How a Registered Sex Offender Thrived in Hollywood

Kate Aurthur
·18-min read

Adam Kimmel is the cinematographer of such acclaimed films as “Beautiful Girls,” “Capote” and “Never Let Me Go.” He is a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and the American Society of Cinematographers, two esteemed organizations. He’s shot short films directed by Natalie Portman and Scarlett Johansson. He’s a prolific director of photography of commercials, including for Nike and Toyota, and a cinematographer on the recent Leonardo DiCaprio racing documentary “And We Go Green.”

One thing you won’t glean from the list of Kimmel’s impressive credits on his IMDb page: He’s a registered sex offender. Kimmel was arrested and charged twice for sexual crimes against underage girls, once in 2003 and again in 2010.

The first charge — when Kimmel was 43 — involved sex with an underage girl in New York City. According to the criminal complaint obtained by Variety from the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, Kimmel had vaginal intercourse with the girl five or more times from Aug. 610, 2003, when she was 15, and another five or more times between Aug. 31 and Sept. 3, 2003, at the same Manhattan address, after she turned 16. In New York, the age of consent is 17. (According to the complaint, the girl also “had sexual intercourse with defendant when she was 15 in the state of Arkansas.”)

Kimmel was arrested in New York City in November 2003, and pleaded guilty to rape in the third degree in February 2004. Two months later, he was sentenced to 10 days of community service, 10 years of probation and 10 years on the sex offender registry (it was changed to 20 years retroactively in 2006 because of a statewide change to the law).

But after Kimmel’s conviction, he didn’t miss a step professionally. In fact, his career hit new heights. Kimmel’s story reveals how little vetting there is on sets in Hollywood — and at legacy institutions as well.

In response to a detailed email from Variety about this story, Kimmel at first engaged an attorney, and then sent a response himself, which is quoted throughout the article.

He acknowledged the 2003 charges and his guilty plea, characterizing what he did as “consensual sex with someone under the legal age of consent.” He writes: “By accepting this responsibility and the repercussions that followed, I was able to process this experience with an understanding and perspective that will be with me for the rest of my life.”

While on probation, I adhered to all the requirements issued by the court and tried to resume my work and life,” Kimmel continues. “It’s important to say that there were never any restrictions or limitations placed on me that affected my ability to travel or work, and there has never been a single issue or problem in my professional life resulting from this issue.”

Accepting responsibility did not include disclosing his felony rape conviction, it appears. Kimmel was convicted as a Level 1 sex offender, the lowest of three risk levels in New York state: “I was told that as a Level 1 registrant, my inclusion on the registry would not be made public,” he writes.

And so he acted accordingly: Every former colleague of Kimmel’s who responded on the record to Variety said he never told them about his criminal record. And if they had known about it, they wouldn’t have worked with him, they say. But should there have been ways to learn in advance what he had done?

A lack of scrutiny — and any meaningful policy or practices around standards of conduct — might explain how Kimmel could become a voting member of the Academy and a member of the ASC in the years after he joined the sex offender registry in 2004. According to various public biographies, he was invited to join the Academy in 2007 and the ASC in 2008 or 2009.

Through a representative, ASC president Stephen Lighthill told Variety that the organization serves to “promote artistic and scientific excellence” among cinematographers. Regarding Kimmel’s membership, Lighthill sidestepped: “The Society has a Code of Conduct which it expects all its members to adhere to. It is the Society’s policy not to provide comments about the private lives of the organization’s members.”

The Academy also issued a statement to Variety about Kimmel’s membership: “The Academy has a stated policy against abusive and indecent behavior, and takes all matters involving harassment, assault or misconduct very seriously. The current membership selection process is based on an honor system that relies on the integrity of prospective members, their sponsors, and branch committee members to disclose any disqualifying information. The Academy is reviewing the situation in accordance with its bylaws and will continue to examine its member selection process regularly to ensure that it accurately reflects Academy values.

That statement confirms that the Academy does not conduct outside audits of potential members, which certainly benefited Kimmel — he has thrived thanks to the word-of-mouth nature of Hollywood. Before his 2004 conviction, Kimmel shot such notable movies as “The Ref” (1994) and “Jesus’ Son” (1999), having established himself with music videos for LL Cool J (“Going Back to Cali”) and Bruce Springsteen (“Streets of Philadelphia”). He was a trusted cinematographer who shot beautiful images, and he remains a member in good standing in the International Cinematographers Guild and the Directors Guild of America. “Local 600 is a trade union dedicated to improving the lives of working families,” an ICG spokesperson told Variety. “We have a code of conduct applicable to all members. We will not be commenting further on this particular situation.” (The spokesperson for the DGA did not respond to multiple requests to comment.)

