Larry Nimmer is noted for his documentary, Michael Jackson: The Untold Story of Neverland, which he created for the defense team during Michael Jackson’s 2005 child molestation trial, but he has also earned a variety of awards, including several Emmy nominations, for 30 years of producing entertainment and informational programming.
Larry began his career as a TV News Producer for the CBS-TV affiliate in San Francisco, KPIX-TV. He has since produced music videos for broadcast on MTV, documentaries shown on PBS and a variety of other programs and promotional spots for broadcast and cable networks.
It was a great pleasure for me to speak to this seemingly shy and softly spoken man.
Transcribed by Valmai Owens
Valmai: Larry, your career spans 30 years and you have won quite a few awards. You have also been nominated for a few Emmy’s. Can you tell me when it all began?
Larry: When I was 10 years-old that same Christmas I was given a darkroom set by my father. So, I started photography then and later film-making. In high school and college I made films and so-forth.
I’ve had an interesting and varied career. I started off making home movies and then worked for a CBS TV station in magazine style news. From there I did music videos, documentaries, religious and how-to videos, short films and litigation videos. One of the specialties I got into was making training videos for attorneys for use at trial that tell stories for their clients. That’s how I ended up getting hired by Michael Jackson and his attorney for his trial in 2005.
Valmai: Are you freelance?
Larry: Yes, basically I’m freelance. I have my own company, Nimmer Pictures Inc, and my wife is my partner. She is a graphic designer. I have a nice studio in a converted garage next to my home in Carpinteria. So, it’s really just the two of us and I pull in other people as I need them. I write, shoot, edit and sometimes perform in videos I do.
Valmai: Yes, from what I have seen you do a little bit of everything, but out of all those things, is there one that you enjoy doing more than the rest? Do you feel more comfortable behind the camera or in front of it?
Larry: Well, I feel more comfortable behind the camera. One of my mission statements is, to help give people a platform to express themselves. So, I particularly enjoy projects where I help people or organizations to either express themselves or get their message out.
I have a karaoke TV show I sometimes do which does that, and I do something called Generation Exchange, where I help younger people interview older people or vice versa, to get their stories out. I do Man in the Street columns and videos where I ask the question of the week and people talk about different subject matter. I also do art videos and have been doing them since the seventies, and the last number of years I’ve been doing something called Dance for Peace. New Year’s Day I dance from my town to the next town and I document myself. That’s one time I do video-tape myself; I have a little video camera that I can shoot myself while dancing or walking, but normally I’m more comfortable putting other people on camera.
Valmai: I’ve actually seen those videos on You Tube, A Citizen Dances for Peace, and I was going to ask what the inspiration was behind them.
Larry: Well, it started off with getting older and needing to do more exercise. I figured every year on New Year’s Day I should at least get a big exercise, although I go to the gym at other times.
One year I hiked the mountain behind me, another year I walked a long distance and I guess it was during one of the Iraqi wars that I thought I would turn it into a dance for peace. I wore a sign that said, Peace Starts with a Smile, and I walked from Carpinteria to Santa Barbara. I felt that peace was a good thing to exercise or to perform for.
So, I kind of made it into a peace thing, but it’s also kind of a personal exercise for me and also to express myself and dance. I’ve kind of gotten more into dancing the older I get and it’s a kind of self-expression and self-growth, even though I really don’t like people seeing me when I dance to Santa Barbara, but somehow I don’t mind video-taping myself and having people see me later. I’m kind of shy about it while I’m doing it though.
Valmai: You are? I don’t know. The videos are very entertaining and actually quite funny in places, and I thought to myself while watching them, “maybe he should consider a career in acting or comedy.”
Larry: Well, I sometimes feel I’m too serious and I look too conservative. I kind of look like an old businessman. That was one thing Michael Jackson did for me, to help encourage me to get more in touch with my child-like nature as he often talked about. So, even though I’m sometimes embarrassed by revealing my child-like nature, and sometimes I’m worried it may make me look less professional to some people, to others I think they understand the urge to act like, and have the child-like spirit and express it. So, I have been encouraging myself more and more to do that.
