The Pretender: Part I
Years ago, I started getting legal threats from a filmmaker. Then things got wild.
Edit, July 2021:
Here is the full Pretender series:
Today I’m less conspiracy focussed, but definitely focussed on misinformation and disinformation in this very strange tale.
Let’s get into it.
A giant headline in the trashy Daily Mail greeted me this week:
I felt a little string of goosebumps pass down my body. “No, surely not!” I thought to myself. But there it was:
“Photographer Anna Wilding plans to sue publishers Penguin Random House, claiming the book cover of Barack Obama’s memoir is a rip-off of her work.”
“Wilding!” I thought to myself. I knew it. I’d heard that name many times before.
I first encountered Anna Wilding back in November of 2016.
The New Zealand Embassy Washington DC posted a link to a story about Tickled on their Facebook page, suggesting it could an Oscar contender (sidenote: Tickled did not win an Oscar).
For some reason, Anna Wilding turned up in the comments fairly soon afterwards offering something between congratulations and negging.
She talked a lot about a film she’d made called “Buddha Wild: Monk in a Hut” — hinting she hadn’t gotten a fair go in the distribution of her film.
I replied in the comments, and then got this DM from her saying “Let me know if you need any help or advice”.
Things quickly went downhill.
Without prompting, things continued to escalate:
By this point, I knew something strange was going on.
Now in New Zealand, we have a thing we call “Tall Poppy Syndrome”, where we are terrified to talk up our successes. It’s seen as arrogant and uncool.
The idea is that if a poppy grows too tall, we immediately chop it off. “Lorde with another number one hit?” we say. “Stop bragging about it!”
Reading her website, I discovered New Zealander Anna Wilding does not suffer from this affliction.
“An outstanding creative, cited as “iconic” and “truly multi talented” by media ANNA WILDING is a noted and internationally award winning Actress, Director, Writer, Producer in both the mainstream and independent/arthouse American movie and television business. Anna has also made major music videos for major rock stars and labels.”
“Anna Wilding researches and protects the legacy of Anthony Wilding, including taking a personal journey to find Anthony Wilding’s lost grave in France.”
As I started to find out more about Wilding, I couldn’t resist tweeting about our slightly bizarre exchange.
Then Wilding ramped things up.
She contacted Magnolia Films, who looked after Tickled.
She contacted the New Zealand Film Commission.
She contacted my old work, TV3.
She contacted my agent.
She was fuming.
This is an section of one of her emails:
“Imagine my distress and surprise last night,at the reaction to me, when the NZ Embassy DC posted a story about Tickled being one of over 137 films in the Oscar Race for best Feature Doc..and me innocently and simply congratulating the film and wishing them well..and then being attacked in the most horrible cyberbullying way by some old stalkers of mine for congratulating him..and then the HAVE the filmmmaker DAVID FARRIER JOIN IN THE RAY BOTH ONLINE AND OFF!
He and they went out of their way on and off public facebook,which I have copies of to malign my film..I was literally attacked by the egging on of David by racists stalkers and trolls from years ago,who have done in the past, (and tried again to last night,) to do everything they can to invalidate me, destroy my name and my work, my film and my reputation.racist, s-e---x-i-s-t.So sad in this day that a female filmmaker are subject to this kind of thing.
I would like an apology from David Farrier, and his cronies publicly. My lawyer will review it.If you ar eogign to rep such a film and it's unprofessional mean arrogant director I ask you […] as a professional and veteran like myself, what you can do and what will you do about it?'“
Shortly after that, she started CCing lawyer John Angland into her threats.
I decided to email Angland to check he was actually acting for Anna Wilding.
This was like catnip to me.
The more you look into Anna Wilding, the more fascinating she becomes.
She’s been inserting herself in news narratives for years — from saying she’d gotten a major American film role, to claiming mass piracy of Monk in a Hut.
Her credibility in each news appearance remains unchecked, as she adds to her growing CV of appearances.
The more she appears in the press, the more she’s on Google, and the more likely she is to be taken seriously.
The scale of it all is quite amazing.
Reading this week’s headline about her suing Penguin for taking a 3/4 picture of Barack Obama, I was reminded of something else.
