MJFC: Mr. Nimmer, you can already look back to 30 years of producing entertainment and informational programming, including several Emmy nominations. But how did you initially get to film the Neverland Valley Ranch during the child molestation trial in 2005?
Larry Nimmer: “In my career I’ve done many types of things; music videos, documentaries, etc… But one of the things I’ve done is legal computer animation and video for attorneys for use in the courtroom. I’ve developed something of a specialty of creating mini movies for use in the courtroom. That could be a ‘day in the life’ movie, or it could be a movie that explains the manufacturing process or it could be a movie that explains someone’s life.
The first attorney that contacted me was Bob Sanger, one of Michael’s attorneys. He knew of my specialty in that field, so he hired me to do it. And then when Tom Mesereau came on board, Bob Sanger shared that information with Tom, and then I met Tom, and I started working with Tom.”
MJFC: Can you give us some details on your film for the trial? What were the main differences between your film and the footage taken by the Sheriff’s department during a raid of the estate in 2003?
Larry Nimmer: “In the Sheriff’s footage it is a lot of shaky camera work, it’s going around corners, and it looks all mysterious, almost like a murder mystery. You also see a lot of the rooms with stuff all jumbled up and kind of trashed and it is hard to know whether the Sheriff had turned everything over and trashed it or if they found it that way.
I just know that when I went there everything was very neat and presentable looking. So that is one difference. Their footage looks like this could be a place where crime might go on and my footage is more this looks like a fun nice place. So that is kind of it in a nutshell.”
MJFC: During the time when you were filming, did you have any personal contact with Michael Jackson?
Larry Nimmer: “No. The funny thing is when I was filming there – I filmed for about a week or so – he was living there at the time. But I never saw him when he was living there, just because the estate is big and I guess his handlers felt that he did not need to be a part of what I was doing. Although, apparently they asked his permission for me to film there. So I did not run into him at Neverland.
When I went a couple of times in the evening to videotape things at night, I was told that when I was driving by the guest bedrooms not to let my headlights point towards the guest bedrooms. My understanding was that Michael was staying in the guest bedrooms after the Sheriff’s had trashed his bedroom. He did not want to go back to his bedroom. I was aware of his presence.
And then another time I was there in the evening I drove by and I saw a lot of people around the dining room table. You could see from outside, but I did not want to stare and make him uncomfortable, so I just drove past. Then I did see and meet him at the trial when I testified. I met him in the corridor and I nodded ‘Hello’ a few times. And then I sat opposite of him when I gave my testimony – he was there watching.”
MJFC: What did it feel like to be in the presence of Michael Jackson?
Larry Nimmer: “I was surprised that he was taller then I thought he would be. He was more of a natural and everyday person then I thought he would be. His plastic surgery to me was kind of obvious as people say it is, but on the other hand, he looked like a normal person, too. He was not as flamboyant as I thought he would be, he was just kind of a normal person.
When I first saw him I was in a waiting room to go on to testify, and actually this is before I saw him, and I looked out the window from the waiting room and there seemed to be a boy scout outside with some medallions on his jacket. And I thought it was someone in the military. I went up to the window to look and sure enough it was Michael Jackson wearing one of his jackets. Then I went out and positioned myself in the corridor and when he came back from the bathroom I said ‘Hi’ to him briefly and nodded hello and so forth.
He pretty much kept to himself or kept in a private room. I went into that private room once; he had a picnic basket and a few other things in there. I guess where he waited before he went into the courtroom. It was a tiny little room, just a little bigger than a closet.”
MJFC: How do you think Michael Jackson coped under the immense pressure?
Larry Nimmer: “I think he reacted like people thought he would react. I think he took it hard and it was emotionally and physically draining for him.
The time he went to court in his pajamas he was not feeling well and the judge ordered him there. I think it was really difficult on him, but by the end was able to hold up to it, even though it showed the strain on him.
I was told at the end of the trial, just after the not guilty verdict, one of the attorney’s assistants said that Michael was probably going to have a party for the staff that helped him in his defense. I was looking forward to that but then there was not one, and I guess he was just so emotionally drained and had to hibernate and could not deal with it anymore.
I think it was very difficult on him – and I understand why – if he was found guilty he would have had to go to jail or prison . And that would have been really difficult for him after the lifestyle he was used to. Particularly if he was innocent and going, that would have been really miserable.”
MJFC: What was it like to testify yourself at the trial?
Larry Nimmer: “I testified on a couple of things. The attorney’s had me videotape Neverland to show what Neverland looks like to a typical visitor. The attorneys wanted the jury to be able to go and visit Neverland to see what it was like. But the judge ruled that the jury could not go, so then that was when my video was played.
But in a trial you can not just play a video. You have to put someone on the stand that has something to do with the video. So they put me on the stand as a legal video expert and then I played my video and I narrated it. The video does not have any sound. Typically in a video in a courtroom an expert will narrate it. So I narrated. I’d say something like “This is the entrance to Neverland”, “This is the guard booth” and “This is the western side or eastern side”. Then I would tell what rooms we were in.
