Who Was Ronni Chasen?
Ronni Chasen was a Hollywood publicist who represented some of the biggest names in the entertainment industry --- Michael Douglas, Richard & Lili Zanuck, Hans Zimmer, to name but a few. She was instrumental in Oscar-wins for movies like "The Hurt Locker" and "Driving Miss Daisy."
On November 15, 2010, she attended the premiere of "Burlesque" on behalf of her client Diane Warren who had written some of the music that appeared in the film. Following the after-party at the W-Hotel, Chasen guided her 2010 Mercedes E-Class down Sunset Boulevard toward Beverly Hills enroute home. However, she would never make it. At 12:25 a.m., November 16, Chasen was shot to death at the intersection of Whittier Drive and Sunset Boulevard. After being hit multiple times, she guided her car down Whittier Drive where she collided with a utility pole. Emergency responders transported Chasen to Cedar Sinai's Emergency facility, but the stricken publicist was pronounced dead at 1:12 a.m.
In the two weeks following her death, Beverly Hills Police Department was unable to develop any solid lead or motive for the crime. A tipster pointed the police, eventually, to Harold Smith, a career criminal as a result of the popular television show "America's Most Wanted." When the cops approached Smith at his residence at the Harvey Apartments in Hollywood, Smith produced a .38 handgun and shot himself in the head. Six months later, BHPD held a press conference concluding that Smith, a lone-man on a bike in the middle of Beverly Hills, had single-handedly killed Chasen as the result of a robbery gone wrong. Case closed.
Two years after her death, interested in the case, I, Ryan Katzenbach, hit the research trail to find out more about Ronni Chasen. I've spent the past year tracking down a number of her friends and colleagues. I've shot a number of interviews and talked to numerous eyewitnesses who have all yielded vital clues about the case. While our video touches briefly upon some of the issues and controversies surrounding the case, suffice to say, there is a LOT of ground to cover that is best left for the finished film. It appears, however, that there is much, much more to the Chasen case. We originally contacted the police department seeking their help and cooperation. However, BHPD refused to cooperate or grant any access to their investigation. After repeated requests for info, including Ronni Chasen's autopsy (which should be public record), which have led to repeated violations of the California Public Records Act, we were forced to file suit against Beverly Hills Police Department and the County of Los Angeles Coroner's Office in November 2013. The L.A. County Coroner, on December 12th, three weeks after filing, has now settled the lawsuit with us by turning over the Chasen autopsy. The suit against the City of Beverly Hills will likely continue for several months.
The film derives its title "6:38" from the amount of time between Ronni Chasen's last cell call enroute home and the time that BHPD was alerted of her traffic collision on Whittier Drive. The film, while presenting Ronni Chasen's bio, retraces these last minutes of her life as well as that of the alleged murderer, Harold Martin Smith.
For the first time ever, the tipster who alerted "America's Most Wanted" of Harold Smith's identity and involvement in the crime will reveal his account of events. What he saw, and his first hand dealings with Harold Smith beg the question of whether Harold Smith was just a lone-guy on a bike looking to rob a vulnerable woman ---- or whether he was part of a greater conspiracy. The tipster's story is exclusive to our film.
"6:38: The Death of Ronni Chasen" promises to be a gripping true-crime account and real-time investigation of a murder that, possibly, isn't as open and shut as originally thought.
How will your contribution be put to use?
Our budget for this production is $200,000. These funds will be used for all aspects of production of the film, but specifically, here are a few of the key categories:
• Narration. The finished documentary will be narrated by Emmy-winning veteran actor Edward Asner. Asner is known for his role as Lou Grant in the Mary Tyler Moore show, and most recently, as the voice of Carl Fredrickson in the Pixar film "UP!" Ed's rich voice lends a texture and grit to the feel of this true-crime thriller.
• Research expenses. These expenses add up quickly and they include copies of court files, private investigators, and associated travel to meet various people who have information pertaining to Ronni Chasen or the case. We've done a lot, out of pocket, so far, but there is still a great deal left to do.
• Purchase/rental of equipment. The project is being shot in 4K, and this, of course, constitutes a great deal of expense both on location and in post.
• Forensic recreation of Ronni Chasen's murder. We plan to use a Mercedes Benz identical to the one that Ronni Chasen was driving when she was shot. Not only will the car serve to help us dramatically recreate the story, but the car will also be used as a forensic tool, as well. By employing actors to portray both Ronni Chasen and Harold Smith, while also bringing in a host of forensic experts to consult, we expect to film multiple scenarios by which Ronni Chasen could have been shot.
