By Ray Stern
By Ray Stern
By New Times
By Amy Silverman
By Stephen Lemons
By Stephen Lemons
By Monica Alonzo
By Chris Parker
It has all the ingredients of a good mystery novel.
An elderly widow who donates $1 million, hoping to turn a beloved book into a movie. A glamorous author, determined to make a shoot happen in the scorching Arizona desert, despite squabbling between local talent and Hollywood pros. The startling revelation, just before cameras are scheduled to roll, that the money has disappeared.
The problem is that this plot isn't the outline for Phoenix writer Sylvia Nobel's next novel.
For the past year, it's been her life.
Nobel is best known as the creator of Kendall O'Dell, a feisty "flame-haired investigative reporter" who solves crimes in small-town Arizona. The four Kendall O'Dell books don't have a big-deal publisher and they've never gotten much notice from the critics, but they have plenty of devoted fans. That's surely a testament to the intricate storylines, with their ripped-from-the-headlines quality — and the books' vivid protagonist.
For years, Nobel dreamt of bringing Kendall O'Dell to the big screen. And, for a time last year, she believed filming was imminent. A loyal reader had anted up enough money to attract a Hollywood director and a professionally written script.
Then the money disappeared from the movie's bank account.
The details of where it went, and who's at fault, are bitterly contested, but it's undisputed that the project has collapsed. Today, despite months of wrangling, virtually no one involved with the project has any hope that the film production company will get the money back. Meanwhile, as Nobel attempts to beat her former partners in court, many of the biggest law firms in town have ended up with a piece of the action — a sure sign that few involved will escape without big legal bills.
The fact that the money went missing is galling. But, to Nobel, the most upsetting part is the end of her dream of bringing Kendall O'Dell to the cineplex.
"It was going to be one of the exciting things that had happened in my whole life," she says over salad at Lantana Grille in north Phoenix. "Instead, it's been a total nightmare."
Nobel is a born storyteller, a warm and engaging presence who knows just how to hold her listeners — and readers.
At 62, she has long, curly red hair, just like her heroine, and a flair for the dramatic.
Her pale green eyes widen as she pauses. She says, "I'm living one of my novels!"
As a little girl transported from Pennsylvania coal country to Cave Creek, Arizona, Sylvia Nobel dreamed of being a writer. Growing up in a big, "rather dysfunctional" family, in what was then the middle of nowhere, books were an escape. Mysteries, in particular.
"I read all of them," she says. "The grandfather of the mystery novel, Edgar Allan Poe. Raymond Chandler, Erle Stanley Gardner, Daphne du Maurier, Agatha Christie, and, of course, Nancy Drew. The classics, and the entertainments, too."
But loving mysteries and getting paid to write them are two entirely different things. Sylvia Nobel was in her 50s when she first got published.
"I had known most of my life I'd be a writer," she says. "I just never got around to it because I had to raise a family." She didn't go to college; instead, she worked a secretary, a keypunch operator, a marketer, and a mom before finally getting a chance to take writing classes at Rio Salado College.
It would take another decade to find a publisher. "I got enough rejection letters to paper a room," she says, ruefully. And when she finally hit the jackpot, it wasn't in the way she'd imagined. Not at all.
For years, she'd worked on an Arizona-based mystery. She'd had an idea for a heroine, a brave, beautiful newspaper reporter named Kendall O'Dell. Her first O'Dell mystery, Deadly Sanctuary, told the story of the redhead's move from Philadelphia to a fictional Castle Valley, Arizona. There she encounters a sexy rancher, the harsh beauty of the Arizona desert — and an adoption scam involving a corrupt sheriff.
Castle Valley was based closely on Wickenburg, and Nobel mined her memories of what it was like to be a transplant from the East, startled by the monsoon, scorpions, and heat.
Castle Valley lived and breathed for her. "When I'd go away to that town, I'd be gone," she remembers. "The kids would come home from school and they'd say, 'She's gone into writer's glaze — she's not really listening.'"
But it took a romance novel to get a foot in the door with the publishing industry.
After Deadly Sanctuary was rejected by countless publishers, Nobel put the book away with a heavy heart. She wanted to be practical.
"I heard the best way to break in was to write romance novels," she recalls. "And I thought, I can write a romance novel!" Unfortunately, she hadn't done quite enough homework; as it turns out, most romance publishing houses have very specific rules about length. Nobel's manuscript was too short to fit the requirements.
"My friends said, 'Can't you just pad it?'" Nobel says. "But when it's over, it's over. I set the book aside."
Then, one morning, Nobel's husband, Jerry Williams, noticed a small item in the Arizona Republic's business page. A publishing house in New York City was launching a new line of romance novels at Wal-Mart. They'd be cheaper than the usual books — and, Williams pointed out triumphantly, they were to be shorter, too. He urged her to give the publishing world another chance.
Nobel grudgingly agreed, vowing it would be the last time.
"On Monday afternoon, I packaged it up and sent it out," she remembers. "On Thursday, as I was coming in from the grocery store, my phone rang."
"This is Kensington Publishing in New York City," the caller said.
Nobel thought it was a friend from her writing group, pranking her.
"No, really," the caller said. "We'd like to publish your book."
And that was that; Nobel became a published authoress, albeit under the name of "Natasha Dunne." ("That's how romance writers do it," she explains.)
Except that wasn't that, not really. As any modern author will tell you, getting published is only half the battle. These days, publishing houses almost never pay for book tours — and all but the highest-profile authors get little, if anything, in the way of a marketing campaign. If you want to sell your book, you have to market yourself. (No one else is going to do it.) You have to press the flesh. (People need a reason to give your book a chance, and a personal entreaty, while awkward, often does the trick.)
In Nobel's case, she had to do it at Wal-Mart. Her writing group friends were downright snobbish: "Do you realize where you'll have to sign those books?" Nobel wasn't nearly so picky.
It wasn't easy.
She bought a "dynamite" suit, she says, but still felt invisible. One day, sitting behind her table with a stack of books, a woman approached with a child in a shopping cart. She pointed at Nobel, a huge grin on her face.
"I thought, somebody has finally recognized me as an author," Nobel says. "And then she reached right over my head for a can of Cheez Doodles."
