The Ugly Backstory of Ben Shapiro’s First Movie ‘Run Hide Fight’
The right-wing pundit’s Daily Wire has partnered with disgraced film producer Dallas Sonnier—who has a history of overlooking on-set abuses—to release a school-shooting movie.
When the news broke last week that The Daily Wire, a right-wing Facebook publisher co-founded by Ben Shapiro that regularly traffics in misinformation, would be making its first foray into the movie biz with the acquisition of school shooting thriller Run Hide Fight, a number of crew members who worked on the film were caught by surprise.
“Is there a way to remove your name from a crew list?” asks Cristen Leah Haynes, the film’s additional second assistant director. “If I’d known… I’ve never wanted to take my name off of a project more.”
Directed by Kyle Rankin, Run Hide Fight follows a group of high school teenagers fighting for their lives against live-streaming gunmen. Starring Isabel May, Thomas Jane, and Radha Mitchell, the actioner is produced by Dallas Sonnier and Amanda Presmyk, the team behind Cinestate—a Dallas-based movie studio specializing in “populist” films for the Trump crowd like Dragged Across Concrete, a nasty piece of police brutality apologia starring Mel Gibson. Cinestate had a virtual monopoly on film production in the Dallas region, where film work is relatively scarce, and took full advantage, pressuring its crew into 18-hour days with no overtime pay and forcing them into compromising situations—the most hazardous of which concerned their producing partner Adam Donaghey.
In April of 2020, Donaghey, co-producer of A Ghost Story and the Cinestate films Satanic Panic, VFW, and Run Hide Fight, was arrested on suspicion of sexual assault of a minor after a woman in the Texas film scene came forward alleging he’d raped her when she was 16.
Two months later, The Daily Beast published a detailed investigation into Donaghey and Cinestate revealing that Sonnier and Presmyk had—for years—not only turned a blind eye to Donaghey’s predatory behavior but given him more power and authority within the company, including controlling employees’ hours and payment. Cinestate effectively shuttered in the wake of the story. The final films created under their banner were Till Death, a yet-to-be-released romantic comedy starring Jason Sudeikis, and Run Hide Fight.
“At that point, it’s a safety issue,” a crewmember on Satanic Panic told me. “When you hire someone who has been accused of sexually assaulting someone, and you put them in charge of writing checks for everyone in your entire company, are you not giving that person power to abuse further—whether sexually or through forced labor?”
One of Donaghey’s victims was Haynes, who’d managed to capture audio of him sexually harassing her during the making of the 2014 film Occupy Texas. The Donaghey audio, which was published in our story, was common knowledge within the Dallas film world, including by Sonnier and Presmyk. According to Haynes, she hasn’t heard from Sonnier or Presmyk since the story ran.
“After the article came out, there was nothing,” Haynes tells me. “Which is weird. An apology would be the right thing to do, but at this point I can’t expect that from them.”
It was also discovered that Sonnier and Presmyk had brushed aside an allegation of sexual harassment during the filming of VFW, with acting vet Fred Williamson accused of groping an assistant costume designer during a wardrobe fitting (Williamson denies this); that they had pressured actress Ruby Modine (daughter of Matthew) into performing a sex scene with a fanboy on Satanic Panic; and that Sonnier had failed to properly address an alleged incident on the set of his horror film Condemned involving actor Johnny Messner exposing himself to a costume designer.
“Dallas is gonna have to answer for the things that he’s done,” Haynes adds. “And I don’t know anybody that would work with him given the terrible things he’s done.”
Enter The Daily Wire. Co-founded by the reactionary pundit Ben Shapiro and former film producer Jeremy Boreing, the outlet has long made a mockery of the #MeToo movement—and even called for its end. So it perhaps comes as little surprise that they’d partner with Sonnier and Presmyk on their debut film.
“Honestly, I feel like it’s pretty on-brand for both of them to team up,” says Brittany Ingram, production designer of the Cinestate film Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich. “I find it incredibly unfortunate that a lot of my friends might have to work on some of these propaganda films—because that’s what they are. I do feel ashamed that I worked with them. And the potential that could come from a partnership like this could be damaging in terms of its influence.”
