The filmmakers behind “Making a Murderer” have taken preliminary steps to produce new installments for Netflix’s true-crime documentary series.
During a Stranger Than Fiction panel discussion at New York’s IFC Center on Thursday, “Making a Murderer” directors Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos said that they have spoken to Steven Avery’s new lawyer, Kathleen Zellner, about the prospect of filming and have continued to record their conversations with Avery. The 10-part “Making a Murderer” docu series revolved around questions about the judicial process behind Avery’s 2005 conviction for the murder of photographer Teresa Halbach, as well as the related convictions of his nephew Brendan Dassey.
“From our perspective this story is obviously not over,” Ricciardi said. “It’s real life and (Avery’s and Brendan Dassey’s) cases are both still pending. We have no idea when the magistrate will make a decision in Brendan’s case. We do know that two potential outcomes are that the judge could order Brendan’s release or he could order a new trial. So we are on the edge of seats about that. To the extent that there are significant developments, we would like to continue documenting this (case).”
However, the duo’s return to Wisconsin to film Dassey and Avery could be problematic. Panel participant Stephen M. Glynn — Avery’s civil lawyer – said, “There is a lot of hostility toward these two women (Ricciardi and Demos) in Wisconsin. The theory is that have played Wisconsin unfairly. But among those people who think and are a little more educated and thoughtful about these sorts of issues, there is appreciation.”
Joined by Glynn, production adviser Maureen A. Ryan and editor Mary Manhardt, the helmers discussed the 10-year process of reporting, editing and releasing “Making a Murderer” and the questions it raised about the criminal justice system.
Ricciardi and Demos explained that after reading a story in the New York Times about Avery’s plight, they wrote him and fellow subjects letters, which eventually got them in the door.
While it sounds like it was an easy enough process, Ryan called skillful letter-writing the secret weapon of the docu world.
“You can’t underestimate the power of well-written, heartfelt letter in the world of documentary filmmaking,” Ryan said. “Filmmakers constantly get ‘no’s’ from so many people they want access to. I find that the directors who can write these kinds of letters are able (to gain entry) to a world that everyone else got a ‘no’ for.”
Manhardt, who started working on the project in January 2015, was introduced to Avery’s world via a rough cut of the first five episodes. She said that she knew immediately she wanted the job.
“I was transfixed by the rough cuts, which is not often the case,” the editor said. “Sometimes when you watch a cut you see a seed of something developing, but with this one, it was already there.”
But cutting together a series with episode arcs and cliffhangers as opposed to a 90-minute feature documentary was admittedly an adjustment for Manhardt.
“The cliffhangy aspect of this series was hard to get,” Manhardt said. “As was the fact that in a streaming situation you don’t have to reset at the beginning of each episode. So the way it is going to be viewed changes the way you cut in subtle ways. The fact that you are not having to reset and remind the audience where we were at is big.”
It’s been just 10 weeks since the series was released. Since then the directing duo have been bombarded with media attention as well as scrutiny about their motives, which Demos called challenging.
“To read an article that calls our integrity into question and more or less accuses us of leaving things out (of the film) when there are 12 factual errors in the first two paragraphs of the article is frustrating,” Demos said. “So we just have to sort of disengage from that and try and have more meaningful conversations (about the topic).”
“I’ve never really dealt with the press before except in the context of making the film,” Ricciardi added. “So to be the subject is different, but we are grateful that people have watched and engaged with the series because we made it to promote a dialogue. I can’t keep up with all the headlines and the tweets and I certainly can’t engage with all of it. The series has in many ways taken on a life of its own.”