Doc Star of the Month: Carla the Bounty Hunter, 'Love Fraud'
The first time an episodic series was programmed on opening day of the Sundance Film Festival happened a lifetime ago—i.e., just this past January. And the series to be awarded the unusual distinction was similarly unconventional. Love Fraud is unsurprisingly well-crafted, considering that the Oscar-nominated duo of Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady (Jesus Camp; Norman Lear: Just Another Version of You) are the filmmakers behind this four-part docuseries premiering August 30 on Showtime. The series takes an often noirish approach to the inspired feminist takedown of the truly bizarre Richard Scott Smith. An identity-thieving bigamist who spent a whopping two decades conning lovelorn, mostly middle-class women out of their money and sense of self-worth, Smith is transformed from dating-site predator to targeted prey when the ladies he duped join forces to find, capture and ultimately bring the pathological fraudster to justice.
And zealously leading the chase is one no-nonsense, tough-as-nails chick—who has never even met Smith. Indeed, the filmmaking team’s secret weapon, a scene-stealing bounty hunter named Carla, is every bit as determined to put a stop to Smith’s heartbreaking and bank account-draining as any of his actual victims. Which is why Documentary is excited to spotlight this uncompromising, unorthodox victim’s advocate as our August Doc Star of the Month.
DOCUMENTARY: When the filmmakers first approached you, did you have any reservations about appearing onscreen?
CARLA: Yes, of course I had reservations because that’s just the business I’m in. I always second-guess everything.
D: So what convinced you to participate?
C: The reason I went ahead and did it was because of the ladies. I just liked their story. I didn’t "like" their story, but it touched me, you know? Guys like that should be hung up by their hoo-haas, stripped of all skin, and left there to rot. So that was kind of my feeling on it all. I had to help these ladies get this guy because they didn’t deserve what they got.
D: I think a lot of folks might only be familiar with your profession through something like the Dog the Bounty Hunter franchise. So what do the media depictions get wrong (or right) about your job?
C: Well, we’re not Dog the Bounty Hunter. We don’t do anything like Dog the Bounty Hunter. That’s a reality show. And when we do our job, it’s real. It’s not pre-set, it’s not made up, it’s not retakes, it’s not re-dos. It’s hands-on, one-take, one-do, we’re done. Dog is just really a lot of fake crap going on there and with us—Dog carries a five-gallon bucket of pepper spray; we carry guns and tasers. There’s a huge difference between us and them.
D: Does the spotlight effect how you’re able to do your work?
C: No, because like I told Heidi and Rachel, "You guys just step back, stay out of our way and let us do our job, and everything will be good." I don’t care who’s around me. I just need to know that they stay out of the line of fire.
D: I believe the filmmakers hired you to track down Richard Scott Smith, but I’m guessing they didn’t pay for your participation in the film. What exactly was that arrangement?
C: I did it pro bono because I felt like that was the right thing to do. Why would I charge these women, who have already been stripped of everything, including their dignity? Their finances were screwed too. So why would I charge women who have already been through hell and back? I did it just really and truly out of the goodness of my heart. It’s the only reason I did it, just to help these women.
D: So did you set any ground rules for what could and could not be filmed? Were you ever concerned that having a camera along for the ride might disrupt the hunt?
C: Heidi and Rachel could film anything they wanted to film, but I shut them down when it came to disclosing the name of our company, our phone numbers. I didn’t shut them down a lot. There were no ground rules beyond that.
Everybody was adults, and everybody had jobs to do, and I said, “Everybody do your job and don’t use the name of our company, don’t use our phone number. I don’t want that on TV.” And everything else was fair game. My only rule would have been, “Keep your ass in the truck and don’t interfere with what I am doing.”
D: What are your hopes for the docuseries now that it’ll be seen nationwide? Do you anticipate an uptick in business?
C: I don’t anticipate an uptick in our business. People go to jail every day, and people get out every day, and we just do what we do. I hope that we’ll get some more justice. I hope that people will come forward and bring him down to his knees. I’m hoping that this comes out and more women are warned about him. That’s all I want. I want these girls to get justice, and I want the future girls out there not to have to deal with him.
Lauren Wissot is a film critic and journalist, filmmaker and programmer, and a contributing editor at both Filmmaker magazine and Documentary magazine. She's served as the director of programming at the Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival and the Santa Fe Independent Film Festival, and has written for Salon, Bitch, The Rumpus and Hammer to Nail.