But Nobel eventually learned how to compete with Wal-Mart's array of bulk cleaning supplies and Jessica Simpson CDs and, well, Cheez Doodles. She learned that you can't just sit there, playing the big-time author. Instead, she'd walk up to shoppers with a smile and flier — "they may not buy your book there, but they'll follow up later."
Her friendliness paid off. "At my first Wal-Mart store, I sold two books," she says. "In my last one, I sold 102 in two hours."
The lessons came in handy when Nobel was finally able to publish the first Kendall O'Dell mystery. Plenty of publishers were willing to take her book after her success as Natasha Dunne, but Nobel was savvier this time. She didn't like the idea of getting pennies per book even as she did all her own marketing.
She and her husband decided to start their own small publishing house. Jerry Williams is a gold and silver broker, so he knows business. And Nobel had certainly learned how to sell her writing.
They hired an artist to design the book jacket and a Chicago-based distributor to help place it. Then they printed 10,000 copies, nervous about whether they'd sell any.
Using the lessons she learned as a romance writer, Nobel barnstormed Arizona, selling the book from under an "EZ UP" canopy at craft fairs and local festivals. She (successfully) begged for shelf space at Barnes & Noble. She even hawked books at Sky Harbor Airport.
Thanks to her hard work, the book found an audience that spanned generations. Nobel heard from a number of readers who were pleased that she'd eschewed sex and violence. One woman wrote Nobel to advise that she'd shared her copy with her daughter and her mother. "She wrote, 'Three generations of us have enjoyed this book,'" Nobel says, adding, "I just love my fans."
Deadly Sanctuary is now in its sixth printing. And it's been followed by three more Kendall O'Dell mysteries.
From the beginning, Nobel's fans clamored for a film. And, for four years, Deadly Sanctuary was under option in Hollywood. But when the option expired, Nobel chose not to renew. Like many authors, she was eager to protect her characters from Hollywood-style changes. ("They wanted me to make Kendall Hispanic, or African-American!" she says. "I wanted to stay true to the book.") She started pondering the idea of going it alone.
At a book-signing at Sky Harbor, she'd met a guy named Chris LaMont, who'd introduced himself as a local indie filmmaker. (Today, he's also director of the Phoenix Film Festival and a part-time instructor at Arizona State University.) After letting the Hollywood option expire, Nobel dug up LaMont's card and gave him a call.
She'd become a D.I.Y. publisher. Why not a D.I.Y. movie? LaMont agreed to partner with her on a screenplay.
Nobel knew nothing about screenwriting. But she knew her character and she knew exactly what kind of movie she wanted: something for the whole family, something true to the book. LaMont and Nobel got to work.
And then, one day, Nobel met a woman while signing books in Prescott.
"You know, this would make a great movie," the woman said. When Nobel assured her that they were working toward that goal, the woman had a suggestion.
"You should contact my son," she said. "He works in Hollywood."
Walter Scott, as his friends will tell you, is one of the most modest guys working in La-La Land. Indeed, in a phone interview to discuss his involvement with Sylvia Nobel and the aborted Deadly Sanctuary production, he doesn't bother to list a single credit on his résumé.
He's had plenty.
Scott, now 68, made his name as a stuntman, but he's also worked plenty as an assistant director (and, thanks to that stunt work, earned a few acting credits). He was the stunt coordinator for Back to the Future (and its sequels), Far and Away, and On Golden Pond. He's worked on television shows from Magnum, P.I. to Six Feet Under. He actually appears in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.
"I asked him how he ended up making that movie, and he said, 'Duke wanted me to do it,'" recalls Scott's friend William Wages. (Duke, of course, meaning John Wayne.) "I knew him for years before he told me he'd done all the stunts in Back to the Future."
It was Scott's mother, Henrietta, who met Sylvia Nobel in Prescott. And, true to her word, after their meeting, Scott's mother made an introduction. Nobel sent the script to Scott to see if they could work together.
"I said it needed help," Scott admits.
But Scott was drawn to the story. So he sent the script to a friend from Hollywood, cinematographer/screenwriter Wages.
"Walter, it's awful," Wages told his old friend.
"I could just tell it had been done by amateurs," Wages says today.
But when Scott connected him with Sylvia Nobel, Wages was impressed by how willing she was to learn. "Instead of reacting negatively," he recalls, "she said, 'Tell me why it doesn't work.' She's really smart. She got it right away. And because she was so receptive, and I really liked her, I got hooked."
Wages and his writing partner, Phil Bellury, both felt that the script, as written, simply wasn't feasible. They agreed, for a minimal fee, to start from scratch with a draft of their own.
Nobel was thrilled. But her Phoenix-based film connection, Chris LaMont, was not.
"I hadn't really noticed, to be honest with you, that he was the person who helped her write the script," Wages says. He thought LaMont was merely a local who'd agreed to be a producer. "So when I outlined what didn't work, he took great offense to every detail."
Martha Cusano is a longtime friend of Nobel's who used to work as a Los Angeles television producer. (She planned to serve as an assistant director on the Deadly Sanctuary shoot.) Cusano says the tension between LaMont and the Hollywood guys was real.
"Chris saw the handwriting on the wall when she brought in the real professionals," Cusano says. "Which, in my humble opinion, she should have done in the first place."
But Nobel was committed to keeping both LaMont and Wages and Co. onboard.
"She wanted to do this so badly," Cusano recalls.
She would have been better off being more ruthless. The expanded team soon roiled with tension.
Ten years ago, that might not have mattered. Screenwriters like Wages and his partner might have agonized over a script, but unless a big Hollywood studio was willing to produce it, there was little chance it would be filmed.
Not so anymore. Today, anybody with a script and a few hundred grand can start filming. Sure, few independent films achieve success on the big screen — but plenty end up on DVD, or get repackaged for television.
Wages believes that literate adults are dying for choices beyond the usual Hollywood blockbusters.
"That's why we were so interested in doing this with Sylvia," he says. "We were kindred spirits. This isn't a story about blowing stuff up and sex and violence and all that stuff. There is a huge market out there not being served."
With a budget of just $3 million or so, Deadly Sanctuary could tap into that, Wages says. He points to Fireproof, a little indie filmed by an Atlanta church for just $500,000. (Former teen heartthrob Kirk Cameron donated his time.) The film ultimately grossed $26 million.