Boreing, a Texas native who produced the 2007 thriller Spiral before entering the right-wing blogosphere, confesses that he’d read my story on Cinestate prior to acquiring Run Hide Fight but it—and the more than thirty people I spoke with for the piece—didn’t dissuade him.
“I read your report before I made the decision to acquire the film,” he says. “To the extent that things may have taken place in the production of this film or another film, I don’t think it’s my business—in the same way that it’s not my business if something takes place at any other kind of company that I buy product from. I’m sure there have been allegations of sexual harassment at almost every major product company in the country. That doesn’t mean the product itself has to be banned.”
He adds, “Those things—to the extent that anything did happen—didn’t happen under my watch.” (Shapiro, Sonnier, and Presymyk would not comment on the team-up.)
When I ask Boreing if The Daily Wire would ever distribute a film by Woody Allen or James Toback, he laughs. “It seems the answer would be ‘no’ on a variety of levels to that question. That seems unlikely.”
While Run Hide Fight is the first Daily Wire film release, Boreing explains that they’ve “wanted to move into the entertainment space for a long time” in order to provide content for an “underserved” conservative audience. They were approached by Sonnier after Run Hide Fight failed to attract any compelling offers following its Venice Film Festival premiere. Boreing envisions The Daily Wire as a subscription-based streaming service that will “hopefully one day have numbers like Starz.”
“There are fundamentally conservative values that we’d like to see in our content,” he maintains, citing movies like Mel Gibson’s Braveheart.
“There was some really sketchy shit going on on that movie,” Haynes tells me of Run Hide Fight.
Haynes, as a favor to her friend, was tasked with filling in as second assistant AD for a few days after they’d departed the project—one of several people who walked off Run Hide Fight at various points in its production, including first AD Meg Beatty (who could not be reached for comment) and key hair and makeup artist Madeleine Rose.
“Other makeup artists had turned down the job due to the sexual-harassment accusations that had been swirling, although I wasn’t aware of those at the time,” Rose remembers.
Donaghey served as executive producer of Run Hide Fight, although the credit has since been removed from the film’s publicity materials and its IMDb page.
“I came in for a few days under the agreement that I would not have to deal with Adam, and that we wouldn’t speak to each other,” says Haynes, who needed the work.
During pre-production, Rose was shocked to learn that a skeleton crew had gone off and filmed the slaughter of a deer, which she says was in violation of a number of film and hunting regulations (I spoke to two other crew members who back up Rose’s account; The Daily Wire says they were unaware of this occurring).
“They hired a local hunter, went on his land, and filmed the deer being shot. Then they took the deer and froze it, so they could pull it out again for close-ups with the actual actors,” says Rose. (Sonnier claims it was “the legal harvest of a registered buck” and that SAG-AFTRA took no issue with the episode.)
When Rose voiced her concerns over the deer to Donaghey, she says he mocked and derided her. “He went off on me in a very condescending way,” she recalls. “He got very heated and told me I was either with them or against them.”
Rose quit the film the next day. Looking back on the experience, she can’t believe that Donaghey, who again has been arrested for the rape of a 16-year-old girl, was allowed to serve as executive producer of a high school-set film with a number of youngsters on set.
“There were hundreds of minors on that set who were all extras, and I don’t think the crew was big enough to have eyes on all of them, and that is a very creepy thing for me to think about,” says Rose.
Run Hide Fight will be distributed by The Daily Wire and in lieu of Cinestate, is now listed as being produced by Bonfire Legend, Sonnier’s new production company. But the merger of Shapiro and Boreing with Sonnier has struck many in the Dallas film community as an odious one.
“Film work was already sparse enough in Dallas and now, with the COVID-decimated economy, [Sonnier’s] gonna have a lot of people forced into an extremely unpleasant decision where they have to choose between their values and putting food on the table,” says local filmmaker Blair Rowan. “Cinestate was a toxic enough presence on the Dallas film scene, but this latest iteration is downright malignant.”