Rival Documentary Crews in Beef Over Gang Member’s Life Rights

Rival Documentary Crews in Beef Over
License to Operate, via Omelet

Alfred Lomas is a former member of Los Angeles’ Florencia 13 gang who has since devoted his life to making peace between rival gangs.

But his story has proved so compelling that now two rival documentary crews are fighting for the right to tell it on screen.

Lomas makes an appearance in “License to Operate,” a documentary on L.A. gang intervention workers that was set to air in January on the Viceland channel. But shortly before the air date, Vice Media got a cease-and-desist letter from Nikki Hevesy, a documentary producer who claimed to have the exclusive right to Lomas’ life story. Viceland canceled the broadcast, and it’s unclear when or if the doc will air.

Hevesy owns Through the Glass Productions, which states on its website that it is seeking partners and financing for “A Violence Disrupted,” a documentary on L.A. gang intervention.

“License to Operate” was directed by James Lipetzky and produced by Omelet, an L.A.-based creative agency. The doc debuted at the Seattle International Film Festival in 2015, and has since been available for streaming on iTunes and Amazon.

According to a federal lawsuit filed by Omelet on Wednesday, Hevesy has repeatedly contacted media companies, festivals and broadcasters to try to prevent the distribution of “License to Operate.”

“She’s jealous,” said attorney Perry Wander, who filed the suit. “She’s upset she wasn’t the one that did it and she keeps giving the screws to my client.”

Hevesy did not return a call and email seeking comment. According to the suit, Hevesy signed the life rights agreement with Lomas in 2008. Wander said he had spoken with Lomas about the agreement, and Lomas said he was strung out on drugs and staying in rehab at the time of the agreement. In the suit, Wander contends that the contract was “severely single-sided,” and did not guarantee payment to Lomas.

Lomas later told Hevesy he wanted to rescind the deal, the lawsuit states. To date, Lomas has not been paid and Hevesy has not produced the documentary, according to the suit.

The Through the Glass website touts Hevesy’s involvement in generating media attention for L.A. Gang Tours, a controversial project Lomas organized in 2009. Lomas and other former gang members charged $65 apiece for a tour of notable gang locales in South L.A.

Lomas has also promoted “License to Operate,” which was produced in 2013, on his social media accounts. In its lawsuit, Omelet contends that Hevesy’s efforts have interfered with its ability to distribute the film.

“The narrative and accounts in ‘License to Operate’ are those of a community, not an individual,” the suit states. “The story chronicled in the film was gleaned from the public domain, as well as scores of interviews with former gang members.”

Wander said that Hevesy has threatened to sue several times over the years, but the cancellation of the Viceland premiere was “the last straw.”

“She is a thorn in their side that needs to be removed forever,” Wander said. “The lawyer she’s going to have to retain after I’m done with her is a bankruptcy lawyer, not an entertainment lawyer.”

Update, Jan. 16, 2018: Omelet and Through the Glass have settled their litigation, the parties announced. The settlement followed a 16-hour mediation that resulted in “ceasefire,” and both parties are now free to pursue their respective projects.

“Metaphorically speaking, they were sold a car I already had the title to, but despite challenges in dealing with any particular individual, the stories should be told,” Hevesy said in a statement. “The people involved in gang prevention and intervention work in Los Angeles are all striving to raise awareness, save lives, bring people out of the gang culture, and put an end to the cycle of gang violence and endless retaliations.”

Don Kurz, CEO of Omelet, said, “Our country needs these inspirational stories during polarizing times and these films should foster hope and dialogue among citizens from across the political spectrum.”