Arts and Entertainment | Film

Making a filmmaker: A conversation with Moira Demos and Laura Ricciardi

I weaved through the throngs of dripping raincoats, umbrella spokes, and rain boots to secure my spot near the Miller Theatre lobby staircase. The “Making a Murderer” talk would begin in half an hour, and the excitement was already palpable—snippets of animated conversation coincided with the beat of the rain outside the window. The door to the theater opened: showtime.

On the drizzly evening of Sept. 30, Moira Demos, CC '96 and SoA '08, and Laura Ricciardi, SoA '07, creators of the four-time Emmy Award-winning documentary series “Making a Murderer,” participated in a conversation on filmmaking and narrative technique with School of the Arts professor Tom Kalin, associate professor Rob King, and film program Chair Maureen Ryan. Talking points included their inspiration for the show, the challenge of making a film with no access to the protagonist, representation of the characters, and their experiences working with Netflix.

The School of the Arts has a long history of teaching budding filmmakers narrative and storytelling strategies, so it was no surprise when Kalin asked about how the principles of fictional narrative—concepts like “show, don’t tell,” character introduction, and visual storytelling—were utilized in “Making a Murderer.”

“‘Show, don’t tell’ was certainly paramount to us,” Ricciardi said. “Because with showing, not telling, we really thought we could give the viewers an experience, and we want to be very mindful of where our viewers are relative to our characters in the story. Are they ahead of the characters? Are they behind them? Are they with them?”

Alfred Hitchcock once described suspense as having the public see a bomb under the table before the characters and counting down to when the bomb is going to explode, longing to warn the characters as they are left unaware. In the case of “Making a Murderer,” that bomb was the O’Kelly video, a game changing revelation.

“By placing the O’Kelly tape in episode four ... viewers [received] information they did not have,” Ricciardi said after a discussion of what it was like to retell history.

The O’Kelly video was used again in episode 10 to go deeper into the narrative through the use of sit-downs from Steven’s new council. This added another layer, and Demos and Ricciardi thought it would be fascinating to present it to viewers in that way.

After the panel answered the audience’s final question, Ryan eagerly turned to the filmmakers and asked them what they could reveal about season two. The audience giggled nervously in anticipation for their answer.

Riccardi jumped straight to the extra precautions the crew had to take because of the immense impact generated from the show in response to a question of how the film process had changed in season two.

“Originally when we were out there, I think neither law enforcement nor media really were very concerned about what we were doing. We were out there I think sort of getting by as film students, and trying to play that card as long as we could. Because, again, we wanted to sort of become a part of the community and not really stand out, and now that’s not really possible,” she said.

“I mean, it would be very different for me to show up at the Manitowoc County court office now or the Manitowoc County sheriff's office now and ask to look at a file,” she added. “So our crew has grown, and we take precautions now that we didn’t need to take in the past.”

Season two for “Making a Murderer” is currently in post-production, and Netflix has yet to announce a release date.

darcy.cagen@columbiaspectator.com | @IAmNotMrDarcy

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