News in Film

March 12th 2019

Hollywood actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin and a slew of chief executives are among 50 wealthy people charged in the largest college cheating scam ever prosecuted by the U.S. Department of Justice, federal officials said Tuesday.

Those indicted in the investigation, dubbed "Operation Varsity Blues," allegedly paid bribes of up to $6.5 million to get their children into elite colleges, including Yale, Stanford, Georgetown and the University of Southern California, federal prosecutors said.

"This case is about the widening corruption of elite college admissions through the steady application of wealth combined with fraud," Andrew Lelling, the U.S. attorney for the District of Massachusetts, said at a news conference.

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"There can be no separate college admissions system for the wealthy and, I'll add, there will not be a separate criminal justice system either," Lelling said.

Ringleader pleads guilty

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., a presidential candidate and a former school teacher, expressed outrage over the scandal in an interview Tuesday with ABC News.

"This is just stunning," Warren said. "To me this is just one more example of how the rich and powerful know how to take care of their own." According to Lelling, the ringleader of the scam is William Singer, owner of a college counseling service called Key Worldwide Foundation and a company called Edge College & Career Network. Singer allegedly accepted bribes totaling $25 million from parents between 2011 and 2018 "to guarantee their children's admission to elite schools," Lelling said. Singer of Newport Beach, California, pleaded guilty in a Boston federal court on Tuesday on charges of racketeering conspiracy, money laundering conspiracy, conspiracy to defraud the United States and obstruction of justice, Lelling said. Steven Masera, 69, the accountant and financial officer for the Edge College & Career Network and the Key Worldwide Foundation, was also indicted, according to court documents. Masera and Mark Riddell, a private school counselor in Bradenton, Florida, allegedly worked closely with Singer in the scam, according to the indictment. Mikaela Sanford, 32, of Folsom, California, another employee of the Edge College & Career Network and the Key Worldwide Foundation, and David Sidoo, 59, of Vancouver, Canada, were also indicted for allegedly working closely with Singer to facilitate the scam, according to the indictment. Singer would allegedly instruct parents to seek extended time for the children to take entrance exams or obtain medical documentation that their child had a learning disability, according to the indictment. The parents were then told to get the location of the test changed to one of two testing centers, one in Houston and another in West Hollywood, California, where test administrators Niki Williams, 44, of Houston and Igor Dvorskiy, 52, of Sherman Oaks, California, helped carry out the scam, the indictment alleges. Riddell, 36, allegedly either took ACT and SAT tests for students whose parents had paid bribes to Singer, according to the indictment. "Singer typically paid Riddell $10,000 for each student's test," according to the indictment. Those charged in the probe include nine coaches at elite schools, two SAT and ACT exam administrators, one exam proctor, a college administrator and 33 parents, including Huffman and Loughlin. Huffman's husband, actor William H. Macy, was not indicted, but according to the court document he and Huffman were caught on a recorded conversation with a corroborating witness in the case, allegedly discussing a $15,000 payment to ensure their younger daughter scored high on a college entrance exam.

Huffman was indicted on charges stemming from the $15,000 she allegedly disguised as a charitable donation so her older daughter could take part in the college entrance cheating scam, the indictment reads. But Huffman and Macy apparently decided not to go through with scheme for their younger daughter. At a hearing before a judge Tuesday afternoon in Los Angeles, Huffman answered "yes" to questions from the judge and acknowledged she understood the charges against her. Macy watched silently from the front row of the courtroom. Huffman was released from custody Tuesday night after the judge approved a $250,000 bond for the actress. "The parents are a catalog of wealth and privilege," Lelling said. "They include, for example, the CEOs of private and public companies, successful securities and real estate investors, two well-known actresses, a famous fashion designer and the co-chairman of a global law firm."

Also named as defendants in the indictment are Robert Zangrillo, 52, of Miami, founder and CEO of the private investment firm Dragon Global; Bill McGlashan, 55, of Mill Valley, California, a businessman and international private equity investor; Gordon Caplan, a New York attorney; and Gregory Abbott, 68, founder and chairman of International Dispensing Corp., a New York food and beverage packaging company, and his wife, Marcia Abbott, 59.

