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An aspiring filmmaker who claimed he was making a fictionalized account of Edward Abbey’s time as an Arches National Monument ranger fabricated key elements of his story during a lengthy recorded interview with the Moab Sun News.

Steven “Sven” DeRoch falsely told the newspaper that he filmed portions of “Fiery Furnace” at Arches National Park, with renowned actor Sam Elliott playing Abbey. However, the Los Angeles firm of Berwick & Kovacik Inc., which represents Elliott, said the actor had no involvement whatsoever with the project, and park officials told the Moab Sun News that they have no record of DeRoch filming at Arches.

DeRoch also claimed that he co-wrote the “Fiery Furnace” script with Josh Doke and Ruby Montoya. But Doke said his involvement with DeRoch was limited to a single phone call in March 2017, and Montoya said she parted ways with DeRoch in May of that year due to creative differences, with no screenplay in place.

DeRoch did not respond this week to multiple requests for comment that were submitted over the course of three days via text message, voicemail and email.

Before it published the article last week, the Moab Sun News gave DeRoch the opportunity to review his comments about the alleged film production. DeRoch responded on Wednesday, Feb. 28, that everything was accurate.

However, questions about key details in the article arose shortly after publication. Moab Sun News Publisher Andrew Mirrington queried discrepancies on the alleged production’s IMDb (Internet Movie Database) page, and Canyon Country Zephyr Publisher Jim Stiles brought additional concerns to this newspaper’s attention.

The Moab Sun News subsequently reached out to Elliott’s agent; Doke; Montoya; and federal land managers, and each of them refuted statements that DeRoch made. Once it received confirmation from Berwick & Kovacik that Elliott was not involved with DeRoch, the newspaper removed the article from its website.

Red flags about alleged production

Becca Kovacik, a partner and talent manager with Berwick & Kovacik, noted that her client’s last name is deliberately misspelled on the alleged production’s IMDb page as “Elliot” (sic).

“That’s by design, to throw people off,” she said.

After poring over her records from the last five years, Kovacik said there’s absolutely no chance that Elliott worked on DeRoch’s alleged production at any point during that time frame.

Doke said he had a three-way phone conversation with DeRoch and Montoya in March 2017. He had just made his own “super-micro-budget” film, so he was conscious of the financial constraints involved, and the more they talked about DeRoch’s project, the warier he grew.

According to Doke, DeRoch wanted to begin production in May 2017, but he didn’t have a screenplay or funding in place in March of that year.

“These were all red flags for me,” Doke said.

In separate interviews, Doke and Montoya told the Moab Sun News that DeRoch agreed to meet them at the Kansas City premiere of Doke’s film “Goodland” to discuss the Abbey project further. But he never showed up, they said, and Doke said he never heard from him again.

Montoya said she remained in contact with DeRoch until May of last year, but they did not see eye to eye on the creative vision of the Abbey project.

“Something was going on,” she said. “He was leaving me out of the loop on something, so I just kind of let it go.”

They parted ways in May 2017, and Montoya said she has not had any further contact with DeRoch since that time.

Doke said he’d given little thought to the project until he was revising his own IMDb entry and discovered that his name had been attached to the “Fiery Furnace” project, without his knowledge or permission.

It’s “very common” for movie producers to create IMDb pages to help their projects gain traction on the internet, he said. But to do what DeRoch did, he said, would be a “huge, huge, huge no-no.”

While it’s easy to add credits to IMDb, Doke said, it’s considerably more difficult to have them removed.

In Doke’s case, he said he contacted IMDb several times and asked the site’s administrators to remove his name from the “Fiery Furnace” entry, yet as of Wednesday, March 7, they had not done so.

“An incredibly audacious lie”

When the newspaper published DeRoch’s fabricated story some months later, Doke was taken aback by what he called DeRoch’s “incredibly audacious lie.”

“He was talking about the film in the past tense, as if he had already shot it,” he said.

Doke said he’s unsure what DeRoch was hoping to accomplish by telling the media a deliberate falsehood on record.

“That lie is like career suicide,” he said. “Maybe he doesn’t plan on making films anymore, but he won’t be able to make much after this, I don’t think.”

One day, Montoya said, she would hope that someone actually makes a film about Abbey.

“I kind of wish this really was a reality, but (DeRoch’s story) obviously was fabricated,” she said. “It was unfortunate.”

“This is a first,” Mirrington said. “The Moab Sun News has never before had to retract a story. We were overly trusting of one individual, and we didn’t verify claims that were made to us. We blew this, and I apologize to our readers. We have learned a difficult lesson from this mistake.”

It remains unclear why DeRoch chose to invent and pitch ideas about the purported film. But local residents said that they find it disturbing that someone would want to deceive the Moab community.

“People love seeing movies made in the area,” Moab to Monument Valley Film Commission Director Bega Metzner said. “It’s exciting, and it brings economic benefit. So it’s not funny or cool to play with people’s hearts, minds and potential livelihoods.”

Metzner said that DeRoch never contacted anyone from the film commission about the supposed production, but that films can be made without working with the organization.

Moab resident Samantha Bonsack said that DeRoch’s actions were the antithesis of what the late author Abbey wrote about.

“It is the lowest form of character to pervert a community’s admiration of a beloved citizen who has passed away,” she said.

Mirrington is as baffled as others by the motivation for the deception.

“There’s no gain for anyone,” he said. “I can’t fathom what he was thinking.”

The Moab Sun News is retracting an article it published in last week’s edition about a man’s now-discredited claims that he is making a movie about the late author Edward Abbey (“Sam Elliott to star in film about Ed Abbey,” March 1-7, 2018 Moab Sun News). The newspaper failed to thoroughly vet Steven “Sven” DeRoch’s claims about the alleged film production, and we apologize to our readers and the community for our mistake. The following article expands upon questions and concerns that have arisen since publication of the article.

“That lie is like career suicide … Maybe (DeRoch) doesn’t plan on making films anymore.”