Saxon, who according to court records declared personal bankruptcy in 1991 and 1998, has been a producer or executive producer on a number of films, none a major success. The 2005 Costa Rican comedy "Blue Sombrero" and the 2009 thriller "Across the Hall" have no reported box-office receipts. His 2007 poker movie "The Grand" grossed just $115,879 in domestic theaters.
Saxon traveled by private jet, had a Mercedes and a Ferrari, and lived in a 10,900-square-foot Pacific Palisades estate with a movie theater, tennis court and swimming pool, according to interviews and court records. Saxon traveled with a personal trainer and carried an exclusive black American Express card, according to court filings and interviews with former colleagues and movie investors. Jablon said he doesn't see "anything improper about these facts" and that the trainer accompanied Saxon as a personal friend.
Said Dennis Sonnenschein, a fledgling Tennessee screenwriter whose brother, Thomas, is suing Saxon over a movie Dennis Sonnenschein co-wrote: "He put on the dog when he wanted to put on the dog."
Former colleagues of Saxon and those who invested with him describe him as a charismatic figure.
"He was able to instantly gain your trust. I was immediately enamored — this was a guy I wanted to be like," said Steven Zellers, who said he met Saxon about 10 years ago, invested in several of his projects, and is suing him for $1.5 million.
Some of those suing Saxon say that even as his explanations for where investors' money had gone became increasingly implausible, they nevertheless gave him more.
"He has a unique skill," said Zellers. "He makes you feel all warm and fuzzy. He's that good."
A 'Grand' image
Saxon's Hollywood career began at the margins. He grew up in Los Alamitos, went to the University of Phoenix and Loyola Law School, and worked in the infomercial business at Transactional Marketing Partners, founded by Earl Greenburg, a legend in the field.
In 1995, Saxon and coauthor Steve Stein published the first of their how-to books about rubbing shoulders with the rich and the powerful: "How to Meet and Hang Out with the Stars: A Totally Unauthorized Guide." A second book followed in 1998: "The Art of the Shmooze: A Savvy Social Guide for Getting to the Top."
The books offer tips on crashing parties, cornering celebrities and meeting women. (Sample pickup line: "Can I see your tan lines?") The books are jammed with blurry, black-and-white photographs of Saxon posing with John Travolta, Elton John, Michael Eisner, Luke Perry and other celebrities.
"Bret always had an aura of success — he spent a lot of money, he was always traveling the world," said Barbour, who said he met Saxon in 1999 or 2000, worked with him for three years at TMP and is suing him for $550,000 in allegedly unpaid loans and $60,372 in allegedly unpaid commissions. "No one quite knew what Bret did, but he was always out doing it."
Saxon had credits on the 2002 ESPN short "A Date With Anna" (about a photo shoot of tennis star Anna Kournikova), the 2003 documentary "Hollywood's Hottest" (a compilation of movie nude scenes) and, from 2003-04, the VH1 series "Driven" (which looked at how celebrities became who they are), according to IMDB.com.
As he moved into film production, Saxon rented a bungalow for his production company, Insomnia Media Group, on the Universal Studios lot. By 2006, he was raising money for "The Grand," a mockumentary about a professional poker tournament starring Woody Harrelson, Ray Romano, Dennis Farina and Cheryl Hines. Several of the lawsuits Saxon is facing stem from that movie.
A trio of investors — fledgling producers Kirkwood Drew, Jordan Udko and Ayman Kandeel — claim in their lawsuit that they gave Saxon $2.73 million in May 2006 to make "The Grand" and contend their contract promised a "guaranteed minimum" return of $2.97 million.
The three, who called themselves I Need a Grand Productions, claim that Saxon may have raised as much as $5 million total to make the movie but spent "no more than" $2 million to make it. Just a few weeks after their outlay, the three allege, Saxon spent their money for the down payment on a $4.2-million home in Pacific Palisades with a tennis court, swimming pool and theater.
In separate suits, three litigants each say that Saxon pledged earnings from "The Grand" to them. Drew, Udko and Kandeel claim Saxon promised 100% of the film's earnings to them. Zellers, who says he invested $500,000 in "The Grand," claims that three weeks later, Saxon pledged 100% of the earnings to him. Yarbrough, the Tennessee businessman who secured the $2.25-million award against Saxon, claims Saxon assigned him 100% of the earnings.
Saxon was able to sell the U.S. distribution rights to "The Grand" for about $1.1 million, according to Zellers' lawsuit. I Need a Grand Productions said it received $782,500 of that money; Zellers, 35, said he has received nothing.