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How HBO Documentary Directors Evolve True Crime Stories Beyond the Headlines

Director Erin Lee Carr ("I Love You, Now Die: The Commonwealth Vs. Michelle Carter"), James Lee Hernandez ("McMillions"), and Sam Pollard ("Atlanta's Missing and Murdered: The Lost Children") discuss their recent films with IndieWire.

HBO Doc Panel

Three documentary series, three intriguing tales. This awards season, a slate of HBO documentary series effectively capture the chaos of very real, troubling, and absorbing stories, each with a colorful cast of characters at its center.

IndieWire hosted an interview with the filmmaker of each documentary series: Erin Lee Carr (“I Love You, Now Die: The Commonwealth vs. Michelle Carter”); James Lee Hernandez (“McMillions”); and Sam Pollard (“Atlanta’s Missing and Murdered: The Lost Children”) and discussed their concise, compelling explorations of unprecedented crimes.

In July 2014, 18-year-old Conrad Roy died by suicide in his car at a parking lot in Fairhaven, Mass. Police soon discovered a series of alarming text messages from his girlfriend, 17-year-old Michelle Carter, that seemed to encourage him to kill himself. This discovery sparked sensational headlines nationwide, leading to a trial that raised difficult questions about technology, social media and mental health, while asking if one person can be held responsible for the suicide of another.

“I’ve made four films with HBO, and what I love about HBO is that there’s a lot of creative trust and there was a lot of female talent on my team, and that’s how you can tell that it’s an HBO documentary,” Carr said.

“McMillion$” tells the stranger-than-fiction true story of how $24 million-dollars was stolen from the McDonald’s Monopoly game of the 1990s. It follows the mystery mastermind behind the scam and the intrepid FBI agents on his trail. Hernandez’s interest piqued when a Reddit subgroup headline caught his eye: “Today I Learned Nobody Really Won the McDonald’s Monopoly Game.”

“I needed to know more and kept looking,” said Hernandez, whose first job as a teenager was at a McDonald’s in the ’90s, the height of Monopoly-mania.

Finally, over a two-year period beginning in 1979, at least 30 Black children and young adults were murdered in the city of Atlanta. Eager to solve the case, officials pegged the crimes to 23-year-old Wayne Williams, who would eventually be found guilty of murdering two adults. Days after he was sentenced to two life terms, most of the children’s cases were closed and attributed to him, without ever going to trial.

“Our biggest challenge was to not just make it a who done it,” Pollard said. “We thought that this series could be a much more layered and complex, deeper dive this story of Atlanta and the Atlanta Child Murders.”

The entirety of the conversation can be watched in the above video.

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