• Actors and crew. Because we approach the story with the intent to tell it in the most visual way possible, we plan to cast actors to recreate various scenes relevant to Ronni's life and the events leading up to the crime.
• Music, score and licensing. This is a substantial expense for any production, and ours will be no exception. Your contributions will be used to create an original score for our film, license music, and secure photographs and video pertinent to the telling of our story.
• Post edit. While our production entity is largely self-contained, these funds will also be used in the event that we need to go outside of our operation to secure help complete an awesome looking/sounding final print of the film.
• Legal, Permits, Insurance. Lawyers, government and insurance agents, oh my!
These are but a few of the largest expenses we anticipate. We have a few dollars built into the budget for advertising and PR work, as well! We are very confident that we can very comfortably produce a great film at the goal we've set.
The Impact: Why is "6:38" Important?
I feel, as a filmmaker, that this documentary is very important. First, and foremost, we have the right to ask questions of our government and law enforcement and we have the right to expect a certain amount of transparency. In the case of Ronni Chasen, I, like so many others, are unsettled with the conclusions drawn. When we've approached BHPD to ask for clarification or information about the case, we've been shut out. And, in the case of Ronni's autopsy, it's our opinion that they've gone beyond the parameters of the law to keep certain things secreted away when the people have the right to know. (The fact that L.A. County settled the action by turning over the autopsy seems to support our thoughts and feelings.) This film is, essentially, holding the police accountable and demanding transparency. We, frankly, are puzzled as to why there has been such a lack of cooperation. The Department has maintained that they are CERTAIN Harold Smith committed the crime. If they are that sure, and the case is that open-and-shut, why not share the details of the investigation?
While "6:38" is important for the above stated reason, the biggest story is that of Ronni Chasen, a woman who met a sudden, tragic and senselessly violent end. Through her friends and colleagues, Ronni's story is being told and she is being remembered --- not just as the victim of a violent homicide, but as that of a dear friend and beloved publicist who had a terrific sense of humor and incredible work ethic. They have taken up the task of remembering her as person. We have taken on the task of bringing them, hopefully, closure as to exactly what happened that fateful night in Beverly Hills.
How will "6:38" be released?We've entertained a few talks with some various networks for this project, but there's nothing definite at this point. At the same time, we have discussed a limited theatrical release with a distributor who works with some large theater chains in the United States and abroad. At the very least, once the film is complete, we plan to take it on the festival circuit followed by a DVD release. Of course, as you will see below, some of our Perks include digital or DVD copies well in advance of any festival release!
Who I Am As A FilmmakerIn 2006 I was intrigued with the 1974 DeFeo murders in Amityville, New York which, of course, inspired "The Amityville Horror" franchise. I wasn't interested in the haunted-house aspect of the story which I've long considered an elaborate hoax, but instead, I was intrigued with the actual DeFeo murders. I was puzzled how a lone son, in the dead of night, was able to massacre six members of his family as they slept and no one put up a struggle.
In January 2006, I began filming my first independent documentary, "Shattered Hopes: The True Story of the Amityville Murders." Prior to this, the project had been in development with Sony Television Pictures as a movie for the USA Network. When the option expired, and disillusioned with the studio-development process, I set out on my own to make a film that I hoped would debunk "The Amityville Horror" aspect of the case while putting the DeFeo murders under the forensic microscope.
The DeFeo's eldest son, Ronald Jr., who remains in prison today for the mass murder of his family has insisted for nearly four decades that he had help in the commission of the crime. After uncovering never-before-seen documents, including the ENTIRE DeFeo homicide file, and interviewing many people connected to the case who had never talked before, the full picture of what REALLY happened began to come together.
"Shattered" ultimately became a trilogy released to DVD. The first two installments were released in 2011 and 2012, and the final "grand finale" that reveals the findings and conclusions of myself and my team is slated for release at the beginning of 2014.
We plan to employ many of the investigatory skills and team members used in Amityville on the Chasen documentary.
Other Ways You Can Help Us!
Want to help but can't make a financial contribution? Terrific! Please share this link with your friends and tell them about Ronni Chasen's case and our documentary project!
Director, Writer & Producer