and to “find the right attorney.” Yet, despite his lawsuit, Mr. Weisman said he has “no rancor” toward the defendants-adding that he’s never even met Mr. Carter, Mr. Morgen or Ms. Burstein-and continues to have “very warm feelings towards” Mr. Evans. The lawsuit, he said, “is just one of those things that you have to do sometimes to make your voice heard.”

Carter: Babenco Did Bob

Meanwhile, it may have been something Mr. Carter heard from Mr. Evans that resulted in Mr. Babenco’s credit. The complaint notes that in an interview to publicize the documentary, Mr. Carter allegedly said: “I’d gone over to Bob’s house one day and he had had a friend of his, director Hector Babenco, do a 15-minute reel of Bob’s life. Bob was very proud of it, and he showed it to me-it was quite wonderful. I never thought much about it, but about six months later, after I’d listened to Bob’s book on tape again, I thought, ‘You know something? This would make a great film.”

Mr. Carter’s mention of the 15-minute reel suggests the possibility that he may have seen Mr. Weisman’s work, but how could he have confused Mr. Weisman with Mr. Babenco?

A Vanity Fair spokeswoman declined to comment for this story. Calls placed to Ms. Burstein, Mr. Morgen, Focus Features and HBO had not been returned at press time.

Mr. Weisman has a theory. “I can only surmise-underscore surmise -that Bob might have said something like this to Graydon Carter, because I’ve heard him say this to other people in front of me,” Mr. Weisman said. And then he dipped back into his Evans impression: “I want to show you something that was made by the man who did Kiss of the Spider Woman .”

At press time, Mr. Babenco had not responded to an e-mail asking him if he’d had any involvement in the Evans documentary. But when Mr. Weisman’s attorney, Mr. O’Callahan, was asked if he was certain that Mr. Babenco was not involved in the project, he laughed and said: “I’d bet the house on it.”