There is a moment in the new documentary An Open Secret that puts into sharp relief how one of the most notorious convicted pedophiles of the last 15 years, Marc Collins-Rector, was able to ingratiate himself within Hollywood’s elite, and those close to them. In a grainy, desaturated shot pulled from what looks like an old VHS tape, we see a young actor walk up to the entrance of Collins-Rector’s lavish Los Angeles mansion. It is likely 1999. Collins-Rector greets the actor with a hug, and a not-that-subtle pat on the butt.
“Hi, honey,” says Collins-Rector. “Your buddy’s here.”
“Who’s that?” says the actor.
“Mr. Huffington,” says Collins-Rector — a presumed reference to Michael Huffington, one of the wealthy and well-connected investors in Collins-Rector’s doomed internet venture Digital Entertainment Network (or DEN).
“I’m very excited,” says the actor, but sounding like the opposite.
The short clip is from the DEN docuseries Rawleywood. And the actor is Boy Meets World star Ben Savage, who is now 34 years old. (A representative for Savage did not respond to multiple emails from BuzzFeed News seeking a comment.) And it’s just one of many uncomfortable moments in An Open Secret.
The documentary creates a stark and sobering portrait of a loose network of Hollywood professionals — some outsize personalities like Collins-Rector, others Hollywood insiders with far smaller profiles — who use their positions of power and influence to sexually abuse and exploit underage (in the film’s case, male) actors whose nascent careers they’re supposed to be supporting. The movie, directed by the Oscar-nominated filmmaker Amy Berg (Deliver Us From Evil), premiered to some fanfare last November at the DOC NYC festival. But despite Berg’s pedigree and its startling, headline-grabbing subject matter, no top-tier distributors picked up the film for release.
While there isn’t a particularly robust distribution market for independent feature documentaries, there is a healthy pipeline of brand-name theatrical, VOD, and television outlets that regularly pick up standout feature documentaries and make it relatively easy for a wide, mainstream audience to see them. But that has not been the road An Open Secret has traveled.
Instead, the film sat on a shelf for seven months as its producers hammered out an unusual distribution strategy with Vesuvio Entertainment, which typically releases low-budget horror films, and Rocky Mountain Pictures, a distributor of politically conservative films best known for releasing 2016: Obama’s America. The result is a slow platform release that started in Seattle and Denver on June 5, expanding to New York the following weekend, with the film ultimately working its way through at least 20 cities for as long as there is theatrical demand. (A digital release is tentatively planned for the fall.)
But it’s Los Angeles, the next city on An Open Secret’s docket, that matters most to Berg, and the victims and victims’ advocates who appear in her film. The majority of the documentary is set there, all of the abuse detailed in it happened there, and, of course, it is where most everyone in the entertainment industry who could do something to prevent child sexual abuse lives and works.
An Open Secret will be released in Los Angeles on July 17 — opening in one theater, the Laemmle Music Hall in Beverly Hills.
This is, to be sure, a welcome turn of events for a film that may never have been seen by the public at all. But looking into why it has been so difficult to allow people to see An Open Secret provokes some vexing and complicated answers, including the film’s use of the man who accused director Bryan Singer of sexual abuse, objections from one of the most powerful labor unions in Hollywood over its presence at all in the film — and, it seems, the abiding stigma of child sexual abuse itself.
Perhaps the most obvious and glaring complication facing Berg and An Open Secret is what to do with Michael Egan, the former child actor who famously filed lawsuits in April 2014 accusing director Bryan Singer and Hollywood executives Gary Goddard, Garth Ancier, and David Neuman of sexually assaulting him when he was a minor. All the lawsuits were eventually dropped, however, and earlier this month, Egan’s former lawyer, Jeffrey Herman, issued a public apology to Ancier and Neuman for filing the suits: “Based on what I know now, I believe that I participated in making what I now know to be untrue and provably false allegations,” Herman said. He also reportedly paid a settlement to Ancier and Neuman of at least $1 million. (Herman did not, however, issue apologies to Singer or Goddard.)
Egan, meanwhile, was indicted in December 2014 for unrelated wire and securities fraud in North Carolina. And yet, despite the cloud of serious doubt Egan’s own actions have cast over his trustworthiness, he remains a sizable presence in An Open Secret — he even gets the literal final word in the film, in which he references his alleged abusers, just not by name. “I’ve still never seen any retribution towards those assholes,” he says. “Never seen a damn thing. I mean, you look at them as they still sit on their pedestals… The same thing’s probably going on — could’ve went on last night with someone. Who knows?”
In a phone interview with BuzzFeed News, Berg said that she first met Egan roughly a year before he filed his lawsuits against Singer, Goddard, Ancier, and Neuman. Berg’s interest, she said, was in Collins-Rector and DEN, and Egan was named as a co-plaintiff in a 2000 lawsuit against Collins-Rector and his business partners, alleging systematic sexual abuse. She wanted to interview Egan about his experiences there.
