Over the twelve days from Monday, December 23 and concluding on Friday, January 3, we will present special Re-Podcasts of my Crime Story Podcast interviews with storytellers in the world of crime and justice. Each interview will be presented in its entirety, and so interviews that were previously offered in multiple parts can now be accessed in one download or streaming session.

This is day 11.

Kary:

This is the Crime Story Podcast with Kary Antholis where we have conversations about how and why narratives of crime and justice are told. Today’s podcast is part 1 of a 2-Part conversation with Moira Demos and Laura Ricciardi, the makers of the breakout True Crime series Making a Murderer. The conversation was recorded as part of a series of classes that I taught at The University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts. Each week I would host an artist for a discussion that would help us better understand their values and aims as storytellers in the world of crime and justice.

During part one of our conversation, we discussed Moira’s and Laura’s respective paths into filmmaking, the origins of their pursuit of the Steven Avery story, the major shifts in the proceedings, their philosophical and aesthetic choices during production and how they supported themselves over the eight years it took to make the series.

One final note before we begin. Apologies for the sniffles and congested tone of my voice during this interview. I was fighting a pretty significant head cold that day. And with that said, here is Part 1 of our conversation.

Kary:

I don’t think that there’s a film that we’re screening this semester that has had a bigger impact on these students than your work. I think a great place to start would be to find out each of your paths into filmmaking and then how you met and started working together.

Moira:

I’ll start. I was a women and gender studies major undergraduate,I took some film classes but I thought I need to study other things while an undergrad. Then I thought I wanted to be a DP, a cinematographer. The day after graduation I went to work on set just to get my foot in the door and was trying to decide lighting or camera, which department, and I ended up going to lighting because I thought I have a sense of framing and I have a sense of how to shoot, or so I thought, and so I did lighting, which then I got into the union. It turned into a great living and a lot of work, but I certainly wasn’t shooting films.

Moira:

I then realized that I had told myself I wanted to be a DP because I didn’t have the ego to say I wanted to be a director, because I was surrounded by a lot of young people who wanted to be directors, and I thought they were full of it. I knew they didn’t make the films, so I wanted to shoot. But by then I realized it was just as hard to become a DP and that I should do what I really wanted to do, and so I switched careers and became an editor, because I thought that had a lot to do with directing.

Moira:

Then after a few years of editing… because I didn’t want to work my way up the ladder anymore, so I was working on very low budget things, features that people had mortgaged their houses to make and they weren’t what they thought they were going to be, and they were realizing that in the edit, and I was the only one there. It was a lot of rough times but I learned a lot and then decided I’ll just treat myself to film school, where I can be a director for at least three to five years, and that’s where I met Laura.

Kary:

How many years out of college were you when you went back to film school?

Moira:

Ten years.

Kary:

Wow.

Moira:

Then we met, but Laura had a very different road to our meeting at film school.

Laura:

Yeah. We met in graduate film school at Columbia actually right before Moira started the program, we met on a classmate of mine’s short film. I was a year ahead of Moira and very excited to meet her. But in undergrad I studied English and government, and then from there I was on sort of a more traditional road. I went to law school. Then I practiced for four years,, I worked for the US Attorneys Office actually, which was the Federal prosecutor’s office. I summered there between my second and third year of law school in Hawaii, so that was a definite draw. I thought I wanted to be a state prosecutor or a Federal prosecutor actually. Then I went on an interview, a job interview, at the Manhattan DA’s office. It was a panel interview. I left it crying, so that didn’t go very well

Kary:

Do you mind my asking, what was it that provoked the tears?

Laura:

I think I was just sort of overwhelmed, because I’d done fairly well in law school. I was a member of Law Review, and I was being challenged about why would I want to work for the DA’s office as opposed to pursuing a more lucrative career in the private sector. I’m sure they were just challenging me and wanted to know, but I wasn’t up to snuff, so it’s a good thing I didn’t do better, because I’m sure I would have gotten torn apart in the courtroom.

Laura:

Basically, I went on a path through the public sector. After I summered for the US Attorneys Office and wound up working in the Attorney General’s Honor Program, the US Attorney General’s Honor Program, for the Federal Bureau of Prisons, and I left that after a short while, and then I went into the private sector, worked for a mid-sized firm, and then just realized I couldn’t deny myself anymore. I wanted to go to art school and decided to go to film school. That’s where I met Moira.

