11:16 AM PDT, June 3, 2022
During a scene in his final movie, the late Disney star Cameron Boyce was “coerced” into kissing his then-underage costar by her parents, who financed the film, according to allegations made by the film’s director in a new civil court filing.
“Runt” director William Coakley filed the complaint seeking a declaratory judgment against Harvey Berger, a retired pharmaceutical executive, and his wife Chrysanthi Berger, along with Virtuoso 2, Inc.
According to the complaint, the Bergers used the corporation as a “vehicle to finance and produce films where their daughter Nicole Berger appears,” including “Runt,” an indie thriller mainly shot in 2018.
Nicole Berger was 14 and Boyce was 19 during the film’s production.
Boyce rose to fame as a child actor in various Disney projects, including the “Descendants” franchise. He died of an epileptic seizure in July 2019, while the film was still in post-production.
“Toxic and hostile work environment”
In the complaint filed May 18 in New York County Supreme Court, Coakley alleges that the Berger parents created a “toxic and hostile work environment” on set.
Among these claims is that Chrysanthi Berger made inappropriate comments and used offensive slurs about several adult female crew members who were friendly with Boyce on set.
“Chrysanthi Berger openly alleged sexual relationships between Mr. Boyce and other adult female crew members,” the filing said.
On several occasions, Chrysanthi also threatened to fire these female crew members, Coakley alleges in the filing, but he claims “the promise of crew walkouts and union action” protected them.
When the female crew members and Boyce complained to the film’s producers, “their concerns were ignored and dismissed,” Coakley alleges.
Coakley also claims in the filing that Boyce “confided” in him that these actions were causing him “enormous distress and forcing him to stay away” from the crew members in an effort to protect them.
“These threats of and attempts at termination, offensive slurs and insults, and false sexual allegations created an extremely fearful, toxic and hostile work environment during the film’s production,” the filing alleges.
Cameron Boyce’s alleged concerns and the kissing scene
Early on, Boyce complained to Coakley that he had not been informed his “Runt” co-star was 14 years old before accepting the role and expressed concerns about performing “sexual and violent scenes with a minor,” Coakley alleges in the filing.
In one such scene, the character played by Nicole Berger is sexually assaulted.
Coakley alleges that Boyce told him not knowing Nicole’s age beforehand was “a calculated omission on the part of [Harvey and Chrysanthi Berger] and the film’s producers to convince him to partake in the film without complete and accurate information.”
The director claims that when Boyce tried to distance himself from Nicole on set, Chrysanthi Berger “took it upon herself to interfere and manipulate Mr. Boyce’s activities and whereabouts on set in order to force him to interact with Nicole.”
Coakley also alleges that Harvey and Chysanthi “pressured Mr. Boyce’s representatives to insist that he use his social media platforms to promote the film, and specifically Nicole Berger, to his millions of followers.”
This became disruptive to the entire production and visibly upset Boyce, according to the filing.
After a few weeks of shooting, it was time to film the scene that was written to include a mouth-to-mouth kiss between Nicole and Cameron, whose characters played friends in the film, the filing said.
Boyce shared “profound concerns” with Coakley about having to kiss Nicole, Coakley alleges.
“Mr. Boyce made clear his position that he did not want to film a scene where he had to give a 14-year old minor a mouth-to-mouth kiss, pointedly explaining that he felt kissing Nicole on film was morally wrong and would leave him open to allegations of sexual misconduct,” the filing said.
Coakley says in the filing that he agreed with Boyce and changed the kiss to a hug between the actors at the last minute.
Immediately after the scene was filmed with the hug, Nicole’s parents demanded they reshoot the scene, halting production until they did so, according to Coakley.
Coakley alleges that Chrysanthi said it was to be Nicole’s first real-life mouth-to-mouth kiss, she had been preparing it for months and was distraught she did not get her chance to kiss Boyce on screen.
Nicole Berger, now 18, did not respond to Inside Edition Digital’s request for comment.
Coakley claims that he explained Boyce’s objections to Chrysanthi and refused her demands to reshoot the scene.
Then, Harvey Berger confronted Coakley, the director alleges, dismissing Boyce’s concerns and “forcefully making the same demand as his wife that the scene be immediately reshot,” according to the filing.
At that point, the film’s producers got involved and announced that “production would not move forward” until the scene was reshot to include the kiss, Coakley alleges.
Boyce “was visibly and vocally angry,” but still went forward with the reshoot, because he did not want to be the one responsible for shutting down the production, despite his “moral and personal objections,” Coakley alleges.
“The kiss scene being forced upon Mr. Boyce was the last straw in an arduous battle with the defendants and resulted in Mr. Boyce’s refusal to participate in the film’s wrap party so as to avoid defendants and their daughter moving forward,” the filing said.
Problems during post-production
Coakely claims both he and Boyce agreed the film required “significant additional weeks of production” in order to complete and fix the film.
“Editing of the film revealed the unfinished production had resulted in more than just creative failures, but a dangerously unethical message profoundly at odds with the script all parties had agreed to make,” the filing said.
However, in Feb. 2019, these “necessary” reshoots were postponed until distribution of the film could be acquired, Coakley alleges.
After Boyce’s death that summer, the Bergers said they were prepared to release the film despite Coakley’s objections, so Coakley requested his name removed from the film — saying it was his “contractual right” to do so, the director alleges in the filing.
“Runt” premiered at the Mammoth Film Festival in February 2020 and won an award.
The request to remove Coakley’s name from the project was denied, Coakley alleges, so he informed the defendants he would be releasing a director’s statement in order to defend his reputation.
In the complaint, Coakley claims that, in an effort to prevent him from making such a statement, he “entered negotiations” with the Berger parents in April 2021 for around four months, but no agreement was reached.
Harvey Berger allegedly warned Coakley that he could “sue him at any time” and keep Coakley “tied up in court years beyond that,” the filing claims.
Coakley posted the statement to Instagram in September 2021, but did not include the Bergers’ names and, he says, left out many specific details.
The film was eventually acquired by 1091 Pictures and released last October.
Coakley, who also co-wrote the movie, says in the filing that he signed a nondisclosure agreement in May 2018 with Virtuoso 2, Inc., with the purpose of protecting the financiers’ identities.
Coakley claims they have threatened him with a lawsuit for making the allegations in the director’s statement public. He also says in the complaint that the alleged threats have circulated among producers who would like to work with him, but have “expressed reluctance” until the matter is resolved.
In the filing, Coakley says he is seeking a ruling on whether or not the NDA prevents him from going public with the allegations or reporting them to the authorities.
Harvey and Chrysanthi Berger and their lawyers, as well as the film’s producers, did not respond to Inside Edition Digital’s requests for comment.