Without any systems in place to reveal to potential employers his 2004 rape conviction and entry into the sex offender registry, an unchecked Kimmel got job after job, and was invited to join the Academy and the ASC based on his work.

Only months after his conviction, in the fall of 2004, Kimmel shot Bennett Miller’s “Capote,” and received an Independent Spirit Award nomination for his cinematography. (He also appeared in the film, playing Richard Avedon.) The year after the movie’s 2005 release, he was the cinematographer for Miller’s 2006 music video for Bob Dylan’s “When the Deal Goes Down,” which starred Scarlett Johansson. Through his agency, CAA, Miller did not respond to a list of questions about his working relationship with Kimmel, and declined to comment.

Subsequent collaborators, however, did respond to Variety’s inquiries about Kimmel. Craig Gillespie worked with him on commercials, then hired him to shoot his 2007 film “Lars and the Real Girl,” starring Ryan Gosling. The two also worked together on several ads after “Lars.” “I did not know, and when I became aware, I never worked with him again,” Gillespie said through his publicist.

Kimmel’s next movie was 2008’s “Rudo y Cursi,” a Focus Features film directed by Carlos Cuarón and starring Gael García Bernal and Diego Luna. “I knew nothing about his real or alleged criminal offenses when we did ‘Rudo y Cursi,’” Cuarón wrote in an email. “I got to know about them probably a couple of years later when a friend sent me a newspaper clip reporting similar behavior,” referring to allegations that were reported in 2010.

Between 2008 and 2010, Kimmel was also an in-demand DP for several shorts, including “Eve” (2008), written and directed by Natalie Portman, and “These Vagabond Shoes” (2009), which was written and directed by Johansson, and was designed to be included in the anthology film “New York, I Love You.” (It was ultimately cut from the film’s feature release.) In 2010, Kimmel shot the Spike Jonze short “I’m Here,” which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival. Through representatives, Portman, Johansson and Jonze declined to comment.

That year, with his career flourishing, Kimmel was nominated for a second Independent Spirit Award for best cinematography for Mark Romanek’s “Never Let Me Go.

What seems remarkable is that the nomination occurred after he’d had his second run-in with the law for allegations involving an underage girl.

Salisbury is a colonial town in the upper northwest corner of Connecticut, near the borders of both Massachusetts and New York state — the Appalachian trail winds its way through Salisbury on its way to the Berkshires to the north. It was there, according to press reports from the time of the 2010 charges, that Kimmel, then 49, met a 15-year-old girl and her mother outside of a post office in September 2009 — and he and the girl began corresponding. He was arrested on April 23, 2010, and charged with fourth-degree sexual assault, two counts of risk of injury and failing to register as a sex offender in Connecticut.

A May 2010 story in a Connecticut paper, The Register Citizen, detailed the contents of an unsealed warrant for Kimmel’s arrest the previous month.

According to The Register Citizen’s account of the warrant’s allegations, after initially withholding information from the police and destroying several emails between her and Kimmel, the girl told local police that, in December 2009, “Kimmel touched her sexually under her clothes at his house, and later kissed her good-bye in his car. The girl said there were also occasions of ‘French kissing.’ At one point the girl claimed in a diary entry that Kimmel tried to end the relationship. On Jan. 20, shortly after the alleged sexual touching in December, she wrote in her diary, ‘he’s sorry he kissed me and said it’s over and I’ll never understand.’”

After his arrest, Kimmel also faced illegal weapons charges: When the police searched his home in response to the sexual assault complaint, they found — according to The Register Citizen — “a rifle, fireworks and illegal explosives,” including “137 rounds of .22 magnum caliber ammunition in his room, the warrant stated.” Kimmel told police that the rifle was his father’s, and the fireworks had been given to him by a friend and he had wanted to “safely destroy” them.

In records provided by a public information officer for Connecticut courts, Kimmel pleaded guilty to illegal possession of fireworks in June 2011 — a misdemeanor — and in October of that year was sentenced to 30 days in jail for the offense. On the more serious charge of failing to register as a sex offender, he was convicted of a Class D felony and was given a sentence of five years in prison, which was reduced to 120 days with five years of probation. No mention is made in the records provided to Variety of the other charges; in a statement to Variety, Kimmel says that they were dismissed, and a story in The Litchfield County Times also says they were dropped.