Kary:

What drew you to one another as filmmakers?

Moira:

I think it was just by starting to work together. What drew us to each other was just each other. We were also life partners, so that happened first, and then we started working together. We were helping each other on our various school projects. The way Columbia works is the first two years it’s full-time coursework. You’re making films but they’re just for that semester. They’re not more than that. Then you have sort of free, open time with a few classes available to you to make your thesis work. It was in that period of time, once we finished all of our coursework, when we were sort of looking for projects and thinking about our next step in life, that we read that article in the New York Times.

Kary:

Before we get into your reading the article and what it was about the article that inspired you to go to Manitowoc County, who were the artists, the thinkers, the people in the public eye, who inspired you, whose work inspired you to want to be storytellers?

Laura:

It’s interesting. I think it actually relates to this class in a sense. When we were in the research, so-called research arts phase, of our program, one of our professors, Maureen Ryan, who’s also a producer, she’s produced, was a producer on Man On Wire and Project Nim, James Marsh’s amazing documentaries, and she was teaching a course. She would bring in filmmakers who would screen a work in progress. We would watch one of their finished films at home and then come in and sit down with them, watch a work in progress, and talk to them.

Laura:

I remember at that time for the first time, seeing Paradise Lost, which is Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky’s amazing… I mean, it became a trilogy, but if you saw the first part, I remember Moira and I were watching it, and I was like, okay, we have to go back to the video store, because there were video stores at that time, and I said, we have to get the second part. I have to know what happened. I think on some level I thought what sucked me in was this question of did they do it, did they not do it, but I also recognized that it really was about that particular community and how they responded to this atrocious crime and the treatment of those three young men who were ultimately taken into custody a while after the crimes had occurred.

Moira:

Certainly Paradise Lost is one of our inspirations for this project. I would also say the work of Barbara Kopple and especially her early films, where you have such a strong sense of being in a community, but then you’re sitting at their kitchen table or on their porch, and then the next thing you know you’re at a big public hearing or a press conference. Just that intersection of a debated public thing going on but being intimate with the characters at the same time and how she could weave that together. I definitely think about her films as a model.

Moira:

The interesting thing about Columbia is it’s entirely a narrative program. This one class Laura mentioned was the one documentary class that was happening. It was once a week for eight weeks or something, and it just consisted of watching some films and meeting some great directors. But story is story, and so when we were embarking on this, it very much was about just applying everything we had learned in our screenwriting classes and everything about directing of where do you put the camera. When you’re covering a vérité scene, you want it to cut like it’s a dramatic scene. So, all of those things, it didn’t necessarily matter that we didn’t have the training in the documentary sphere.

Kary:

We distributed to the class the article that inspired you to go to Manitowoc County. How long was it between when you finished Columbia and when you read that article?

Moira:

We were still students when we read the article.

Kary:

You were still students?

Moira:

Yeah.

Kary:

What was it about that article that inspired you to go? Did you start working on the film when you were still students?

Moira:

Yeah. Yeah, we had to take a break from the film to figure out how to graduate. You go ahead.

Laura:

Yeah. I would say I was captivated just by the headline of the article and the side-by-side photographs of Steven walking out of prison in 2003 and two years later, in the jumpsuit flanked by officer, being escorted into the courtroom. This was 2005. It was the fall of 2005. I think if you trace back sort of the origins of the exoneration movement and DNA testing, that was 1992, so even though this was 13 years later, it’s still happening, people are still being exonerated through DNA evidence. I’d never heard of someone who was exonerated who was later charged with a crime, let alone exonerated through DNA evidence that definitively exonerated him.

Laura:

I started reading the article. Moira and I were on a train with her cousin. We were headed up to Massachusetts for the Thanksgiving holiday, and I just kept elbowing her and her cousin and reading the article. I just could not believe it. It seemed so rich. The one thing that especially grabbed me was a quote by Steven’s brother Chuck, and he says… because there’s a mention earlier in the article of Steven’s 36-million-dollar lawsuit. Then Chuck says to the reporter, “I’ll give you 36 million reasons why law enforcement would want to set up Steven.” I immediately recognized that as a conflict of interest or a potential conflict of interest and wanted to know more.

Kary:

Take us to that moment when you arrived in Manitowoc County.

Kary:

Part of the reason Laura and Moira chose this episode to show us is that this is essentially when they arrived there to start covering the trial.

