HBO is an American TV network responsible for groundbreaking series such as True Blood, The Sopranos, and Game of Thrones. The network recently premiered a drama miniseries, The Staircase, based on a Netflix crime documentary, also called The Staircase. However, the Netflix documentary filmmakers are not happy with what Antonio Campos, the HBO series’ director, has produced.
Both versions of The Staircase tell their own stories of Michael Peterson. In 2002, the crime novelist was accused of murdering his wife Kathleen, who was found dead at the bottom of their home’s staircase. Both series follow the ensuing 16-year legal battle. To be clear, Netflix’s docuseries is a journalistic look at the real-life case; HBO Max’s is a fictionalized drama series.
‘The Staircase’ docuseries director Jean-Xavier de Lestrade vs. ‘The Staircase’ drama series director Antonio Campos
Jean-Xavier de Lestrade is The Staircase‘s filmmaker. The Oscar-winning documentarian did exceptional work documenting the trial for Netflix. With the approval of his lawyer, Peterson granted De Lestrade astonishing access. He was even allowed to record strategy meetings at the house where Kathleen was found dead. In 2005, the documentary won a Peabody Award in 2005.
When Campos reached out to de Lestrade about adapting the documentary into a dramatic series, de Lestrade gave him access to all of his raw footage. Speaking to Vanity Fair, de Lestrade says Campos spent a few days with The Staircase crew. The two directors maintained contact for years.
“…I trusted [Campos],” de Lestrade told Vanity Fair. De Lestrade didn’t ask to read the script or watch the episodes before HBO aired them. He was confident that Campos would respectfully and rightfully cover the real-life events.
‘The Staircase’ director Jean-Xavier de Lestrade feels betrayed
Netflix director de Lestrade watched the HBO miniseries and responded, “…I feel that I have been betrayed somehow. He did not realize the drama series would also feature de Lestrade and his crew as they filmed and edited the real-life documentary.
De Lestrade and his crew have an issue with the second storyline of the fictional HBO Max drama series. The fifth episode shows Sophia Brunet editing the original episodes of Netflix’s The Staircase while she was romantically involved with Peterson.
However, Brunet says she never edited The Staircase while in a romantic relationship with Peterson. Talking to Vanity Fair, she explains she would never have crossed that line. Brunet reached out to Peterson only after editing the documentary. “My relationship with Michael never affected my editing,” Brunet stated.
Campos’ HBO Max miniseries also depicts de Lestrade, Brunet, and Denis Poncet (the documentary’s producer) arguing over the editing of the documentary. It depicts de Lestrade and Brunet manipulating footage to offer a sympathetic portrayal of Peterson. De Lestrade says that what the miniseries suggests is entirely false.
Critics and viewers applauded the Netflix docuseries for its careful construction. The New York Times praised the film’s editing and described it as “prize-worthy.” Therefore, some find it understandable that de Lestrade is hurt by the depiction of their work lacking integrity.
De Lestrade says he understands why Campos dramatized the miniseries. However, he’s infuriated that Campos discredited the credibility of his work.
‘The Staircase’ does not fully credit the original documentary
According to Vanity Fair, the HBO Max miniseries also disappointed Allyson Luchak, a producer for the original Netflix docuseries. Luchak spent months away from her infant son so that she, de Lestrade, and their team could produce a high-quality, ethically responsible documentary. She spent hours with attorneys, court administrators, and Kathleen’s family members, building trust to allow the documentary to gain access.
However, in a possible effort to streamline the storyline, the HBO Max miniseries credited her work to another producer, the late Poncet. Luchak finds it ‘mind boggling’ that her work has been erased and credited to someone else.
She says, “There is a responsibility to fictionalize the truth accurately.” Luchak doesn’t understand how the miniseries purports to be “based on a true story,” yet the filmmaking scenes are not based on the truth.
De Lestrade and the crew worry audiences will view the HBO Max version of The Staircase in order to learn the truth. Their concerns are fueled by the fact that the miniseries doesn’t open with a title card showing that the Netflix documentary inspires the show. HBO Max’s The Staircase only credits the documentary after the full credits with an end card stating that the events have been dramatized.
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