The Comedic Selections: Chris Butler cult in New Zealand

NZH-1081304

Chris Butler

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Water, power use defended

5/07/2000 13

FILM MAKING; CIVIL LAW; ELECTRICITY; SOUTH CANTERBURY; WATER SUPPLY

COURTS

High electricity and water consumption at Ti Leaf Productions’ base in Twizel were caused by health and equipment needs, not a drug operation, vice­president Sunil Khemaney has told the High Court in Christchurch. The film company is suing former Waitaki MP Alec Neill and Pukaki Downs couple Lester and Robyn Baikie for $1.75 million in losses and punitive damages.
The company abandoned a feature film in New Zealand after rumours it was a front for a religious cult or drug operation.
Under cross­examination from Mr Neill, who is defending himself, Mr Khemaney said the company paid one electricity bill of $2354 for 29 days. Another, for a period of 32 days, had cost $2692.
The house, which accommodated spiritual leader and script­writer Chris Butler and his wife, used about 3000 litres of water a day, he said.
Ti Leaf Productions spent $111,000 renovating a farmhouse for the Butlers’ use.
Mr Khemaney said the house was a production centre for the company. “It was much more than just a house for two people, it was being used as a

­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­

meeting place for our team.”
He said electricity consumption was high partly because Mr Butler’s poor health required an air filtration system. Water was used by the production crew and for dampening dust on the driveway.
Mr Neill showed the court a 10­minute video which represented the entirety of filming for The Lost Prince.
Mr Khemaney said the video was not intended to be part of the film, which was still at the pre­production stage when abandoned.
When asked whether he considered the video was value for money after more than two years work, and $1.3 million spent on the film, Mr Khemaney said it represented a lot of potential. “I do not believe we received value for money because of the circumstances thrust on us by the defendants, ” he said.
The script, which was in its 69th draft, was unfinished when the film was cancelled.
Mr Neill said both the Immigration Department and police had contacted Ti Leaf Productions, before he made his allegations in Parliament.

Section: NEWS Sub NATIONAL

Section: Edition: 1

Text: The man at the centre of Twizel’s movie controversy says his health has deteriorated after a wave of media attention on the activities of his film company. American spiritual leader and film company scriptwriter Chris Butler said yesterday that even if his visa was extended past next month’s expiry date, the atmosphere in Twizel was so poisoned he might leave anyway.
Waitaki MP Alec Neill said on Wednesday in Parliament that fear surrounded the presence of T​i​L​eaf​P​roductions,​which he suggested might be a front for an international drug ring or a religious cult.
But yesterday, lying under a blanket on the couch of the tinfoil­lined farm house he is leasing, Mr Butler denied the allegations.
Pale and shaking, he also said he was under enormous stress as a result of the accusations.

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Investor deterred by bad publicity

11/07/2000 27

Mr Butler suffers from allergic reactions to chemicals and said that was part of the reason for the tinfoil house lining. As well as preventing chemicals being emitted from the house’s exposed wooden walls, the tinfoil was to protect the sensitive video and computer equipment in the house.

Mr Butler said Mr Neill had abused his power and did not have the courage to repeat his defamatory allegations outside Parliament.
He said he did not know what Mr Neill meant by describing him as a man of “dubious international connections, a recluse, an eccentric”.

Mr Butler was the founder of the Science of Identity Foundation, which he says deals with the most important questions of life.
He was employed by T​i​L​eaf​P​roductions​as a consultant on the film because of his expertise in the field of Vedic or Hindu religious practices. They are a focus of the martial arts action­adventure movie, The Lost Prince, which the film company is working on. ­ NZPA

FILM MAKING; CIVIL LAW; INVESTMENT; SOUTH CANTERBURY; USA; PHILIPPINES; MARTIAL ARTS; RELIGIOUS SECTS; DRUG ABUSE

COURTS

A film investor said he pulled the plug on his $600,000 investment in Ti Leaf Productions’ movie because continuing bad publicity threatened to make it into another Waterworld _ a Hollywood movie dogged at the box office by negative reports about its production.

