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The director of Netflix’s “Operation Varsity Blues: The College Admissions Scandal” explained why Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman weren’t explored as thoroughly in the documentary.
Despite being the most high-profile celebrities swept up in the scandal, which saw the extreme lengths wealthy, elite parents have gone to in order to secure their children positions at top universities, director Chris Smith explained in a recent interview that he was much more interested in telling the lesser-reported sides of the complicated story.
“We focused on the transcripts that offered the most in terms of pushing the story forward,” the filmmaker told Yahoo Entertainment in a recent interview. “Also, Felicity and Lori’s story were already covered extensively in the media, so in making a documentary on subject matter that people think they already know, we were excited about trying to tell aspects and parts of the story that people might not be as familiar with.”
The director went on to note that he didn’t feel his documentary could add anything to the highly public discourse surrounding the two actresses.
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Lori Loughlin appears in court in Boston in September 2019 about the college admissions scandal. At right, Felicity Huffman leaves her sentencing in the college admissions scam case, dubbed "Operation Varsity Blues." Huffman will serve 14 days in federal prison following a plea agreement, while Loughlin pleaded not guilty and awaits a trial.
“These are two public figures that people are aware of, so they were interested in following their story, as opposed to a lot of the lesser-known parents,” Smith explained. “They were in so much media, I didn’t feel like it was going to be additive.”
Huffman pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud. She confessed to paying an admissions consultant $15,000 to have a proctor correct her older daughter’s answers on the SAT. In addition to serving 11 days in prison, Huffman also received one year of probation, was ordered to perform 250 hours of community service and pay a $30,000 fine.
Loughlin, meanwhile, initially pleaded not guilty alongside her husband, fashion designer Mossimo Giannulli. However, they eventually pleaded guilty and accepted a plea deal. Loughlin received a two-month term behind bars in August for agreeing to pay $500,000 to scam mastermind William “Rick” Singer, who is the main focus of the documentary.
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Instead of the two actresses, the documentary relies on reenactments to tell the story of Singer and his “side door” into universities that he offered wealthy parents. While Huffman and Loughlin were by far the most recognizable names swept up in the scandal, Smith noted that they were merely two more parents enticed by what the scammer was so expertly selling.
Netflix debuted ‘Operation Varsity Blues’ about the college admissions scandal.
“We’re always looking for the human side of any story, and we tried to show some of the tactics that Rick would use to get these parents on board,” he said. “There’s numerous cases of him telling parents that their kids had no chance of getting into the school that they wanted to, and those things obviously would have an effect and could sway their decision to maybe make a poor decision. Obviously in hindsight, many regret that decision, but I think at the time they probably thought they were doing what was best for their kids.”
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The documentary makes note of the fact that neither Loughlin nor Giannulli went to college, which Smith speculates may have contributed to their desire to give something better to their daughters, Olivia Jade and Isabella Rose Giannulli. Both women posed as recruits for the crew team at the University of Southern California despite neither girl actually participating in the sport. The documentary also points to past videos in which Olivia Jade, a YouTube influencer prior to the scandal, talks about how she may not even want to go to college.
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“We thought that was a detail that was overlooked: Here you had someone who was very successful and quite good at what they were doing,” Smith explains. “She did not want to go to college and her parents were trying to get her to go — imagine what those conversations might have been like at home. You might have a little more empathy for her knowing what her path was, what her opportunities were and what she was walking away from. We were trying to paint a slightly more complex portrait of the whole landscape as opposed to painting it with one brush.”
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