One other thing I narrated at the trial was when I did an alarm test in Michael’s bedroom. Gavin Arvizo and his brother Star Arvizo … who claimed that he went up the stairs to Michael’s private bedroom and that he saw Michael with his brother Gavin. But the attorney’s argued that if Star had entered the area downstairs and walked up the stairs to his upstairs bedroom, Michael would have heard it, because there is a couple of alarm bells that go off when someone is walking nearby.
So I did this alarm test – I put my camera over Michael’s bed and then I had a cleaning lady walk in downstairs and walk up the steps, and I let the jurors hear what the alarm sounds like when it is tripped. That was another thing that I testified about, doing the alarm test to show that Michael would have always known if someone was coming.
I testified for two days because I did not finish the first day, so I came back a second day and testified. I was there the same day that Larry King came to testify, but then they did not allow his testimony to the jury.
MJFC: When did you develop the plan to extend your film into the documentary: “Michael Jackson: The Untold Story of Neverland”?
Larry Nimmer: “Maybe about six months ago…I met Aphrodite Jones (author of the 2007 book ‘Michael Jackson Conspiracy). Her book is about how there was a media conspiracy to make Michael look bad so that they could make more money.
I saw that she was going to be doing a book signing in my area, so I went to meet her. I thought her book was well done and I found her interesting. I made a video at her second book signing with her and Tom Mesereau and I put it on YouTube to help promote her book for her. I thought it was good to get the information about the book out.
And then I threw around some ideas for documentaries and she had tried to develop one idea for a documentary which did not pan out. Then I started thinking about documentary ideas and I wasn’t sure legally whether I could use some of my footage, so I consulted my brother who is a top copyright attorney. He said that I could use the footage under the various doctrines of the copyright law. Then I started developing the documentary basically with just footage that I had already in my office. I did not really need to go out and shoot much else – I shot a little extra stuff, including some re-creations that I have in the documentary.”
MJFC: Is there already a final version of the documentary?
Larry Nimmer: “I have a final version now. The final version currently is 40 minutes. I could have made it longer but I made it this length to see if I could find a cable network or broadcaster that wants to broadcast it. I have told all of them that if they want a longer version I have more footage and I could develop a longer version.
But so far all of the cable networks that I had contacted either have not decided one way or the other, or they decided no, they do not want to do anything.
Aphrodite Jones also found that when she shopped around her documentary idea that most of the media did not want to do anything positive Michael Jackson. So I might be getting some of that same reaction. Although, I know that there are a lot of people out there that are certainly positive Michael Jackson. I should know within a few weeks if it is going to be broadcast or not. And if it is not going to be broadcast, then I will just make it available on DVD.”
MJFC: Your documentary is promoted as being pro-Michael. However, especially after the Martin Bashir debacle, Michael Jackson fans have become very cautious. Do you think the fans will get what they hope for?
Larry Nummer: “Yeah, I think so. The documentary speaks for itself. I guess the Martin Bashir documentary spoke for itself too. I’m certainly sympathetic towards Michael – I did work for his defense. I did learn from the defense point of view what happened and I also researched some from the prosecution point of view. But as the jury found, the prosecution was not too convincing. So I think the fans will be pleased with it. The fans probably would have liked more performance footage then I have and would like more interviews with Michael than I have.”
MJFC: Is it correct that you used outtakes from the Martin Bashir documentary in your own documentary, and if so, for what purpose?
Larry Nimmer: “During the trial Tom Mesereau had me edit the outtakes from the Martin Bashir documentary to show that there were a lot of things that Martin said that were sympathetic to Michael that Martin Bashir did not use. The point being that Martin Bashir did not want to show him in as good a light as he could have. So that was how I had access to the Martin Bashir outtakes.
The outtakes were actually filmed by Michael’s own videographer who just had a separate camera going from the Martin Bashir cameras during the taping sessions. They are not as professionally shot because they just wanted to have a record of what was being said by Michael.”
MJFC: What can fans expect from your documentary that they have not already seen or heard?
Larry Nimmer: “In terms of the outtakes, he (Michael) talks more about what it is like to be a celebrity, and people not treating him like a regular person. He talks about what his loneliness is like and what his isolation is like. He talks about wanting to use the childlike nature for professional purposes. He talks about a lot of things that he has talked about in other interviews – these are themes that he has often spoken about.”
MJFC: Overall, What was your opinion on the accuser Gavin Arvizo and his family?
Larry Nimmer: “It seems like he really had cancer, they really wanted his (Michael’s) help, but then it seems like they used him and they turned on him when they were not having the benefit of using Neverland and his credit card as much. It seems like they just made up these stories and they were pretty good actors – all the kids and the mom.
In the video, at one point I have interviews with the Arvizo family that they made, which I do not believe have been seen at all, which were used in court. They are praising Michael saying what a great guy he is and how he has helped them and so forth. Then at the trial they claimed they (Michael’s people) kept them captive and all this other stuff.
