In 2021, I was diagnosed with cancer and while I overcame it, it left me with the question only those who have been faced with their mortality can really relate too. When I’m on my death bed, will I be happy with my accomplishments? Being a dad has and will remain the most important job I’ve ever had. But what did I do to help my fellow man? Am I leaving the world a better place for having been in it?
Over time, this doubt in my mind grew more prominent. A feeling I couldn’t really suppress. There is no other way I can describe it other than I felt I needed to use my life as a vessel to help those less fortunate. To be a voice for the unspoken, a voice for the silenced. So, that’s exactly what I’m going to do, and it starts today. To live the life I want, I need to speak up for those who don’t have a platform. And to speak up for them, I first need to speak up for myself.
Starting today, I am no longer going to be silenced. To take back my voice, I’m sharing my journey, my truth, in my words.
February 9th, 2023 is the first day in my adult life that I felt a sense of freedom. It was the day I found out my groomer, my abuser, my ex-husband, Roger, had passed away. For the last 13+ years since I gathered the courage to leave, I was stalked, harassed, slandered, and lived in fear of when and where he was going to show up next. What press worthy career achievement would he see in the press that reminded him I existed and start the cycle all over again? To understand where I am today, you must go back to where I came from.
I’m the child of an addict and as such experienced severe emotional and physical abuse at the hands of my father. Being a child, I had nowhere to turn, nowhere to go. So, I found myself turning to movies for my escape. For those few hours, I got to be somewhere else, be someone new only to be abruptly snapped out of it by continued abuse when my father needed his next “fix”. I looked forward to each weekend because it meant I could stay up with 2 or 3 movies and just get away. My interest in making movies came from these therapeutic, yet brief escapes from reality. I wanted to help other kids in need of an escape. By 16, I was already planning on making the move to Los Angeles to pursue a career in film.
After graduation, I went to college briefly before meeting Roger online. This was circa 2006, before we knew the inherent dangers of meeting people online. I had searched for friends online, I stumbled upon him, and he had photos from his recent film productions, his jet set lifestyle. I reached out to say hello. We started talking and I expressed my interest in the film industry. He was older, I was about 18 or 19 at the time and he was 42. He was encouraging that I should follow my dreams in film, and he assured me he could help me get started in the film industry if I moved out to LA. Everything he said, seemed so right. It was almost as if he knew exactly what I wanted to hear. This “kind” stranger who was a working professional was willing to help me get my foot in the door. Our talks quickly continued, and an “opportunity” was presented. He had been hired on a production shooting overseas and needed a house sitter to look out after his cat and apartment. He suggested I should take the chance and move out to LA to give my dreams a shot.
Again, I was a naïve teenager, what could go wrong? Law & Order SVU wasn’t prominent yet and the “Me too” movement hadn’t happened yet, so how or why was I to be suspicious? To my underage brain, this was my one chance to make my dreams happened. It was agreed, I would fly to LA and stay with him, and he’d help me get my start. I ventured to Los Angeles with a one-way ticket and $100 to my name. He picked me up at the airport and we stopped for coffee, and it was like something I had only seen in movies. I had never even been to California and here I was entranced by the rows of palm trees lining Ventura Blvd. It seemed almost magical.
After coffee, we headed to his apartment and I got settled and unpacked from my 1 carry on, we chatted. His trip he was going out of town for was now “pushed” and it could be a few weeks or a few months. He wasn’t sure. A few days in, he got me hired on a commercial spot. I was thrilled, my first “Hollywood” job. I arrived an hour before my call time and asked him who I needed to impress to keep working. He pointed out the UPM and I did just that. I made sure he saw me going above and beyond the task assigned. I kept water and diet coke in his hands whenever they were empty. Sure enough, it worked. That two-day commercial spot was my first day of anything related to my dreams.
Roger made several advances and when I rejected them, I was invited to leave. It became very apparent that If I wanted to stay with him, and keep getting jobs, I needed to accept his advances. I was still a teenager, I was in an unknown city, with no friends, no family. No car and no real money of my own except the few hundred I made on that commercial job. I had never felt more scared or alone in my life. I had nowhere to go or turn to. Before I knew it, I was in a forced relationship. I told myself I only had to keep it going until he finally left for his overseas production. It seemed like such a small price to pay to make my dreams a reality.