According to the paper’s account of Kimmel’s court appearance, the prosecutor read a letter from the girl that stated she’d had “a crush on Kimmel, saying she thought he and his work were exciting, but that she was sickened when she learned of his status as a sex offender.” The prosecutor also “read several emails sent from Kimmel to the complainant, saying he referenced multiple movies that involve teenage girls being involved with older men.”

Kimmel’s defense, according to the report, was that he “continued the email correspondence because he did not want to hurt the girl’s feelings, and that he wanted to get together in person to explain to her why they could not be together.” His father, a longtime friend of Kimmel’s, and Kimmel’s “female partner of five years” spoke on Kimmel’s behalf, which the judge said “contributed to his decision not to give [Kimmel] a harsher sentence.”

When asked to respond to these allegations, Kimmel downplays them in his statement. “While in Connecticut in 2010, I was arrested on a series of very serious and salacious charges that were splashed all over the local newspapers and beyond,” he writes. “After an 18-month investigation, the State’s Attorney dismissed all of those charges and the record was sealed. This was not featured in the same newspapers.”

Kimmel says that he had been advised by a lawyer after the 2003 charges that he did not have to register as a sex offender in Connecticut, but that, “Despite my diligence, the judge felt that I had violated Connecticut’s laws regarding registration.”

He acknowledged pleading guilty to the fireworks charges, and denies any wrongdoing with the underage girl: “Let me be clear, this was not a plea bargain to dismiss the other charges. The other charges were dismissed by the State because there was absolutely no evidence to support them. Unequivocally, I was innocent of those charges. Given that they were dismissed by the State and the record was sealed, it is unreasonable to ask me to prove that something did not occur.”

“There are things that I have done that I deeply regret, and I’ve accepted responsibility for them in Courts of law and paid my debt to society,” Kimmel concludes on the topic.

He was supposed to begin shooting his next movie with Miller — “Moneyball” — in summer 2010, but that did not happen. Yet neither Kimmel’s arrest nor his loss of the “Moneyball” job would affect the 2010 awards season release of “Never Let Me Go.” The Romanek film — which was shot in England, was based on the 2005 novel by Kazuo Ishiguro, and starred Carey Mulligan, Keira Knightley and Andrew Garfield — premiered at the Telluride Film Festival, then went on to the Toronto International Film Festival. Released by Fox Searchlight, it drew praise from critics but flatlined at the box office.

As perhaps a sign of those times — and strikingly different from what would happen today — Kimmel’s conspicuous legal problems do not appear to have come up during the “Never Let Me Go” press tour. Without any publicity about Kimmel’s legal trouble, the path was clear for his second Spirit Award nomination. A spokesperson for Film Independent — which runs the Spirit Awards — said the organization had no comment, other than that “Adam Kimmel is not, nor has he ever been, a Film Independent member.” (Kimmel lost to Matthew Libatíque for “Black Swan.”)

“We had no idea of Kimmel’s legal history, and he lied on his work visa form,” said the filmmakers for “Never Let Me Go,” in a statement issued by CAA, Romanek’s agency. “Of course, none of us would’ve considered hiring him if we had any inkling of this issue. We were made aware well after completion of the film, and were shocked and distressed. The producers promptly contacted the parents and/or guardians of all the underage actors who appeared in the film to alert them to this issue, and to make sure there were no unreported problems.”

Kimmel denies lying the visa application: “When I was hired on the film in the U.K., I had already shot three feature films and many commercials outside of the U.S. between 2004-2009 and had always answered all work visa questions honestly, so I had no reason to suddenly be untruthful on this application. If a question regarding criminal history was answered incorrectly, it was unintentional. It should be considered that the process of obtaining the work permit was incredibly rushed, and occurred on a single day in NY when I returned from a job out of the country, and had to travel that same evening to the U.K. to begin the film.”

After “Never Let Me Go,” and even having lost “Moneyball,” Kimmel continued to work with Miller, serving as the second unit DP on his 2014 film “Foxcatcher.” Aside from that, Kimmel’s feature film career ebbed. The only feature film on which he has been the solo DP since then is Sony Pictures Classics’ 2017 “Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White House,” which was directed by Peter Landesman and starred Liam Neeson. Through a representative, Landesman declined to comment.