Nilo Santos, a Philippines­based real­ estate developer and arts sponsor, said he had been excited by the potential of the $US1.5 million film, The Lost Prince, until the project became entangled with allegations that it was a front for a religious cult and a drug ring.

Mr Santos was called as a witness in Ti Leaf’s claim in the High Court in Christchurch for substantial damages against Pukaki Downs couple Lester and Robyn Baikie. The company originally sought $1.75 million compensation from the Baikies and former Waitaki MP Alec Neill. Mr Neill settled with Ti Leaf on confidential terms last week.

Mr Santos said he believed the $US5 million profit projected for The Lost Prince was conservative.
The package was the first he had seen which involved the combination of martial arts and teenaged protagonists, a formula which was later used with great success in the movie Mortal Kombat, and he offered to invest $US300,000.

However, in early 1996 bad publicity left him fearing that the project would be more like another Waterworld.
“The bad publicity (about The Lost Prince) which influenced me the most was the allegation that the people behind the film were operating a religious cult or a drug ring. I wondered whether it would form a stigma … and affect the success of the movie, ” he said.

Mr Santos continued with the project because Ti Leaf executive Sunil Khemaney assured him the bad publicity was over _ until another article on Ti Leaf appeared in The Timaru Herald in June 1996.
“For me it was all too much and it confirmed some of my earlier fears that the bad publicity was not over, ” he said. He withdrew his offer of funding, even after he was offered a greater share of the profits if he continued. Cross­examined by Bruce Squires QC, for the Baikies, Mr Santos accepted that he had never invested in a movie before, nor had The Lost Prince scriptwriter Chris Butler written one, nor had the three teenaged stars acted in a feature film. Asked whether he was an adherent of the same faith as Mr Khemaney, Mr Santos said they held “the same philosophical beliefs”.
A Hollywood screen­writing consultant, Pamela Jaye Smith, gave evidence for Ti Leaf that the Mount Cook region was to be one of the stars of the film.
Miss Smith was hired by Ti Leaf as a story consultant, and worked on the production from Los Angeles, and also for three weeks in Twizel in November 1995.
She said that after two years work, the production was well advanced, and described work on the screenplay, casting, costume design, selection of locations, and rehearsals.

Notes:

She described Chris Butler of Ti Leaf and his team of first­time filmmakers as “compulsive perfectionists”.
She was convinced that if they had been given a chance, the team would have been able to complete the film. She said the project was feasible with a $US1.5 million budget.

Cross­examined, she said she said she saw rehearsals but no actual filming during her stay in Twizel.
She would not have expected to see filming at that stage, she said. Yesterday was the sixth day of evidence in the case, which was originally expected to last three weeks.

Lino ­ Nilo Santos!

GOOGLE THIS: Because Chris Butler of Ti Leaf, who was living at the farm, was allergic to fertiliser and to aircraft flying overhead, it was requested that no aerial topdressing be done. The fertiliser was spread by hand by Ti Leaf staff. “It was a joke, ” said Mrs Baikie.
She said: “We were aware of rumours and did our best to stop them.”

However, she said the company accused them of making unfortunate comments and accusations about the film and its personnel.
She said they were often reduced to tears by aggressive and threatening letters from the company’s lawyer

COMEDY GOLD:

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Film team ‘dabblers’

25/07/2000 31

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Text: Ti Leaf Productions’ film team members at Twizel were either naive dabblers or were “merely marking time in a pleasant location”, a New Zealand film producer said as the civil case began its third week.
Ti Leaf’s High Court case for its $1.7 million claim against Pukaki Downs farmers Lester and Robyn Baikie has ended, and the Baikie’s defence resumed yesterday after a week’s break.

David Gibson, managing director of the Gibson Group, which has a film production company called First Sun Limited, said it appeared that Ti Leaf was approaching its film The Lost Prince “in a most unusual manner”.
He said Ti Leaf approached the Gibson Group in 1994. His company supplied a list of contacts but was not involved. “We felt their emphasis seemed to be on immigration procedures.”

