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On Oct. 4, Sam Wineman filed a sensational lawsuit, detailing a hostile work environment on the set of the AMC-produced docuseries “Queer for Fear,” where he allegedly endured bullying, discrimination, sexual harassment, sexual assault and retaliation.
At the heart of the producer’s complaint is Wineman’s allegation that Bryan Fuller — the creator of shows like “Hannibal” and “Pushing Daisies” and a major player in the “Star Trek” franchise — sexually harassed and assaulted Wineman during production. He claims the misconduct took place after the two began working together in 2020 at the height of the COVID pandemic. Fuller is a defendant in the complaint alongside AMC and its video-on-demand service Shudder.
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But 14 people involved with the Emmy-nominated series are pushing back on Wineman’s #MeToo claims and his characterization of a toxic workplace. The sources, nine of whom went on the record with Variety, had a wide range of responsibilities on the Los Angeles-based production and include an editor, a sound mixer and several interview subjects. They insist that Fuller, a “Queer for Fear” executive producer, ran a professional and collegial set. The tight-knit group has been rocked by Wineman’s allegations, which they say came out of the blue and date back more than two years. Most of the sources also paint Wineman as an ineffective and challenging colleague who was ultimately fired.
Wineman’s most damning allegation involves a 2021 back-cracking incident, which he dubs assault. “Under the guise of ‘cracking [Wineman’s] back’ and, due to his height, completely restricted [Wineman] from movement as Mr. Fuller pressed his penis against [Wineman’s] buttocks, holding it there so [Wineman] could feel it through the fabric of Mr. Fuller’s track pants,” the suit says. An executive producer who was in the room at the time says nothing like what is described occurred.
Wineman’s attorney Pamela Atkins says this article is “further victimizing Samuel Wineman” and that her client filed “a verified complaint, which means the allegations are under oath.” Atkins adds: “It is not necessary to file a verification when bringing a lawsuit. The fact Mr. Wineman did so, speaks for itself. … We are not surprised by the attempts by certain defendants to claim these allegations lack merit.”
“Queer for Fear” marked the first time that Chelsea Shepherd, who oversaw every aspect of production on the docuseries, worked with Fuller. She says she felt compelled to stand up for the embattled creative because Wineman’s allegations rang hollow and felt retaliatory.
“Nobody owes me anything. I don’t owe anybody anything. But the stuff that I have been reading about [in Wineman’s suit], especially the sexual harassment stuff, I never witnessed anything like that happening,” Shepherd says. “I would never allow anything like that to happen on a set that I had control over. That said, Bryan and Sam butted heads with creative differences all the time. But there was no strange or inappropriate behavior between them or I would have stepped in.”
It has become rare for people in Hollywood to go on the record to defend someone accused of sexual misconduct. But in the case of “Queer for Fear,” a four-part series for Shudder that traces the history of LGBTQIA+ horror as depicted on screen and as consumed by the masses, those who spoke with Variety say they were so confused and outraged by Wineman’s lawsuit against Fuller that they opted to be named. (Fuller declined to speak for this piece.)
Back in 2020, Meg Chase was part of Wineman’s social circle and says that he brought her into the project as his assistant so that he would have “allies” to bolster his creative vision. On the project, she was a constant fixture by Wineman’s side and initially collaborated well with him. She describes herself as “definitely someone that he was able to confide in and a shoulder to cry on,” with regards to Wineman. But his grumblings, in her characterization, boiled down to wanting more control over the project. “When I read the lawsuit, it felt like I should theoretically have a mental recollection that somewhat matches up with his version because I was a part of these events,” Chase says. “My first reaction was I felt crazy because I didn’t remember any of these events in the way that I was reading them described in the lawsuit.”
In addition to depicting a workplace she did not recognize, Wineman’s suit references Chase — albeit without naming her — in ways that she says were taken out of context.