Valmai: I think that’s a good thing. I think everybody needs to do that. As you get older and get involved more with your life and the things that happen along the way, that “child” seems to get pushed deeper and deeper inside of you and you forget how to have fun.
Larry: Right! Exactly! I encourage others to do it and I’m glad you feel that way too.
Valmai: Oh, I do. Larry, about music. I came across another video of you where you perform an original song that you wrote in the seventies, called “Born Under A Lucky Star.” You performed this at a Carpinteria talent show. Are you a songwriter also or is it kind of a hobby for you?
Larry: It’s just been a hobby. In my teens, when I had a lot of emotions pent up in me, I learned to play the guitar. It was a good release to express myself. I’ve always written in journals and right behind me where I’m sitting now, I have my journals that I have written since I was 10. There’s something like 35 or 40 journals. It’s just been a good release. I wrote “Born Under A Lucky Star” when I was at Berkley College, and those were some crazy times.
So, I play a little guitar now and then and both my son’s, who are now 25 and 28, play guitar too. Recently, there was a talent show in my town so I played that song.
Valmai: It was good; very good.
Larry: Thank you! Is there a video of that online? I didn’t realize that.
Valmai: Yes there is, most certainly. I did a search on your name and there it was. It also came up with your Citizen Dance’s for Peace videos. From there I went to your channel and found a few other interesting videos.
Larry: Good, good. On You Tube I have a few channels. One is called Larry Nimmer, another is called Nimmer Pictures and another is called American Good Humor. The American Good Humor is; whenever I go a trip I always like to have some sort of artistic project.
I was going to Europe, I think five or six years ago, and I wanted a project to do. I wanted to do something that would give Europeans a good picture of Americans. So, I played the part of the Good Humor Man. He was somebody in the Fifties and Sixties in the United States who went around selling ice cream and he wore a white suit. The Good Humor Man was an ice cream company.
So, I dressed up as The Good Humor Man, even though Europeans wouldn’t necessarily know who he was, and did something called, Experiments in Good Humor. I experimented in different ways of giving good humor to people by performing for them or doing little acts of charity or kindness, complimenting people and giving out little slips of free wishes. So, I did some of the documentation of that on my You Tube channel American Good Humor.
Valmai: Well, I will have to check that out. Larry, when you are making a documentary, how do you choose the subject matter for it?
Larry: Well, different ways. Sometimes, a client comes to me and they have something they want a documentary about and I will certainly do that. I make my living this way, and it’s sometimes harder to freelance so I’m always out marketing and trying to bring in projects. Sometimes projects that I’m interested in, I’ll look for grants for or other folks to fund them and I’ve got a number of grants for projects. Some of them have been environmentally related; to do with marshes and streams, lakes and water quality.
One funny grant I got was from the State of California. I knew the State was giving out money to help people learn about not dumping their motor oil on the ground or the ocean because it affects marine life. At the time, I was interested in the low-rider culture; the Latino culture of fixing up and cruising in their cars and so forth. So, I put in for a grant from the State of California, which I got, to do a series of videos on the low-rider culture and different low-rider clubs. I documented each of these clubs and suddenly, in each short documentary, I showed them recycling their motor oil. So, I got the message out that you shouldn’t dump your motor oil on the ground, and in the meantime I gave a platform to these different low-rider clubs to show that they’re good people and have a worthwhile hobby. Actually, a lot of them are doing charitable work. So, that’s just an example of how I get projects.
Some projects I do for free for different organizations. If it doesn’t take too much of my time I’ll video them and put them on the community access channel or put it on You Tube, Vimeo or somewhere online. Some of that I have done for the Michael Jackson groups. When Michael died, I did various videos and posted online and during the Conrad Murray hearings I posted some also.
