Filmmaker Claims Homophobia Killed Movie
LOS ANGELES (CN) - The owners of the Stahl House breached an agreement to allow a gay documentary filmmaker to make a movie about the Stahl family after it emerged their father was an "outspoken homophobe," and his closeted gay son committed suicide during the making of the film, the filmmaker claims in court.
Filmmaker Steven Slomkowski and his company USAN Group sued Stahl House, Bruce Stahl and Shari Stahl in a July 3 Superior Court complaint of breach of contract, fraud, negligence, and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
Designed by architect Pierre Koenig, Stahl House is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Stahl House has been featured in several movies, television shows, advertising campaigns and photo shoots.
A statement on the Stahl House website, checked this morning, says: "We want to thank everyone for their interest in our book and documentary film projects. Unfortunately, we have elected not to proceed with the projects."
It adds: "No permissions have been granted, to any person, company, or organization, for the use of any Stahl family copyrighted material and usage rights to our project titles 'Nobody Famous Ever Lived Here' and '22: The Inside Story of the Stahl House.'"
But Slomkowski claims he agreed to make a movie and a printed book about the modernist Hollywood Hills residence and the Stahl family, and started work in 2012.
Slomkowski says his relationship with the family soured after the Stahls refused to allow him the access he needed to complete the project. That was after he uncovered evidence that the Stahls' father, Chuck "Buck" Stahl, was a bigoted alcoholic and homophobe, he claims in the lawsuit.
Slomkowski says he also discovered that Buck's son Mark was a closeted homosexual, despite being a "vocal, religious opponent of the LGBT community." Mark committed suicide in November 2013 while the project, "Nobody Famous Ever Lived Here," was still in production, Slomkowski says.
"Mark never married and lived a secretive, conflicted existence balancing the 'values' of hatred and homophobia instilled in him by his father with the reality of his sexuality," the lawsuit states.
After Mark's suicide, Slomkowski claims, Bruce and Shari Stahl did everything they could to make sure the movie never saw the light of day.
"Defendants' refusal to permit the project to be completed was motivated by their hatred of homosexuals, their desire to exact control, revenge and harm to Slomkowski because he was gay, their shame about Mark's suicide and the reasons for it, as well as their shame about their father's and their own bigotry, mental illness and alcohol abuse," the lawsuit states.
Slomkowski claims the Stahls refused to allow him the access he needed to film at the property, failed to pay him $131,719.79 in production costs, demanded 127 changes to the movie and canceled publication of the book.
The Stahls backed away from an arrangement that would have allowed gay couples who had purchased a luxury edition of the book to come and spend a night at the house, Slomkowski adds.
"Defendants - in spite of knowing that Slomkowski was gay - demanded he remove a photograph from Facebook of himself at the Stahl House wearing an Equal Rights Org baseball cap," the complaint states.
The filmmaker claims that five contracts he entered into with the Stahls were backdated and "actually signed months after production of the project had begun and after the investment by USAN of hundreds of thousands of dollars of time and money."
The contracts were "unfair and unreasonable" because they include Idaho as a forum for any legal dispute, according to the lawsuit. Slomkowski says that by then he had already spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on the movie, and the Stahls knew he could not walk away from the project.
"The only reason defendants included the Idaho choice of law and forum selection clauses was to discourage USAN from suing defendants," the lawsuit states.
Slomkowski demands $884,000 in damages. He is represented by Nicholas Tepper.
Shari Stahl told Courthouse News she had no knowledge of the lawsuit and declined to comment.