By that measure, Deadly Sanctuary was in good shape by the fall of 2007. One of Nobel's fans, a 92-year-old widow, had donated $1 million to help finance the production. Nobel and her husband personally kicked in $100,000. The state of Arizona earmarked more than $1 million in tax credits.
But Deadly Sanctuary was never made. In fact, within two months of the elderly woman's million-dollar donation, more than half of the money was gone from the film production company's account.
It would take Sylvia Nobel and her alter ego, Kendall O'Dell, six months to figure out where it went.
From the beginning, there was friction between the Hollywood crew — William Wages and Walter Scott — and local auteur Chris LaMont. LaMont wanted things done his way, Wages and Scott say, and was ultra-sensitive to any changes they suggested. And, they admit, they thought he was pretty much useless.
They agreed to keep him on the project solely as a favor to Nobel.
"I didn't think he was very knowledgeable, with the way he was trying to pass himself off," Walter Scott says. "He was kind of in the way. Wages and I were in agreement: 'We don't need him, but we'll keep him.'"
It would prove, they believe, the production's fatal error. And that's because it was LaMont who brought in attorney Mark Briggs.
Briggs, a partner at Quarles & Brady, is married to a prominent local lobbyist named Wendy Briggs. She's represented everyone from Exxon Mobil to the United Dairymen of Arizona and has been a generous contributor to Arizona politicians of all stripes.
Most recently, she poured $2,300 into John McCain's presidential campaign for president and gave $2,100 to Congressman John Shadegg. But she doesn't just lobby Republicans; earlier this year, Briggs and her husband also hosted a fundraiser for Governor Janet Napolitano in their northwest Phoenix home.
Mark Briggs is also politically involved. He maxed out his contribution for McCain this year and has been involved with several bond committees for the city of Phoenix. He is currently a commissioner on the state committee that chooses appellate court justices.
But this summer, Sylvia Nobel filed a lengthy complaint against Briggs with the Arizona Bar that is still under investigation. She's also filed a lawsuit against him and LaMont. In the complaints, she accuses Briggs of embezzling $810,000 from the production company and LaMont of putting him in place to do it.
In the statement, Sturr paints the falling out between his clients and Nobel as an issue of control. Nobel originally agreed to let Briggs and LaMont manage the project, he says, but later sought to take control — only turning on Briggs when he refused to let her do so.
Nobel, obviously, sees it differently.
Briggs, she says, was brought in to do the legal work for Deadly Sanctuary. The idea, she says, is that he would do $35,000 in legal work in exchange for an interest in the movie. But by the time Briggs and Nobel formally parted ways 16 months later, Briggs claimed that Nobel owed him a whopping $350,000 for his work as a producer.
According to the documents Nobel filed with the court, some backup materials she provided to New Times, and interviews with five key players in the production, here's what happened.
LaMont brought Briggs into the production in October 2006. Briggs is a business attorney who specializes in corporate work, including mergers and acquisitions, but his résumé suggests he has an interest in entertainment: He helped to start the Phoenix Film Foundation and served on the board of Phoenix Theatre.
By the fall of 2007, Nobel was eager to get started with filming. But it seemed to take an absurdly long time for Briggs to work out simple contracts with various production members. Meanwhile, the Hollywood pros, Wages and Scott, had grown so annoyed at what they considered Chris LaMont's diva tendencies, they were demanding that he be fired.
Wages' California-based agent, Debbie Haeusler, tells New Times that she was also growing suspicious. In order to finalize the deal with her client, Haeusler says, she needed to know who stood to make exactly what percentage of the profits. But there were a number of limited liability companies involved — and Haeusler needed answers about the complicated arrangements.
"Mark [Briggs] was a very nice man on the phone, but when I would ask him questions, I'd get these vague answers or things that just seemed weird," she says. "I've been doing this 25 years and, normally, the production attorney is merely a conduit between the producers with the money and the people with the artistic vision."
But that didn't seem to be the case with this production. Ultimately, Haeusler says, Briggs admitted to her that he and LaMont owned a full 75 percent of the production.
"I still don't understand how an attorney ends up owning something like this," Haeusler says. "He was brought in for a fee" — yet he ended up owning a good chunk of the potential profits.
Haeusler decided to call Nobel. She asked her point blank: Do you realize that you only have a minority interest in this production? Do you realize how this deal is structured?
Nobel was shocked.
"We asked Mark about this, several times," she admitted to Haeusler. "We didn't really understand what he was talking about. And he made us feel embarrassed that we didn't understand, so we finally stopped asking."
After her call with the California agent, though, Nobel understood that she had to be a little more hard-nosed. She began pressing Briggs to see the limited liability companies' financial records.
"He would never give me anything," she says. "Mark was just stalling, playing along. He'd say, 'Oh, I forgot to bring that with me.' Or, 'I'm colorblind; I didn't realize my secretary gave me the wrong folder.'"
It was only after Nobel hired a lawyer that she started to get more detailed information.
In response to the demands of Nobel's lawyer, Briggs sent over a copy of the film company's records and bank statements. Nobel says she was never able to get a complete copy — but even the incomplete records showed that the once rich company had been drained of assets, to the point that it had been charged an overdraft fee by the bank.
Where had the money gone?
It still didn't make any sense, Nobel says. "I was racking my brain. Sugar . . . sugar . . . sugar. What was sugar?"
The investigative reporter inside her realized it was important.
"This is where Kendall O'Dell comes in," Nobel says, laughing. "I called up my alter ego, and she said, 'This is an important clue here.' I told my attorney, if we can find out why this is called 'Sugar,' we'll know what happened to the money."
At Nobel's urging, the attorney hired a private investigator. He called back within days.
"You were right," the lawyer said. "Mark Briggs used the money to buy Sugar Daddy's nightclub."
Here's what happened, according to the public record.
In July 2007, on the same day that Nobel gave him a $1 million check to deposit with the film production, Briggs formed a new company: Sugar Management LLC. In subsequent weeks, he set up limited liability companies called Sugar Investment Group and Sugar Real Estate.
In the next two months, according to Nobel's lawsuit, Briggs would transfer $660,000 from the film production accounts and into the Sugar entities.
