2ND UPDATE: Peter Hewitt tells me he has left the production amid accusations that producer Philippe Rebboah has not paid below the line staff, an allegation which Rebboah denies in an interview with me. Production on Sweet Baby Jesus was due to start September 15. Hewitt, director of Garfield and Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey, tells me that he’s never been properly paid, despite the verbal offer of a pay-or-play deal. “It’s been a catalogue of delays and trouble right from when I signed on in February,” he tells me. “I kept giving Rebboah the benefit of the doubt but he never paid me.”
Studio Eight, the London-based producer and financier has also exited the project saying it can longer work with Rebboah. Jamie Brown, managing director of Studio Eight, Brown tells me: “What I don’t understand is that the money was all in place and we were all set to go.” To that end, Hewitt and Sweet Baby Jesus line producer BJ Rack arrived in Detroit in August to begin location scouting. But “we never did any pre-production, it was a total joke,” Hewitt says. After two weeks of what Hewitt describes as “hanging around”, Rebboah told them he was leaving for Europe. Rebboah’s departure on August 22 bewildered Hewitt and Rack, who thought they were preparing to shoot. Rack, co-producer of Terminator 2, tells me she and Hewitt have been left €35,000 ($46,000) out of pocket. Rental car bills have also been disputed, she says. The location manager and production accountant are also owed money, says Rack.
I tracked down Rebboah in London, and he claims Sweet Baby Jesus production is still going ahead, only in Italy in November. He says he had to return to Europe after one of the financiers fell out, having already spent $46,000 on expenses. Rebboah says the Michigan pre-filiming visit was derailed by personality clashes and his own unhappiness over the location. Rebboah says he made clear to all that Michigan was just a recce and not the start of pre-production. Rebboah claims everybody has been paid including hotel and car bills.
But Jamie Brown, managing director of Studio Eight, made the allegation to me that some of his investor’s money is unaccounted for. Rebboah has refused to account for Studio Eight’s money he’s spent, accuses Brown. (Rebboah denies Studio Eight ever sent him any money and says, “It was the opposite.”) Studio Eight says it will reimburse its private investor itself after spending the last 6 years developing Sweet Baby Jesus. (Rebboah disputes this, saying it’s always been his project.) The shame of it all is that whenever an indie project ends up mired in recriminations, it’s just another disincentive for indie film investors.
Brit pop singer Pixie Lott was attached to star in Sweet Baby Jesus, a comedy about a pregnant teenage mom whose arrival in the Maryland town of Bethlehem is mistaken for the Second Coming. Bette Midler was also set to co-star. Sam Rockwell and Adrien Brody were trumpeted as possible stars, although never officially attached. Sharon Stone was also linked. Intandem, the London-based sales agent, is handling international sales.