“An Open Secret” Exposed The Child Sex Abuse In Hollywood 10 Years Ago But No One Listened

This documentary was buried by Hollywood. But now, with the success of “Quiet On Set” 10 years later, it’s clear that the entertainment industry is in for a rude awakening if survivors keep coming forward.

By Andrea Mew6 min read
An Open Secret (2014)

Many childhoods were taken away so that children across the nation could enjoy theirs. This was the thesis of the new documentary series Quiet on Set, which revealed just how corrupt the television network Nickelodeon allegedly was during many millennials and Zoomers’ most formative years.

Originally just four parts, but recently given an addendum in a fifth episode that took a more 60 Minutes-esque format, the documentary series asserted how showrunner Dan Schnieder fostered an unsafe workplace for crew members and his youth talent – spanning “abuse, sexism, racism, and inappropriate dynamics.”

Finally, Drake Bell came forward as the John Doe victim from a 2004 child sex abuse lawsuit. Bell came on camera, choked up in an attempt to detail what his abuser, Brian Peck, did to him when he was only 15 years old. Peck’s 11 crimes were written on screen for the world to see – from sodomy to sexual penetration by a foreign object to oral copulation to much more – but this wasn’t the first time his depravities had been exposed by the media. Yet he continued to work in Hollywood.

Back in 2014, the documentary titled An Open Secret touched on Peck’s crimes as well as exposed several other tragic instances of underage sex abuse in the entertainment industry. But it hardly got the same level of mainstream attention that Quiet on Set has received. Was it just too soon for the truth to emerge? 

Well, I recently watched this documentary to take a deeper dive into how Hollywood has crafted manipulation into a fine science and came to the conclusion that this industry has a vested interest in protecting predators.

This Movie Is Meant To Make You Uncomfortable

After being inspired by actor Corey Feldman coming forward about his own sexual abuse as a child actor, producer Matthew Valentinas approached documentarian Amy Berg to make an empowering film for victims of sexual exploitation within the entertainment industry. 

Previously, Berg had directed the 2006 documentary Deliver Us from Evil, which peeled back the curtains on systemic child sex abuse in the Catholic Church. Through her 2014 release, Berg cautiously reported the stories of five men who were former child actors who alleged they were exploited by their agents, managers, or showrunners. 

I’ll try to be a bit lighter on details, since I believe the film is worth watching to hear their stories for yourself, but please note that I’m about to get into several “spoilers.”

Before the dot-com boom, businessman Marc Collins-Rector founded Digital Entertainment Network (DEN) with fellow entrepreneur Brock Pierce and Chad Shackley. DEN was meant to revolutionize online media through episodic video content for young male audiences. 

The business model saw quick success ($26 million in investments from Dell, Microsoft, Chase, and more within one year) and had financial backing from entertainment executives from Disney, Dreamworks, and more like David Neuman, David Geffen, and Bryan Singer. 

Collins-Rector allegedly bathed in the wealth, and as Variety once eloquently put it, he “threw sybaritic celebrity-studded parties where they seduced underage aspiring actors with promises of plum parts and threats of industry blackballing. When high-pressure persuasion didn’t work, according to one victim, they resorted to drugs and rape.”

The people profiting off child actors’ talents failed them and doubled down in every lame attempt possible to rationalize and normalize pedophilic behavior.

DEN wasn’t the only focus of this film, but one of the most damning, as Collins-Rector and the other founders were eventually hit with a sexual assault and trafficking lawsuit, DEN’s scheduled IPO (slated for $75 million) was withdrawn, and the founders all resigned and fled to Spain. Shackley and Piece avoided criminal charges, but Collins-Rector pleaded guilty to eight charges and had to register as a sex offender.

These men essentially ran what some would consider to be a pedophile ring. None of them served time. And their victims came on screen without their identities concealed to expose the grim details.

Pedophilia Is Deeply Embedded in Hollywood’s DNA

As I mentioned before, however, An Open Secret didn’t just cover DEN. Other male victims bravely came forward to admit how they had been groomed by adult men, like Evan Henzi, who exposed his former manager, Marty Weiss.