Then, in September, Sugar Real Estate purchased a nightclub in Old Town Scottsdale for $582,000. The place, a relatively well-known hangout on Scottsdale Road, is called Sugar Daddy's.
The bar's new manager was to be Erik Briggs, Mark's brother. Briggs had recently moved to town from Washington State, where he'd notched arrests for misdemeanor assault, shoplifting, and driving under the influence, according to records he filed with the Arizona Department of Liquor License and Control. (The DUI was later reduced to negligent driving and the shoplifting conviction expunged.)
Since moving to town with his girlfriend, a hairdresser, Erik Briggs had tended bar at Rúla Búla in Tempe and Anthem Country Club. Both Erik Briggs and his girlfriend became partners in the new venture.
Records show that Mark Briggs transferred another $150,000 from the film company's account to the Sugar Daddy's venture in December 2007 — just enough to cover the cost of the liquor license, which officially transferred to its new owners one month later.
Mark Briggs would insist that the $810,000 transferred to the Sugar entities was a loan. He claimed it had been an investment to raise money for the production.
The film company, his attorney argues in one letter, "would and did realize a far greater return by loaning the funds than by holding them in its checking account." The attorney also notes that the "loan" was paid in full, with $51,271 in interest, in April 2008.
That's after Nobel was forced to hire a lawyer. And a private investigator.
To make his case, Briggs has produced a "promissory note" and a "personal guaranty." He claims that both documents were on file at the time of the money transfers.
But Nobel's signature is on neither document. And she insists she would have never agreed to the transfer.
"Why would anyone in their right mind say, 'Okay, a nightclub — that's a good short term investment!'?" she says.
The paperwork also shows that Briggs paid himself $42,000 for work on the production. But, when Nobel and her lawyers demanded that he step aside, he argued that he needed to be paid another $350,000.
To argue his case, Briggs produced a "motion picture production services agreement." Dated November 2006, it claims that Briggs and LaMont are to be paid $350,000 after the first $1 million for the film is raised — "regardless of whether the company raises enough funds to begin or complete filming."
The document would certainly seem to suggest that Sylvia meant to pay LaMont and Briggs pretty serious fees — regardless of the film's outcome.
Upon closer inspection, though, the document raises more questions than it answers.
First, Nobel never signed it.
Second, it has two dates.
On the first page, it gives the date as November 1, 2006 — a date that would predate both the widow's generous $1 million contribution and the subsequent fallout with Sylvia Nobel.
But on the final page, the one that Briggs and LaMont actually signed, the date reads February 18, 2008.
That suggests that Briggs and LaMont didn't bother to complete the agreement until more than a year after the widow's donation. They didn't actually sign the document, in fact, until six months after Briggs began transferring money toward the nightclub purchase — right around the time Sylvia Nobel started asking questions.
Suffice it to say, in a Kendall O'Dell mystery, that sort of timing would be seriously suspect.
But if Briggs' "loan" caused a serious delay to the Deadly Sanctuary production, his next move killed it.
When Nobel and her lawyer demanded that he get out of the production company, Briggs didn't go quietly. Instead, he returned the money to the 92-year-old widow who'd given it to Nobel and her husband for the film. Nobel believes it was a bit of tit-for-tat: If Briggs couldn't have the money, neither could the people who'd driven him off the film.
Through his lawyer, Sturr, Briggs says that he informed the widow of Nobel's lawsuit in April 2008. At that point, he says, she asked for her investment back — and that's why he returned the $1 million.
Either way, the widow would no longer return calls from Nobel and her husband. (Her lawyer, Steve Dichter, did not return New Times' call seeking comment.)
Without the money, the project was unquestionably dead.
And, as it turns out, Sugar Daddy's may be in equally big trouble.
Last month, Briggs and his partners at Sugar Daddy's were sued by the bar's former owner. The $550,000 loan he'd given them to buy the place had come due on October 1.
Mark Briggs and his partners, the lawsuit claims, are now in default.
Sylvia Nobel was horrified that a lawyer — supposedly, the lawyer hired to make a movie happen — could just "loan" himself the bulk of the movie's capital. Never mind that he eventually returned it. It wasn't his money!
She filed a bar complaint against Briggs, alleging he'd embezzled from her production company. She got her lawyers to file a lawsuit, claiming malpractice, fraud., and breach of fiduciary duty. (Both are still pending.) And, she put up a screed on her Web site, detailing the ordeal for her fans.
She was forced to take it down when Briggs' lawyer, Colin Campbell, threatened to sue her for defamation.
No one seemed to care about what had happened to Nobel. No one, that is, with the power to do anything about it.
In fact, Briggs and LaMont were able to force Nobel's own lawyers off the case. As they pointed out, the small firm had once done work for LaMont.
This summer, the judge agreed the conflict was too great for the lawyers to stay on the case — leaving Nobel on the hook for legal bills, without even a lawyer to show for it.
Nobel approached more than 30 different lawyers seeking representation. Either they weren't interested, or they cited a conflict. She managed to find a small firm willing to take the case, but after they accepted, the lawyer called with regrets. His firm has a branch in Seattle, he explained, and Briggs had just announced that he'd talked to a lawyer there about the case. That meant the Phoenix lawyer had to step aside.
Over lunch in September, Nobel burns with the unfairness of it. "They make it impossible for the average person to find justice!" she says.
In October, Nobel managed to find a lawyer without a conflict. (That lawyer, Chris LaVoy, declined comment, citing Briggs' threats of a defamation lawsuit.)
The case is still eating at her.
"I have the worst case of writer's block," she says. She tried to write, but when she went back and read what she'd put down, she was horrified. "My anger really came out in my writing," she says. "I reread my stuff and it was just depressing."
It's not hard to see why. What happened to the Deadly Sanctuary production upsets every ideal that provides the framework for a Kendall O'Dell novel. Sure, bad things happen, and bad people try to take advantage of the system, but once the flame-haired reporter cracks the case, the law steps in. The bad guys get caught. Order is restored.
That hasn't happened to Sylvia Nobel.
Mark Briggs is still at Quarles & Brady. Chris LaMont is still head of the Phoenix Film Festival. If Sylvia Nobel were writing it, and Kendall O'Dell were doing the investigating, those two would be long gone.