“Sam was making it seem like I was breaking down and running out of the room because I was upset with the way Bryan was interacting with him,” Chase adds. “And the unfortunate thing is that it was the other way around. Sam was the reason why I felt so much pressure on set and did have a couple of times where I ran out of the room very emotional.”
When the suit was filed, the Fuller case seemed compelling, with its portrait of a powerful creative who is an out gay man allegedly preying upon an underling (Wineman), who also is openly gay. There, too, was a complicity angle in the claims. Wineman says he notified Steak House, one of the executive producers of “Queer for Fear,” of the alleged abuse, and nothing was done. The suit portrays House as transphobic without giving specifics, a point that rankled everyone involved with the series who spoke with Variety. (House is a veteran indie filmmaker who has identified as nonbinary for decades.)
Those who worked closest with Wineman, including House, say he has misrepresented events.
“The back-cracking incident — I was standing right there,” House says. “I hear [Wineman say] what sounds like, ‘My back hurts.’ Bryan is like, ‘Oh do you want me to crack your back?’ Bryan does my back right after, and it’s in front of a number of people on the crew. If anything were to have happened, then somebody on the crew would have gone, ‘Oh, that was weird or something.’ There was nothing out of turn in that incident.”
House adds, growing emotional: “He’s claiming that he reported things to me that he did not report to me. It’s just outlandish to lie and say that you reported sexual harassment. But you didn’t report it. It’s just a bridge too far for me.”
Chase says that the idea of House ignoring any harassment complaint is absurd. She says she once complained when a “Queer for Fear” crew member addressed Shepherd with the word “babe” during a Zoom production call, and the situation was immediately handled by House in “a respectful and professional” manner. Several of the sources say House went to extreme lengths to ensure that everyone on the production felt comfortable, especially given that the subject matter — queer horror — required frank discussion of everything from masturbation to sexual exploits. The team often had to sift through explicit material just to decide what footage would be used. The sources say that Wineman’s complaint twists the narrative to create a nefarious-sounding environment in which Fuller droned on about his predilections.
Christian Lainez, a sound mixer on the project, calls “Queer for Fear” “one of the most positive experiences of my life” and disputes Wineman’s version of events. Lainez, who is gay, adds, “I read the allegations, and some of the topics of conversation that are alleged to have been perceived as harassment, those topics of conversation weren’t pointed at Sam or anyone specifically. They were part of a group conversation. You can’t talk about queer film and queer cinema without brushing on the topic of sex.”
Others say some of the tensions between Fuller and Wineman stem from the genesis of the project, which began as a feature-length documentary titled “Spectrum of Fear.” Directed by Wineman, the film delved into his own relationship with specific movies that he rented at the local video store and how they had played a role in shaping his own sexual identity. But AMC had a different vision and greenlit the project as a docuseries that trained a broader lens on the arc of queer cinema, a subject that has received scant attention among Hollywood history buffs. Fuller, who has shepherded a number of successful series over the past two-plus decades, was brought in as an executive producer at Wineman’s behest, according to those involved with the project.
As is typical on a feature documentary, the director enjoys full control over the visual style, storytelling and how the interviews are conducted. But on a TV docuseries, the executive producer has the final say. That dynamic didn’t sit well with Wineman, who bristled at any critique of his work, says editor David Kittredge.
“I was disappointed and a bit disgusted [by Wineman’s suit], because it did not in any way comport with my experience of working with Bryan on ‘Queer for Fear’ at all,” Kittredge says. “Sam’s [version of the series] wasn’t really coherent. It didn’t really tell a story. It didn’t really inform about the history of queer horror. It was more like ‘The Sam Wineman Show.’ We needed to reshoot the interviews.”
Kittredge describes Wineman as someone who cared little about the roots of the subgenre and was unwilling to dig in.
A person who declined to be named because of the sensitive nature of Wineman’s allegations says she was questioning her participation in “Queer for Fear” due to the low production quality of Wineman’s version as well as how she was being presented in the early cuts. That point was echoed by others, who were critical of the work Wineman was doing.
