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After scandal, movie producer Randall Emmett is flying under the radar with a new name

Meg James and Amy Kaufman – Los Angeles Times (TNS)

On April 26, John Travolta debuted his latest film — “Cash Out,” an action thriller about a bank heist gone wrong. The trailer credits it as “a film by Ives.”

“Cash Out” is the first and only project Ives has ever worked on, according to IMDb.

But over his quarter-century in the entertainment business, “Ives” has in fact directed five films, produced dozens more and appeared on the reality TV show “Vanderpump Rules.”

He was also the subject of a 2022 Los Angeles Times investigation and subsequent Hulu documentary that delved into allegations of abuse against women and assistants as well as mistreatment of business partners, which he has denied.

It was after those headlines that Randall Emmett began using Ives, which is his middle name, as his professional name. The shift began on “Cash Out” and continued with its sequel, which was shot last spring at a Mississippi casino.

On the set of “Armored,” a film made during the actors’ strike in the fall, star Sylvester Stallone arrived on set unaware that Emmett was the project’s director, according to four crew members who worked on the film. Stallone and his representatives declined to comment. The film’s assistant director and another producer insisted that Stallone was not surprised by Emmett’s “presence” on set.

Crew lists initially credited “Ives” as the director on the $11.5 million production featuring Stallone as a bad guy who must face off against a former cop (co-star Jason Patric) as he and his band of thieves attempt to rob an armored truck.

But just as shooting got underway in southern Mississippi in late September, “Ives” vanished from the production record. He was replaced, at least on the call sheet, by Justin Routt, a 63-year-old Miami film novice and convicted felon who did not direct any scene in the movie, according to eight members of the film’s production.

“Justin Routt didn’t direct a thing,” said Steve Noell, the prop master on “Armored.” “He was just there. Randall was the one who called all the shots.”

Despite the demise of his former production company, a trail of lawsuits and bad publicity, Emmett continues to work Hollywood’s angles, lining up producing partners and big-name stars to make his small-budget films. But whether the 53-year-old producer is going by Emmett or Ives, he continues to confront allegations of not paying his bills on time and presiding over rushed and chaotic film sets, according to a Times review of emails, text messages and interviews with nearly a dozen people.

Emmett declined to comment for this story or to respond to specific questions from The Times. The producer’s attorney provided written declarations from eight crew members and producers disputing that there were problems on the set of “Armored.”

“The set was safe and all crew and vendors were paid,” line producer Josh Fruehling said.

“Overall, the shoot went without incident,” added First Assistant Director Gustavo Peña.

Randall Emmett is largely known to TV audiences as the pickleball-playing former fiance of “Vanderpump Rules” star Lala Kent, and their messy 2021 breakup that became a storyline on the hit Bravo show. In Hollywood, however, he’s recognized for fine-tuning the “geezer-teaser” formula for making action films.

He has thrived for years by paying aging A-list stars — Bruce Willis, Stallone, Robert De Niro, Al Pacino and Mel Gibson — millions of dollars to be the face of his movies, often in exchange for just a day or two of work.

On “Armored,” Stallone was paid $3.5 million for one day’s work, according to multiple crew members, including one with direct knowledge of the budget who was not authorized to comment.

Crew members and vendors, including sheriff’s deputies who provided security, struggled for months to be paid what they said they were owed. Several vendors reported the payment issues to journalists and the Mississippi Film Office, part of a state agency that approved a $2.8 million cash rebate to the producers, state documents show.

Since the late 1990s, Emmett has produced more than 120 films, many of them critical and box office flops. There have been a few standouts: Peter Berg’s “Lone Survivor” and Martin Scorsese’s Oscar-nominated “The Irishman.” But his influence waned amid the industry’s shift to streaming.

Two years ago, his Emmett/Furla Oasis production company collapsed after multiple lawsuits over unpaid bills from former business partners and the Writers Guild of America. Then Willis, Emmett’s biggest star, ended his career because of his declining health, dealing the producer another blow.

In early 2022, Emmett formed a new company with financier Joel Cohen called Convergence Entertainment Group, according to Nevada business records. It’s based in the same Wilshire Boulevard office building in Los Angeles where Emmett has worked for decades.

Yet when Hollywood trade site Deadline touted the launch of Convergence last year, there was no mention of Emmett’s involvement. The publication said two other producers — Steve Small and Gwen Osborne — ran the shop, despite the Nevada business records listing Emmett and Cohen as owners.

“There are no roles at a film startup,” Osborne said in a sworn statement to The Times. “Everyone works together bringing their expertise, knowledge and relationships to the table in order to enhance the productivity of the company.”

Soon, the “Ives” moniker began to appear, including on crew lists viewed by The Times for “Cash Out 2: High Rollers,” also starring Travolta. (A representative for the actor said he was traveling and unable to comment for this story.)