The fallout from a situation like this in real life can be horribly messy — enough to make Sylvia Nobel wish she were living in one of her novels instead.
"This has been the most frustrating thing to me," she admits. "I can't write the ending."
Today a friend forwarded to me this very interesting piece by Paul Rosenberg...
Sociopathy is a very important subject, and one we should all be familiar with. Let’s start with definitions, to be clear:
A sociopath is a person who lacks empathy. A psychopath is the same as a sociopath; it is just an older word. This term was more or less dropped when people started calling each other “psycho.” Sociopaths very seldom become “psycho killers.”
There has been a lot of debate over these definitions. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), in its third edition, changed these terms to anti-social personality disorder (ASPD). (In my opinion, this was purposely done to confuse the concept, as well as to promote the sales of psychological services.) In so doing, they obscured the original markers of the condition, which were:
* A lack of empathy. * Superficial charm. * An inflated self appraisal.
These were the original characteristics attributed to sociopathy, and the ones we will stay with.
Lack of empathy is the root of this condition, and the other characteristics flow from that.
Empathy is the ability to imagine ourselves feeling what another is feeling and feeling along with them. It is actually the root of morality, but that explanation will have to wait for another time. What is important now is that empathy lies at the heart of human cooperation. People who lack empathy do not cooperate – they use others. They may use you in ways that appear to be pleasant, but they are still using you.
One of the primary functions of empathy is to say “how would I like it if someone did that to me?” Normal people do this all the time, and it makes us uncomfortable as we begin to do something we really shouldn’t. The sociopath, however, does not feel this. So, with no internal restraints, the sociopath appears confident, unconflicted and charming. This sucks in a LOT of victims.
The third characteristic of sociopaths is an inflated self-appraisal. This seems to be something that sociopaths learn as they pass through childhood. The process works, more or less, like this:
* The empathy routines of ‘normal’ people cause them to presume that sociopaths also have empathy. We tend to think that other people are like us. We would never imagine that the sociopath would care nothing for how we feel.
* The sociopath makes use of others. He gets them to do chores for him, or take the blame for him. Since the rest of us have learned to “pitch-in together” and “watch out for each other,” we play the role the sociopath lays in front of us. We are sure that he’d do the same for us… because we are sure that he is just like us.
* This false pattern gives the sociopath a clear predatory advantage, which normals seem to have no ability to resist.
* Thus the sociopath feels like a member of a more powerful class of beings, and is biased toward the plunder of others. Even in youth, the ease with which normals accept them as ‘meaning well’ confirms a natural order to the sociopath: He uses and the others line-up to be used.
I think you can see from this why people who lack empathy present significant and unusual dangers. This condition exists in only a small minority, but it has caused a massively disproportionate share of damage. The reason for this is simply that people who lack empathy naturally seek power, awards and applause. Obedience, praise and demeaning others become their sources of satisfaction. Being unable to feel empathy also means that they can’t process appreciation and respect the way the rest of us can.
On one hand, it is natural to feel compassion for the sociopath – they are damaged, after all. But, we cannot show compassion for them in the normal way – that plays directly into their abusive game. (Sociopaths seek the compassion of normals – it makes using them much easier.) We should show compassion, first, for the victims of sociopaths. Then, perhaps, someday, methods of fixing sociopaths may be found.
Remember, you cannot allow yourself to play the sociopath’s game, and you should protect yourself and others before you do anything else. That is not being “hard-hearted,” it is merely the acceptance that reality is, in fact, real.
So, how many people are really sociopaths? Figures have ranged from one to four percent, but recent cross-research shows that the true number is probably very close to 2% However, it is also important to know that sociopathy is not all or nothing. Some people are partial sociopaths, rather than full sociopaths. (No matter, they are still almost certain to make use of you.)
Remember that sociopaths are very good at blending in, and that even when you see evidence of their condition, you may have difficulty admitting it.
There is absolutely no known treatment or cure for sociopathy. (Sorry, that’s the truth.)
Here are some tips for recognizing a sociopath:
* They make you feel sorry for them. * They scare or worry you. * They make you feel guilty. * They make you feel that you owe them. * They make you feel used. * They take a lot and give very little back. * They take advantage of your kindness. * They are easily bored. * They blame others, not themselves.
I have worked with Chris Lamont in the past and all he did was whine and cry about every little thing. He tried to tell everybody how to do their jobs and would not accept advice from anybody. I even agreed to loan Chris a significant portion of the money for one of his films and he still has not paid me back. What's more is that he listed himself as the executive producer because he "got" the money.
What Chris does not seem to understand is a basic principle of film making, ...it is a collaborative art form which requires many professionals to work together NOT one whiner trying to boss people around. If Chris ever wants to make a film worth watching he should start to listen to trained professionals and stop trying to do everything himself.
YOU CAN'T LIE ABOUT HAVING INTEGRITY!
...and "Buyer Beware" is a cheap excuse! It doesn't matter if what they did was "legal" or not, it was IMMORAL. If you can't conduct business with integrity, then you should be made to wear a sign which reads "DIRTBAG" and that's all there is to it. You don't take someone else's film money and buy a titty-bar with it, AND you don't offer to "help" your friend catalog his film collection, then run off with it!
If Chris Lamont wants to know what it feels like to have even the smallest shred of integrity, then he can stand up and admit that he's a liar and a thief, ...then return (or replace) my property.
I have worked with Chris LaMont on many occasions and he has conducted all of our dealings with integrity. I would do a HANDSHAKE deal with him ANY DAY OF THE WEEK.
Nobel admits to not playing an active role in the legal side:
"We asked Mark about this, several times," she admitted to Haeusler. "We didn't really understand what he was talking about. And he made us feel embarrassed that we didn't understand, so we finally stopped asking."
As an independent artist, I don't care how stupid I felt, I'm not going to let someone shame me out of making sure that my best interests were being considered.
And regardless of what happened, how it happened, whose side your on, and who's to blame, the entire country is going through a rough patch right now. We're all struggling. We've all been scr*wed at some point in our lives; and we're all doing the best we can to pick up our sticks and move on.
Every artist needs a story to stay in the media; but Chris LaMont is not a crook, or a hack. I have always found him to be the type of person that gives more than he receives.