Moira:

That’s right. The first scene in the episode you just saw was Steven’s preliminary hearing, which was December 6 of 2005, and that was our first day of shooting, and it was really cold. It was like six degrees below zero, and we had co-opted Laura’s sister and brother-in-law and his brother to drive up from Chicago to help us out.

Moira:

We had driven out from New York City. It was about 16 hours. We were viewing it as a sort of week to test the waters. We had called the media coordinator to find out what was the situation with cameras, and Wisconsin actually, there’s a Supreme Court ruling there that cameras are allowed in courtrooms. It’s up to the judge how many, so there would be one camera. There’d be a pool system, and if there was a spot in the mult box, we could plug in, so it seemed relatively open.

Moira:

We actually screened part of Paradise Lost in the motel the night before for our three crew members who were joining us, to try to explain how we might try to cover this courtroom that we hadn’t seen and everything, but it was an incredibly charged atmosphere. It was standing room only in the courtroom. Laura went inside.

Moira:

We left her brother-in-law outside at the mult box. We could have cameras in the hallways. There were lots of people that hadn’t gotten in, so we were doing interviews with them. As I said, we thought it would be a week to test the waters, but I think within a few hours it was clear that there’s an incredibly rich story here, and there’s so many sides to it. It’s also accessible. We often talked about, if this had happened in New York, we could have never shown up at the courthouse, but there was something accessible about it being in a small town.

Kary:

How did the conversations evolve about storytelling approach and as you realized that this was something that had a lot of life to it, how did you begin to break down how you were going to cover the narrative?

Laura:

I think we recognized early on that it had the potential to be multi-dimensional. It was so clear that there were so many players. That was the first thing we recognized. Besides the fact that we knew that Steven would be an interesting subject or character, because here was a man who was uniquely positioned… His story is unprecedented. It was unprecedented. There had been one person I think who’d been exonerated before him who was charged with a serious crime, but I don’t even know if that person had been exonerated through DNA.

Laura:

One of the major questions we had going out there was why would somebody who not only maintained his innocence in 1985, or proclaimed it in 1985, but maintained it for 18 years and fought to get out, why would he get out and do something like this to a woman he had a business appointment with. That was a major question for us. We certainly didn’t have any answers.

Laura:

We went out there with tons of questions, and we just knew that there was going to be more than met the eye, and then we had no idea. Once we started just doing some initial research, it became apparent… I started reading deposition transcripts from the civil rights case and realized that some of the same names were popping up from the civil lawsuit to the homicide case, including Andrew Colborn, James Lenk, Ken Petersen, who was the sitting sheriff at the time. We knew it had the potential to be a rich, complex, layered story and that we had a lot to really sink our teeth into.

Moira:

After that first week, we then went home, and it was the holidays. We had decided this really is something we could do. One of the motivating forces too was, we were two women in our thirties, we were going to have MFAs soon, but who cares. How were we going to break in? Who was going to give us an opportunity to do something? I think we sort of had enough sense that, well, nobody really, you have to do it yourself. This seemed like a golden opportunity.

Moira:

It felt like an incredible story we had found, and when we assessed each of what we brought to it, between Laura’s legal background and her writing education and my also writing education but technical background on sets, so that if there were any two people that could just kind of show up and do this, it was that we could probably do this.

Moira:

We ended up subletting our apartment and buying a car and moving there. A lot of what was going on is that we were there to become in a way a part of the community or to build relationships sort of one at a time and be covering things as they happened, whether it was a big court event or even just family drama, but that also left a lot of free time to do all the research, as Laura was talking about, about the past case, and understanding that it really was going to be about the past informing the present and how are we going to do that.

Kary:

Did you self-finance and for how long did you self-finance?

Moira:

We did self-finance for eight years.

Kary:

Wow. We’ll get to that end.

Commercial break for crimestory.com.

Kary:

You mentioned you moved there. We began this semester reading and watching the Richard Brooks version of In Cold Blood. of all the people that we’ve had and that I think we’re likely to have, you’re the only people that I know that have actually moved to the location to cover it and become part of the community.

Laura:

It’s funny. A big reason we did is what you see playing out in Episode 3, because when we first moved out there, we took an apartment. I don’t even know if we had a lease. It might have been sort of a month-to-month situation, and we thought that there was a likelihood that Steven would go to trial in the spring, so that would be maybe a few months from when we started production, or then even later maybe in the fall.

