It was the series that had the world hooked. Documenting the staggering true story of accused rapist Steven Avery (and his subsequent exoneration and later conviction of a separate crime), Making A Murderer continues to stun Netflix audiences worldwide. Its success is due to the detailed, careful and dedicated work of two women, Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos who, during the 10 years of production, went into crippling debt to complete their creative project. As if that wasn’t hard enough, the story, its production and every minor detail is constantly dissected by strangers in living rooms around the world. Luckily the scrutiny means their 10 years of careful work and creative passion has translated into one serious talking point.
Since the show’s overnight success, creators Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos admit they’re a little afraid to go back to Manitowoc County – after all, there’s one scene in the Netflix 10-episode series where Sheriff Ken Petersen admits that if local law enforcement was going to go to all the effort of framing Steven Avery, it would’ve been “much easier to just kill him”.
“People keep asking us if we’re scared to go back and I’m like ‘yeah, well, can you blame us when the sheriff said that?’,” Ricciardi jokes.
It’s no secret that the pair hasn’t won over the county’s law enforcement since the documentary aired, with many locals accusing them of being biased towards Avery and failing to present all the evidence.
But now that Avery’s new lawyer – exoneration specialist Kathleen Zellner – is preparing a new appeal (and keeping us all entertained with her ballsy tweets in the process), it’s looking like their work in Manitowoc might not be done.
“If we end up filming the second series we’ll have to go back,” says Ricciardi. “But I think we’ll just have to hide behind Kathleen Zellner!”
In the lead up to their event tomorrow night at the Spectrum Now festival, the duo sat down with Collective Hub to talk about the 10-year effort that went into making the show, how it’s changed their lives, and the fallout.
Ten years is an incredibly long time, were you able to separate yourselves from the pain and anguish you were filming?
Moira: It was a heavy thing to be living with all this time and we were working on it for a long time. We’re life partners as well as creative partners so there wasn’t always a part of the day to stop talking about it. But we kept coming back to what an important story it felt like we had witnessed, and trying to get it right and tell it accurately.
So were you able to work on other projects while creating Making a Murderer?
Moira: We weren’t really working on other projects [but] when we weren’t working on this we were working day jobs to make money so we could support ourselves and pay for this, because this was a self-funded project. It wasn’t full-time, all the time but that was really a matter of funding.
What were your day jobs?
Moira: Well, we both went back to careers that we had tried to leave behind us before going to film school so I went back to working on film sets as a lighting technician, something I had done years prior.
Laura: And I went back to work as a lawyer.
You’ve both admitted that you had a lot of debt accruing while you were filming, how did that feel at the time?
Moira: That looked and felt terrifying! I mean we were really in deep, deep financial trouble for a long time, working full-time jobs just to pay the minimum on every payment with crushing debt. But once we were in the story, and once we had witnessed what we witnessed, there really wasn’t the choice to stop, we had to keep going.
Laura: And the debt too, so much of it was student debt actually so just by holding ourselves back professionally it made it difficult to stay above water. We were also living in one of the most expensive cities in the States, New York, going to one of the most expensive universities in the city so that didn’t help.
With that in mind, how hard was it to turn down offers from HBO and PBS when pitching the series to distributors how did you have the courage to turn down offers that wanted a shorter format?
Moira: That was some of the hardest parts of the 10 year journey because part of what kept us going was the importance of sharing with the world what we had documented and if we did a 60-minute piece or even a two- hour piece, what would we be sharing? We really would have had to leave out the history and Brendan Dassey, his story line would have been just a blip. So all of the reasons to make the series would have gone away.
What was the process like to pitch and work with Netflix?
Laura: They made it quite easy for us. We were quite far down the road at that point, we were nine years in to the production and we sent them rough cuts of the first three episodes, sketches of a couple of other episodes and an outline that arched out the entire series. I think it was great timing because they really came in and supported our vision and made sure we had the infrastructure and support to really execute it.
Moira: As we mentioned before, it was always part-time before that, we weren’t able to hire other people. Suddenly we had 15 months before launch to hire the collaborators we had dreamed of hiring and get it done.
How does it feel to come to the end of the 10 years and basically not know the answer?
Laura: Well, I think we do know the answer because our question wasn’t whether Steven Avery was guilty or not guilty, but to what extent has the system evolved. And our answer is: not enough.
Moira: I think it’s a great moment, the public is interested and is listening and there are people that are working in the system and are devoting their lives to solve these problems and they have an audience now who will engage with what they have to say.
Not all the responses have been positive though, particularly from the prosecutor Ken Kratz. What has that been like to experience?
Moira: It’s not surprising at all that Kratz would come out and accuse us of things – that is what he does. I think it was disappointing the media gave him a platform and didn’t try to corroborate what he was claiming, so that has been frustrating.
But we try to focus on the point of us making the series, because by Kratz bringing up this piece of evidence or that piece of evidence as he’s been doing, all he does is get people talking about evidence – and that’s only about three episodes out of the 10. And there’s a lot of really important, really disturbing things going on in the other seven. So I think it’s a distortion of really what the series is about and really why people are so upset by the series.
Is there anything you would change about the documentary now?
Laura: We didn’t put this clip in the series but I think about it quite often. It’s Reesa Evans, she was Steven’s attorney in 1985, and she talks about how if everyone working in the system just does their job properly, doesn’t just try to cut corners or hide evidence —
Moira: — or take it upon themselves to do investigative judge and jury —
Laura: Yeh, if everyone just plays their part then justice should prevail, and we should all be on the side of that.
So what’s next for you both?
Laura: We’re trying to figure that out! We’re taking a vacation next week to clear our heads a little bit [to] New Zealand. As we’ve said publicly, we’re open to continuing to follow this story. I know we’ve been reported as ‘There is a Season 2’ – don’t believe everything you read. We certainly are exploring that and we’re open to it; it’s real life, it depends whether there’s something that warrants following and we’re looking in to other projects.
Moira: Whatever we choose, even if it’s not a 10 year project, we’re still going to really invest ourselves. We have to find something that we really care about.