Emmy-award nominated filmmaker Larry Nimmer was hired by Michael Jackson's defense team to shoot video of Michael's Neverland Ranch for the jury to see during the 2005 trial trial. Attorney Tom Mesereau had wanted the jury to see that Neverland was a wholesome, beautiful place and had hoped the jury would be able to take a trip out there to see it in person. When the judge would not allow that, they hired Larry, who is an expert in legal multimedia.
DK: Debbie Kunesh
LN: Larry Nimmer
DK: You had several Emmy nominations, correct? What did you receive those nominations for?
LN: They were for documentaries for a religious, community service nature. On Tony Melendez, who is an armless man who plays guitar with his toes. I did a profile of him. Others were for a TV show called “Heart of the Nation,” which were do good stories by various people in the community sponsored by the Catholic Church. My background is actually in TV news and music videos
DK: You had done some music videos for MTV?
LN: Yes, right.
DK: When you’re hired for music videos, are you usually hired by the record companies?
LN: For the music videos, yes, some of them we were hired by the band, others we were hired by the record company.
DK: When you were hired to film Neverland for the 2005 trial for Michael Jackson, you do legal computer animation and video for attorneys in the courtroom?
LN: Yes, I specialize in multimedia for attorneys, so I’ve done computer animation for attorneys, I’ve done day-in-the-life videos for attorneys, I’ve done scene documentation, I’ve done mini movies for opening and closing arguments. The future of legal multimedia is making mini movies to play for the jurors or the judge.
DK: When you were hired, and that’s kind of how his came about….Michael Jackson’s lawyer contacted and asked you?
LN: Right. He knew of my expertise in doing multimedia for attorneys to use in the courtroom.
DK: What was that experience like, the filming of Neverland?
LN: Well, it was a thrill for me. I was kind of a kid in a candy store. I was really thrilled to get the job. I was more or less given carte blanche to shoot whatever I wanted at Neverland. I was told by Bob Sanger, Michael’s attorney (at the time) and Tom Mesereau, to basically document what it was like for a typical visitor to come to Neverland. I also had access to the house and to the private areas, so I had somebody with me on the staff most all of the time, taking me around and I also think he was making sure I wasn’t getting into mischief. I could go wherever I wanted, except for a few areas, but I was able to, I documented the living room, the dining room, the kitchen, Michael’s bedroom, his video library, his book library, the amusement park, the zoo, the theatre, the administrative offices.
DK: What was your impression of Neverland?
LN: Neverland seemed to be a very well-kept, fun, hospitable place that was kind of a cross between a Beverly Hills mansion, Disneyland and the Loof Museum in Paris. There were antiques, all these paintings, but then there’s a lot of momentos, that either Michael collected along the way or they’d been sent to him, and those included paintings, drawings, notes. He had a lot of videos stacked up everywhere throughout the house. I guess a lot of them sent to him by his fans. There are also a lot of mannequins throughout the house and the property. The mannequins were the one thing that was a little unusual that you wouldn’t normally see. Michael said that he had mannequins around because he often felt lonely and the mannequins made him feel less lonely, they also didn’t judge him. He felt like he was constantly being judged by so many people. The mannequins didn’t do that. He also said the same about the animals he had around. He felt good having them around and they didn’t judge him either. Also, out on the grounds of the estate, there’s music coming out the trees, the plants, and everywhere, from hidden speakers. The music was like Disneyland type music, like the soundtrack from Fantasia and other happy family themes. The TVs throughout the house were all apparently set to the Disney Channel and I was told he didn’t want to have the news on, particularly for his kids and maybe for himself too.
DK: You can’t blame him
DK: That had to be, maybe for the type of work you do, it didn’t seem odd to you, but because so few people got to see the private areas of Neverland, was that an unusual experience for you?
LN: Yeah, it was an unusual experience. I felt honored to be able to go into the private areas. I also got the impression that Michael was a good person and he wasn’t doing anything wrong. He wanted to show that this wasn’t a place set up to molest kids, it was a place set up to give a great experience to underpriveledged and sick kids and thousands of those kids came through there over the years. One of the things I saw was Michael’s bus barn. He had a big bus where he would pick up kids and bring them to Neverland with their chaperones. It was fun also, in the theatre and the train station, there’s a candy store and toy store and whatever you want it was for free, just help yourself. It was really a very gracious place. Also, while I was there, if I was ever there at lunchtime, there was an eat-in dining room and I was told the chef would make whatever I want, so my assistants and I a few times had lunch there in the kitchen/dining room area. There’s kind of a counter bar in the dining room kitchen area where we would eat. If we didn’t have time to eat there, they’d pack us a lunch to go and we would have it afterwards.
I also saw in the courtroom, during the trial, Michael always had a picnic basket that was packed so he could take goodies with him. There was a picnic basket in his private waiting room area, I was in there once. After I testified one day on the stand, one of Michael’s bodyguards drove me to my car in Michael’s car and I sat in the backseat where Michael sat and there was a picnic basket there with various goodies ready to eat.