To Nobel: I sincerely hope you find a way to move past this as an artist to become a stronger story teller - and perhaps a little more involved in the business side of your career.
To the Phoenix New Times: Whether or not I agree with you on this story, I am grateful that you exist. There are many stories in Phoenix that would never be told without your presence and muscle (*ahem - Sheriff Joe). Michael Lacy is a pioneer. Niki D'Andrea is my favorite writer in the whole world. And I lurves you gais, too!
To Chris LaMont: If you ever wanna do another deal together, I am always willing to be on your team.
To everyone else: (((hugs)))
Chris Lamont is a sleaze-bag. I've known him since elementary school. I was the producer of the first film he worked on. After two years in pre-production, my family put up the money for us to make our movie. Chris used his position of trust to get access to my rare film memorabilia, then walked out on production and disappeared with my property.
I've been asking Chris for my property to be returned for decades now. Guess what he had to say when I cornered him about it?
"I don't know what you're talking about, ...and even if I did, there's nothing you can do about it."
"You abandoned your property and the statute of limitations is up. Besides, my wife's a lawyer and my mom works for the police, ...so get over it".
It looks like he hasn't changed one bit. I don't think "arrogant" or "non-professional" even start to describe this guy. He is a liar and a thief with NO morals. If you have anything to do with Chris Lamont or his associates you're a sleaze-bag too, ...or a SUCKER!
That the money was returned is beside the point. When you broil the facts as presented down this is a story about a lawyer who abused his clients trust and engaged in what appears to be in unethical behavior. He took advantage of her nativity.
Quite the hit job...anyone who's ever been on a set knows you don't let writers go anywhere but craft services and NEVER let them produce their own movies. I've met Mr. LaMont on several occasions, and have never found him to be anything but a pro. Don't know Mr. Briggs, but if the money he loaned himself was paid back with interest, that's additional budget, as far as I'm concerned. With micro-budgets on a film production you sometimes have to get creative. Get over it, everyone!
I first heard of this story over the summer, and I am saddened to see how it has ended up. I forgot about it till I read that the original owner of Sugar Daddy's is going to serve BIG TIME for falsifying books to the IRS.
As far as Briggs and LaMont go. Briggs is a typical attorney - thinks he is infallible and can do whatever he likes or so desires. Thus the whole saying first we kill all lawyers. And as for LaMont. I have had the honor of meeting this egotistical jerk - and have no doubt - his intentions were nothing but shifty and larcenous.
Oops for the comment above! I meant to say I would use the borrowed money to buy a house, as an investment tool!Then rent it out!
I wish I could work as an accountant for Briggs and have total access to his accounts and of course his complete trust as did Nobel in this case. I would "borrow" some of his money to "invest" for him, then rent it out as my own at the highest amount that I could and eventually "pay the borrowed money back". OR, take out a loan to pay him back. I thought that was called STEALING! (Even if you pay it back) Something taken without permission is stealing, last time I checked. Well, they will get theirs, Nobel, keep writing, look up! You can't go wrong! Your books kept me hooked! Thanks!
Mark Twain once said, "A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes." I've been around long enough to know that there are two sides to any story. I wonder how much this guy can defend himself with ongong litigation. I'm going to make a prediction. The stuntman from the 80's doesn't know as much about making movies as he thinks and the lawyer who gives all the money back is going to be vindicated.
Wow, way to justify some pretty damn shady actions. Actually, it doesn't really matter whether she lost "zero dollars and zero cents". Mr. Briggs did not have the right to invest the money. He was hired for a fairly cut and dried purpose. It truly boggles the mind that two professionals would make such a blatant grab for 75% ownership and set up multiple "hidden" companies to divert funds. Evidently, somebody has some 'splaining to do.
The New Times plays an important civic role in bringing us a story like this.
The anti-Nobel posts strike me as a smear effort by those who wish this piece never saw daylight. (Pathetic!)
Know this: The whole town is now aware and will be talking about it behind the wrongdoers backs for years to come. (Holiday parties they attend will be filled with lots of smirks and private conversation.) It's clear who is right and who is wrong. Very clear. What a shame any of this happened.
Sylvia will write again - and will have very believable bad guys!
So the money was "used" to invest in something which in the end gained money. I guess I am not sure why Nobel has an issue... Briggs made more money for this "Movie".
Get over it and move on!!!! Try again. Winners don't give up!!!!
The books suck anyway. Many more people would have lost much more money, $8.50 at a time, if the movie would have been made.
Briggs is a sleezeball. Sugar Daddy's sucks anyway, and so does the New Times.
As someone who has worked in both film/television and the financial industry I feel that certain comments made about this article need refuting. First of all the contract involved with regard to the use of the money was created after the money was taken by Mr. Briggs and never signed by Ms. Nobel and therefore bogus. Pretty convenient that your a lawyer who can suddenly create a "contract" on the spot when you need one to cover your tracks. And yes, in Hollywood, a contract that is legitimate is very difficult to break and does cause a lot of furor when there is an issue. This was, however, not the case with this particular contract. From an investment point of view, as a person working in the financial industry and dealing with real estate purchases when this investment was made, the value of real estate was sliding downhill rapidly. So why was this a "good" investment and how was it going to make the film money? In addition, if it was, in fact, intended to be a money making venture to add additional funds for the making of the movie, why wasn't Ms. Nobel consulted and at least allowed to voice an opinion about using the money? The answer to the last question is that Mr. Briggs and especially Mr. LaMont knew she would never agree to using the money to buy a nightclub. These guys were having a good time at the expense of the production and I truly believe they thought they wouldn't get caught. There is no altruism here in this situation just greed and the fact that they thought Ms. Nobel was too naive to ever figure it out.Bottom line is that regardless of motive, the fact that a lawyer helped himself to money that was not his to use should, if nothing else, get him disbarred! This film could have been a real feather in the cap of this state and also put many local industry people to work in this time of rampant joblessness.
This was a very interesting article. I do not know any of the people involved, however, I do know right from wrong. No matter how you try to twist it, the attorney took money he was not entitled to and spent it for his own purposes. That is illegal and I would think the Attorney General should get involved. Isn't it his (and that of his office) duty to protect us from this kind of action. This tap dancing that is taking place with Ms. Nobel not being able to find an attorney that does not have a connection with the thief attorney is ridiculous.