“Honestly, it was bad,” says Tara Anaise, who directed one of the episodes and notes that Wineman’s cut had to be significantly overhauled after his exit. At the same time, Fuller and House tried to provide Wineman with the resources he would need to deliver on the AMC mandate, according to several production colleagues. Anaise adds, “The behavior I saw from both Bryan Fuller and Steak House was completely professional, supportive and collaborative.”
Shepherd says Wineman was unwilling and unable to pivot.
“I think that Sam was inexperienced, and he needed more guidance than this particular project had the capacity to give him. He was not doing a great job and [couldn’t handle] the time constraints. It was a very short turnaround for when he was expected to provide scripts. And he just couldn’t quite produce a quality product.”
Shudder executive Nick Lazo made the call to fire Wineman, according to House and Shepherd, and the two were tasked with letting him know. House delivered the news, and Wineman’s last day on set was in August 2021, about a year before it launched on Shudder on Sept. 30, 2022. Neither House nor Shepherd believe his ouster had anything to do with his interactions with Fuller and that it was entirely a result of his performance.
In the immediate aftermath of Wineman’s suit, two people spoke out in support of him on social media: composer Andrew Scott Bell and researcher Jordan Crucchiola. Bell wrote, “I heard from Sam in real time as these things happened to him,” while Crucchiola claimed in a post that she “was present for or told in real time about what is alleged against Bryan Fuller in this lawsuit.” Crucchiola’s last day on “Queer for Fear” was in late July 2021, a month before Wineman was let go. And though Bell worked on the project, his score was not ultimately used in the final version of the series. (Neither are credited on the production, though Crucchiola says she had an associate producer credit on the series when it screened at Outfest last year..)
Still, Wineman’s claims have been met with a great deal of skepticism from others who also were on set.
“Those accusations of inappropriate behavior are completely fabricated as far as I’m concerned,” says Harmony Moon, who had to reshoot her interview because Wineman’s version was deemed unusable. “I never witnessed anything personally [like what Wineman described in his lawsuit].”
Attorney Bryan Freedman, who is representing Fuller, says his client plans to sue Wineman for malicious prosecution, a threat rarely made in Hollywood #MeToo cases.
“Sam Wineman is a character assassin and serial accuser who lies to deflect from his incompetence,” says Freedman. “Anyone critical of Sam on ‘Queer for Fear’ has been misrepresented as harassers or abusers despite the fact that he made no inappropriate sexual claims until getting a lawyer almost two years after leaving the project. This is nothing but a shameful shakedown and an after-the-fact weaponization of allegations that hurt actual survivors.”
In November 2022, Wineman reached out to Shepherd for coffee. They met at Mañana in Culver City, and Wineman vented about Fuller, but never mentioned anything that would qualify as bullying, harassment or assault. Instead, Shepherd says he aired “petty” grievances about having his vision undermined by Fuller.
Ultimately, the project has been tarnished because of the swirl of accusations. And that has left those involved with “Queer for Fear” feeling disappointed. Briana Venskus also was an interview subject who had to be brought back in to redo the shoot after Wineman left. “I met Bryan on this project. I’ve known him since. And I can only say that he’s been the most consummate professional that I’ve worked with in this particular dynamic,” she says.” “So it was really quite shocking, honestly. Nothing from either [Fuller or House] could have even been remotely deemed as inappropriate. Or unprofessional.”
That same point was underscored by Debra Miller, who worked as meal coordinator on “Queer for Fear.” She says her perch allowed her to learn about all of the on-set gossip. She never heard a peep about Fuller bullying or harassing anyone, let alone Wineman.
“Everybody was treated with such respect and joy,” she says. “Like Michael Feinstein came in and gave me a back rub. I mean weird, fun stuff like that happened. It was a light set. There was nothing dark.”
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