“Heidi [Ewing] and I had always been very interested in sociopaths of all stripes,” Rachel Grady said in an interview with IndieWire.
Grady and Ewing are the directors of Showtime’s new true crime documentary, “Love Fraud.” The four-part series follows a group of women conned by one man, Richard Scott Smith, and the “revenge squad” that forms to take him down.
Grady and Ewing have created a filmography aimed at looking beneath the veneer, starting with their 2006 documentary, “Jesus Camp.” In the case of “Love Fraud,” the two wanted to look at the world of double lives, and initially, they set out to tell a story about someone with multiple families.
“You hear these stories, and it’s always extremely puzzling why the fuck anyone would do that,” Grady said.
It was producer Alex Takats who discovered the real story, stumbling onto a blog aimed at exposing Smith and the crimes he’d committed. Grady and Ewing started to interview the women who had been working on the blog, many of whom shared their stories.
“There was just a lot of energy when we met them, and we felt like this was a story we needed to follow,” Grady said.
Things became more fired up once the pair met their “Calamity Jane bounty hunter,” according to Ewing, in Carla Campbell. Campbell is not only the secret weapon of “Love Fraud,” she was also the woman who got the entire investigation moving.
“Alex was the first one to talk to her,” Grady said. “And I heard him talking to her, and he was saying stuff like, ‘Oh, you want to cut his dick off?'”
There’s something cathartic in watching “Love Fraud,” especially with its story of a group of women coming together to take down the man who wronged them — think of it as “9 to 5” meets “Catfish — and it’s something both Ewing and Grady deliberately wanted.
“We’re like, ‘We have the resources, the money, and the backing of Showtime to do a feminist Trojan horse inside a true crime [story]? Where do I sign?” Ewing said.
But within all that, according to Ewing, was the ability to present real women who anyone could look at and understand their motivations. The subjects depicted in “Love Fraud” aren’t millionaires or glamorously beautiful; they’re average women. Their anger and quest for revenge doesn’t feel malicious, but justified.
“They had been victimized. There were tears but also rage,” Ewing said. As a filmmaker, Ewing said the best thing a director can look for in a subject is someone with unfinished business, and in the case of the women of “Love Fraud” there was plenty there.
Not only did many of the subjects feel judged and stupid for their actions, but the fact that Scott had an active warrant also fueled their desire to stop him from doing it to someone else. For Ewing and Grady working on “Love Fraud” was different. They weren’t just documenting a series of events, they were bringing forth the resources they had, such as private investigators, to help these women achieve their goal.
Grady explains that the subjects they interacted with were highly empathetic, and they could easily remind the audience of someone they knew.
“They had only done what everyone does, which is trust [someone], and wanted companionship and love,” Grady said. “So the fact that everyone was blaming them seemed doubly cruel.”
The pair said it isn’t often that they notice the distinctions that come from being a female filmmaker, but doing this certainly highlighted the contrast. For starters, the pair didn’t want to create a world where the various subjects were at odds. Ewing said she’s particularly frustrated by feature films that pit women together.
“It’s like some overplayed trope that is so dated and is barely relevant anymore,” Ewing said. Ewing added she’s never had another woman steal her boyfriend or get in a fight with her, and with a story like this, that could be easily sensationalized, the two wanted to eschew a circling the wagons mentality. “It was fun to do this as a woman [director],” Grady said, and much of that has to do with the fact that they realized how easily they could have become one of these women.
When asked how the documentary’s ending gelled with their original expectations, both directors laughed and said they saw it wrapping up exactly the way it does on-screen. Still, they worried it might be perceived as too negative. The pair can’t say whether Smith, the man at the center of the documentary, knows much about “Love Fraud” short of its existence, but they assume he’ll watch.
“The real revenge comes August 30 when he’s exposed to millions of people, and there’s something sweet about that,” Ewing said.
“Love Fraud” premieres Sunday, August 30 at 9 p.m. ET on Showtime.