Valmai: Before you were hired to do the film on Neverland for Michael Jackson’s defense team, did you have a personal opinion about Michael, the trial and the allegations against him or were you fairly neutral?
Larry: That’s a good question. I was pretty neutral. I hadn’t followed Michael’s career very closely though I had followed it like most people, and I always did enjoy following it.
As I say in my documentary, often I felt where there’s smoke there’s fire, meaning, I saw in the press that after the ’93 settlement, again there was an accuser and apparently at the trial it seemed like there were other people coming out of the woodwork accusing Michael. So, I didn’t really know one way or another, but I thought maybe he’s a molester although I felt I didn’t have the expertise; I didn’t know. That’s one of the reasons I was happy to hired and be involved with the trial so I could get the inside information, and I happily learned that he is not a molester and never was. He was taken advantage of because of his kindness to people and also taken advantage of by the media. But, I never really knew one way or another and I was happy to learn that he was an innocent guy.
Valmai: And did you come to that opinion while you were filming and seeing Neverland for yourself or while sitting in on the trial?
Larry: Well, I came to that opinion after looking at documents during the trial, after talking to his attorneys, after talking to others and seeing the evidence. That’s when I came to that opinion and I became fully immersed in all the facts to do with the trial and past allegations. That’s when I came to the conclusion that he was innocent.
Valmai: So, what was it like filming Neverland? What was it like being there? You had access to some of the private living areas didn’t you?
Larry: Right! Well, it was certainly like being a kid in a candy store for me. When I got the call to do the job I was just so happy.
I’ve always enjoyed being around celebrities, particularly celebrities I admire like Michael Jackson, and I’ve always been fascinated with Neverland. I’d heard about it like most people and seen it on television. I remember thinking in the past that if I could ever go there that would be great. In fact, I did go there one time before I was hired. I was just in the area of Neverland, and my wife and I drove by and then drove up to the gate. I buzzed it and said, hi, can we come in? And the guard said, well who are here to see and I said, Michael. Then he wanted to know if we had an appointment. I said no, of course, so he just said well I’m sorry. I understood that. But, I’d always wanted to go and so when I had the opportunity, it was just fabulous.
When I went, I initially met with Bob Sanger who was one of Michael’s attorneys, and then I met with Tom Mesereau. Bob and Tom gave me a tour around the area and in addition, introduced me to the ranch manager and other staff. They told the staff that it was basically up to me where I wanted to go.
When I was given the tour, the attorneys and the ranch manager told me that this is what people would normally see at Neverland, and suggested that this is what I document, but it was kind of up to me as well. And what the defense team wanted to show was what Neverland was really like to a typical visitor; to a visitor that may not know Michael, as well as a visitor that gets to go into the private residence and so forth. So, basically I had free reign to go more or less wherever I wanted to go. Over a period of a month, I went on a number of occasions. Sometimes Michael was on the property, but I never actually saw him. I saw him during the trial at the courthouse. At Neverland, he would be in one area and I would be in another and I was also encouraged not to disturb him while I was there.
One of the buildings they wanted me to videotape was the guesthouse where the Arvizo’s stayed, because the family claimed they had been held hostage at Neverland; it was an awful experience, they weren’t allowed to leave, they weren’t allowed to know the time and so forth. So, they wanted me to show that the guesthouse was like living in the lap of luxury. Elizabeth Taylor, Marlon Brando and others had also stayed there, but I couldn’t go in because it turned out that Michael was living in it. He didn’t want to go back into his bedroom at Neverland after it was defiled by the sheriff’s going through it.
It was just a great place. Sometimes people ask me what was it like and I tell them that is it kind of a cross between a Beverly Hills mansion, antique museum and Disneyland. It was very well maintained and Michael didn’t change too much of the structures from when he bought it. It was developed by a man named William Bone, who was a golf course entrepreneur. Bone had built the main house, lakes and the guest cottage I believe. Michael redecorated it and added some other features to it like the amusement park, zoo, theater and his dance studio, but it wasn’t that different from the original property.