 

Fake athletic credentials

Lelling said in many of the cases, Singer allegedly bribed the coaches, who "agreed to pretend that certain applicants were recruited competitive athletes when, in fact, the applicants were not."

The coaches allegedly "knew the students' athletic credentials had been fabricated," according to Lelling. He said Singer allegedly worked with the parents to "fabricate profiles for their kids, including fake athletic credential and honors, or fake participation in elite club teams." Singer, 58, allegedly even had parents stage photos or Photoshopped pictures of their children participating in sports. 

In one case highlighted by federal prosecutors, the former head women’s soccer coach at Yale University, Rudolph "Rudy" Meredith, 51, was paid $400,000 to accept a student even though the applicant did not play soccer. The parents of that student had paid Singer $1.2 million. Other elite schools named in the scam were the University of Texas, UCLA and Wake Forest.

Joe Bonavolonta, special agent in charge of the FBI Boston Field Office, said 300 special agents fanned out across the country early Tuesday and arrested 38 people. He said seven other suspects were working to surrender to authorities and one is being actively pursued. Huffman was arrested at her home in Los Angeles, while Loughlin, who is in Canada, has yet to be taken into custody, sources told ABC News.

 

School officials react

USC President Wanda M. Austin addressed the scandal in a letter to the university community.

"The federal government has alleged that USC is a victim in a scheme perpetrated against the university by a long-time Athletics Department employee, one current coach and three former coaching staff, who were allegedly involved in a college admissions scheme and have been charged by the government on multiple charges," Austin wrote. Austin vowed to take "appropriate employment action" against school employees involved in the scam and will review admissions decisions. On Tuesday afternoon, USC officials announced that Jovan Vanvic, 57, the university's water polo coach, and Donna Heinel, 57, USC's senior associate athletic director, were terminated from their jobs. "It is immensely disappointing that individuals would abuse their position at the university in this way," Austin said in the letter. "We will continue to cooperate fully with all law enforcement regulatory investigations."

Wake Forest officials also released a statement saying the North Carolina school's head volleyball coach, William Ferguson, 48, was one of the defendants indicted. "The university has retained outside legal counsel to look into this matter," school officials said. "Wake Forest has placed Ferguson on administrative leave." The nationwide scheme was prosecuted in Boston partly because it was uncovered by FBI agents working there on an unrelated case, officials said. Fake test scores were submitted to Boston College, Boston University and Northeastern University, officials said, but none of those schools were named in the indictment. In most cases the students did not know their admission was contingent on a bribe, officials said. According to the charging papers, Huffman "made a purported charitable contribution of $15,000 ... to participate in the college entrance exam cheating scheme on behalf of her eldest daughter." 

"Today's arrests should be a warning to others: You can't pay to play, you can't cheat to get ahead because you will get caught," Bonavolonta said. Others charged in the case are:


John Vandemoer, 41, the head sailing coach at Stanford University
Gordon Ernst, 52, former head coach of men and women's tennis at Georgetown University
Ali Khoroshahin, 49, the former head coach of women's soccer at USC
Laura Janke, 36, former assistant coach of women's soccer at USC
Jorge Salcedo, 46, the former head coach of men's soccer at UCLA
Michael Center, 54, the head coach of men's tennis at the University of Texas at Austin
Martin Fox, 62, president of a private tennis academy in Houston
Gamal Abdelaziz, 62, of Las Vegas
Diane Blake, 55, and Todd Blake, 53, of San Francisco
Jane Buckingham, 50, of Beverly Hills
I-Hin "Joey" Chen, 64, of Newport Beach
Amy Colburn, 59, and Gregory Colburn, 61, of Palo Alto, California
Robert Flaxman, 62, of Laguna Beach, California
Elizabeth Henriquez, 56, and Manuel Henriquez, 55, of Atherton, California
Douglas Hodges, 61, of Laguna Beach, California
Agustin Huneeus Jr., 53, of San Francisco
Bruce Isackson, 61, and Davina Isackson, 55, of Hillsborough, California
Michelle Janavs, 48, of Newport Coast, California
Elisabeth Kimmel, 54, of Las Vegas
Marjorie Klapper, 50, of Menlow Park, California
Toby MacFarlane; 56; of Del Mar, California
Devin Sloane, 53, of Los Angeles
John Wilson, 59, of Hyannis Port, Massachusetts
Homayoun Zadeh, 57, of Calabasas, California
Marci Palatella, 63, of Healdburg, California
Peter Jan Sartorio, 53, of Menlo Park, California
Stephen Semprevivo, 53, of Los Angeles.