An Open Secret published private home video footage proving how Weiss was able to integrate himself into intimate family moments in Henzi’s household and gain the trust of the young actor’s parents. What’s more, Henzi even secretly recorded Weiss admitting guilt to sexually assaulting him and gave the tape recording as proof to Berg to publish in the documentary. But, according to the film, Weiss only spent six months in jail.

Henzi, since participating in the documentary, has spoken out several times about his abuse. One of the most tragic clips came from an episode of Dr. Oz’s “Thursday True Crime” in 2018 where he said about Weiss: “He turns over and looks at me and says drop your pants. And I’m stunned. I’m, like, wow, this again… And I sit down, I’m already on a couch, and he walks over swiftly, and he presses his arm against my chest, and, to a point like where it hurt. And he yanks down my pants, and he does oral sex on me. And I’m now just turned 12 years old, and I’m pre-pubescent, I’m not responsive, and it’s just the most damaging experience of my life.”

It hurts to hear. Why? Well, this is the raw, dismaying reality that many hopeful child stars face. And because we’re talking about entertainment media here, too many people would rather hedonistically consume mind-numbing television shows and movies than admit that some of the people behind those shows are depraved and abuse the stars behind the scenes.

There are many instances in this documentary that feel like you’re watching something that isn’t even meant to be seen. 

One subject of the documentary drank himself into alcoholism to cope with his trauma and ended up mentally and physically disabled. Another subject of the documentary was actually an alleged perpetrator: Michael Harrah, who was the Screen Actors Guild’s Young Performers Committee co-founder and chairman.

Harrah was a “child talent manager” who, in the documentary, spoke out against child actors publicizing their abuse. He said, “A situation like this never helps anybody and, yes, the sooner we can get it under control the better, but the less the child has to live with the stigma of it having happened, I think it’s better for them not only career-wise, but personally.”

We find out later in the documentary in an admission of his own that Harrah had hosted sleepovers with the young talent he managed and groped an alleged victim who took part in the documentary as well. 

Harrah ended up resigning from SAG-AFTRA quickly after taping his interview for the documentary, and allegedly, SAG-AFTRA also threatened to sue Berg if she didn’t omit the references she made to the Young Performers Committee. Kind of suspicious, no?

Especially after Drake Bell exposing in Quiet on Set how his abuser, Brian Peck, had amassed the support of many individuals within the industry to stand by him during his court trial, Harrah’s own admittance that the industry resists substantial safeguards to protect child actors (and that he was a part of the problem) really didn’t help all those crazy, “right-wing conspiracy theory” claims about Hollywood running a network of protected pedophiles.

Peck’s crimes were actually addressed in An Open Secret, but since this documentary was released 10 years before Quiet on Set, Bell’s identity was still under wraps. 

Ultimately, the audience begins to understand what would appear to be a vicious cycle: Underage stars are abused, their abusers either get off easy or evade punishment entirely, and the underage stars shut up about it because otherwise they’d have to give up their career. All the while, men like Weiss or Peck continue to work in the entertainment industry. 

Documentary subject Michael Egan named director Bryan Singer – a name you may know as the director of the X-Men films – as being a willing participant in the routine abuse of children at the M&C estate (where Collins-Rector, Shackley, and Pierce lived) and eventually filed a civil lawsuit against him. Egan’s lawsuit against Singer was unveiled around the release of X-Men: Days of Future Past, and Singer quickly went on damage control asserting that the allegations were “completely false.”

Some complications arose with the suit and it was dropped, but Egan’s claims wouldn’t be the last time that Singer would be accused of misconduct. He was fired from directing Bohemian Rhapsody after allegedly causing “chaos on set” in 2017, settled a lawsuit in 2019 for $150,000 about the rape of a 17-year-old (though he denied allegations), and was the subject of a breaking Variety first-person account of all sorts of abusive behavior called “My Traumatizing Years With Bryan Singer” which was published in 2021.