In the time from my arrival to his departure, I had met a handful of his friends. Mostly in the mid to late twenties. They had invited me out with them to a bar in West Hollywood, alas, but sure enough, the doorman didn’t bother to even ID me. It was alright, I don’t drink, never have. It’s one of the positive side effects of an addict parent, you want so badly to never become them. So, you don’t even risk it. His friends were nice, all treated me kindly. On the way back home, I’d drive since he was intoxicated. I was making small talk asking about how he met them, etc. In his drunken state, he had opened honestly for the first time. Matt had been a former student of his when he taught in San Diego before he landed his first big break on the movie Titanic. He had a sexual relationship with Matt, while Matt was 14 or 15. He would have been 30 or 31. And his teacher. This is clearly wrong from a position of power let alone illegal and statutory rape. How could he be so non cholent? They were now friends when Matt was 25/26. So, it was consensual, but still?
The next morning, once he was sober, I asked him about Matt again. He told me he’d known him for ages, that Matt had ended up living with him when his parents kicked him out, but they had just rekindled their friendship because Matt had stolen his checkbook, written a bunch of checks to the local pet store and returned them for the cash. Odd to tell me this, let alone you’re still friends with him? There had to be more to the story.
The time came for him to go out of town. I was tasked with taking care of his cat, bringing in the mail, watering the plants, etc. He had given me permission to drive his car while he was away as needed for errands or work. I had forgiven his suggestion of leaving for rejecting his advances. I told myself, I was going to use the next 2 months to find myself, get on my feet, get a job, and make it. The plan was to be out on my own when he returned.
I mocked up my first film resume, I only had that one commercial job credit. I wasn’t someone in demand. I bought a weekly subscription to production list and would fax and email my resume to every single job opening on the site. After hundreds of submissions, I would only land one interview and I didn’t get the job. Unfortunately, timing couldn’t have been worse, we had just had the writers’ strike followed by the 08-housing crisis and due to aggressive tax credits abroad, production work in Los Angles was sparce.
A few days into house sitting, I started to make myself at home. One afternoon, I decided to watch a movie. I browsed through his DVD’s and stumbled upon a few unlabeled DVDs, curious, I put them in to see what they were. It took me a few seconds trying to make sense of it, but it was a “adult” video of two 18 to 20 something guys, in the very living room I was in, on the very couch I was sitting on. And then the camera guy spoke up, it was Roger’s voice. He was calling the shots. I put in the next blank DVD, this time it was from the bedroom, in the very bed I was sleeping in. This time, it was just a “solo” guy. But the guy was in makeup to disguise his identity. After starring at his face, it was Matt. The student he had an affair with, who moved in with him. I panicked, what sort of pervert was I living with? What had I done? There was nothing I could do until he arrived back, and I could ask him about it.
I had just picked him up from the airport in his car and on the drive home, I just came out with it and asked him point black about the DVDs. He laughed it off and said he had a previous career in adult entertainment directing/producing videos. Those videos were ones his friends had asked him to record. Hmm… Ok. I hadn’t thought that he would have a “good” answer for it. So, it wasn’t something sinister. Maybe I’m just a prude? Again, at 18/19, I hadn’t experienced life yet. I’ll be the first to admit I was sheltered. Or was I willing to accept any response he gave me because if it was true, I would have to move back home to my abusive addict father? Was Roger the lesser of the two evils? I thought so.
The same week as his return, he was called for a job shooting on location with the very UPM from the commercial gig. He asked the UPM to hire me and he agreed. The only condition would be I would need to work as a local, fly myself there and stay with my friend. But I could have my first feature job. It ended up being two films back-to-back followed by another two films back-to-back. Here I was, less than 6 months in LA, I had finished 4 films and a commercial. And it always came from my friend and his relationships. It was obvious, this town was all about who you know. Jobs came via referral and word of mouth mostly.
I allowed my desire to achieve my dreams, my desire to not fail, my desire to not go back home to an abusive addict parent to cloud my judgement. I allowed it to alter my perception of what was right or wrong. What I deserved and didn’t deserve. I forgave indiscretions or forced sexual encounters. It’s funny, when I was a kid and when I would ask my mother why she wouldn’t leave my abusive father, her reply was never that she “loved him” her reply was always “we can’t afford to live without him”. Looking back, I had become my mother. I was permitting my mistreatment, I was permitting my assault, all out of financial fears. Of not having a safe place to go.