DK: Maybe that helped him feel more at home?
LN: It helped him get through the day…
DK: Were you able to meet Michael?
LN: I was at Neverland off and on for 3 weeks, but I never saw Michael there, except for one day through a window at the table. At the courthouse, the first time I saw him I was in a waiting room waiting to testify, because I narrated my trial Neverland video. While I was in the waiting room, I saw through the window what looked like a boy scout outside with a bunch of merit badges on his arm, so I went up to the window to look, and it was Michael in a military style jacket. I went out to say “hi” and he very warmly said “hi” and nodded hello to me and he was kind of on his way to somewhere else. The few times I saw him while I was testifying, he put his hands together and kind of bowed kind of in a Japanese style bow and I could see that he was appreciating my testimony on his behalf. He seemed kind of overwhelmed and depressed but holding it together. It certainly wasn’t a great situation for him to be in. The accusers were making up their stories. He was taller than I thought and he was an un-assuming and gracious person.
DK: When the Sherrif’s department raided Neverland, the impression that video shows is that there was a big mess, but Larry, you had mentioned that when you were at Neverland, it wasn’t like that.
LN: It was very straightened up and well-maintained and his bedroom, he had stacks and stacks of things in his bedroom, not necessarily a mess, but stacks and stacks of photos, videos’, DVD’s, and I get the impression, stuff sent to him and otherwise. He was constantly accumulating things. It’s hard to tell in the Sheriff’s raid footage and still photos, where it does look like a mess, but I think part of the mess was caused by the Sheriffs with them moving everything and taking everything apart, looking for something incriminating that they didn’t find, but they appeared to have trashed the place, though I’m not sure how much they did and how much it was like that. Michael wasn’t even at the home apparently when they made their raid. He was in Las Vegas at the time.
DK: Was he aware ahead of time that they were going to do that?
LN: I don’t think so, no. I think it was all surprise. The Sheriffs video taped the raid themselves and you see them kind of driving by and trying to take the guard unawares. They didn’t want any advance notice, though the Sheriffs were surprised that there was one camera person there when they came. They were kind of surprised to see a media person there. They don’t know how the media person was tipped off.
DK: One of the reasons they wanted you to film Neverland for the jury was because the judge would not allow the jury to come out and see it. Is that correct?
LN: That’s right. Tom Mesereau wanted the jury to see Neverland themselves, to see that it was a fine, wholesome place. He asked the judge if the jury could come down and he said “no”, but that he would allow a video. That’s why they hired me. When I shot the video it was all without sound with the understanding that when I played the video in the courtroom, I would narrate it live from the witness stand.
DK: Do you know the reason why they wouldn’t allow the jury to go and see Neverland?
LN: No, I don’t know. I assume that it would have been more of an expense to the court and it may have been a media circus with the media following the jury out there. I don’t know the reasons though.
DK: When you testified, what was that experience like? Was it mainly you narrating the video, or did you answer questions?
LN: I was on the stand for 2 days actually. The first day they didn’t finish. At first I narrated the video and I would say, “well, this is the entrance, then this is the inside entrance, this is Michael’s bedroom," that type of thing. But then after I played the video, then I was questioned by the prosecution team about different things I saw. I was questioned about it. One other thing I narrated on the witness stand was, I did an alarm test in Michael’s bedroom. What I did was I put my camera above his bed and I had someone walk up into the downstairs area and walk into his bedroom. One of the maids from the staff. The reason I did that, the brother of the accuser, the accuser was Gavin Arvizo, his brother was Star Arvizo, he testified in the trial that he apparently snuck up on Michael and found him masturbating his brother, so we showed how if anybody did sneak up there, the alarm would go off and Michael would know someone was coming, so the test I did showed that. So if someone would have come up, Michael would have known that.
DK: Which would have made sense for him to have an alarm to know if someone was coming up to his bedroom, just for security purposes, for who he was?
DK: That was to prove that the brother was lying.
LN: Right, exactly. The sheriff’s I believe were also looking for all types of hidden cameras on the property. They thought that Michael had hidden cameras to be able to observe kids. But to the best of my understanding, there weren’t any surveillance cameras on the property at all. Kind of surprising. The property also was not fenced in. The only fence around the property was a split rail fence that you can easily walk through. I shot the fences, partly to show, because the accusing family, they claimed they were held captive at Neverland and they claimed they weren’t allowed to get out and they also claimed they weren’t allowed to know the time and I showed how they could have easily walked out if they wanted. There was a school right across the street and they were also driven around by Michael’s chaffeurs all of the time and they went on shopping trips and Janet (the mother) went to various beauty parlors in the area, so that they weren’t really held captive. As regards to not being able to know the time, I shot all of the clocks on the property. There are clocks everywhere, just to show that they could always know the time day or night.