For years, she’s been claiming on her Twitter and Facebook profiles that she’s a White House Correspondent.
She expands on this role a little more on her IDMB profile:
“From 2015-17, MS Wilding served as Chief White House Correspondent, on-air broadcaster and Presidential photographer”
Going on what I’d learnt about Wilding so far, it would be easy to dismiss it. I mean, over in her IMDB profile she also says she’s directed and/or co-produced music videos for the Rolling Stones and UB40.
But there’s some truth to the White House story.
For one thing, there’s a clip of Wilding asking a question at a White House press briefing in July 2016. You can see it here.
And in 2018, she put on an exhibition in Alhambra, California. According to what she told reporters, all the photos of Obama on display were hers:
To take you through this journey with the Obamas the exhibit is filled with 30 photographs from different events. Photos depicting bill signings with Nancy Pelosi, former Dodger announcer Vin Scully receiving the medal of freedom, and the 2008 inauguration line the walls of the local gallery.
Wilding appears to have used her personal website “Herald de Paris” to get press accreditation — which would be a bit like me getting press accreditation by saying I work for Webworm.
She’s been interviewed about her claims, too — here she is on Mediaworks’ Magic Talk:
“What’s it like working at the White House? Wendyl Nissen talks with Kiwi journalist Anna Wilding, who has returned to NZ after working in the White House Press Corps during Barack Obama’s presidency.
I suppose one could be forgiven for thinking she’d been building up a narrative around her influence as White House Correspondent — which makes her recent claims somehow more believable.
And what of her claim, by the way? She’s seeking $50,000 from Penguin Random House, claiming they copied her style of shooting Obama at a 3/4 angle.
She told this to the Daily Mail:
“My work of Obama is considered iconic and unique. Someone saw my work and said let's do it like that. No-one else has ever used this particular angle with Obama and shot it in black and white,’ she said.
‘Why did they not just do a forward-facing photo like they usually do of him?’ she added. ‘It’s an infringement on my rights, my work, my style — my black and white style.’
Over on Twitter, she tweeted — then retweeted — her claims, misspelling “plagiarised” and @’ing her favourite newspaper, Herald de Paris (her personal website):
Curious, I reached out to digital business and internet lawyer Rick Shera.
Shera has a Masters degree from Auckland University in copyright law.
I asked him if you can somehow protect the concept of taking a photo of someone smiling from a 3/4 angle:
“Nothing is ever black and white in copyright (no pun intended) but, if the photograph on the cover of the Penguin Random House book has not been taken by Ms Wilding, or directly copied from one of her photographs, then it is reasonably clear that there is no copyright infringement here.
Copyright does not protect the idea of a work (e.g. the *idea* of taking a black and white photograph of Barack Obama).
It is only the actual tangible expression of the idea in a work like a particular photograph that is protected by copyright.
While substantial similarity between works can imply copying and infringement, with something as ubiquitous as a photograph of Mr Obama, the photographs would have to be almost identical for one to infringe the other.
There are substantial differences between these photographs. For example, the fact that he is looking in different directions in each photo, his head is at a different angle, his eyes and smile are different and in one he is wearing a tie whereas he is not in the other.
The position can easily be contrasted with the situation when graphic artist Shephard Fairey used an Associated Press photograph of Mr Obama to create his well know HOPE poster.
The parties in that case eventually settled but it was clear there had been a copy and that there may have been copyright infringement if it were not for a fair use defence raised by Mr Fairey.”
So, good luck to her there.
As Part I of this saga comes to an end, I think it’s probably worth looking more closely at “Buddha Wild: Monk in a Hut”.
I want to make it very clear that it’s a miracle to create anything, and all power to her for making this.
In her email to Magnolia Pictures back in 2016, she had this to say about Buddha Wild:
“The film qualified for Oscar consideration, was named as one to watch and one to beat and bascially [SIC] tipped for an Oscar. THR and everyone got behind it.”
In part II of this saga, I will push further into the mystery of Anna Wilding.
Along the way I will encounter Britain’s Got Talent winner Susan Boyle, Lord of the Rings, the Rainbow Warrior conspiracy, and a feud with Mulan director Niki Caro.
Strap in. It gets wilder.
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