To the public, Roger was a successful, had dozens and dozens of credits under his belt to high profile movies and series. To his friends, Roger was a good guy. And in public and in private, when he got his way, he was a good guy. He would be cordial to my family or friends who would come to visit. Looking back, because I allowed it, because I didn’t speak up at the time, how many more victims would there be?
I accepted my life; it was better than the alternative. Years passed and we end up getting domestically partnered, pre-gay marriage and prop 8. I’d forgiven the issues early on; we’d buy a house and fake a little domesticated life. I’d get jobs on his shows. I was still working to my dreams. Nonetheless, the forced intimacy, again, or being told I could get out. Forced recording of intimate moments. Forced to let him have another person in our bed, or I could leave. Every element of my life became controlled by him. And if I didn’t like it, what? I could be homeless.
With film work in Los Angeles sparce due to tax credits in other states. I decided it was time for a change. I needed to stand on my own to get away. Desperate for a job, I ended up reading a book that encouraged passive income and inspired me to give it a try. It seemed possible, I could have a business or two to support myself between production jobs. In November 2009, I would open my first business. A Christmas Tree Lot and would walk away with $70k in profits for the month. After we closed the tree lot for the season, I got my first taste of financial freedom. I had money, that was my own. Not our joint shared account but something I had earned myself. I guess it took being able to support myself to stand on my own. I knew it was time to break free. I gathered the courage to tell him we were over. I gave him half of the $70k, after all, we had worked the tree lot together. It was the right and fair thing to do. His attitude changed from the usual friendly demeanor to a hateful one. I didn’t feel safe staying under the same roof with him one more night.
As any aspiring producer, I had a hand full of scripts I had optioned at this point, I had a handful of talent offers out at any given time. One of them seemed like it was gathering interest, so I figured, I’ll just head out to a preliminary tech scout to just get out of the same house as him. I had my share of the cash to hold me over and our joint credit cards. Roger and I agreed, we’d sort out the finances over the next month. When the bills came in, we’d pay what was owed and that’d be it. We shook hands and said goodbye.
A few colleagues and I would travel to location. We spent a week or two scouting, meeting the local film office while trying to build a production plan. The entire time, we were making offers to talent, we were negotiating and closing financing.
Once it appeared financing wasn’t working out, we had decided to check out and head back to Los Angeles. What I hadn’t known, Roger had been in touch with the handful of crew I traveled with. He had started a campaign of character assignation, false police reports and calling our hotels and rental car company to say that credit card I had used was “stolen”. Sure enough, when I went to pay for the hotel on my card, it declined. These were joint accounts and ones I was added as an authorized user. We had already agreed, we’d sort out the bills over the next 30 days and square everything away. So, what was the issue? I step aside to call the number of the back of the card. That’s when I’m told by the customer service, my card had been closed at the other account holder’s request. No sooner than I hang up, in walks a cop and asked me, are you Mr. Brown?
The cop asked me about the hotel bill, I explain, I was just on the phone with the bank, my card had been cancelled. She replied, the way I hear it, it was stolen. I tried to explain the situation with my ex, and it was our card. Rather than let me make a call to sort this out, she replied aggressively, I was “cutting into her Captain Morgan time.” and that I was under arrest. This was on a Friday afternoon around 3pm. Under arrest? She couldn’t be serious. For what? The hotel bill? I had never had any issues with law enforcement. I didn’t even have a record. At this point, I was on the verge of tears, I had no idea what to expect. I was hand cuffed and led out of the hotel into a police car.
Upon arrival to the police station, I was processed and put in a holding cell. Before I knew it, my bail was set at $10,000. This was high for someone without a record but I was told it was because I was from out of town. My parents were told the bail amount, but they couldn’t raise it. After all, the housing market had crashed, the one booming new construction that afforded my dad his drug probably, had long passed. No one else in my family had money. I was put back in the holding cell until court Monday morning where would be arraigned unless I got bailed out before then. I was forced to sleep on a concrete floor with the lights on 24/7 from Friday until Monday. They gave me a piece of what I can only call a gray carpet padding foam with a few specks of color in it. I tried to sleep it off, in the hopes of the cell opening and me being bailed out. But unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. The entire weekend was a blur. The next thing I know, it’s Monday morning. I was taken by the same cop who arrested me to the courthouse on Monday morning to be arraigned.