But away from movie sets, Kimmel’s career didn’t suffer: He is a go-to cinematographer for high-end ad campaigns, shooting commercials that have starred Jeff Bridges, Antonio Banderas and Casey Affleck. On his website, he’s separated out the copious car commercials he’s shot — for Audi, Porsche, Toyota and many more — from his other advertising work. In 2015, he and Miller worked together on a series of charming Quilted Northern commercials that humanized objects in a bathroom in various states of moroseness and yearning. He shot the famed 2014 Nike “Together” ad (celebrating LeBron James’ return to Cleveland), Budweiser’s “Hero’s Welcome” ad for the 2014 Super Bowl and the “Humpty Dumpty” Super Bowl spots in 2017.

Along with shooting several music videos, Kimmel was the cinematographer on Colin Quinn’s Off Broadway show “Colin Quinn: Red State Blue State,” which aired on CNN in May 2019. Through a spokesperson, Quinn said: “I’m disgusted by this. Of course, I would never have let him be hired if I knew anything about this.

Kimmel was one of seven cinematographers on the DiCaprio-produced documentary “And We Go Green,” about the Formula E circuit (Formula One racing but with electric cars). The doc, directed by Malcolm Venville and Fisher Stevens — the Oscar-winning director of “The Cove” — premiered at the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival and sold to Hulu, premiering in June of this year. Through a representative, Stevens said: “I was upset to learn about this conviction, and had no knowledge of it. Had we known about it ahead of our shoot, we absolutely would not have moved forward with his participation. This was a learning experience, and I will not work with him in the future.

As for future film projects, Kimmel’s résumé — as posted on the website of his agency, Murtha Skouras — says he’s shooting an untitled Bennett Miller documentary.

Kimmel also continues to be a “renowned Cinematographer” among his peers — that’s how he was described in a (recently taken down) press release issued in February, when he was a keynote speaker at an International Cinematographers Guild event, during which there was a “energetic Q&A session.” The previous month, Kimmel was invited by Professor Dejan Georgevich — who is the national vice president of the ICG — to give a talk to students at the School of Visual Arts in New York City. (Georgevich did not respond to multiple emails requesting comment about bringing Kimmel into his classroom.)

His memberships in elite organizations have kept Kimmel in high regard. Yet if reality shows now scour the backgrounds of potential cast members not only for crimes but for past missteps on social media, surely these organizations should care that they have someone on the national sex offender registry among their ranks.

Before Harvey Weinstein was expelled from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences on Oct. 14, 2017, after his sexual crimes first came to light, only one person had previously been kicked out of AMPAS: In 2004, character actor Carmine Caridi was ousted for loaning out For Your Consideration VHS tapes that ended up on the internet. The Academy established its first Code of Conduct in the wake of the Weinstein tsunami. At the time — the whirlwind early days of the global reckoning on sexual harassment and assault that led to a resurgent #MeToo movement, the establishment of Time’s Up and actual systemic change — the Academy’s board wanted to underline the organization’s values. The Academy’s code states, “There is no place in the Academy for people who abuse their status, power or influence in a manner that violates recognized standards of decency.”

With the code in place, Bill Cosby and Roman Polanski were ejected in May 2018 “in accordance with the organization’s Standards of Conduct.” Polanski, who pleaded guilty to unlawful sexual intercourse with a 13-year-old girl in 1978 and then fled the United States, lost his bid for reinstatement in August; his attorney said he probably wouldn’t appeal. “It means nothing to him,” Harland Braun told Variety at the time. “It’s the idea he’s being thrown out without any due process.”

Yes, there certainly should be processes for employment in Hollywood, and for memberships in its institutions. Standard job applications require potential employees to reveal their criminal histories; some companies require background checks. No such guidelines are in place for people desiring high-level jobs in production. It would be one thing if someone were aware of Kimmel’s criminal record and chose to employ him — but anyone who does so would presumably take appropriate steps to address that they’re also making that choice for everyone else involved in the production.

“People do make mistakes, and when they do, the honorable and right way forward is to take responsibility, learn the lessons, bear the consequences and carry on with a greater understanding and perspective,” Kimmel writes. “I believe I have done this, and it’s my deepest wish that I can continue to be a part of this inspiring and creative community that I have devoted my life to.”

His wish seems to have been granted. In their responses to Variety about Kimmel being a member of their organizations, the Academy, the A.S.C. and the ICG all cite guidelines for conduct — but somehow don’t elaborate on how those principles apply to the specifics of including a registered sex offender.

The honor system, as the Academy calls it, doesn’t appear to be working. In order for it to be effective, Kimmel would have needed to report himself.

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