As the morning wears on, clouds thicken over the Karl Holton Camp for juvenile offenders, the sky darkens, the dreary concrete bungalows look even more drab. A chill wind picks up. The television crew pulls jackets tight.
Things look bleak--just as they should. Such gloom is ideal for “Love You to Death,” the four-hour miniseries being filmed here about the bizarre David Brown murder case in Orange County.
“The study of David Brown is a study of evil,” director Robert Markowitz said Monday, two days before shooting was scheduled to finish. Filmed mostly around Los Angeles instead of on actual location and scheduled to air in February on NBC, the Republic Pictures production--an analysis of “darkness and violence,” in Markowitz’s words--essentially follows the story as it unfolded in the press.
In 1985 Brown, a 37-year-old computer entrepreneur in Anaheim Hills, persuaded his devoted 14-year-old daughter, Cinnamon, to kill his fifth wife in her sleep with two shotgun blasts to her chest. While the girl sat mum in prison for nearly four years, Brown lived in opulence off his dead wife’s life insurance. With him was his dead wife’s teen-age sister, whom he persuaded to aid in the murder and then secretly married.
After Cinnamon finally told police what had happened, Brown was sentenced in September in a Santa Ana courtroom to life in prison with no chance of parole for orchestrating the murder of Linda Bailey, 23.
Several screenwriters monitored the trial. But miniseries writer Danielle Hill beat the competition when she saw a news blurb about the case early on and brought the idea to Republic. Rights were obtained and production began, with research based on news clips and audiotapes of testimony. Some of the script’s dialogue is taken directly from the tapes.
The judge who sentenced Brown called him a “master manipulator” more frightening than Charles Manson. But Markowitz, who has directed several TV dramas based on real events, shuns that comparison.
“Love You to Death” (a working title) is not the story of a deranged cult leader who consciously set himself and his followers outside of mainstream society, Markowitz said.
“This is a film really about the American family,” he said. “If you saw these people in Topanga Plaza, you’d never know they were any different from anyone else.
“I think there’s a vein running through American culture which is filled with darkness and violence. We used to refer to (people like Brown) as aberrant. But now, a child a week is being killed or abused by members of their families, children are being shot in their own homes.
“This film is about the black side of the American dream. This is not the Manson family. Yes, there’s an element of brainwashing here. But this was not a cult.”
Long before Cinnamon and Brown’s sixth wife, Patti Bailey, became star witnesses against him, Brown manipulated them by telling them that “all families are like this,” Markowitz said.
Brown preyed on the impressionable girls’ vulnerability, he said. Bailey, who acted with her attorney as an adviser on the film, was the daughter of a single mother raising 11 children; she knew only poverty and family strife. Cinnamon knew no more.
“They watched TV and wanted lots of things, and he got them for them, and he just closed off everything else,” Markowitz said. “They were very obedient kids--they did what he told them to do.
“There’s an enormous amount of that sort of thing going on in this country. Not every family has the potential for murder, but the question this film raises is how did we get here--kids killing one parent under the instruction of another.”
The film does not try to answer the question, Markowitz said. But it does try to “explore the mechanism in which (Brown) was able to manipulate (the two women), and the climate in which he was able to do this horrible and violent deed. Everyone asks the question: ‘How did he get them to do it?’ At the end of the film, you’ll be able to see how.”
To emphasize each character’s average-American quality, producers didn’t cast any big stars, though Sheryl Lee, who plays Patti Bailey, may be recognized from her role as Laura Palmer (and her twin cousin, Maddy) in the “Twin Peaks” TV series.
And none of the principal actors looks deranged, crazed or exceptional in any way. Lee and Moira Kelly, who plays Cinnamon, may wear pained expressions, but each is cleareyed and fresh faced. There’s nothing especially sinister about Clancy Brown, who has slightly crooked teeth and a paunch and who plays David Brown with a ready smile, even as his character perpetuated the twisted deception against his incarcerated daughter to keep himself out of prison.
“There’s nothing normal or healthy about this guy,” Clancy Brown said. Yet, many of the situations in which he is seen--a shopping trip, a rancorous Christmas gathering--are typical.
“Folks on the set come up to me,” the actor said, “and say oh gosh, my dad said that to me, or my mom said that to me.”
To prepare for her role, Lee got to know Bailey, now 22, who like Cinnamon is serving time at California Youth Authority for her part in the crime and who is expected to be paroled.
Lee said she found Bailey to be “a wonderful human being, very caring, very loving.
“People don’t set out being bad. They have deep pain inside. And without David, Patti has grown and learned who she really is. She was 5 or 6 when she met him. She never had a chance to decide what was right or wrong.”