By the way, I am really happy to hear that Michael’s kids are interested in possibly someday returning it to Neverland as a tourist destination. If that could be done that would be great.
Valmai: I think it would be wonderful to have it reopened!
Larry: I understand how the neighbors don’t want it because they feel it would be too much traffic and the stress on the local infrastructure, water, sewerage and so forth. But, in its heyday a lot of people did visit it and I certainly think select groups could continue to. I think there is room for more people to visit it. I’m hoping someday that something will work out.
Valmai: I had the opportunity last June, to go to Neverland. Not inside the gates of course; none of us were allowed inside, but one thing that struck me was just how beautiful and peaceful it was. I didn’t feel the negativity that some people were sensing. I actually felt a very spiritual connection with the land and I also felt there had been a lot of happiness there. To me that kind of outweighed the bad stuff that had occurred at Neverland.
Larry: I think that’s a good point. There certainly were some unhappy times there, but there was a lot of happiness as well and also inspiration for Michael for his songwriting, dancing and developing his child-like nature. And I think just the message of what Neverland was about; the wonderful example to others. Neverland is about creating an oasis of wonderment and childlike beauty.
Michael said he wanted to give break to the inner city, sick and disadvantaged kids and give them a place to go to that was fun to them. So, just the nature of why Michael built it the way he did, I think is a wonderful example to others to do charitable work. And hopefully others will be able to enjoy Neverland again in the future.
Valmai: It’s true that you met Michael very briefly during the trial. You were sitting in the waiting room waiting to testify. What was your impression of him?
Larry: Yes, I was sitting in the waiting room and there was a little window where I could see people coming and going in the hallway. I saw, what I thought, was a boy scout. I went up to the window and sure enough it was Michael in one of his jackets with military style buttons on the side. So, I went out into the hallway and he came back in a moment. I just said hi, and he said hi, how are you. He gave me a really lovely smile, but it also seemed like kind of a sad smile for what he was going through at the time. I can’t imagine how awful it was to face his accusers every day after he had helped this family so much.
I testified on the stand for two days because I didn’t finish first day. Each day as I sat down, Michael kind of gave me a Buddhist bow; putting his hands together in prayer and bowing with a sweet smile to me. I didn’t talk to him a lot except for hi and thank you, but I could see the type of man he was and he must have had a lot of inner strength to be able to face all that negativity.
He was taller than I thought and he walked like a dancer, like kind of light on his feet. I’ve mentioned a few times in interviews that I noticed his nose. It looked like he had had plastic surgery and I don’t know if it’s rude to mention that or not, but I felt kind of sorry for Michael. I think he had more plastic surgery than perhaps he meant to have or maybe it was done more extreme than he meant it to be. And I know his father always made fun of his nose as he was growing up and maybe his siblings to. He was self-conscious about that and one of the video outtakes I had of him he says he thinks he looks ‘stinky.’ I felt sorry for him having plastic surgery that people make fun of. If anything, I think people should feel sorry for him and be understanding of it. But anyway, it was a pleasure to be in the same space with Michael, and I was really happy that I was able to help him in the way I did. I think the video of Neverland that I did, did help him.
I had a few interesting assignments for the tour. One was to show his book collection in the house because the prosecution tried to make out that Michael had an art book with some nudes in it of boys. Then, they also showed some statues on the property where there’s some nudity and that in Michael’s briefcase there was a girlie magazine. To me that was all very innocuous; it wasn’t a big deal at all. For one thing, the girlie magazine showed he was a regular heterosexual man; it wasn’t child porn or anything. In terms of the books, Michael had something like 20,000 with 10,000 books on the property. To go through all those books and only find one art book that had some nudity in it, shows that Michael wasn’t focused on that.
What I was able to show in his book collection was the range of books he had. Michael said himself that he was a voracious reader and loved studying different subject matter. So, the types of books Michael had were books on show business, magic, religion, Christianity; books on child-raising to teach himself on how to raise children and he also had a lot of the classics. He appreciated the authors from the past. So, it was nice to see that aspect of Michael.