Sean Penn to direct new film in Winnipeg, search is on for actors

March 12th 2019 Academy Award-winning actor, Sean Penn, is set to direct his latest film in Winnipeg this summer. Winnipeg’s Buffalo Gal Pictures said it’s looking to cast child actors to be part of the production. Penn will direct the feature based on Jennifer Vogel’s true-story book about her father, Flim-Flam Man. Buffalo Gal Pictures@BuffaloGalPics

Casting announcement: 15

4:01 PM - Mar 12, 2019

The production company says shooting will take place in May.

Auditions are set to begin on March 20.

Burt Reynolds turned down role in 'Boogie Nights' seven times, fired agent after filming

Burt Reynolds was so unhappy with “Boogie Nights” that he fired his agent afterward and claimed he turned down the role seven times. Reynolds played porn director Jack Horner in the 1997 film directed by Paul Thomas Anderson. Despite the positive reviews, Reynolds said the movie made him “very uncomfortable.”

Reynolds told Conan O’Brien earlier this year he turned the role down seven times saying "it just wasn’t my kind of film.” He was so unhappy with the film that he fired his agent despite never seeing the movie, according to The Washington Post. Despite his hatred for the film, Reynolds was nominated for an Oscar in 1998 but lost to Robin Williams. He did win a Golden Globe for best supporting actor for his portrayal in the film. The actor was said to have been devastated when he lost to Williams for “Good Will Hunting.” "I once said that I'd rather have a Heisman Trophy than an Oscar," he wrote in his 2015 memoir “But Enough About Me.”"I lied," he continued.Reynolds said he didn’t get along with Anderson while on set. He told O’Brien he thought the director didn’t like him. “No, I didn’t want to hit him [Anderson] in the face – I just wanted to hit him,” Reynolds told O’Brien. “I don’t think he liked me.” The legendary actor died on Thursday morning from cardiac arrest. He was 82. The actor appeared in nearly 200 films throughout his lifetime. He was best known for his performances in “Deliverance” and “Smokey and the Bandit.”

Vince Vaughn charged with DUI, refusing to comply with police

MANHATTAN BEACH, Calif. September 5 2018–  Vince Vaughn has been charged with drunken driving.

Los Angeles County prosecutors announced on Friday that the 48-year-old "Wedding Crashers" actor is charged with three misdemeanors: driving under the influence of an alcoholic beverage, driving with a blood alcohol level of .08 or higher and refusing to comply with police. Authorities say Vaughn repeatedly refused to get out of his car when officers asked him at a sobriety checkpoint in Manhattan Beach on June 10. 

Police say he failed a field sobriety test that was captured on an officer's body camera, and a blood test later showed he was over the legal limit.

Vaughn has not entered a plea. He is scheduled to be arraigned on the charges on Monday. His spokesman, Alan Nierob, declined comment.

September 23rd 2018 Bill Cosby's sentencing hearing Monday is set to begin with a sex offender evaluation and likely determine whether the 81-year-old will be designated a sexually violent predator. 

Classifying Cosby as such would be highly impactful, given the lifetime counseling, the community alerts and public shaming that would come as a result. The classification could also affect the defamation lawsuits Cosby faces, as the women who filed them claim that Cosby branded them as liars when he denied the sexual assault accusations. Cosby's lawyers have stated that the sex offender reporting laws remain undetermined, as courts have found them to be unconstitutional. 

