When actress Ashley Judd recently revealed that an unnamed studio executive tried to "groom" her for sex by using his powerful position, Gabe Hoffman, a film producer and hedge-fund executive, was hardly surprised.
"The casting couch is almost as old as time," he told Newsmax.
But he adds, "I think the casting couch has just about run its course in our society. We don't tolerate that stuff anymore. We shouldn't.''
Hoffman is considered an authority on the subject because his documentary film "An Open Secret" reveals an even darker, unrelated predilection that he says plagues the entertainment industry: Sexual exploitation of child actors.
The film's director, Amy Berg, was nominated for an Oscar for "Deliver Us From Evil," her 2006 examination of sex abuse cases in the Roman Catholic Church.
Berg deftly wields all the narrative tools of the storyteller's craft – rising action, suspense, plot twists, interludes, surprise endings – to create a documentary that holds together surprisingly well considering the abject subject matter. She offers a gut-wrenching, un-hyped account of the emotional carnage wreaked on children by industry predators.
The documentary introduces five erstwhile child actors identified only by their first names and last initials. Each story follows a predictable arc, how they were discovered, groomed, and ultimately used. The film has been very well received: Reviewers on RottenTomatoes.com
give it a 93 percent score with an audience-approval rating of 85 percent.
Many of the film's sordid tales involve Marc Collins-Rector, the co-founder of the now-defunct Digital Entertainment Network, an attempt at online video streaming.
With his chillingly disdainful demeanor, Collins-Rector would be cast as the heavy in just about any Hollywood film you can think of. He has a supercilious smirk and skin that shines like it was coated with a fine sheen of 10W-40.
But in real life, in the case of Collins-Rector, the evil image is no act.
According to the film, Collins-Rector would invite high-profile entertainment mavens to join in sybaritic parties at an Encino, California, mansion. There, aspiring child actors would cavort about the pool and powerful adults – who held the power to realize or destroy their dreams of stardom – enticed them into the hot tub. Some of the children had not yet even reached their teens.
In 2004, Collins-Rector pleaded guilty to multiple counts of child sexual abuse. Among other heinous acts, he admitted to luring five minors across state lines for sex. At sentencing, he was credited with the time he'd spent in a Spanish jail prior to his extradition. He later fled the country after a court awarded a $4.5 million judgment to his accusers.
Collins-Rector paid a small price for the tender lives he'd train-wrecked, and Hoffman says that's all too common. The film documents several predators who are back at work on movie sets.
"There are definitely A-listers out there who have gone through this trauma," Hoffman says.
"You're starting to see a lot of it come out. You're going to see a lot more of it come out over time."
Sexual abuse involving children is hardly new. In 2011, actor Corey Feldman, who starred in the 1980s films "The Goonies" and "Stand By Me," wrote a memoir, "Coreyography,"
in which he stated he and his late co-star Corey Haim were sexually abused as children.
Feldman told ABC's "Nightline" that child abuse is the "biggest problem" in Hollywood, saying, "It's the big secret."
In an October 2013 appearance on ABC's "The View," Feldman was talking about being abused as a child actor, and warned kids and their parents not to become star-struck, when Barbara Walters jumped in.
"You're damaging an entire industry," she protested.
Hoffman acknowledges the abuse of children isn't just a problem in the entertainment industry. Newsmax contacted SAG-AFTRA, the actors' union, for its comment on the film's revelations. The organization did not reply to several e-mails and voice mail messages. It should be noted SAG-AFTRA officials have been extremely busy in recent weeks hosting their annual convention.
Anne Henry, who appears in the film as co-founder of the non-profit BizParentz Foundation, which counsels the parents of child-actors on handling their children's careers, backs up the film's essential points.
"Henry felt the movie's tag line, "The film that Hollywood doesn't want you to see," was a bit over the top. But it should be noted "An Open Secret" initially received an R rating that has since been reversed.
Hoffman and Henry hope "An Open Secret" makes parents more aware how risky it can be to put their child's fate in the hands of someone who promises to make them a big, big star. Most of the people in the business are upstanding. Some are not.
The film faced unusual difficulties in landing a distribution deal. But in May, it finally received a modest, 20-city theatrical release.
It has since been reclassified as PG-13 and is gradually finding its audience. "An Open Secret" has been screened at Cannes, at London's Raindance Film Festival, as well as in Seattle, Denver, and Los Angeles, to name just a few venues.
Considering the child-abuse allegations against Michael Jackson, and the high-profile abuse scandal at Penn State, some may find it incredible that parents continue to be taken in by smarmy molesters who groom their children right in front of them.
"These pedophiles are smart," says Hoffman. "That's why they fool us, and why they fool other people — good, honest, decent parents who are looking out for their kids."
In September 2012, the California legislature passed and Gov. Jerry Brown signed the Child Performer Protection Act. That law requires any industry professional working directly with children to obtain a Child Performer Services permit. Submitting to a finger print check is also required — an important provision in an industry where stage names are routine.
But Hoffman points out the law does not prevent sex offenders from working on film and TV productions, as long as they do not work one-on-one with minors. Activists say the law doesn't go far enough.
Hoffman would like to see mandatory minimum jail sentences for those who commit child sex abuse in California. Studios, he says, should be treated just like schools when it comes to restrictions on sex offenders.
Henry, meanwhile, would like to see other states pass laws to protect child actors, especially those that dangle big tax breaks to recruit productions there.
"Anyone who wishes to see the film at their local theater can simply submit a request on the Gathr.us website. Once enough viewers in any given locale sign up, a screening is scheduled at a local theater. Movie-goers pay a standard ticket price to see the film they've requested. All profits from the film go to the Courage To Act Foundation, a charity dedicated to preventing child abuse and aiding its victims.
In 2005, BizParentz teamed up with the Screen Actors Guild Foundation to offer a seminar on how to protect young performers, and former LAPD officer Dave Dalton offered parents some free advice.
"You and your kids are a target-rich audience," he warned. "Believe your own instincts."
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