I was loaded into a courthouse holding cell with a few other inmates. Mostly the drunken fight at a sports game, still in their jerseys and smelling of booze. Before I knew it, it was my turn, the judge asked if I had an attorney, I replied I didn’t. He kept the bail the same and set a court date for a month later. The court appointed attorney, spoke to me for maybe 1-minute tops, just telling me to nod and let him speak for me. We didn’t get in the details of what had happened.
I was transported in a “patty wagon” what I can only say resembles an animal control truck. Metal box with a bench we could slide into. Here I was, with my legs and arms cuff and chained together on my way to jail… OVER A HOTEL BILL AND MY CARD DECLINING.
Upon arriving to the county jail, I was put into a holding cell with all the other inmates for processing. It was loud. Many of the inmates were acting up, hollering, fighting, etc. They would call us back one-by-one to take a mug shut and fingerprint us. Afterwards we would be given a set of scrubs and a cold bologna sandwich and carton of school milk. Eventually we each met with a doctor, given a TB test, and assigned to a cell.
I got ahold of my parents, and they were working on my bail. My grandmother was going to pawn some jewelry to bail me out. But apparently, it didn’t raise enough money. After it became apparent my family wasn’t going to come through with bail money, I waited it out. After all, my court date was next month. Worst case, I could make this work for a month.
Before I knew it, the month had past, and the morning of my court date was here. I arrived at court, and something seemed amiss when I was never called. My court appointed attorney asked and apparently the DA on call that day didn’t have my file. So, they pushed it off to the next month. Seriously? So, this meant I had to go back to jail and wait for the next court date. Another month passes and I attend court.
This time the DA has my folder, the judge asked what I’m doing there. This guy has no record. And for what, a hotel bill? It was the judge, not my counsel, not the DA who said larceny was the wrong charge. It was more fitting to be “defrauding an innkeeper” had it be a true instance of not paying the bill, but it was merely a matter of the card declining. He stated people trying to not pay, don’t usually present a card. It was more fit for people who run out on a hotel bill. The judge tossed it out and granted my immediate release.
The moment the cuffs were unlocked, this weight came off my chest. This “finally” moment. Now what? Well, that’s the funny part. They don’t really give you any advice from there. I was able to borrow change from the court appointed attorney to use the pay phone to call my parents. My mom had held onto the money from grandmother pawning her jewelry for my bail money. So, she sent it to me via western union. I jotted down the confirmation # and had to find my way there.
I didn’t have money for a bus, my wallet with all my debit cards, my brief case with my laptop and luggage had been put into storage at the police station when I was arrested. So, I started walking and kept walking until I saw a gas station that had a western union sign in the window. I was able to pick up the money with the security question since I didn’t have any ID and head to the airport to try to buy a ticket.
I made my flight the next morning and spent a few weeks at my parents’ house for the first time since I was 18. I was only home a few days before the abuse from my father started again. Nothing had changed, it’s like I was back I, my childhood. Here I stood a now 24-year-old man, cowering to my abusive father. I had to get away and soon.
I reached out to my ex to touch base. At this point, I wasn’t aware he was the one who had called and initiated my arrest. When he answered, his first question was “how was jail?” and laughed it off. That’s when he told me, it was his doing. I asked him about our stuff, household items, etc. He explained when I was in jail, he had thrown all my items away. It was a pointless conversation; we weren’t going to get anywhere. It was just a bunch of hostility, on both sides.
He had built my life up just to control me and when we were no longer together, he burnt my life down. Alienated me from our colleagues and friends. This behavior was when I started to question everything. If you recall earlier on in the letter, he had told me a similar story with Matt, that he had stolen his check book and wrote all these checks. But I didn’t get it. Was this his MO? Groom, assault and destroy when it’s over? Was his goal to alienate me from everyone I loved? To place doubt should I report him? Or just make our life a living hell so you wouldn’t bother reporting his actions? Is this how he silenced Matt as well?
I logged into email, I saw some emails related to usernames and accounts being created on an adult content website, which is now out of business. Right there was a video from a hidden camera inside our bedroom, of us in an intimate act. I hadn’t agreed to this, nor did I know it was being recorded. I click through, there were many more. Not only of me, but also the videos I had discovered early on, including his former student.
