Christmas 2015? No one remembers it. The entire world was busy watching true crime story ‘Making a Murderer’. Written and directed by Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos, it told the story of Wisconsin murder suspect Steven Avery. ‘He’d already been wrongfully convicted of a different crime,’ says Demos. ‘He served 18 years, was exonerated and became this celebrated symbol of reform. Then he was charged with the murder of 25-year-old photographer Teresa Halbach.’ Both Avery and his nephew Brendan Dassey, who was also charged with Halbach’s murder, were later found guilty and sentenced to life in prison.
Now it’s back with ten new episodes following the pair through the post-conviction part of the criminal justice system. ‘It’s a dark hole,’ says Demos. ‘They’re trying to prove their innocence.’ Before losing the rest of this month to the story, we asked Ricciardi and Demos to share their five tips for improving on a globe-gripping doc.
1. Embrace the pressure ‘This was a very different experience,’ admits Demos. ‘In Part 1, we were students and had to take day jobs to pay for some of the filming.’ This time, they had bigger budgets and more pressure. While they spent ten years working on Part 1, ‘with Part 2 we knew we’d have much less time,’ she says. ‘The story is now high-profile and constantly evolving, so we couldn’t wait years.’
Attorney Kathleen Zellner faces the press
2. Break the fourth wall The second instalment kicks off with a mega-montage of reactions to ‘Making a Murderer’, from news coverage to angry protests. ‘The response to the series affected the world we were going to be documenting so we had to provide context,’ says Ricciardi. ‘How can we have people like [Avery’s new lawyer] Kathleen Zellner join the story if we don’t acknowledge that she decided to take the case after seeing “Making a Murderer”?’
3. Get a good lawyer The undoubted star of the show this time out is Zellner. ‘She’s the winningest private post-conviction attorney in the US,’ says Demos. ‘We embraced ambiguity in Part 1 but people want answers and she could take them on that journey – to test the evidence, go to the crime scene, talk to experts.’
‘We embraced ambiguity in Part 1 but people want answers’
4. Roll with the punches Not everything can go according to plan – the list of people who refused to be involved is lengthy. ‘The family of [murder victim] Teresa Halbach declined when we approached them about participating [in both Part 1 and Part 2],’ says Ricciardi, ‘and we totally understood. But we tried to find a creative way to include them, via archival material from local media and friends of Teresa. The more voices, the richer the story.’
5. Keep going… and going The filmmakers have been working on this story for more than 13 years now, but they’re far from done. Part 3? ‘We’re certainly open to it,’ says Ricciardi. ‘The courts can just shut things down, but we care about this story. If something’s happening and we have the access that we need, would we continue following it? Yes.’
‘Making a Murderer: Part 2’ is on Netflix from Fri Oct 19.