So it seems like they were just trying to pull a scam over on Michael Jackson and the media and the prosecutor’s were so anxious to get more ammunition to say that he is a child molester that everyone believed them.”
MJFC: Do you think Michael Jackson was an easy target?
Larry Nimmer: “Yes, I do think Michael Jackson is an easy target. All celebrities are somewhat easy targets, particularly the eccentric celebrities. I would say that Michael tends to be an eccentric celebrity, but I do not think there is anything wrong with being an eccentric person. In fact, I think it is refreshing in a lot of ways.
Particularly, one of the things Michael says in one of the interviews is during the settlement with Jordie Chandler, he settled it because he did not want to go to trial and have a big OJ style trial. But the settlement was a bad idea in retrospect because then it made other people think they could get money out of him too.
I do not believe he was a child molester, but I think because of settling earlier on, it made him more susceptible to being extorted by other people.”
MJFC: Many fans see prosecutor Tom Sneddon as the point for origin for the accusations and the trial. Would you agree?
Larry Nimmer: “I would say more that the point of origin would be the Arvizo family, possibly Janet Arvizo, the mom, or maybe Janet and Gavin.Then when they met with their attorney and psychologist, it seems like they may have encouraged and believed the story, and they got the story flamed up.
Then Tom Sneddon was looking for any type of evidence against Michael got involved. I do not know if he was the original origin but he sure exasperated the whole thing.”
MJFC: Do you think your documentary has the power to change people’s opinion on the subject trial and the accusations and moreover, on the person of Michael Jackson?
Larry Nimmer: “The people I have shown it to, most all of them say that they have a different impression of, particularly the trial and of Michael Jackson after seeing it. Most people are convinced that the Arvizo’s did have a bogus story, and were faking and making up stories. I think it certainly will change people’s opinions of the Arvizo family.
And I have also heard people change their opinions of the Chandler family, too. My documentary also discusses the allegations by the Chandler family and I now analyzed those as well. And people that have seen the documentary feel like those charges were probably trumped up, too.
I think it will change people’s impressions of Michael and the history of what has happened with him and young people.”
MJFC: What do you think about Michael Jackson finally performing again in London later this year? It sounds these concerts and the release of documentary will occur around the same time.
Larry Nimmer: “I think it is great that he is doing the concerts. For me it is fortunate that my documentary will have good timing to coincide with them. I should say that I do feel guilty in capitalizing on Michael Jackson with my documentary, just like a lot of others have capitalized on him – even the Arvizo’s and the Chandler’s. In a way I feel guilty about making a documentary and I may make some money off it. I am actually planning on giving a percentage of the proceeds of the documentary – 10% of the profits to Michael Jackson charities. So I have mixed feelings about benefitting from it, but I think that it is great that he is performing again, and it is great validation that all the concerts sold out and that he still has an incredible fan base.
For me it has been really interesting, in the last week or so, since the article review was out, and then other blogs have been written about it. I find it fascinating that I am getting contacted from people in all parts of the world, sympathetic to Michael, and interested to hear from me. I have heard from people from Iran, Norway, Italy, Scotland, France and the United States. It is really cool how he has such a strong fan base. And I guess it is because of his message of love and peace, respect for kids and respect for the childlike nature.
I think it is great. It remains to be seen how he holds up to all those concerts, because my impression is that he has a fragile disposition. But on the other hand, he has performed a lot in the past, and I have heard him say in interviews how much he enjoys performing and how comfortable he feels on stage. I think it will be a good thing and it will be interesting to see just how the shows go, and who plays with him, and what songs he plays.”
MJFC: Are you planning any other Michael Jackson related projects, or any other exciting projects?
Larry Nimmer: “One project I thought that I would like to do is a documentary on Michael Jackson fans around the world. How people see him from different cultures and how he resonates with people in different places and cultures. Possibly, I would do that some point, possibly I would make another documentary someday more on him and his music, rather than focusing so much on the trial, which this one focuses on more. But I do not have any specific plans at this point. Right now I am doing some documentaries on other projects, so I am not sure at this point.”
Before wrapping up the interview, Larry Nimmer spoke about another idea he had for the DVD release of his documentary “Michael Jackson: The Untold Story of Neverland.” In addition to sharing some additional footage, he wanted to allow for fans across the world to submit video messages to Michael Jackson. Then these could be collected and assembled in the DVD extras. If Mr. Nimmer does decide to do this, he indicated that he would let MJFC know so that we can let the fans know how to submit their videos.
Larry Nimmer is a producer, director, cameraman, writer and video editor. He has won a variety of awards, including several Emmy nominations, for 30 years of producing entertainment and informational programming. Nimmer began his career as a TV News Producer for the CBS-TV affiliate in San Francisco, KPIX-TV. He has since produced music videos for broadcast on MTV, documentaries shown on PBS and a variety of other programs and promotional spots for broadcast and cable networks.