“Mike Egan was about a year sober when we met him,” said Berg. “Did I think he was on the up-and-up? I mean, I knew that he was abused by Marc Collins-Rector. His story matched with all the other kids that we spoke to [who had been] at [Collins-Rector’s] house.”
Berg clearly still believes Egan’s account of his experiences with Collins-Rector and DEN in An Open Secret, and has used a great deal of it in the final version of her documentary. Most poignantly, Egan connected Berg with Mike Ryan, another plaintiff in the suit against Collins-Rector, whose life disintegrated after he entered DEN’s orbit.
Even so, BuzzFeed News has screened both the version of An Open Secret that premiered at DOC NYC in November and the version that debuted publicly this month, and several sections of the film involving Egan have been cut for the theatrical release. They include any mention of Ancier or Neuman, as well as Egan’s personal account of breaking into Collins-Rector’s home to copy as many documents as he could find. (Journalist John Connolly, whose reporting on Collins-Rector and DEN is featured extensively in An Open Secret, now recounts this effort instead.) While clips of Singer remain in the film — including an interview with the director for the DEN series Rawleywood — Egan’s allegations against Singer have been cut as well. There is no mention of any of Egan’s lawsuits, nor of his indictment for fraud.
Berg declined to speak on the record about the cuts to her film, but she did emphasize that she never set out to make a movie about Egan. Along with experts and advocates, she interviewed five other victims on camera for An Open Secret, and said that she spoke with many more who just were not ready to tell their stories on the record. But Egan’s lawsuits consumed enormous media attention last year just as Berg was in the process of editing the first cut of her movie. “My film was never going to be about lawsuits and settlements,” she said. “This is about an issue that we are trying to get attention for in terms of how children are being policed within the industry.”
In a way, however, Egan’s tarnished reputation also underlines just how destructive child sexual abuse can be for its victims. “Mike Egan is a great example of what happens to a person who doesn’t resolve his issues at the right time,” Berg said, choosing her words carefully. According to Anne Henry — co-founder of BizParentz, a nonprofit resource for parents of child actors that consulted extensively with Berg for An Open Secret — those issues also shouldn’t nullify Egan’s experiences with Collins-Rector.
“We believe Michael Egan, and we did from the beginning,” she told BuzzFeed News in a phone interview. “It was frustrating to see that the public doesn’t always see that victims of abuse do other things they shouldn’t do. They’re not going to ever be the perfect witness. We knew that [Egan] had a difficult, difficult road. But just because he had a difficult road in other areas doesn’t mean that he is lying about this. It just doesn’t.”
Henry’s outlook stems from years of speaking with abuse victims and their parents, collecting what she called “file cabinets of information” on alleged sex abusers of children in Hollywood. (That process started roughly 10 years ago, when Henry and her business partner noticed that headshots of their kids were being sold on eBay, a chilling practice also detailed in An Open Secret.) And, as is the case with so many allegations of other forms of sexual assault, Henry has seen blame rebound back onto the child actors who try to come forward about their abuse. “They end up not being able to prosecute lots of these cases because the instant thing that lawyers will say is, ‘Well, you’re an actor, aren’t you? You’re a trained liar,’” Henry said.
She said she wouldn’t have gotten involved with An Open Secret — let alone turned over BizParentz’s voluminous files on sex abusers and victims to the filmmakers — had Berg’s approach fallen into familiar victim-blaming tropes. “We wouldn’t have done it had it turned into, Those evil stage parents, they should know better,” said Henry, who is interviewed in the documentary as an expert. “Or, Child actor gone bad, when, behind the scenes, we knew there probably was more to the story about [that] child actor gone bad. But you just can’t come out and say that.”
As it happens, Berg said she did meet with Corey Feldman, one of the most prominent examples of a child actor who wrote a memoir about “going bad” with a serious drug addiction after experiencing sexual abuse as a child. And former child star Todd Bridges appears in the film’s opening sequence discussing how an infamous “very special episode” of his sitcom Diff’rent Strokes about pedophilia struck a disquieting chord with the sexual abuse Bridges had himself already endured.
But neither of those actors are featured heavily, because Berg didn’t want her documentary to become overwhelmed by celebrity. “This film was always about the voices that you haven’t heard of,” she said. When Berg first met Egan, no one had heard of him, but his lawsuits transformed him into a quasi celebrity. By cutting much of his material out of the film, Berg could pull the focus back to where she felt it was most needed: on the plight of anonymous child actors whose dreams of show-business success were exploited and destroyed by sexual predators working in the entertainment industry.
By coming forward about their abuse, however, this small group of unknown child actors had the potential to make a major splash. “We knew that there would be backlash,” said Henry. “We knew that some of the perpetrators wouldn’t appreciate it, and some of them have some powerful friends.”