Are We Witnessing the Start of the Next #MeToo?

If someone like Singer was able to get away with this behavior for so many years before finally getting canceled, it really makes you wonder how many creeps are still working in Hollywood to this day. An Open Secret was released prior to the #MeToo movement, and while I certainly don’t abide by unfair witch hunts and character assassinations, that movement did give victims more confidence to come forward with their stories. For that reason, I feel that if An Open Secret were released today it would have perhaps gained the attention it deserved instead of getting as buried as it did. Sure, it had its flaws and wasn’t the most well-made documentary, but child actors who have been abused deserve justice.

Though he says he didn’t experience sexual abuse himself, actor Elijah Wood once had some poignant comments on the matter since he acted from a young age. In an interview that took place after he watched An Open Secret, he said, “It was all organized,” referring to Hollywood’s pedophilic corruption. “There are a lot of vipers in this industry, people who only have their own interests in mind.”

"There is darkness in the underbelly," Wood continued. "If you can imagine it, it’s probably happened."

The documentary is frightening in and of itself, but what might be even more frightening is reflecting on how many very real accounts of child sex abuse in Hollywood may never be told.

One thing I especially appreciate about this documentary is how it narrowed-in on the issue of child sex abuse, rather than opening up several cans of worms like Quiet on Set did. Quiet on Set honestly did Drake Bell dirty by overshadowing his truth bombs with weak accusations made by some of the former All That cast members of experiencing what they perceived (in hindsight) to be racism.

Not to discount the feelings of people who felt mistreated by their boss, but it felt like the Quiet on Set showrunners made Drake Bell’s very traumatizing childhood sexual abuse case a B-plot for a series mainly focused on a mean boss. What's more, Bell even said that his boss (Schneider) was only ever supportive of him through his abuse. Bell’s story should have been its own documentary, in my opinion.

I can’t even imagine how difficult it is for a young man – Henzi, Bell, or any of the others who came forward publicly – to recount being sexually abused in the most intimate ways to the entire world. Some men take it to their graves because it’s easier for them to suppress their trauma than it is to admit to even their friends and family that they had been violated in such tragic ways.

Still, the people profiting off child actors’ talents failed them and doubled down in every lame attempt possible to rationalize and normalize pedophilic behavior. It’s easy to look at the world with rose-tinted glasses and think, well, maybe these creeps are just a rare exception to the rule

Evidently, in an industry where people are used to generate revenue from their bodies, voices, and overall likeness in the name of entertainment, these aren’t just isolated incidents. These two documentaries barely scratch the surface of corruption within the entertainment industry.

The film and television industries will always need child actors in order to maintain authenticity in their storytelling. I mean, can you imagine how limited the stories would be if Hollywood couldn’t employ kids or how goofy media would look if adults were cast as children? What cannot remain under such a tight veil of secrecy, however, are the legitimate child predators working in the industry, because if their abuse cannot be discussed on the world stage, it will only continue to fester like the disease it is on humanity.

Closing Thoughts 

It’s truly a shame that, at the time of its release, An Open Secret wasn’t taken seriously by the general public and was even relegated to “conspiracy theory” territory. Again, it shouldn’t matter if the documentary itself isn’t tip-top quality because – for obvious reasons – the filmmakers didn’t receive backing from major studios. They did, however, benefit from having an Oscar-nominated director on board and a pretty substantial budget ($1.5M) for a documentary of its kind. Though I originally couldn't find it on any typical streaming services and watched a lower quality cut on YouTube, the producer, Matthew Valentinas, reached out to me to let you all know that it's free for you to stream on Vimeo.

But none of its technical flaws, to me, detracted from the intentions the filmmakers and participants had to expose real predators. It’s frightening in and of itself, but what might be even more frightening is reflecting on how many very real accounts of child sex abuse in Hollywood may never be told. We can only hope that a revived interest in An Open Secret, and now the mainstream success of Quiet on Set, will help encourage more brave individuals to come forward and ensure that as many creeps as possible face the consequences they deserve.

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