I was in a panic. I texted him demanding their removal. No reply. I reported each video as unauthorized, but it would take months of reporting each video daily to get them removed. This was 2010, the definition of “revenge porn” hadn’t been developed yet and really wouldn’t apply here. This was essentially virtual rape; I had not consented. I couldn’t report it to the police. After all, I just had this experience that traumatized me and honestly, made me fearful of police. What more could he do to me?
He wanted to silence me, well, I guess it worked. Was this his motive? Was he just some predator? Surely, I would have seen the signs? Well, as a young kid with aspirations, I missed the red flags. As a mature 37+year old, I see what signs were so clearly now.
I had no money but what was left from the western union. I couldn’t go back to Los Angeles. The life I had was gone. I couldn’t stay put and live under the same roof as my addict father. I needed to go where I could pursue my passions. Because after all of this, I still had my dreams. So, I knew that I had to choose between Los Angeles or New York. I didn’t know anyone in New York, I had never been to New York. But I had made it once before in LA, surely, I could make it there too.
After buying my flight, I had about $100 let to my name. I headed off to New York. When I landed, I took a bus from LGA to Grand Central for about $10. Here was the plan, I had enough for a meal and one night in a hostel. So, I took it day by day. I just had to earn enough each day to keep renewing my hostel. I would find small gigs on Craigslist such as housekeeping, moving help, labor, massages, etc. I made it work most days and on days I couldn’t, I would have to walk the streets of Manhattan from night till morning, and if I was lucky, I could hang out in a 24-hour Starbucks and just drink coffee all night.
In the morning, I’d head to Bryant Park and lay on the grass with everyone else stretching, sunbathing, etc. I’d get a few hours of a nap in until I needed to do more labor work to cover that night’s hostel. Between gigs, I would download the local job listings for productions, and I’d fax and email my resume to each production office hiring.
My persistence paid off, I got hired to Office PA on a feature. Each week of work covered 2 weeks of hostel, food, and MTA. So, I was able to get 3 months ahead and cover the cost over the 6-week gig. Before I know it, I had enough money for a deposit and first month’s rent. I moved out of the hostel into my own apartment. I had made it with the sole motivation of not being under the roof with my dad. When you think about it, I’d rather be homeless and sleeping in a park and walking the city at night than be under the same roof with my addict father.
My ex continued his harassment and alienation tactic. At the time, I didn’t know or have Facebook privacy tools set up, so my profile, my post, my friends list was public. He used it to message each of my friends and trash talk me. (Oh, he just got out of jail for stealing my credit card, etc.) I tried to not engage. I just kept looking forward. I knew the truth; I knew what really happened. It seemed, every time I would get a step forward, he would appear and cause me to take two steps back.
He posted several things about me online with the same details. So, whenever you would google me, it was the first thing to come up. He didn’t stop there; he included my full social security # and a copy of my driver’s license in the post. Before I knew it, my credit had many accounts, credit inquiries that I didn’t authorize. All due to him posting my info online as an attempt to ruin or slander me so no one would believe me If I told the truth about him. I was able to place credit freezes on my credit reports and while it took me a few years, I was able to get the post online deleted, the damage was done.
Once I got my apartment, it was time to find a roommate. I joined a few public roommate Facebook groups and would post for a roommate; I’d obviously list the name of our building so they could look it up. Well, I hadn’t known at this point, he was stalking my Facebook daily. He would see who would reply to my post and message them directly to warn them about me. So, even after I found a roommate who said yes, a few days later they would tell me about the message, and they needed to back out of the deal. This happened a few times. I felt helpless. He had branded me as this criminal who was just out of jail. It doesn’t matter you were found innocent, or the charges were tossed, people have this assumption about you without the facts. This haunted me for years. Honestly, until writing this letter, only my closest family know about this incident. It became my darkest secret.
He had won. I feared him. He had ruined my life. The only thing I could do was to keep pushing forward, try to bury my head in the sand and focus on the end goal. My dreams of filmmaking.
