In the opening minutes of her new Netflix documentary, Britney vs Spears, filmmaker Erin Lee Carr reveals the initial intentions of the project. “Two years ago, I began making a movie about Britney Spears with Jenny Eliscu,” she states of her colleague, the journalist, radio host and onetime Rolling Stone contributing editor. “The movie was going to be about her artistry and her media portrayal, and can someone say wow to those dance moves? But the story was also about power and control, full of conspiracy and rumors. No one would talk. Until they did.”
At this stage in the swirl surrounding Britney’s life and conservatorship — a moment that has delivered a bottleneck of projects from The New York Times Presents: Controlling Britney Spears on FX and Hulu to CNN’s Toxic: Britney Spears’ Battle for Freedom on the eve of a pivotal court hearing — finding out who is talking now and what new information they have to offer has become a spectator sport. When Netflix announced the doc last week, it promised “a thorough portrait of the pop star’s trajectory from girl next door to woman trapped by fame and family and her own legal status,” as well as the reveal of confidential documents, texts, a voicemail and new interviews with key players.
Now that Britney vs Spears has debuted on the streamer, it can be said that the 90-minute doc delivers on all of the above. Carr and Eliscu pore over petitions, letters and medical information, detail text messages allegedly sent by the singer, and interview the likes of onetime Britney confidantes Sam Lutfi, Adnan Ghalib and Felicia Culotta. In addition, the film features writer Lorilee Craker, who teamed with Britney’s mother Lynne Spears on her memoir Through the Storm; attorney Adam Streisand, who Britney once tried to hire during her conservatorship; geriatric psychiatrist Dr. James Edward Spar, who may or may not have evaluated Britney; attorney Mark Vincent Kaplan, who represents Britney’s ex-husband Kevin Federline; former backup dancer Tania Baron; probate conservatorship attorney Tony Chicotel; Britney’s onetime business manager Howard Grossman; private investigator John Nazarian, who was hired by Britney’s legal team in 2007; and cinematographer-turned-close friend Andrew Gallery who worked alongside the pop star on MTV’s For the Record.
Below are some of the biggest bombshells in Britney vs Spears based on what the sources said, what the documents reveal and what Carr uncovers about the conservatorship.
Britney vs Spears Executive Producer Jenny Eliscu Tried to Help Britney Secure New Attorney in 2009
In addition to helping Carr investigate the conservatorship for the purposes of the documentary, Eliscu also was a key player in a covert operation to help Britney secure a new lawyer in 2009, only a year into the now 13-year conservatorship. Though the mission ultimately failed, it is significant in that it shows, again, just how early in the conservatorship Britney sought to free herself from the restrictive arrangement that, in large part, has been steered by her father, Jamie Spears.
Eliscu had a prior relationship with the pop superstar after having profiled her for two Rolling Stone covers that arrived at vastly different times in her career. The first came in 2001 when Britney was riding high in the music industry and in the midst of a high-profile, pop royalty relationship with Justin Timberlake. The second assignment, published in December 2008, fell during the early months of Britney’s conservatorship while she was attempting a comeback with the release of her sixth studio album, Circus, after a highly-publicized breakdown.
Around that same time, Eliscu says Lutfi told her that he and paparazzo-turned-Britney boyfriend Ghalib had been working up a plan to help Britney get a new lawyer. Eliscu agreed to help and was tasked as being the one to deliver a document to Britney at Montage Beverly Hills, a luxury hotel on Canon Drive in the heart of the 90210. There, she was to get Britney to sign the petition, which expressed her lack of confidence in court-appointed attorney Samuel Ingham. It stated: “Ms. Spears is of the opinion that he is not advocating adequately on her behalf particularly in light of the severe restrictions placed upon her.”
Eliscu said she spotted Britney lounging by the pool and met her in a nearby bathroom where she passed her the petition, had her sign it and exchanged pleasantries. “She looked at me and said, ‘Thank you,’ and I said, ‘I’ll see you again,’” Eliscu recalls, breaking down in tears on camera. “She definitely seemed scared. It was hard to tell because I was so scared but she was so appreciative.”
Days passed and Eliscu says she couldn’t believe the news when she found out a week later that the mission had failed similar to what happened when Spears tried to hire Adam Streisand. “It had been ruled that she lacked capacity to choose her own lawyer, and that they had cast enough doubt on to whether that was her signature,” Eliscu claims. “I never heard anything of it again. No one ever talked about it again. Still, no one talks about the fact that there was another attempt to get a lawyer that somehow didn’t work out.”
When Britney’s case goes back into court on Wednesday, she will be represented by famed Hollywood litigator Mathew Rosengart. He came on board this summer when Judge Brenda Penny approved the appointment, marking the first time she has been represented by a lawyer of her own choosing after being deemed mentally unfit to do so. Britney vs Spears saves this development for the end with the rest of the film devoted to the retelling of the conservatorship, other key moments from her career and, of course, those interviews.
Sam Lutfi Denies Drugging Britney Spears
“Sam is the person frequently blamed by both of her parents for her public downfall,” is how Carr characterizes the controversial figure. Though court records indicated that Britney considered him a friend and semi-assistant, Lutfi says he acted as her manager. “We met at a bar,” Lutfi recalls. “Started talking. She was very funny. She had asked me if I’d seen things that were recently in the press. She asked for my phone number and she called. She tells me, ‘I need your help.’”
Lutfi says the divorce from Kevin Federline was taking a toll and insinuated that she wasn’t receiving a shoulder from family members on which to lean. “There were numerous issues going on. Jamie was not involved at all. From what I believe, it had been years,” Lutfi says.
But Lutfi was deeply involved and to others, that was a major issue that led to the creation of the conservatorship. Carr and Eliscu pull up conservatorship documents that state “orders related to dementia placement,” which Eliscu says, “is one off the most important filings in the entire conservatorship because when someone is being made a conservatee, they are entitled to five days heads up so that if they want to contest it or find a lawyer, etc. they have the time to do that.” Britney was not allowed that time and she says it was because of Lutfi. “The only reason given for depriving Britney of five days’ notice is that Sam Lutfi is dangerous and needs to be kept away.”
Craker, the Lynne Spears biographer, says “it was total crisis mode with Sam.”
“That is something that I don’t think has really been portrayed correctly is the level of crisis at the moment the conservatorship began. They felt they had to do it to protect Britney from Sam,” says the writer. “He was crushing drugs and putting them in her food and bragging about it.”
Later in the film, Lutfi categorically denies the claims. “We have 100 blood tests and drug tests the entire time I was with her and she passed every single one of them which is why the police never came to my door. No one ever called the police. To be accused of allegations that serious, that you’re drugging the world’s biggest star, you call the police, you call the FBI, you don’t call TMZ.”
Lutfi alleges that he was the fall guy because he was an easy target. “I was the perfect scapegoat. I was new. They didn’t know who I was. I was just an expendable guy,” he says. “A five-day notice means she would have been notified that this was going to happen and she would’ve had the right to contest to it. She would have obviously contested to it, immediately, and they knew that and everyone knew that. They had to do everything possible to prevent that from happening.”
For 10 more revelations from Netflix’s Britney vs Spears, read the rest of the story originally published by The Hollywood Reporter on THR.com.