Another question that was not answered in the article was did all of the investors get their money back or just the 'little old lady' that had put up the million dollars?
I have read Nobel's books and enjoyed them. What a sad world we live in when betrayals like this occur.
Looks like these comments are all about "Friends of Sylvia" versus "Friends of Mark", so count me in as an FOM. Noble is waging a smear campaign against a civic-minded guy with a long track record of helping his community. Hey, lawyers should be held to higher standards (even when they are not actually engaged in legal representation), but Noble has an appropriate forum in the State Bar's disciplinary process. Sure seems to me that Mark acted ethically, but ultimately a committee of factfinders will decide. In the meantime, if Noble were really engaged in a search for the truth like her alter ego detective character, she would a) stop asking her own lawyers to engage in potentially unethical conduct [see, e.g. http://www.courtminutes.marico...] and b) tone tone her rhetoric. Or does she not really want the truth?
The story I just read is just another tale of a person who wanted to become famous by making a movie. I'm sure the majority of us have dreamed that dream at least once in our lives. I congratulate the author for getting as far as you did. Most writers can't secure an agent, let alone financing and you were able to do both. Well done you.
But more often than not, films fall apart for many reasons. Some simple, some complex. While it is a sad story that this film won't get made, it is just that, a story.
In real life the white hats aren't always as clean as they appear in print and the black hats are never as awful as they are portrayed. Especially in articles as one-sided as this one.
Ms. Nobel, get up, dust yourself off and try again. Just because it didn't work this time doesn't mean it won't work next time... Or the tenth time. Just keep trying. But you're going to have to let this particular story end. Because if you continue to bring lawsuits and accuse your co-workers through the press, no one is going to work with you.
That's a fact.
This article, like every New Times article, was overwrought, one-sided & written like a tacky melodrama - why didn't you draw evil mustaches on LaMont's & Brigg's pictures? It was about as childish as every single reference made about them - none of which is unbiased, none of which is unsensationalized.
Ms. Nobel, here's where you are lucky - if you were actually IN Hollywood, if your so-called "Hollywood Pros" were completely honest with you, they would have told you one truthful concept - a contract is a contract, and the suggestion of your Bunco Buddy to "have someone else look at it" doesn't fly in the Big Leagues - would you be able to do such shenanigans, such "buyer's remorse" in ANY other industry? No, ma'am. You would've been eaten alive for pulling this in Hollywood.
My goodness, yet again the New Times proves to be a poor man's National Enquirer - all flash, no truth in reporting. The ONLY professionals who did there JOBS in this case were Mr. LaMont and Mr. Briggs, whether you like their jobs or not. Sounds like an extremem case of sour grapes or naivete to me.
As a long time client of and friend of Mark Briggs, I can say this; first, the money didn't "disappear," it was invested and, when the time was appropriate, it was returned to the original investor. That's a lot more than some production companies would do! If the idea's so great, and the fan loves her so much, why won't the little old lady, as this piece of fiction calls her, invest directly in her beloved author? Next, Mark's a man of deep integrity and who would do nothing to impugn on either his or his company's reputation. This is ridiculous, and clearly another one-sided, "poor little author against the big, bad lawyers" fantasy. It's really a shame that someone with half a story can attack the good name of another person. What Mark did to make sure that money was returned was nothing short of heroic, and shows his true character. It will be very interesting when Mark is able to defend himself, and the other half (should say the true half) of the story comes to light. This gal lost ZERO dollars and ZERO cents to Mark, and has no claim whatsoever.
Mark Briggs is well known for his good works, public service, his excellent legal skills, and a great sense of humor. You would be hard pressed to find anyone who would question his ethics or his intelligence.
A complete article would have included a more in-depth look into the reputations of the players involved before printing an account that is one-sided and clearly designed to attack the reputation of a good man.
About "The Missing Movie"What a classic morality tale!Greedy corporate lawyer can't keep his hands out of the cookie jar. Look at all the collateral damage he has caused to his profession, his employer, his family, his partners, the investors, unknown others and lastly to himself. And for what? He didn't even get to keep the money he stole, he's going to lose the business he bought and might even wind up in jail. Oh, and good-bye to his political career. At least this guy got exposed before he could get into some public office.
This was a fantastic article. I feel so sorry for Sylvia and Jerry. Their story couldn't have been told any better.I have been working with Sylvia on the music for the movie. I have spent many hours creating the moods for the different sceens. I worked with Sylvia to get the feel she was looking for. I have folloiwed her writing carear from the beginning and I can tell you she has impecable dedication to her craft. She has always been brilliant and able to learn from her experiences. ( I went to high school with her) When Bill Wages and Walter Scott came to town to meet them, Sylvia and Jerry brought them into the restaurant where I play music. They were gentlemen and very humble and professional. They were excited about the movie and I played them some of the music that I was working on for the movie. It is clear that you have two distinct groups of people here. On the one side you have an upstanding couple in Slyvia and Jerry, proven professionals in Walter and Bill and Debbie Haeusler, on the other you have an evasive, arrogant, embezzling lawyer, married to a self serving, double agent, lobbyist, and a bailed out criminal brother( two of a kind), and an inept film professor with egomania.It is also shameful that Briggs was so well insulated by the law system. I do feel and pray that justice will prevail.Alan Harkrader
I know Chris LaMont - he's a decent, honest guy and knows a lot about filmmaking, not the bumbling amateur described in the story.
Mark Briggs, on the other hand, sounds retarded. Every attorney learns in their second year of law school not to enter into business relationships with clients without full consent obtained only after the client has consulted with other counsel. They also learn that to "loan" yourself money that belongs to a client is frowned upon by the Bar and usually results in disbarment. Will be interesting to see how the Bar rules on her complaint.
I was a private investor in the movie, and I recall the description of the investment in the prospectus indicated rather clearly that I was investing in a movie, not a titty bar in Scottsdale. It also indicated funds collected for the movie were to kept in suitable bank accounts, until drawn upon for production expenses. I don't recall anything in the prospectus that allows the lawyer, working for the people who are producing and investing in the project, to divert the funds to a night club run by his brother. What ever happened to fiduciary responsibility?
