Staircase: Michael Peterson blows up HBO series and documentaries director

Antonio Campos’ portrayal of documentary filmmakers Jean-Xavier de Lestrade and Sophie Brunet in HBO Max’s “The Staircase” led to a public dispute over his portrayal in the miniseries adaptation. But now, the real-life main subject of both series – Michael Peterson – is manifesting himself in an exclusive series of emails to Variety.

Peterson’s wife, Kathleen, was found dead on the stairs of her North Carolina home in 2001. Authorities discovered that Peterson, who identifies as bisexual, was having sex with men. He was charged with murdering his wife and convicted in 2003. He is now free, after the charges were reduced to manslaughter in a new trial.

Peterson allowed a film crew to film him and his family while he awaited trial, which became an extended documentary series that debuted in 2004 (is streaming on Netflix). While Peterson is not happy with Campos’ HBO series, he is furious with Lestrade.

“I read about Jean de Lestrade’s sense of betrayal by Antonio Campos and HBO Max’s presentation of ‘The Staircase,’ but what has been forgotten or overlooked or simply ignored is his betrayal of me and my family,” he says. “We feel like Jean tricked us – sold OUR story to Campos for money – what word besides pimp describes what he did?”

De Lestrade produced and directed the documentary series. In addition to a fee, he received a co-executive producer credit on the adaptation starring Colin Firth as Peterson.

“He released his file to Campos, who then created a fictitious account of events, most of which destroyed me (which I don’t really care about) and my kids – which I really do care about,” says Peterson. “There are fabrications and distortions of the truth in the HBO series, far beyond what could be considered an ‘artistic’ license.”

One of the revelations in the case is that Peterson met a second acquaintance, a neighbor in Germany, who also died when he fell down a ladder.

De Lestrade suggests that Campos would have made the miniseries without his involvement. He says that when he met with Campos more than a decade ago to discuss the fiction of “The Staircase,” the eventual showrunner made it clear to him that Peterson and his case were in the public domain. At the time, Fox Searchlight was commissioned to turn the story into a standalone film. Ultimately, de Lestrade decided to sell Campos the rights to his materials, the real value of which is disputed by de Lestrade and Peterson.

“Since I knew Antonio had in mind telling Michael’s story and the documentary, I thought it would be better to cooperate and be involved in the process than to be totally left out as an outsider,” says Lestrade. “In a way, I thought I was protecting Michael and his family by being involved, but I was wrong.”

in an interview with Varietyde Lestrade says he never looked at Campos’ scripts and did not participate in the production of HBO Max, despite his producing credit on the series.

“Antonio and I talked a lot over the years, and I really thought he got the story right,” says Lestrade. “So when they started the writing process, there were writers in the same room with a lot of ideas and they worked for many hours. I could not be involved in this Paris process. Also, as I trusted Antonio a lot, I didn’t ask for the script. I know it’s hard to understand, but now I know I can’t trust anyone in this business. I should have asked. It’s my mistake.”

Campos did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Peterson’s remarks about the miniseries, which aired on June 9. HBO Max has not commented on the disputes surrounding the fictional series. Each episode contains a disclaimer that it is “a dramatization based on certain facts”.

In your email to Variety, Peterson claims that de Lestrade never informed him that he was selling materials to Campos. De Lestrade disputes this, saying that he told the Peterson family around 2008 that Campos wanted to make a feature film about the documentary series. De Lestrade doesn’t remember whether he informed Peterson about the HBO Max series.

“If I hadn’t, I should have done it,” admits de Lestrade.

While de Lestrade claims he was paid just €7,500 ($9,370) for the materials he sold to Campos, Peterson says the director should have been wary of the deal and worried about the Peterson family. He also claims that the filmmaker received significantly more than that amount.

“Jean should have known that when you sell your ass/property, you take the risk of getting fucked/betrayed,” says Peterson. “Every prostitute knows that. So he was betrayed/fucked. Why should he be surprised? He was compensated – paid. But we didn’t sell our story to Campos—we were never even consulted or told that Jean had done so. We are the ones who were betrayed, falsely portrayed as fighting among ourselves (which NEVER happened), and with made-up stories that denigrate us all in the eyes of millions.”