Valmai: Yes, it is well-known that he was extremely well read, but obviously the prosecution was going to pick on just that one book. That was their focus because of the allegations and that single book was enough. That’s what they were looking for; they weren’t interested in the 19,999 other books that didn’t contain anything that could be construed as suspect.
Larry: Exactly! They were really unfair to Michael.
Valmai: They were! Very, very unfair and so were the media. But, accusing Michael because he had one art book that showed some nudity would be like accusing anyone who has an appreciation for the work of masters such as Michaelangelo and Bernini.
Larry: Exactly, exactly! That was a low blow, but luckily the jurors saw through it and found him innocent.
I was a little nervous after my documentary came out that the sheriffs might come after me, because in a way my documentary didn’t paint them and in particular the District Attorney, Thomas Sneddon, in a good light. But, they have acted professionally since then and haven’t bothered me.
Valmai: That’s good to know. Now, you filmed outside the courthouse during Murray’s preliminary hearing and I’ve seen a couple of the videos you have done. What was the inspiration behind them?
Larry: Well, partly fun. I love media circuses being in the media myself. It’s always a fun spirit and also fascinating to watch how other media work and who shows up. I wanted to be around the fans, hang out and hear stories. I also wanted to assist some of the others that I know. I just basically wanted to help anybody I could there.
When the trial starts, I would like to put together a series of reports and I’m looking for a media outlet or a Michael Jackson organization that might help fund me. I’m actually putting together a short video now which I’m going to send to some folk to see if anyone would like me to do a daily or weekly report on the trial.
So, going there was a little bit of fun and to support Michael and his legacy; to support his family, the fans, other people in the field and possibly to make some money too. I need to make a living.
Valmai: Well, you do have to keep that in mind.
Larry: Yes, and I’m really glad how tolerant the fans have been of that. I know when some of the Michael Jackson organizations try to do something and make money out of it, other fans will come down on them. I can kind of understand that, but on the other hand, you have to pay for your expenses and if you are not working you have to try and come up with some way to live. So, I’m glad people didn’t put me down for making some money and actually I haven’t made that much. But, I understand Michael believed in charitable work and I support that and others trying to do that as well.
Valmai: What is your impression of Michael’s fans? Do you think they deserve the labels they have been given by the media and non-fans?
Larry: Well, I’d like you to tell me what the labels are, but before you do, I’d like to say that I’m fascinated by the fans. I think it’s wonderful how they use Michael as an example of how to live and what messages to spread. In a way, he is like a religious figure that people revere and I understand that. There have been others also, President’s of the US, other entertainers that people really care for and use as an example.
One thing I find interesting and sad in a way, is how some fan groups are kind of fighting with other fan groups. I’ve been around some of that and I was kind of surprised by it. I guess it goes along with the territory when people feel so very strongly about what they are doing and what they’re representing. They disagree with other groups and get into disputes and fights, and I’ve seen some nasty stuff go on. But, what do you say on how the fans have been represented?
Valmai: Well, I have read reports by certain media and also in discussion threads online, where they have labeled fans as crazy, mean, blinded by their devotion to Michael, and unable to recognize the facts etc.
Larry: Well, that’s interesting and I see a little bit of that, but I think it’s true of any fan of any subject matter; for the Democrats, for the Republicans, for the Tea Party, for Obama. People who feel very strongly about something become somewhat blinded about the facts and just look at their side. So, I think that goes on with the Michael Jackson fans, but I think it’s true in any segment of society and in any culture.
Valmai: With having these labels and with the fighting within the fan community, it’s often difficult to present a better picture of the fans toward the media and public. As representatives of Michael, it’s important to have a positive, intelligent and mature public image.