It also seems to me, that a lawyer working on such a project, has a higher hurdle of ethical standards to meet, to avoid conflicts of interest, especially when partnering with clients, who are not legal experts. The chance of abuse is too great. A lawyer has to represent the interests of his clients, not his own personal cash flow needs. Is that too much to ask?
If he had problems with Nobel, just walk away. He had nothing but his time, not his capital in the movie. I don't care whether she is dramatic or not, that does not condone diverting the money for his own purposes. I don't obtain a right to steal from people because I may have differences of opinion with them.
This guy Briggs makes all the ugly lawyer jokes I have ever heard in my life seem complimentary to lawyers. He is a disgrace to his profession, and really his greatest critics should be his fellow lawyers. It is sad that this is not the case.
I find the comments relating to this article very interesting. They seemed to be biased toward the side of Briggs and LaMont...almost as if they had already heard the story from their side. They must be friends of theirs or at the very least acquaintances. I wonder if these friends of theirs would be eager to enter into a business arrangment with either of these two men. Hmmmmm? Considering that there were forged documents and misuse of the production's funds, I highly doubt it. If Briggs' withdrawl of the film production's only assets was on the level, why didn't he tell Nobel what he was doing? Why keep it a secret if he didn't think he was doing anything inappropriate or unethical?
Oh and why is he in default on his loan for the purchase of the night club? I would guess that when he had to return the money to the investors in the film, he probably had to take out a loan for the money himself (which he should have done in the first place if he wanted to own a nightclub) and so is paying off that loan and has no money to pay off his note to the individuals from whom he purchased Sugar Daddy's.
Everyone understands that deals fall through and that a lot of films never end up getting made. However, it is unfortunate that the actions of Briggs and LaMont made this a certainty. I hope that in the future Briggs considers his position before he enters into any business arrangements that are so obviously a conflict of interest.
As far as Nobel is concerned, it seems callous to call her a "spoiled brat." I think this person needs to ask themselves if they had invested as much time and energy, as Nobel has, into a project of their own, how they would feel if it had been squashed by people she trusted. She obviously would never have entered into a partnership with these two men if she did not believe that they had the same vision.
Keep writing and never give up your dream, Nobel. Don't let this unfortunate mess erase all that you have worked so hard for. The best retribution would be your success. I hope that someday you can look back on this as just a bad dream.
Whoa, Fred D, is Mark Briggs your squash partner or something? You write that this Nobel lady "didn't like some of his business decisions." Like, for instance, refusing to conduct business? Correct me if I'm wrong, but if you went out and raised a million bucks for a movie, gave some shmuck power-of-attorney to disburse that money to actors and cameramen and whatnot and then discovered that said penis-head had in fact used the funds to buy some night club, thereby screwing the entire movie project, I think you'd feel a little butt-hurt, too.
Full disclosure: I've worked with Chris LaMont. I don't think he's larcenous. Given the choice between getting a producer/screenwriting credit on a real-live movie and getting his name dragged through the dirt in the New Times, I'm sure he'd choose the former. But he clearly hitched himself to a real nitwit on this one.
It looks like we again see "supporters" of Briggs and LaMont coming out of the woodwork only when there is an article that makes them look bad. Guess what? They are bad! You'd have to be a complete stooge or equallycorrupt to support those guys in any way, shape or form.
Nobel didn't just dream of putting together a movie, she did most of the work. It was her novel after all. It's also obvious that she and her husband raised all the money. It was their creativity, their efforts and their industry contacts that moved things forward. What exactly did Briggs do? Briggs and his shell corporations did nothing to advance the film, only to divert funds to a personal investment. Who buys a nightclub with somebody else's money, which obviously isn't a short-term investment, when that money is being prepared for immediate use for film production? Seriously, somebody is going to defend that?! It's not something a veteran film producer or anybody with an ounce of decency would do, that's for sure.
Briggs appears to be nothing but a con man. The project failed because he is a crook, nothing less. LaMont is obviously the spoiled brat, having fits when actual professionals point to his amatuer methods. Why eitherof these sleazy guys still have their jobs, is truly amazing. And since when did it become OK to steal money as long as you give it back under pressure of a lawsuit? Does that erase the original illicit actions in any legal sense? Who are you people who would defend that and pretend to know what actually happened?
This is a great piece of creative writing, and reads like a novel. Many struggling authors want their books made into movies, but it doesn't always work out. Ms. Nobel sounds like a spoiled brat, trying to ruin the reputations of Mr. LaMont and Mr. Briggs because she didn't get her way. If all the investors have their money back, I don't see what the big deal is. Ms. Nobel seems to be unable to distinguish between reality and the fantasy of her novels.
Let me make sure I understand. This unfortunate woman is a self-published author who dreamed of making her book into a movie. Okay. Fine. But there are tons of self-published authors with that dream. That it didn't come true is not a shock.
Nobel forms a company with Briggs and LaMont, but doesn't like some of their decisions. She is "shocked" to learn that she doesn't control the company. (Since when do writers control the business side of these projects!?)
So LaMont sues her partners. As best I can tell from your article, Briggs does the right thing and informs the investor of the lawsuit. The investor is unhappy about the lawsuit and pulls out her million dollars and so the film project is "ruined." Never mind that there are no guarantees in this business. Never mind tht LaMont filed the lawsuit that ended the project.
Briggs used the funding as a short term loan for his investment. Probably not the best move, considering Nobel's tendency to the dramatic and the fact that she could paint this short-term investment as something sinister and insideous. But hardly illegal. As I understand it, he controlled the company and he paid it all back with interest.
Fenske chooses to paint Briggs as the bad guy even though the fan/investor got EVERY PENNY back. What really caused this film production to collapse? The usual suspects. Clashing of egos between the California producers and LaMont.... Nobel's desire to control the project even though she knew nothing about the business side... and ultimately her lawsuit. It was the lawsuit the scared off the "widow" investor.
But that doesn't make an interesting story. Far better to make the Nobel look like the victim even though Briggs paid back every cent. But I have to hand it to Fenske. This was a great piece of writing. Much more interesting than the real story.
he does put on a good film festival, and he is one of the founders of the IFP here in phoenix,and ASU simply loves him