Campos’ dramatization portrays Lestrade and Brunet as ethically committed documentary director and editor. Shortly after the May 5 premiere of the first episode of “The Staircase,” de Lestrade and Brunet publicly accused Campos, as well as co-showrunner Maggie Cohn, of taking his artistic license too far. But Peterson feels no sympathy for Lestrade.

“It is false and hypocritical of Jean to talk about his integrity being challenged when he sold himself to Campos and showed no integrity or a sense of responsibility to us,” says Peterson.

Peterson continues: “He is the individual responsible for what happened to us, and while I am very upset with Campos for all the liberties he took with the truth (and for stealing from my book “Behind the Staircase” – the sole source of his prison scenes, and for which, of course, I wasn’t compensated), I’m angrier at Jean, who should have had our interests in mind when she sold our story. I don’t have any sympathy for him, any more than I would for a hooker who contracted an STD after selling her ass. Sounds tough, but look at the result for our family for what he did.”

De Lestrade empathizes with Peterson. “I’m working in France doing a big drama show,” he says. “I don’t need to sell the rights to [‘The Staircase’] make money. But I can really understand Michael’s position because [the series is] terrible for him and his family. But I think in the documentary I really tried to do that with great respect for Michael and all of his children.”

Peterson claims that de Lestrade was paid $75,000 for the sale of the rights to the docuseries materials, pointing out his knowledge of past deals to adapt the project, but the filmmaker firmly refutes this, stating that the production company may have received an amount greater than that. he. In Peterson’s opinion, even this higher disputed figure was too small an amount for the damage the miniseries inflicted on his family.

“I like and respect Jean, but no matter how he tries to spin it, he was paid something like $75,000 for our story, a paltry sum, certainly in light of the horrible damage my family has suffered,” says Peterson. “And he didn’t mention how he opened the entire image file about us to Antonio.”

Peterson told Variety that he plans to be in New York this weekend for the premiere of “Subject” at the Tribeca Film Festival, a documentary exploring the topic of ethics in documentaries. Peterson’s daughter Margaret Ratliff, a documentary filmmaker herself, participates, as does her father.

Peterson writes: “I intend to bring up the question of the ethics of documentary filmmakers by selling their documentaries to others who can exploit them, as Antonio and HBO did with us.”

Here is Peterson’s initial email to Variety:

Dear Mrs Morfoot,

These are my first public comments on HBO Max and the French documentary Staircase. Warning: obscenities to follow. Blame my daughter Margaret – she gave me her email address.

I have read about Jean de Lastrade’s feeling of betrayal by Antonio Campos and HBO Max’s presentation of Staircase, but what has been forgotten or ignored or simply ignored is his betrayal of me and my family.

We feel like Jean tricked us – sold OUR story to Campos for money – what word besides pimp describes what he did? He released his file to Campos, who then created a fictitious account of events, most of which destroyed me (which I really don’t care about) and my children – which I really do care about. There are notorious fabrications and distortions of the truth in the HBO series, far beyond what could be considered an “artistic” license.

Jean should know that when you sell your ass/property, you take the risk of being fucked/betrayed. Every prostitute knows this. So he was betrayed/fucked up. Why should he be surprised? He was compensated – paid.

But we didn’t sell our story to Campos—we were never even consulted or told that Jean had done so. It is us who have been betrayed, falsely portrayed as fighting among ourselves (which NEVER happened), and with made-up stories that denigrate us all in the eyes of millions.

It is insincere and hypocritical for Jean to say that his integrity was challenged when he sold himself to Campos, and he showed no integrity or a sense of responsibility towards us. He is the individual responsible for what happened to us, and while I am very upset in Campos for all the liberties he took with the truth (and for stealing my book Behind the Stairs—the only source for his prison scenes, and for the Which Of course I wasn’t compensated), I’m more angry with Jean, who should have had our interests in mind when he sold our story. I don’t have any sympathy for him, any more than I would for a hooker who contracted an STD after selling her ass.

Sounds tough – but look at the result for our family for what he did.

Sincerely and with best wishes, Michael Peterson

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