Larry: Yes, it is kind of ironic that much of the fan community is trying to get out his message of peace and understanding and tolerance, when some people aren’t tolerant of others in the fan community. But, I think it’s for the reasons I just said. I think if something could be done to unite the fan community more that would be wonderful. I try to do that some and in fact when I went to the preliminary hearing there were some fan groups from opposing camps. I tried to be friends with both of them; to be a bridge. So, I try in my own small way, but I don’t know what else can be done.
It strikes me that maybe one reason for it is; some of the in-fighting is from people who are non-professional communicators. They don’t do it for a living; it’s their hobby and something they feel strongly about. They don’t run big businesses and if they had they would be savvier about it; if you do something there’s going to be fallout from it and will lead to more consequences. So, it’s another reason how I understand why that happens. By the way, I think the Michael Jackson Tribute Portrait is very cool. I’ve seen a lot of positive stuff come out of that and it’s important what you guys are doing.
Valmai: Well, thank you. I was going to ask you what you thought about it, but you beat me to it.
Larry: I met Jerry Biederman at the Beverly Hilton, at the Jackson family party, and of course the artist David Ilan and some of the other staff. Jerry and David seem very professional and there are some very positive things coming out of the Michael Jackson Tribute Portrait projects.
Valmai: That’s wonderful to hear. We are very proud of the Tribute. Larry, have you considered making a documentary on the phenomenal connection between Michael and his fans and vice versa, that even now two years after his death, is still strong and active?
Larry: Well, yes, I’ve thought of it some and I would like to.
The Untold Story of Neverland was relatively easy to make because all the footage was just sitting here in my office. I shot additional footage; an interview with Tom Meserau and some dramatic re-creations, but it wasn’t that big of a deal, in a way, to put together. I spent the time doing that without being paid and made some of money back by selling it on Amazon, but if I was to tackle a new documentary it would be very time consuming and I wouldn’t be assured of being recouped for my costs. I’d also possibly be at some legal risk.
As it is, the Jackson Estate gave me a hard time when my documentary first came out. They have since backed off, but I don’t think they realized that my documentary was positive to Michael and would help his legacy. They did send me a cease and desist letter and I had to have my brother’s attorney talk with them and so forth.
I am a little nervous that if I did something again in the future whether I would get on somebody’s bad side and be at legal and financial risk. But, if I was to do one, and I have been gathering footage by going to events and doing interviews, I would like to do it either on the fan community and how the fans benefit from Michael’s legacy and what aspects of Michael’s life is shown through the fans, or another subject that would be worthwhile and people have contacted me about, is Michael’s philanthropy. Another subject that interests me is Michael’s interest in the child-like nature and how he channeled that.
So, I may one day do another documentary and we’ll see what happens.
Valmai: This is my last question Larry. Can you share what you are working on at present?
Larry: Well, what am I working on…I’m working on doing a series of Man in the Street videos that would be seen nationally asking the question of the week, and I’m looking for an outlet. I actually have one fast food company I am talking with that possibly wants to use my Man in the Street video questions on their Facebook page and on their in store monitors. So, that will be a fun project.
I have a Man in the Street print column in my local paper and its questions about what makes you happy, what makes you sad, what books and movies do you like, what’s hard about being a parent, what’s easy. Some of these questions are kind of an example to others to learn about people psychology and to know you are not alone with your problems.
So, that is one project, but another that that I’ve been doing for hobby purposes is my Dance for Peace, and I recently did a couple of other dance videos. I’m doing other projects for attorneys; settlement videos that basically talk about their clients stories that can be used at settlement conferences. I did some generation exchange projects where I have young people interview older people and vice versa, and we post them on the internet. That becomes a value to those families and it gives an opportunity for seniors to mentor kids and kids, in a way, to mentor seniors.
I have a couple of environmental projects that I will be doing. I’m going to do a recycling video and for some non-profit organizations I’m going to document some projects going on in Santa Barbara County. So, that’s a little bit of what I’m doing right now.
Valmai: Larry, thank you very much for doing this interview with me. I've really enjoyed talking to you.
Larry: Thanks for calling. It was a good interview; you did a great job!
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