For Berg, that pushback appeared to manifest most acutely with the actors union SAG-AFTRA. The union’s objections stem from Berg’s interview with Michael Harrah, a manager of child actors, and co-founder and former chair of the guild’s Young Performers Committee. In the film, Harrah admits to having underage actors live in his home unsupervised. One of those actors, identified in the film as Joey C. and now an adult, alleges in An Open Secret that Harrah abused him while he stayed there. When Joey calls Harrah on camera to confront him about his abuse, Harrah appears to admit to it, saying, “If there’s something unwanted, I shouldn’t have done that. And there’s no way I can undo that.” In his subsequent interview with Berg, Harrah backtracks. “I don’t know what Joey is remembering,” he says, “but I don’t remember anything that would have caused him to feel that way.”
Harrah also tacitly admitted he himself was abused when he was a child actor. “Well, I guess so,” he says. “It wasn’t uncommon, let’s put it that way.” But he also repeatedly downplays the severity of child sexual abuse in Hollywood. On the phone with Joey C. in the documentary, Harrah says, “When I’ve had the opportunity to talk to somebody about it, I’ve said, ‘Look, this is not a terrible thing unless you think it is. It’s just something that happens to you in your life.’” In his interview with Berg, Harrah goes even further. “So much of what goes on in these situations happens almost by accident,” he says. “A lot of the ones that I at least was aware of, they just sort of fell into it.” Berg asks Harrah point-blank if he is attracted to young boys. His response: “Not particularly, no.”
Meanwhile, Henry alleges that in Harrah’s capacity as a member of the Young Performers Committee, he opposed sending out a bulletin to union members warning them about Bob Villard, a publicist who had been selling online head shots and photographs of child actors, often not wearing shirts. (Harrah has said he cannot recall specifically blocking this effort.) Although Harrah has since left the Young Performers Committee, it is his historical connection to SAG-AFTRA that caught the guild’s attention, and its ire.
“We were concerned about the accuracy of the portrayal of our organization throughout the film,” said Pamela Greenwalt, chief communications and marketing officer for SAG-AFTRA, in a phone interview with BuzzFeed News that also included the union’s COO and general counsel Duncan Crabtree-Ireland. They mainly contended it was misleading of the film to identify Harrah as a member of the Young Performers Committee, since he had left the committee by the time it was completed, and they objected to a brief shot of the SAG-AFTRA headquarters in Los Angeles.
As first reported by Deadline, after An Open Secret screened at DOC NYC in November, a lawyer for SAG-AFTRA sent a letter to Berg and her producers demanding that the film stop identifying Harrah as a member of the committee, and remove all references to and mentions of SAG-AFTRA from the film. “Whatever allegations may have been leveled against Mr. Harrah have absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with SAG-AFTRA or any of its committees,” SAG-AFTRA’s lawyer told Berg’s lawyer, in a letter provided to BuzzFeed News by Greenwalt.
After some exhaustive back and forth, Berg ultimately decided to insert a title card at the end of the film that reveals Harrah resigned from the committee soon after his interview with Berg.
“It turned into a legal exchange instead of a human exchange,” she said. “I don’t think that’s the right way to deal with an issue like this. … The film is not about Hollywood lawyers and lawsuits. This film is about child abuse. That’s what this discussion should revolve around.”
After her interview, Berg subsequently emailed BuzzFeed News to further emphasize her point. “By obfuscating the film based on lawsuits and a Hollywood power game in the media (just like the Bill Cosby story), we are further invalidating these kids’ voices from being heard and condoning further bad behavior in the industry,” she wrote. “The point of the film is to ask the question — should people who have abused in the past be allowed on movie sets. If the answer is no, we have to find a way to stop it. Kids are not going to stop pursuing a Hollywood dream, even more so with the prevalence of young kids programming so readily accessible. So how do we protect them better in their pursuit of this dream?”
That is a sentiment that Greenwalt and Crabtree-Ireland said that SAG-AFTRA shares with Berg. But multiple times over the course of their lengthy conversation with BuzzFeed News, they both expressed frustration that they believe Berg was not forthcoming to the guild with all the details she knew about Harrah, who, Greenwalt was sure to specify, was “not connected to us.”
In truth, SAG-AFTRA’s presence in An Open Secret is used, at most, as a backdrop to understand Harrah’s significant position within the ecosystem of child actors in Hollywood. But the “scant information,” Crabtree-Ireland said, with which Berg allegedly provided them drove guild officials into a state of profound apprehension about the documentary.
One of the guild’s legal letters to Berg underlines this anxiety perfectly: “The reason why we have asked that references to … SAG-AFTRA and to any of its committees be removed from An Open Secret is because of the possibility that a reasonable viewer of this documentary will falsely conclude that the union or its Young Performers Committee somehow has some relationship to Mr. Harrah’s allegedly improper conduct.”