After a few years in New York, I’d make my way back to Los Angeles where I’d work my way back up, this time, with my contacts, not his. If I was going to make it, it was going to be based on my hard work and perseverance. I’d eventually climb my way up the ladder to POC and ultimately UPM/Line Producer. I’d get to join the various unions and guilds.
By 2014, I felt things had settled down. I was in a happy relationship; I had been working consistently. Maybe I could start exploring putting together my first movie. After all, I had learned a great deal working together with the various producers I was UPM’ing for. I ended up finding a script I was passionate about; it supported a cause. I was able to attach our top billed cast from relationships I had made over the last few productions I production managed. We only needed 1 “get” in a small supporting role to make it something special. At this point, 4 years I had passed. I reached out to Roger to offer my forgiveness for his actions. In my mind, surely this was just a broken-hearted person trying to make themselves feel better.
After a few cordial exchanges, I shared I was attempting to produce my first movie and could use his help. He had been close with an actor after they worked together, and this actor would have been great. I was able to pull together $500k via a broker I had met. At no point was this actor a contingent on their financing. And we knew it was a stretch, so we made a backup list of names just in case. Before I knew it, Roger shared the good news. His actor connection had said yes but given it was his relationship, he would push it through. It seemed a little too good to be true. When it was time to book his travel, I reached out to his team only to be told he had no idea what we were talking about. I then tried to make a real offer directly but was told it wasn’t going to happen.. Good one, Roger… We thankfully had a list of back up names and went with one of them. But I looked like a fool having to share to the other cast and team we didn’t infact get him.
We had done a few press announcements for this little film, thankfully never publicly announced the actor who backed out. But sure enough, it only took our initial cast announcement for Roger to reach out to the other listed producers involved and start up his campaign again. This time, would he not only reach the producers, but in turn, the financiers who brought the $500k to the table. While the movie was made without the involvement of Roger’s actor connection, Roger was able to rile up the few financiers who brought the $500k to the table. This resulted in a contentious 3+ year litigation that bankrupted me in attorney fees. I started to realize, no matter where I went, what I did, I could never get away from Roger or his campaign against me.
By 2015, I decided to put producing endeavors on hold to focus on production management. Maybe I could just keep my head focused on work, I could forget he existed. He would ultimately leave me alone? From 2015 to 2018, I’d keep steady employment with various production management/line producing jobs. I’d take the various classes our unions offered to better my craft.
By 2019, I’d launch my own production company and start producing again. I produced a little $1m horror film in November/December 2019 followed by another $1m horror film in February. March 2020 covid would out Los Angeles on lockdown and post would be delayed on those two films. And ultimately, we’d miss our repayment date on the financing because of this. Pre-covid, most financing agreements wouldn’t have pandemic clauses or force majeure language in the event of another lock down. Well, now they do. But, sure enough, we found ourselves in litigation that was ultimately pushed to mediation and arbitration. But the one thing they’d being up to try and prove their point would be the actions taken by my ex. So, yet again, I was dealing with the repercussions of his actions. By this point, it had been 9 years since we broke up. I had become accustomed to this. I stayed focus and wouldn’t be deterred.
In March 2020, we had started pre-production on the Fallout, we were days away from filming when the LA county lockdown happened. We’d end up being one of the first films back in production by August 2020. By December 2020, we had offers from both SXSW and Tribeca to premiere/compete. The Fallout would end up taking home the Grand Jury Award and Audience Award at SXSW in 2021. HBO Max would ultimately take worldwide rights and we’d go on to be one the top films on their platform. Every producer has that one film, that changes their course of their career, their life. For me, that was The Fallout. I am forever grateful for our incredible writer/director and my two amazing co-producers.
I’ve met some great friends in in the industry along the way and I’ve been given two great pieces of advice. The first, “what someone thinks of you, is none of your business” and the second, “hating someone, is like you eating poison, hoping they die.” That hate in your heart doesn’t affect them, it only darkens your spirit. So, I’ve been able to move on in life with these two pieces of advice.
His continued efforts to slander me, harass me, stalk me, post videos recorded without my consent online for the masses only weakened me temporarily. I’m a stronger person today because of it. But I allowed him to silence me. I couldn’t be mad at those who assumed the worst or choose the believe what he said, unless I spoke up, what were they to believe? While many would keep such a personal story private, I owed it to myself to speak up, to share my story. To take back my voice.
My name is David Brown and I’m no longer afraid.