He had since been shown papers relating to the Ti Leaf project and its court case.
In contrast with other overseas production companies he dealt with, Ti Leaf had brought a number of people into New Zealand for a very extended script and development period.
“It seems to have been a particularly protracted and consequently very expensive development period, ” he said. “Ti Leaf appears to have spent about $1m, mostly on general cost of living for the personnel.”
It was a major surprise that Ti Leaf did not have a detailed budget for the project. The script he had read looked like it would need one or two more drafts. It was an extremely ambitious project requiring substantial resources.
“It had major stunt and special effects sequences. It would require a substantial cast of extras, requiring costuming, a number of sets, and it had major art department requirements.
“The script certainly doesn’t fit into the normal concept of a low­budget film. It could not be produced for anywhere near a $US1m budget.”
He doubted whether the script related particularly to New Zealand locations. “It could be shot in any number of countries with mountainous

terrain.”
It was unusual there was no evidence of a schedule breakdown relating to locations, sets, and wardrobe.
The project had no indication of the hand of an experienced producer or director.
The files he had seen showed two of the three stars had martial arts experience, but none had acting experience.
He referred to Ti Leaf’s employment of the company Kiwi Kontacts to assist its operation in New Zealand. He said the Kiwi Kontacts managing director Allan Tibbey did not have the experience to advise Ti Leaf of the difficulty and scale of the project. He referred to evidence of Di Oliver, executive of Film New Zealand, “walking Allan Tibbey through some very basic steps in film­making”.
“She is dealing with a man who, quite clearly, knows nothing about how to make a film. I just shake my head, ” Mr Gibson said.
“I venture that the production of this film was well beyond the capabilities of the people at Ti Leaf, ” he said. He questioned how committed Ti Leaf was to making the film, since most of the basic work was lacking.
“They were either naive dabblers, or merely marking time in a pleasant location.”
He believed investors would not have been put off by bad publicity about the production. “Any publicity is good publicity. Plenty of publicists will tell you that.”
Questioned about the script the team at Twizel had been working on, Mr Gibson said: “If the script is deemed to have value, they (Ti Leaf) would be able to use that script to make this film in another part of the world, in the same way they could have made it here.”
Ti Leaf is alleging breach of contract by the Baikies, who rented their farm to the production team, and defamation. The hearing is before Justice Panckhurst.

ROTTEN CULT = ROTTEN LAPTOP

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Suspicions aroused by laptop

26/07/2000

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Keywords: FILM MAKING; CRIME; ACCOUNTING; MINICOMPUTERS AND MAINFRAMES; SOUTH CANTERBURY; INVESTMENT; CREDIT; FRAUD

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Text: An employee of film company Ti Leaf Productions was seen typing on a laptop computer that was not turned on during an inspection by

immigration officials, the High Court in Christchurch has been told. Former Timaru detective Ross Murray Glendining, now a businessman, said he had accompanied immigration officials to the company’s base at Pukaki Downs station, near Twizel.
“There was a line of costumes on the deck and there was a woman working on a laptop computer. I was able to establish on closer examination that the computer wasn’t turned on, ” he said.
“I was of the view that it was just for our benefit.
“I also noticed that every wall of the home had been lined with aluminium foil, and even the phone was wrapped in foil.”
Ti Leaf is suing Twizel couple Lester and Robyn Baikie, alleging breach of contract and defamation, after the company abandoned a feature film in New Zealand after rumours it was a front for a religious cult or drug operation.
Under cross­examination from Julian Miles, QC, Mr Glendining said he never sought a search warrant for the property, and no­one was formally interviewed by the police.
He acknowledged he did not introduce himself as a police officer, but denied suggestions he had arrived at the property posing as an immigration officer. Freelance cameraman Brian High, who visited the property in March, 1996, repeated many of Mr Glendining’s observations yesterday. He also claimed sound recording areas and a camera that he

saw at the site were not suitable for producing a feature film.
When questioned by Mr Miles, he acknowledged he was not an expert in sound recording, but he denied he had wrongly assumed the mixing for the film was being done at the property.
“I went out there to view a film production company and I didn’t see any film production there, that’s all, ” he said.
Yesterday, forensic accounting specialist Murray Lazelle commented on several “unusual” aspects in the financial records he had seen.
Mr Lazelle said he was surprised there was no evidence of a budget being prepared, and commented that aspects of the loans financing the film seemed unusual.
He also said he was unable to reconcile the claimed costs with bank statements and invoices provided to him.
Under cross­examination, Mr Lazelle accepted that some of his concerns were irrelevant because the loans had never been advanced.
He also conceded that the close relationship between the investors and the film maker may have influenced loan arrangements.

