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For their latest piece of original programming, Netflix has queued up 10 episodes of Moira Demos and Laura Ricciardi’s decade-in-the-making docuseries “Making a Murderer.” The series has already drawn comparisons to “The Jinx” and “Serial,” and while that’s certainly understandable — like those other stories, “Making a Murderer” tracks a bizarre true crime story through a truly head-spinning number of twists, turns and revelations — the series has its own look, feel and pace. And its story? Don’t worry, it packs its own surprises.
Demos and Ricciardi spent just over a decade crafting their story and finding it a home, and both filmmakers seem nothing but pleased that Netflix not only took them on, but also let them do exactly what they wanted to do when it came time to tell the story of Steven Avery.
It’s probably best to stay away from getting into any heavy research on Avery before consuming “Making a Murderer” (and, even now, Avery’s Wikipedia page is shockingly slim, something that will likely change in the coming days), but all you need to know is that Avery was convicted of a brutal rape in 1985, was eventually exonerated for the crime, freed from prison…and soon accused of an even more heinous crime. You can pick it up from there, but be ready for some shocks.
Ahead, Demos and Ricciardi share how they found their story, why it took a decade to get it ready for the world and why they don’t really mind all those comparisons to other twisted tales.
Back in November of 2005, the day before Thanksgiving, Steven Avery made the front page of The New York Times, and the headline read, “Freed by DNA, Now Charged in New Crime.” Moira and I were graduate film students at the time in New York, and we immediately recognized it as an unprecedented case and wanted to find out more. It was a really amazing story in the time. –Laura Ricciardi
We basically rented a car and borrowed a camera and went out for a week to kind of see, “is there a story here?” Before going to film school, Laura was a practicing attorney and knows a thing or two about how things work. She made a call to the media coordinator in Manitowoc County [in Wisconsin] to find out if cameras were going to be allowed in the courtroom, [as Steven] had an upcoming court date. We found out right away that Wisconsin is actually quite media-friendly and cameras were allowed in the courtroom and we could be part of the media pool. –Moira Demos
At the beginning, we didn’t know exactly what this was going to be. Two days into that [first] week, we knew we were coming back. This was all early December, and by the new year, we had bought a car and sublet our apartment and found an apartment in Manitowoc County and basically moved there for the bulk of the next two years. –M.D.
There were definitely moments we thought we might be crazy. It really was the fact that it seemed to be such an important story, and a story that was really being rewritten in front of our eyes, like history was being erased. We felt like we were capturing something like, if we didn’t tell this full and in-depth story, that it would be lost. –M.D.
Along the way, we definitely had to make some hard decisions. We always knew what the story could be and what the format to tell it properly would be. But in 2006 and 2007, as we were wrapping primary production, there weren’t really outlets that were doing this kind of thing. People would ask us, “Can you do this as two-hour one-off? Even maybe a four-part series?” But we would have to cut out parts of the story that were crucial. –M.D.
As two women coming out of film school, we also that knew we had to prove not just what this story was, but that we could tell the story. We had an outline for the series, we had a treatment for the series, we had our footage, we actually cut three episodes. –M.D.
I don’t think it ever occurred to us to quit. There were definite low points where we weren’t sure whether we would ultimately need to compromise on something in order just to get the story out there. We thought that maybe we’d just put it up online ourselves. So we always knew that we were going to continue following the events as they unfolded, and because we were documenting criminal cases, they would have a natural lifespan, we knew that we would stay with them until their resolution. –L.R.
In a way, the fact that it took this long worked out great. The market changed a little bit, and Netflix started doing original docs, and we feel like we couldn’t have found a better home for it. –M.D.
This is an industry that doesn’t embrace risk in terms of materials or talents. We definitely felt the onus was on us to demonstrate that we had a viable story and that we were the ones to tell it. –L.R.
[Netflix] wisely and immediately let us know that they wanted to do the series. It immediately became apparent to us the kind of role that they wanted to play, and that was to really support us and help us realize our vision. We were going to be able to get our story out there in the way that we’d always hoped to be able to get it out there. –L.R.
We’re flattered by the comparisons [to “The Jinx” and “Serial”]. It’s sort of interesting, because ours still has yet to air, so it remains to be seen whether people will think that we belong in the same class. I think there are definite similarities and there are definite differences. –L.R.