The quarrel began with an email Berlinger sent to his fellow director, after seeing interviews in which she compared her film favorably to others made about the infamous serial killer, including two of his own. “Forgive the unsolicited advice, but after reading some of your interviews about your Bundy movie, I feel compelled to tell you that tearing down my work to promote yours is a slipper slope and intellectually dishonest and deeply offensive,” the director said in the email, which you can read in its entirety below. “My work has gotten wrongfully convicted people out of prison; has changed laws and racially biased [policies] in prison; has led to the recognition by the US Congress for the Armenian genocide, among other social justice endeavors — so you promoting your film by saying my film glorified Bundy is deeply offensive. I wish you the best with the film but don’t promote it at my expense.”
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An Emmy winner and Oscar nominee, Berlinger has directed two Bundy projects in recent years, including Netflix docuseries Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes. The latter, Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile, is a scripted take on Bundy’s story, in which Zac Efron plays the murderer.
After receiving Berlinger’s email, Sealey shared it via her official Instagram page. “Received this unsolicited email this morning. Thanks for the support, Joe,” she wrote in the caption accompanying it. “We have an extra ticket for you to the #NoManOfGod premiere tonight if you’d like to see the movie for yourself and we can discuss more in person openly? Cuz this felt like you were just trying to make me feel sh*tty right before my screening. Have a great day. #femalefilmmakerfriday #bundyisdivisive”
In a statement obtained by Deadline, Sealey writes that she found Berlinger’s initial email to her “quite shocking.”
“It felt like he was trying to silence me, to let me know that his films and his work were more important than mine could ever be and it felt a little mansplain-y,” she wrote. “I have never mentioned his name or his films in any of my press interviews so it was dishonest of him to state that I was trashing his films. His name came up one time in a podcast that I don’t even believe he’s heard, but never in the trades or press interviews did I say anything about his films specifically. There have been 20 films made about Bundy and it was surprising to me that he took my comments so personally.”
It’s unclear if there was one interview, in support of No Man of God, which irked Berlinger, in particular. The director says that in interviews, she has simply tried to get across what her film brings to the narrative of Bundy, in comparison to those that have come before. “It would be unprofessional in my mind to make a film about something that has been hashed over so many times and not try to find a new reason for making another film about Bundy. I feel like my film says something new and I shouldn’t have to feel shamed or silenced into not commenting on how I think my film is different from the ones that came before,” Sealey wrote. “In every interview I’ve done I’ve been asked “why another Bundy film?” because that of course is the obvious question. That he wanted me to not answer that question is disingenuous of him.”
In a statement obtained by Deadline, Berlinger stood by his initial email, further calling into question the motivations behind Sealey’s commentary in the press. “Promoting her film about the rape and murder of women by tearing down my film [Extremely Wicked] that was designed to be a victim-focused film about the psychology of betrayal and deception, made with the full support of victim Liz Kendall, played by Lily Collins, and was supported by other victims of Bundy’s crimes felt intellectually dishonest,” he wrote. “In a private email, I let Amber know my feelings in a thoughtful manner. Her publication of that private email is as self-promotional as her comments about my film.
“There is room for many takes on a subject, and I wish her the best,” Berlinger continued. “It’s a miracle that any film gets made these days — so to tear down other people’s work to promote your own is not how filmmakers should treat one another. Remember, she made it public, not me. Mine was a private email.”
In her statement, Sealey maintained that she only shared Berlinger’s message in a public forum because it felt like an attempt to “shame” and “silence” her.
“It felt like he wanted to let me know that he was big and important and he wanted to ‘educate’ me. I felt like this was a bigger conversation than just him and I, and I wanted to invite him to actually see my movie and then talk with me openly,” she wrote. “Of course Joe wants his email to be kept private — it felt bullying, that he was shaming, listing his accolades, and trying to hurt someone he didn’t know and whose movie he has still not seen. I feel that this is a bigger conversation than just the two of us.”
Sealey’s chamber piece, starring Elijah Wood and Luke Kirby, was acquired by RLJE Films in May, and debuted at the Tribeca Film Festival on Friday. It examines the complicated relationship between serial killer Ted Bundy (Luke Kirby) and Bill Hagmaier (Wood), the famed FBI analyst who was sent to profile him, during his final years on death row. Berlinger’s next project, as a director, is the documentary Raising Hell: The Visions of Clive Barker.
Sealey’s Instagram post, containing Berlinger’s email, can be found below.