Although some performers in Hollywood have stage names, it’s exceedingly rare for a director to use an alternate identity in film credits and production documents. The Directors Guild of America has rules governing directors’ creative rights and responsibilities, but Emmett isn’t subject to them because he’s not a DGA member. “Armored” and Emmett’s “Cash Out” films were not DGA-covered productions, the union said.

Emmett was listed as the director of “Armored” in a May 31, 2023, application for a Mississippi cash rebate. When state officials later received production call sheets and crew lists for the project that began shooting in late September, Routt was identified as the director. Like many films in Hollywood, Emmett’s productions receive generous subsidies from states, including Mississippi and Ohio — funds that help Emmett attract talent, financiers and local crew members.

“Armored LLC” also landed a coveted waiver from the performers union SAG-AFTRA to shoot during the actors’ and writers’ strikes.

Indeed, several crew members said they hadn’t worked in months and took a job on “Armored” out of desperation.

“We all really needed a paycheck. We were going broke fast,” key grip Nathan Hughes said.

Several crew members said they agreed to work for far less than their normal rates because of the strikes.

When they arrived, it was initially unclear who was running the show, crew members said.

“I didn’t know who Ives was,” Chad Chamberlain, the Steadicam and A-camera operator, said in an interview this year. “Sadly, I’ve been on a lot of train wrecks. And I knew this was going to be a train wreck.”

On paper, Routt was in charge.

“This character was just kind of looming around on the periphery of the set,” recalled Hughes, the grip. “He kind of stood around and had strange conversations … about his sexual exploits and his business dealings in Miami.”

When reached last month, Routt spoke briefly to a Times reporter. “Do you mind if I add Randall Emmett to this call?” he asked. The reporter agreed and Routt put the reporter on hold for a few moments before the call abruptly ended. Routt didn’t respond to subsequent calls, texts or emails.

Routt is a convicted felon who has for decades expressed a desire to be a filmmaker.

In 1989, the Miami native was arrested for operating what Reuters described as “the largest illegal steroids laboratory ever uncovered in the United States.” He was sentenced to 22 months in federal prison after pleading guilty to conspiracy, mail fraud and mislabeling of prescription drugs.

Routt reportedly worked in the 1990s as a paralegal, drugstore manager, landscaper, vending machine owner and bartender in Florida. He later told the Miami Herald that even while tending bar at a fish restaurant, he spent most of his time talking to customers about a movie he wanted to make.

In 2004, that project, a short film called “Clear Cut,” premiered at the Made in Miami festival. In his Herald interview, he described how he had managed to spend only $2,000 on the movie by securing free locations, getting discounted sound equipment from a local high school and using a yacht owned by one of the bar’s regulars.

On the first day of “Armored,” Routt handed props assistant Michael Castro his cellphone and asked Castro to take a video of him so he could post it on social media accounts.

“He literally was pretending he was directing the scene that was going on — looking at the monitor and then looking over at the action and making hand motions to make it look like he was telling people what to do,” Castro said. “It was all make-believe.”

Obliging local news outlets covered the production’s presence in Mississippi, and Routt heaped praise on the film crew: “They’re all good people, they’re hard workers, no lazy ones on the crew,” he told WXXV-TV. A second TV station, WLOX-TV in Biloxi, in its report captured images of Emmett wearing the director’s headset.

Routt told the WLOX reporter that “Armored” would be released in about a year and “with me as director, it’ll do great,” he said, laughing.

But eight people who were on set insist that Routt never directed a single scene.

“That Justin guy did absolutely nothing,” said another member of the production who was not authorized to comment.

Routt was pleasant but uncomfortable, Chamberlain said: “He would apologize, saying: ‘Sorry, am I in your way?’”

Routt was listed as director on the call sheet when Stallone arrived for his single day of shooting. That morning, around 7:10, Emmett approached several of the filmmakers as they were preparing for the day, including the director of photography, according to multiple crew members.

“When Stallone got there, Randall asked the DP to come in and talk to Sly with him,” said one person who was on set that day. “He said, ‘Sly doesn’t quite know that I’m directing this. I want you to back me up that this [film shoot] is going poorly and I need to take over the ship.’”

Another person involved, who asked not to be identified, said that Stallone “absolutely didn’t know that Randall was directing.”

“Stallone basically took over for that one day,” said Noell, the prop master. The star and the cinematographer largely choreographed the scenes. “Directing by committee,” Chamberlain said.

In response to The Times’ questions, Emmett’s attorney submitted nine signed declarations from others involved in the production, including Emmett’s girlfriend, Alissa Holley. In their declarations, Convergence executive Osborne and Peña said Stallone was not surprised by Emmett’s “presence” on set, although they did not address whether the actor knew Emmett was the director as well as a producer.

Emmett would often retreat to his trailer during filming, various crew members said, leaving an assistant director, camera operator, the stunt coordinator or Holley to step in.