A state sex offender board has recommended that the trial judge designate Cosby a sexual predator, providing the argument that he has a mental defect or personality disorder that makes him inclined to engage in criminal behavior. Philadelphia Defense lawyer Demetra Mehta stated that the term is, “the modern-day version of a scarlet letter." She also explained the implications the term has within the present day context of #MeToo. "I think is sort of an interesting philosophical issue at this time with the #MeToo movement, but also criminal justice reform.”

Steven T. O’Neill, the judge who will decide Cosby's sexual predator designation Monday, has presided over the case for the past three years. It remains unclear whether or not O'Neill will consider the other women who have publicly accused Cosby of sexual assault when he makes his final verdict. He faces anything from probation to 30 years in prison on the three felony counts of aggravated indecent assault. If Cosby is designated a violent sexual predator, this will likely impact sex-offender laws in the state of Philadelphia. "This is going to probably be a very important case for sex-offender law when it’s up on appeal," Mehta said. "It’s an area of law that is just sort of unsettled right now. There’s a lot up on appeal, but there’s not a lot decided."

The difference between being labeled a "sexual offender" and a "violent sexual predator" is distinct, with those designated as the latter being subject to monthly counseling mandates. The "predator" classification also requires law enforcement to actively warn communities of the assailant's neighboring presence. 

Tom Cruise Is Reportedly Learning To Fly Fighter Jets For Top Gun 2

Tom Cruise is known for his desire to perform all his own stunts on his films. The original Top Gun was known for its use of actual fighter planes in the flight sequences. Now, it looks like the upcoming sequel Top Gun: Maverick is bringing these two ideas together as it is being reported that production of the film is going on hold so that Cruise can learn how to actually fly the planes.

All this should be taken with a grain of salt, as the source for the Daily Mail's report is anonymous, but certainly, the idea that Tom Cruise wants to actually fly a fighter jet for the Top Gun sequel is far from a shocking idea, so it certainly could be true.

The original Top Gun was able to get the actors in the air to film scenes on board actual fighter jets, but in each scene somebody else was actually piloting the plane, and the actors just pretended to be doing so. Tom Cruise had said previously that one of his requirements for making a new Top Gun would be that he got to get up in the air and fly again, so I just sort of figured that would mean the same methods would be used, but it seems that may not be good enough this time around. 

To be clear, it doesn't appear that the plan is to let Tom Cruise do all the flying in the film. That would clearly take too long and be far too dangerous to let him do all the various dogfighting techniques. All the shots of planes doing amazing aerial stunts will certainly be handled by professionals. However, it seems that when you see a close up of Tom Cruise in the cockpit, that may actually be him in the cockpit and actually flying the plane.

What's unclear is if this apparent halt to production will cause a significant enough delay to push the release date of Top Gun: Maverick back yet again. It already saw the release date shift from July of next year to June of 2020. That may still give the film enough time to do this and still make that date, but then again, I have no idea how long it takes to teach somebody to fly a fighter jet. It's probably not a two-week course. 

To be clear, it doesn't appear that the plan is to let Tom Cruise do all the flying in the film. That would clearly take too long and be far too dangerous to let him do all the various dogfighting techniques. All the shots of planes doing amazing ariel stunts will certainly be handled by professionals. However, it seems that when you see a close up of Tom Cruise in the cockpit, that may actually be him in the cockpit and actually flying the plane.

What's unclear is if this apparent halt to production will cause a significant enough delay to push the release date of Top Gun: Maverick back yet again. It already saw the release date shift from July of next year to June of 2020. That may still give the film enough time to do this and still make that date, but then again, I have no idea how long it takes to teach somebody to fly a fighter jet. It's probably not a two-week course. If this rumor does turn out to be true, it certainly has the potential to make for a really fun movie. The original Top Gun was incredibly popular in the 1980s in large part due to the exciting flight sequences and the fact is that CGI simply would never accomplish the same thing. Watching real planes in action is key, and seeing Tom Cruise actually fly them would just be the icing on the cake.