For more than two years, Oscar-nominated documentarian Amy Berg (“Deliver Us From Evil”) has been secretly working with Evan Rachel Wood on a documentary about Wood’s life as an actor and emergence as an activist — while also documenting her decision to come forward to allege that Marilyn Manson had “horrifically abused” her while they were in a relationship.
Though Wood had spoken publicly about her experiences with domestic violence, and in 2019 had created the Phoenix Act, a bill that extends the statute of limitations on domestic violence from three years to five — which passed in California — it wasn’t until Feb. 1, 2021 that she accused Manson as being the perpetrator of that abuse in a post on Instagram.
Manson has denied all wrongdoing, and his representative had no further comment to Variety. But in the aftermath of Wood’s allegations — which opened the floodgates of other Manson accusers — his label, agent, manager and longtime publicist dropped him. Since then, Manson has been the subject of investigations by the Los Angeles Times and Rolling Stone.
In an interview this week, Berg said that Wood — whom she’d known for years through friends — approached her in 2019 about the film that would turn out to be “Phoenix Rising.” At the time, Berg felt that she wasn’t ready to take it on herself, but helped Wood film as she mounted her Phoenix Act campaign in California, and even sought out other potential directors for the documentary. When COVID-19 hit and everything shut down in spring 2020, Berg changed her mind and decided she wanted to helm the project herself.
“It wasn’t about Marilyn Manson, and his whole world,” Berg said of the origins of the project. “This was about an Erin Brockovich story. We were really focused on telling a story about empowerment, something that would offer resources for women and men who are stuck in abusive situations. And that was what we were making — until she decided to name him publicly.”
Berg and Wood — along with, Berg said, “a number of survivors” whom they were filming even before Wood accused Manson — were in production during COVID with a small crew. “It’s a really intimate portrait of Evan, and I had incredible access,” Berg said.
HBO officially signed onto the project in summer 2020. That September, Berg said Wood decided to accuse Manson after his new album came out, and her veiled allegations against him over the years resurfaced. “People started responding on Twitter, standing in support of Evan,” Berg said. They also learned of an FBI investigation into the singer, which other Manson accusers have also cited — though it’s never been officially confirmed, Berg claims that it’s ongoing.
Part 1 of the documentary ends during that time, with Part 2 — which Berg is still working on — focusing on Wood’s decision to come forward and the aftermath of that choice.
“Naming Manson obviously created a lot more story for us. It became a two-part film in the edit bay,” Berg said.
“Phoenix Rising” is a full portrait of Wood, delving into her family life and her career beginnings as a child actor — “and how she was forced into adulthood from such young age — like ‘Thirteen,’ and those roles,” Berg said.
“She’s so candid with us,” Berg said. “And it’s very personal.”