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How Showtime Made a Secret Documentary About the New York Times’ Big Story on Trump’s Tax Evasion

Originally hoping to qualify the short documentary for Oscar consideration, Showtime decided instead to air “The Family Business: Trump and Taxes" this Sunday.

President Donald Trump waits to welcome Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte to the West Wing of the White House in WashingtonTrump US Netherlands, Washington, USA - 02 Jul 2018

President Donald Trump waits to welcome Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte to the West Wing of the White House in Washington
Trump US Netherlands, Washington, USA – 02 Jul 2018

Susan Walsh/AP/REX/Shutterstock

When the New York Times editors hit publish on yesterday’s exhaustive report detailing how Fred Trump fraudulently funneled millions to his son — President Donald J. Trump — Showtime’s cameras were rolling. A holdover from Liz Garbus’ “The Fourth Estate” — a four part series documenting the New York Times covering President Trump’s first year in office that aired this spring — director Jenny Carchman helmed a crew that continued to follow the reporters working on this particular story about Trump’s tax avoidance, which took nearly two years to report.

The Times story by Russ Buettner, Susanne Craig and David Barstow calls into question President Trump’s image as a self-made billionaire, revealing that he received the equivalent today of $413 million from his father. Worse yet for the President, the Times reported that the money transfers were “dubious tax schemes” that sometimes involved “outright fraud.”

The film about the process, titled “The Family Business: Trump and Taxes,” will differ from “The Fourth Estate” in several ways.  Whereas the Garbus project was a look at the venerable institution at a moment of great change – President Trump’s victory and the pressure on newspapers in the digital age — the short documentary will be more procedural, as it follows a small group of reporters working on one big story.

Sources tell IndieWire that the premium cable network had expedited post-production this summer, in anticipation of the possibility that the film could be a potential awards contender for Best Short Documentary. The project, which will air this Sunday night on Showtime, has essentially been done for weeks, as the filmmakers waited for the Times to publish and to add scenes of the publication to the end of the documentary. Carchman was filming on Tuesday, less than a week before the scheduled airdate.

The Times story published weeks later than Showtime anticipated – partially a product of busy news cycles dominated by Hurricane Florence and Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings (and the subsequent sexual assault allegations). The network had expressed concern that there would not be a large enough window to qualify the film during awards season. Short films must win a prize at major festival, or have a week long theatrical release in Los Angeles (usually requiring renting out, or four-walling a theater) during 2018 to be eligible for the 2019 Academy Awards in February.

Now, Showtime has confirmed to IndieWire the short will not compete for Oscars. Choosing to air the documentary this weekend essentially nullifying the initial Oscar strategy, since Academy rules stipulate that a documentary short subject must complete a seven-day commercial run in a theater in Los Angeles or New York during the eligibility period, and prior to any broadcast.

The President has denied the allegations in the Times story. The President’s lawyer Charles Harder, who helped bring down Gawker through Hulk Hogan’s lawsuit, called the allegations “100% false and highly defamatory.” Bloomberg reported yesterday that the New York State Tax Department was looking into the Times’ reporting to explore if an investigation is necessary.

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