CULT BEING CUNTS FROM THE GET GO

“Robyn Baikie as first defence witness told of their being approached to rent the property for a group of people who had allergies and wanted to check the property beforehand. The tests conducted were very inconvenient. “They seemed to think they had the run of the place and could ride roughshod over all of us, ” she said.”

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Ti Leaf calls 27 witnesses

13/07/2000 17

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Text: Former Waitaki MP Alec Neill will probably be among 27 witnesses called by Twizel couple Robyn and Lester Baikie as they defend themselves against legal action by Ti Leaf Productions.
Mr Neill was originally named as a defendant in the action, which has now been going for eight days in the High Court at Christchurch. He came to a confidential settlement with Ti Leaf and withdrew from the case, and his apology was read to the court on the fourth day.

As Bruce Squires, QC, made his opening address for the Baikies’ defence yesterday, he was asked by counsel for Ti Leaf (Julian Miles, QC) to specify which of the witnesses that Mr Neill was to call would now be called on behalf of the Baikies.

He named several witnesses and said Mr Neill would “in all probability” be called.
Mr Squires said the Baikies denied there was any breach of contract regarding their confidentiality agreement with Ti Leaf, which had rented their Pukaki Downs property. It was also contested that the Baikies’ actions led to the withdrawal of the financiers of Ti Leaf’s film project, The Lost Prince.

The defence would argue on the defamation claims, that there had been rumours floating around Twizel concerning Ti Leaf’s operations and the bona fides of its filming activities.
The evidence would be that the defendants naturally discussed the rumours because they were concerned that Ti Leaf was renting their property. “But the evidence will be that they were not the instigators of the rumours and any discussion about them arose from their concerns as landlords, ” said Mr Squires. The defences were truth and honest opinion. Robyn Baikie as first defence witness told of their being approached to rent the property for a group of people who had allergies and wanted to check the property beforehand. The tests conducted were very inconvenient. “They seemed to think they had the run of the place and could ride roughshod over all of us, ” she said.

The lease was eventually negotiated so that filming could be done. The Baikies were told pre­production had been completed in Australia.

Notes:

She described Ti Leaf as difficult tenants who continually found things wrong with the house. “We began to feel they were doing everything they could to antagonise us, ” she said.
Rumours soon surfaced, including one that Michael Jackson was on his way, because guitars had been seen in the gear and it was believed Jackson had allergy problems.

Earlier, the court heard from Film New Zealand executive Di Oliver, who said that after a two­day visit to the project in January 1996, she had no doubts that the Ti Leaf movie project was genuine.
She said she had heard complaints from Ti Leaf staff that they had been the victims of racial slurs and had had problems with the landlords. During the visit, she also spoke to the local police and shopkeepers, who did not make any complaints about the film staff.

“On February 3 I spoke to Alec Neill and said I’d spent two days in Twizel, and I’d spoken to the technical personnel, the lead actors, the screenwriter Chris Butler, and that I’d formed the view that it was a genuine film company going about its business in a proper manner, ” she said.

Ms Oliver said Film New Zealand was not a lobbyist for Ti Leaf. Its role, however, was making sure everything ran smoothly and that the overseas crew had a positive experience in New Zealand.
Cross­examined by Mr Squires, Ms Oliver said her travel costs and accommodation had been paid for by Ti Leaf and that the visit was not spontaneous.

The hearing before Justice Panckhurst continues today.

Because Chris Butler of Ti Leaf, who was living at the farm, was allergic to fertiliser and to aircraft flying overhead, it was requested that no aerial topdressing be done. The fertiliser was spread by hand by Ti Leaf staff. “It was a joke, ” said Mrs Baikie.
She said: “We were aware of rumours and did our best to stop them.”
However, she said the company accused them of making unfortunate comments and accusations about the film and its personnel.
She said they were often reduced to tears by aggressive and threatening letters from the company’s lawyer

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