What separates? Jean-Xavier de Lestrade‘s The stairs of other crime documentaries is the amazing access. While we follow the defense strategy of Michael Peterson, the novelist charged with the murder of his wife, Kathleen, in 2001, the cameras filmed Lestrade strategy meetings at Peterson’s home in Durham, North Carolina, the same house where Kathleen was found dead at the bottom of a staircase. De Lestrade, an Academy Award-winning documentary filmmaker, had to agree to the terms of Peterson’s attorney, David Rudolf— among them, that footage would be sent to France every night before it could be subpoenaed by prosecution. But the caveats were worth it: after extraordinary reviews, The stairs won a Peabody in 2005 and was anointed in the documentary pantheon.
So a few years later, when a young filmmaker named Anthony Fields De Lestrade approached to express his admiration for the documentary and his desire to turn it into a dramatic series, de Lestrade paid the karmic entry. After speaking with Campos and reviewing his previous work, de Lestrade opened his stairwell archives – sharing images, notes and tips about particularly interesting unused video. He says that Campos is even with him for a few days… stairwell crew as they filmed additional episodes in 2011. They kept in touch for years.
Last December, when the Campos and HBO Max team flew to Paris to film several scenes for the long-planned adaptation, The stairsthe editor, Sophie Brunet, even opened her house to host some filmmakers for dinner.
“We gave [Campos] all the access he wanted, and I really trusted the man,” de Lestrade . told Vanity Fair Tuesday, sounds shocked. “So that’s why I feel very uncomfortable today, because I feel like I’ve been betrayed in a way.”
De Lestrade is credited to the series as a 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 an author, as a maker, as a filmmaker. And I never asked to watch the episodes before they were shown, because I was very confident,” explains de Lestrade.
Campos’ adaptation of The stairs premiered on HBO Max last week, dramatizing the events unfolding in the original van de Lestrade, but with a meta twist. In addition to following Peterson (played by Colin firth) and his family, there is a second storyline depicting de Lestrade himself (played by Vincent Vermignon) and his crew as they film the documentary. De Lestrade knew that storyline, and was fine with it when he said that Campos framed it for him as a means of exploring “the way we approached the truth.”
But according to de Lestrade and other members of the original stairwell‘s team producer Allyson Luchak, editor Scott Stevenson, and Rudolf, who appeared onscreen as Peterson’s lawyer — the fifth episode of the remake, “The Beating Heart,” which airs next week, recklessly blurs fact and fiction. In it, several scenes suggest that the eight original stairwell episodes were edited by Brunet (Juliette Binoche)-the real life stairwell editor who opened her home for the production of HBO Max when they were shooting in Paris – while engaged in a romantic relationship with Peterson.
In real life, Brunet did have 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 stairs. But all four, and Brunet himself in an email to Vanity Fairconfirm that Brunet and Peterson only started corresponding after she left the documentary as planned to edit another project, 2004’s Holy Lola. De Lestrade did not expect The stairs produce so much visual material; he ended up bringing in two other editors, Stevenson and… Jean-Pierre Blok, to cut what would eventually become eight episodes. (Years later, de Lestrade filmed another five episodes of The stairs. Brunet edited them all — she says she edited the last three after she and Peterson broke up.)
“My relationship with Michael has never affected my editing,” Brunet wrote. “I’ve never cut out anything that would harm him. I have too much of an opinion about my job to even be tempted to do something like that. And Jean would never let it happen anyway. It’s his movie and that I respect a lot. And again I had absolutely no dog in the fray for the first eight episodes. As for the next one, I think you can notice a great empathy for Michael’s family in them. But that was both the point of view of Jean as mine. Whatever you think or believe about Michael, you can’t deny that the situation for his children was terrible and unfair. As for the last three episodes, I couldn’t possibly be suspected of wanting to favor Michael as we were taken apart before I was done assembling.”