There is a reason why a powerful organization like SAG-AFTRA wants to erase any connection they could have to An Open Secret or its subject matter, and why Michael Egan’s presence in the film is so problematic. For many, the stain of pedophilia is like the plague crossed with leprosy, an infection of simultaneous shame and horror that seems to permanently disfigure and dishearten anything it touches. Why wouldn’t SAG-AFTRA want to do everything it could to avoid it? How could Egan possibly escape unscathed?
And yet somehow, Evan Henzi, a pedophilia survivor whose story is covered in great detail in An Open Secret, appears to have done it. “Child abuse in general, there’s such a taboo around the subject, people are even nervous to talk about [it],” the 21-year-old told BuzzFeed News in a phone interview. “I’m so nervous to say ‘child sexual abuse’ out loud. It’s insane.”
It turns out, however, that talking about child sexual abuse out loud is precisely how Henzi believes he’s been able to get past it.
As explicated in An Open Secret, Henzi signed with his former manager Martin “Marty” Weiss when he was 11, driven in part by his passion for singing, and also because Weiss also represented Henzi’s cousin. In the film, Weiss is presented as a rather dogged advocate for his clients, and a near constant presence in Henzi’s life, appearing in family home videos during holidays and birthday parties.
He was also sexually abusing Henzi. “He showed me porn,” Henzi says about Weiss in the film. “And he said, ‘Oh, these are clients having sex with their managers.’” The sections of An Open Secret about Weiss are bracingly stark and intimate. In one scene, taken from a home movie of Henzi’s birthday party, Weiss gives another young boy a back massage against a chair. “I’m getting a massage and it feels great, and I don’t care whether or not it looks bad,” says the boy, provoking nervous laughter from Henzi’s mom, who is shooting the video.
“It’s above the waist,” says Weiss. “It’s not bad.”
Another crucial scene, however, proves how uncommonly resourceful Henzi proved to be in taking action against his abuser: Henzi convinces Weiss to take him for a drive, records their conversation, and gets Weiss to confess to abusing him. “Look at it this way, Evan. I never would have done anything to you if you hadn’t expressed interest,” says Weiss in the recording. “That situation that happened at Penn State? Those kids didn’t want it.”
Weiss was arrested in large part due to Henzi’s actions, and Weiss ultimately pleaded no-contest to two counts of lewd acts with a child, and two counts of sexual abuse.
Henzi can’t explain how he had the wherewithal to confront his abuser, come forward to testify at his trial, and then talk about it at length in a feature documentary. “It’s just such a personal thing to go through, and then to hand over your story to somebody to have them tell it, there’s a lot of trust involved,” he said. “And I think a lot of victims have trust issues. I know I do.”
He was also wary of talking in public about his abuse because Weiss was released from jail six months after his arrest. And while he is now a registered sex offender, Henzi is not quite sure where Weiss is. “I was worried that he could try to harm me, because he threatened me before when I was younger,” Henzi said.
Henzi and Henry both said they have heard that Weiss was attempting to work in the entertainment industry again, and a title card at the end of An Open Secret alleges that Weiss is still managing Evan’s cousin, and has been working with an organization to help lighten sex offender laws in California. When reached by BuzzFeed News via email, however, Henzi’s cousin Darian Weiss (no relation) said, “Marty Weiss does not manage me now nor has he since the day of his arrest.” When asked whether he still runs a production company with Marty called Two Weiss Guys Productions, Darian said, “No we do not,” and then said he had hired legal counsel who had advised him to no longer respond to any media requests. (Marty Weiss’ lawyer has not responded to multiple emails, and did not return a phone call to his office from BuzzFeed News seeking a comment.)
Despite the uncertainty of Weiss’ whereabouts, Henzi has been out in front promoting An Open Secret in TV interviews and on social media, and he even co-wrote and recorded an original song for the film. Henzi told BuzzFeed News that in college, he wants to focus on studying how to help other victims come forward, a process he hopes can be spurred on if enough people get to see An Open Secret. “We know that there’s other victims, but it’s not our place to call [them] out,” he said. “I’m just hoping that these victims do see this [film], and decide to come forward. … I think that the more that I talk about it, the easier it will be down the line to help other people to communicate in general about the subject and not feel like we have to keep it inside.”
With his focus on helping victims, Henzi seems to have set aside his childhood interest in an acting career for now. But he refuses to allow what Weiss did to him define what he makes of his life.
“Music is always going to be a part of my life,” he said. “I’m not going to let me being abused by these guys just destroy that. I’m not going let that destroy anything I want to do in my life.”
This story has been updated to include further comment from Darian Weiss regarding the status of his working relationship with Marty Weiss.
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