Filmmakers Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady have never helmed their own docuseries before, but that all changed with “Love Fraud,” a four-part project for Showtime that follows a few of the women who were in relationships with, and robbed by, polygamist Richard Scott Smith. What made the difference, Ewing tells Variety, is that it was a story of “real crime in real time.”
Instead of picking up interest in a cold case or basing a series off a well-known article, the duo found a blog that detailed women’s experiences with Smith and they decided they wanted to get involved. But they didn’t just want these women to recount their stories; they wanted to help them (with an assist from a bounty hunter named Carla) go after the fugitive Smith — to try to finally see him brought to justice.
“It’s so risky because you can’t guarantee your financier, your network, your editor, yourself you’re going to have a satisfying ending,” Ewing admits. But, “that, for us, is the thrill.”
The women featured in “Love Fraud” all had deep, intimate, first-person relationships with Smith that they share went south by way of him taking large sums of money from them, ruining their credit, and in some cases, getting violent. They came together through the internet and formed a community with the goal of not only supporting each other, but also trying to take him down so no other women would get hurt.
When Ewing and Grady showed up, cameras in tow, they were the “outsiders,” Ewing notes, but that did not mean they had to win the women over to tell their stories in any special way.
“They were ready to go. They were pissed off,” Grady recalls. “On top of law enforcement already dismissing them, which is horrible, also sometimes their kids and families had really been victim-blaming. I think they were like, ‘F— this, I didn’t do anything wrong. He’s the one who did something wrong.'”
“Love Fraud” is one-part a look back on the women’s relationships with Smith and one part a chase (sometimes literally) to get him arrested. In addition to bringing cameras, Ewing and Grady “brought the resources of Showtime,” which included the ability to hire a private investigator and devote their full time to the women’s cause.
In telling the story this way, Ewing and Grady were not only exposing one man’s lies, manipulation and criminal actions but the failings of the larger justice system that allowed him to continue, even as women reported him to the proper authorities.
Even just weeks before “Love Fraud” was set to premiere, the filmmakers say they heard from a woman who had been living with Smith, saw the trailer for the show and promptly moved out.
“People were really tracking the disparity between the crime and the punishment and we had an opportunity to really highlight that crimes against women are not taken as seriously as they are against men,” Ewing says. “That was definitely something we wanted to make sure we didn’t miss and it was thematically woven throughout because all of the women felt really frustrated and so did the bounty hunter who’s been working for 40 years. It wasn’t even a question that they were getting the short end of the stick.”
“He’s been doing this for 25 years and he never really even had a slap on the wrist, so I think it’s pretty intrinsic as part of the story that no one gave a s—,” adds Ewing. “We were in the car and feeling like, ‘Oh my God, he’s going to get away with it again’ so that just added to the tension of it.”
It also added to the risk they were taking: The way the women featured, and the audience watching, feel about the docuseries will likely be entangled with whether or not they were successful in catching Smith in the end.
“We had to decide why we were doing this [and] if we don’t catch this guy is this going to still be pleasurable to watch or be really frustrating for an audience?” Grady says. “We felt we had enough meat on the bone that it could have any outcome and still be good.”
And in the end what matters the most is that the women receive closure. More women may come forward after seeing the show, Ewing notes, but of the ones she and Grady worked with, she says, “They’ve moved on, and they should move on.”
“Love Fraud” premieres Aug. 30 on Showtime.