Two production members said he often showed up late and got into public spats on set with Holley, who was hired to help run the production office.

“There were so many snappy, barky, yelling moments. … It was all just very petulant,” Hughes said.

In a declaration sent to The Times, Holley said it was false that Emmett “would get into arguments with me in the trailer.”

At times, producers offered outlandish suggestions for scenes, such as plunging an armored truck off the East Pearl River Bridge (where much of the film’s action takes place) and into the water near a NASA facility, two sources said. Crew members balked.

“Our decision to not actually drop the Armored vehicle into the river, and instead use CGI, to ensure safety and save time was supported by Convergence,” stunt coordinator Andy Dylan said in his statement.

For one scene, Patric, Stallone’s co-star, stunt men and camera crew members waded into brackish waters of the East Pearl River. Patric had been told that the river was safe, according to two people involved in the incident who are not authorized to speak publicly. (Patric had no comment, his publicist said.)

Environmental tests, however, had revealed an unacceptable level of enterococci bacteria, indicating the presence of feces, according to a copy of the Aug. 10, 2023, water quality report viewed by The Times that was provided to production managers before the shoot. Chamberlain, the cameraman, also said he was not warned about any danger before or after going into the foul-smelling river.

The Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists confirmed that it learned during a set visit that Patric and others had been sent into contaminated water. A SAG-AFTRA representative said the guild “investigated the incident and addressed that and other safety concerns.”

Communication breakdowns were common, according to Chamberlain, Hughes and a third crew member. In separate interviews, the three men recalled when, in a rush, directors failed to entirely seal off a bridge before staging a special effects explosion, startling a grip who was walking at the end of the bridge.

“One of my guys was getting the last few pieces of grip equipment off the bridge without any warning that the explosion was about to happen,” Hughes said. “He technically wasn’t in the danger zone, but he could have been within another 45 seconds. It all comes down to the chaotic nature, and cavalier nature, of that set.”

Dylan and Peña denied the situation was unsafe.

“The explosion was merely a special effect propane pop that was controlled,” Dylan said in his statement. “The only issue a crew member might be referring to is that the Assistant Director did not yell ‘FIRE IN THE HOLE’ loud enough just before the truck was pulled to its side.”

Dylan claimed the crew member would not have been within 100 feet of the “safe and controlled” maneuver.

“No safety violations or grievances were brought by any of the unions in regard to anything during production,” Fruehling, the line producer, said in his statement, adding that after SAG-AFTRA investigated the water quality issue, the guild “raised no concerns with the production team.”

Set medic James Mora said in his signed statement: “I witnessed no injuries other than the minor cuts and bruises sustained on most sets, and none of them were caused by or related to safety issues.”

Initially, producers told Mississippi officials that “Armored” would be a 15-day film shoot, documents show. Then producers cut it to 10 days, knowledgeable people said. Shooting abruptly wrapped on the ninth day.

“Production finished a day early due to the efficiency of everyone involved,” Fruehling said.

Money problems soon became apparent. Crew members were paid their daily wages, but many went months before they were paid for renting their equipment to the production, internal emails show. Vendors — including the porta-potty provider, armored truck owner, snake wrangler and even Louisiana’s St. Tammany Parish Sheriff’s Office, whose deputies provided security detail — struggled to get paid. One was owed as much as $40,000.

In December, Convergence Entertainment President Small emailed the St. Tammany Sheriff’s Office lawyer. “We’ve never been in this position in the past, and have always made it a priority to pay our employees in a timely manner,” Small wrote in his email, which was viewed by The Times. The delay, according to Small, was due to a production accountant quitting.

In January, there was a flurry of activity after a vendor emailed a Deadline reporter, complaining about the lack of payment. Emmett was in touch with the prop master, Noell, text messages show, and told him that people would get paid — as long as the vendor backed down. Emmett wanted the vendor to send a “retraction” letter and include the reporter. The vendor, Emmett said, should tell people “he has [had a] great experience.”

Emmett attempted to fly below the radar, urging vendors to “not say my name[,] just someone from production,” the text messages show.

Mississippi Film Office Director Nina Parikh told The Times she was “aware of nonpayment issues.”

Those payments have been resolved, Rick Moore, Convergence’s entertainment partner in Mississippi, said in a declaration.

“We are pleased to report that all outstanding invoices from … ‘Armored’ have been paid and the production is in good standing,” his declaration said.

Noell, Castro and a third crew member said they’ve been paid. The wire transfers they received came not from “Armored,” but from a subsequent Convergence production called “Alarum,” a $19 million spy thriller starring Stallone and Scott Eastwood, that wrapped last month in Ohio.

The producer in charge of the production, according to Ohio tax records, is Justin Routt.

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©2024 Los Angeles Times. Visit at latimes.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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