what separates Jean-Xavier de Lestrade‘s stairs of other police documentaries is its amazing access. When recounting the defense strategy of miguel peterson, the novelist who was accused of murdering his wife, Kathleen, in 2001, de Lestrade’s cameras recorded strategy meetings inside Peterson’s home in Durham, North Carolina, the same house where Kathleen was found dead at the foot of a flight of stairs. De Lestrade, an Academy Award-winning documentary filmmaker, had to agree to the terms of Peterson’s defense attorney, David Rudolph—among them, that footage would be sent to France each night before it could be subpoenaed by the prosecution. But the warnings paid off: after extraordinary reviews, stairs it won a Peabody in 2005 and was anointed into the documentary pantheon.
So several years later, when a young filmmaker named Anthony Fields approached de Lestrade to express his admiration for the documentary and his desire to adapt it into a dramatic series, de Lestrade paid Karmic Access Forward. After speaking with Campos and reviewing his previous work, de Lestrade opened his Ladder Archives: Share footage, notes, and tips on particularly interesting unused videos. He says Campos even spent a few days with his Ladder crew while filming additional episodes in 2011. For years, they stayed in touch.
Last December, when Campos and the HBO Max team flew to Paris to shoot several scenes for the long-planned adaptation, stairspublisher of , Sofia Brunett, he even opened his house to host some of the filmmakers for dinner.
“We gave [Campos] all the access I wanted, and I really trusted the man,” de Lestrade said. vanity fair Tuesday, sounding shocked. “So that’s why I’m very uncomfortable today, because I feel like I’ve been betrayed in some way.”
De Lestrade is credited on the series as co-executive producer, but says the title was nominal only; he was paid for the project, but says he entrusted Campos with all the creative decisions.
“Because I trust Antonio, I didn’t ask him to read the script. He was respecting his freedom as an author, as a creator, as a filmmaker. And I never asked to see the episodes before they were shown because he was quite confident,” explains de Lestrade.
The adaptation of Campos de stairs premiered on HBO Max last week, dramatizing the events that unfolded in De Lestrade’s original, but with a metaphorical twist. In addition to following Peterson (played by Colin Firth) and his family, there is a second story line depicting Lestrade’s own (played by Vincent Vermignon) and his team while filming the documentary. De Lestrade knew that story and didn’t care when he says that Campos brought it up as a means to explore “how we approach the truth.”
But according to de Lestrade and other members of the original group LadderThe team of—producer Allyson Luchak, editor scott Stevenson, and Rudolf, who appeared on screen as Peterson’s defense attorney—the fifth episode of the remake, “The Beating Heart,” which airs next week, recklessly blurs fact and fiction. In it, various scenes suggest that the original eight Ladder episodes were edited by Brunet (juliet binight)-the real life Ladder editor who opened her production house to HBO Max when they were filming in Paris, while she was embroiled in a romantic relationship with Peterson.
In real life, Brunet had a relationship with Peterson. De Lestrade has been candid about this in the past, and Peterson even wrote about the relationship in his 2019 book, Behind the Staircase. But the four of them, and Brunet herself in an email to vanity fairThey confirm that Brunet and Peterson did not start corresponding until after she left the documentary as planned to edit another project, the one from 2004. Holy Lola. De Lestrade did not expect stairs produce so much footage; he ended up hiring two other editors, Stevenson and Jean Pierre Block, to cut what would end up being a total of eight episodes. (Years later, de Lestrade filmed five additional episodes of Stairs. Brunet edited all of them, the last three she says she edited after she and Peterson parted ways.)
“My relationship with Michael never affected my editing,” Brunet wrote. “I never, ever cut anything that could damage it. I have too high an opinion of my work to be even remotely tempted to do something like that. And Jean would never let it happen anyway. It’s her movie and I respect her a lot. And again: I had absolutely no dogs in the fight for the first eight episodes. As for the following, I think you can see in them a great empathy for Michael’s family. But that was as much Jean’s point of view as it was mine. Regardless of what you think or believe about Michael, you cannot deny that the situation for his children was terrible and unfair. Looking at the last three episodes, it couldn’t be suspected that she wanted to favor Michael, as we parted ways before he finished editing.”
Another point of contention is the scenes showing de Lestrade, Brunet and producer Denis Poncet (Frank Feys) arguing over editing the documentary, with de Lestrade and Brunet manipulating a more sympathetic depiction of Peterson to help with its appeal. This suggestion is false and implausible, says Rudolf, explaining: “Another condition for filming was that they couldn’t transmit [footage] until all the appeals were exhausted, because I didn’t know if it was going to be helpful to Michael or detrimental to Michael.” (The filmmakers edited the documentary under that agreement. Rudolf later decided to stop delaying the documentary and let the crew broadcast the footage.)
What irritates de Lestrade, Luchak and Stevenson most is that the original Ladder has been heralded for nearly two decades for its careful construction and the fact that it leaves viewers wondering if Michael was involved in Kathleen’s death. (In 2005, The New York Times gave it a rave review: “Not only is the editing award-worthy, but the entire film is also so brilliantly conceived, informed, shot and set that you might wish it was twice as long”). The dramatization of HBO Max stairs it undermines the very documentary it purports to pay homage to, the filmmakers allege, by suggesting they purposely tipped the scales to manipulate audiences.