‘Staircase’ Filmmakers Feel ‘Betrayed’ by HBO Max Adaptation
What separates Jean-Xavier de Lestradeit is The staircase other crime documentaries is its astonishing access. While chronicling the defense strategy of Michael Peterson, the novelist accused of murdering his wife, Kathleen, in 2001, de Lestrade’s cameras recorded strategic meetings inside Peterson’s home in Durham, North Carolina, the same house where Kathleen was found dead at the bottom of a staircase. De Lestrade, an Oscar-winning documentary filmmaker, had to accept terms from Peterson’s defense attorney, David Rudolph– among them, these images would be sent to France each night before they could be subpoenaed by the prosecution. But the caveats were worth it: after extraordinary reviews, The staircase won a Peabody in 2005 and was inducted into the Documentary Hall of Fame.
Thus, a few years later, when a young filmmaker named Antonio Campos reached out to de Lestrade to express his admiration for the documentary and his desire to adapt it into a drama series, de Lestrade paid the karmic bout forward. After talking to Campos and reviewing his previous work, de Lestrade opened his Stairs archives—sharing footage, notes, and tips on unused videos of particular interest. He says Campos even spent a few days with his Stairs crew as they filmed additional episodes in 2011. For years, they kept in touch.
Last December, when Campos and the HBO Max crew flew to Paris to film several scenes for the long-planned adaptation, The staircasethe editor, Sophie Brunett, even opened his house to host some of the filmmakers for dinner.
“We gave [Campos] all the access he wanted, and I really trusted the man,” de Lestrade said. vanity lounge Tuesday, sounding shocked. “That’s why today I’m very uncomfortable, 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 only nominal; he was paid for the project, but says he entrusted all creative decisions to Campos.
“Because I trust Antonio, I didn’t ask him to read the script. I respected his freedom as author, creator, filmmaker. And I never asked to watch the episodes before they aired because I was pretty confident,” de Lestrade explains.
Campos’ adaptation of The staircase premiered on HBO Max last week – dramatizing the events that unfolded in de Lestrade’s original, but with a meta twist. In addition to following Peterson (played by Colin Firth) and his family, there is a second story depicting Lestrade himself (played by Vincent Vermignon) and his team during the filming of the documentary. De Lestrade was aware of this story and agreed when he said Campos presented it as a way to explore “how we approached the truth”.
But according to de Lestrade and other members of the original StairsThe—producer team 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,” airing next week, recklessly blurs fact and fiction. In it, several scenes suggest that the original eight Stairs the episodes were edited by Brunet (Juliette Binoche)-the real life Stairs editor who opened her home to HBO Max production while filming in Paris, when she was entangled in a romantic relationship with Peterson.
In real life, Brunet had a relationship with Peterson. De Lestrade has been candid about it in the past, and Peterson even wrote about the relationship in his 2019 book, Behind the stairs. But all four, and Brunet herself in an email to vanity loungeconfirm that Brunet and Peterson only began to correspond after leaving the documentary as planned to mount another project, that of 2004 Saint Lola. De Lestrade had not foreseen The staircase produce as many sequences; he ended up enlisting two other editors, Stevenson and Jean-Pierre Block, to cut what would end up being eight episodes in total. (Years later, de Lestrade filmed five more episodes of The staircase. Brunet edited them all – the last three she says she edited after her breakup with Peterson.)
“My relationship with Michael never affected my editing,” Brunet wrote. “I’ve never, ever cut anything that might be detrimental to him. I think too highly of my work to even be remotely tempted to do something like that. And Jean would never let that happen in any way. way. It’s his film and I respect it enormously. And again: I had absolutely no dog in the fight for the first eight episodes. As for the following ones, I think you can notice a great empathy for the family of Michael. But that was Jean’s point of view as well as mine. Whatever you think or believe about Michael, you can’t deny that his children’s situation was terrible and unfair. As for the last three episodes , I couldn’t be suspected of wanting to favor Michael, since we had broken up before I finished editing.