DK: Is all of the footage you shot for the jury on your DVD?
LN: Some of the footage is in the DVD, not all of it. I don’t have all of the tour on the DVD.
DK: When you testified in court, were you in the courtroom throughout the trial, or just when you were testifying?
LN: Just the days I testified. Although I came up some other days to meet the attorneys. The attorneys, Bob Sanger had an office right across the street from the courthouse. They didn’t want the media to know about it because they felt the media would always be over there waiting. So a lot of the witnesses stayed at the office across the street before they came to testify and when they did come to testify they got in a car at the back entrance of the office and drove around the block and drove into the courthouse as if they came from far away. I went to that office sometimes during the trial to deliver my exhibits. I made some trial exhibits that I don’t believe they ended up using. They included some photos of the paintings at Neverland, and poetry at Neverland because they were going to become an issue at trial, but they never did. I’m not sure how the defense team fought the prosecution on how it was going to be an issue. I think it has to do with, one of the paintings in the dining room, which I do show in my documentary, is of Michael leading a lot of kids, kind of an idyllic scene of him leading kids through a meadow, kids of all cultures and nations. That painting was somehow going to become an issue at trial, I can’t really remember what it was. I think maybe the prosecution was going to claim that Michael always fantacized about always leading kids here and there, I’m really not sure what it was. It didn’t become an issue. Some of the lyrics of his poems also were going to become an issue. There are a number of plaques on the Neverland property that had his song lyrics and poem verses on them, so I shot some of those and blew them up and they were ready to be used, but then they never became an issue at trial I believe.
DK: What did you think of the Arvizo family?
LN: I didn’t have any personal contact with them. I have them on video in my documentary. Interesting sets of footage that the public hadn’t seen yet. One is Gavin Arvizo being questioned by the Sheriffs and Gavin describing the molestation to the Sheriffs that the Sheriffs shot and I have some of the footage . I also have the whole Arvizo family. Janet, Gavin, Star and the sister, I can’t remember the sister’s name at the moment,. They did a special interview which was called the rebuttal interview that was shown at trial but the public hadn’t seen it. They all praise Michael Jackson, saying that he’s the greatest person ever, that he cured Gavin of his cancer, that he acts like a father to them, and this was shortly before they turned on him. That footage, at trial, they claimed it was all scripted for them, which was hard to believe when you see it because it seems so spontaneous what they’re saying. My impression of the Arvizo family is that they came from very modest means, maybe a poor background, from East LA, a poor neighborhood and that they were looking for a way to get ahead and they had gotten ahead other ways by appealing to celebrities, and apparently they scammed JC Penney into a financial settlement with them and I go into that story on the DVD. Before they met Michael, they were also hustling other celebrities like Chris Tucker, Jay Leno, George Lopez. So my impression is they were just trying to get ahead but lied and they made up a story or stories and thought they would have a big financial windfall, but now I really kind of feel sorry for them. I think Gavin Arvizo is a broken young man now, to the best of my understanding and the mom Janet Arvizo, I hear, is semi-unstable. Apparently not too long ago she contacted the Sheriff’s department and they didn’t want to have much to do with her from what I heard second-hand.
DK: When you showed the Neverland footage, could you see a reaction from the jury? Were they surprised do you think, by what Neverland was really like versus what they thought it was like?
LN: I don’t know that they were surprised. They seemed just very attentive. I don’t remember any particular reactions they had. I think they were interested to see what it really looked like. One way it was different from how I imagined was that it was kind of a regular, fancy home. It wasn’t just all Disneyland. It was a real comfortable home and real comfortable guest cottages and offices and a beautiful manicured lawn. There were swans and a zoo and an amusement park, but it wasn’t some type of thing out of a storybook necessarily, it was kind of like a Beverly Hills mansion, a little over the top.
DK: With the DVD, what do you hope to achieve with the people that see this?
LN: I hope to help vindicate Michael. I hope to show people that aren’t sure whether he was a pedophile or not, to show that he really wasn’t. These people made up stories. Some people say “well, the accuser in 2005 was bogus, but what about the $20 million settlement in 1993?….” I go into that story too and show how that family too were opportunists and how they apparently made up their story too. I hope to create a sympathetic reaction for Michael for those who weren’t sure one way or the other that didn’t really follow the trial closely and even though he was found “not guilty” by all the jurors, a lot of people still don’t know if he was guilty or not because of how the media portrayed it. I wanted to show on the DVD how the media can hurt somebody the way they hurt Michael. They can hurt a celebrity or anybody. The motive of the media really is profit. The more sensationalist they make it, the more outrageous they make it, the more people want to watch, and the more money they make from advertising.
Michael's Estate contacted me recently, they hadn’t necessarily seen the video. They at first told me to stop using it and now they’re reconsidering because they didn’t realize the possible value of the video to his Estate.
To order Larry Nimmer's DVD, "Michael Jackson, The Untold Story of Neverland," visit www.nimmer.net