Laura:

We wrote a letter to Steven actually and introduced ourselves and basically said what we wanted to do, that we wanted to tell his story. He was open to it, luckily for us, and he introduced us to his mother and his brother Chuck. We drove out to the salvage yard and spent I guess part of an evening with them. We were really just blown away. We’d already filmed the preliminary hearing. We saw what, just how charged that was and everyone’s interest in it, and thought, these are ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances, and we’re coming and asking if we can put a camera on them while this is happening.

Laura:

I think what they appreciated about us, what we’ve heard from them is, it wasn’t as if we just drove up with cameras and started filming. We wanted to be people to them first. W, and we actually, we would watch the nightly news, the local news, and it was on at 5:00 and 6:00 and 9:00 and 10:00, and the market was saturated with stories about Steven and then of course later Brendan, so it was like, I don’t remember if the program was 30 minutes or an hour, but it was like two-thirds of it was about the Halbach case.

Laura:

What that meant was that very often local reporters would just drive out to the yard and jump out of a van with cameras, and the cameras have a light on it. They’re following Chuck into the office, and he’s trying to run a business. At first, the family was open to talking, because they thought they were defending Steven or presenting their opinion or their point of view, and after a while, they would start to see… and this is what they told us, that they would start to see how the news was reported, and they felt like they were done an injustice through the news reports. So, I think we were welcomed by them in a way because of who we weren’t.

Laura:

It’s interesting, because I think there was the reverse effect on law enforcement and others, who were more skeptical of these two young women from New York who had no history in Manitowoc, who were maybe coming out and being opportunists or something. We really just tried to spend time with them, be people first, and then… I think we were actually very much helped by the fact that the biggest our crew ever ballooned to was four people. It was very intimate. It was one camera most of the time, sometimes two cameras, and I was just in conversation with them.

.

We were actually packing up to move back to New York, and we figured we’d be in New York until the trial came. The night we were packing, we got a phone call saying, “There’s going to be a press conference tonight. You should go,” and we went. That was the March 1st press conference, when Ken Kratz first announces that a relative of Steven’s has confessed, so we went back to the apartment and started unpacking our boxes, because we knew that was going to change everything. We really had no idea how much, but what that meant was that we wound up being sort of in continuous production for 18 months, through the verdicts and sentencing, so that really changed things quite a bit.

Moira:

Yeah. We had gone in thinking this is a documentary feature. It might be long, but you had very clear arc to it. We knew Steven wasn’t going to take a plea deal, so he was going to go to trial. You could see how it was going to fit in even if it was going to be a little bit bursting at the seams. But then, as Laura says, when there were the press conferences about Brendan and that complicated the cases, then you had a whole other case that you were following, it complicated the family dynamics, and suddenly it could never be a feature.

Moira:

You asked how long it was self-funded, and that had a lot to do with it, of being, trying to be true to what the story was and not saying yes to a two-hour slot or a feature kind of deal.

Kary:

How do you live, how do you survive over eight years of covering one story? How did that work?

Moira:

It was really hard. At the beginning, the idea that a week after you read an article you can go somewhere and just shoot for 18 months is really only possible because we were students and had access to student loans, so we maxed out on our student loans, and we maxed out on a whole bunch of zero percent credit cards, and at least covered it, because it was only going to happen once, and if we didn’t, we’d lose it. Then at that point, so it was August of ’07, we moved back to New York and went back to work.

Moira:

Because we had had careers before film school, we had things we could fall back on, so Laura went back to a law firm, and I went back to working on set. We a little bit took turns, but then it turned into Laura working mostly and me trying to pull together material in the edit.

Kary:

you were practicing law for six years, six or seven years, during the course of your piecing together the film?

Laura:

Yeah. Basically, what I did was I demoted myself from an associate position, which was you’re on a track, you have to bill all these hours, to a contracted attorney position, so I could work hourly and have more flexibility. But what I would do is I would take the recorded phone calls, especially Brendan’s calls. We had hundreds and hundreds of hours of Brendan’s calls, and I would listen to them at work. I don’t even remember how I juggled both, but that afforded me the time and the opportunity to comb through his calls and try… Then I’d come home and have my notes for Moira, and we had post-production interns, I guess, and people helping, who were doing things…

Laura:

Because we shot on mini DV, and we didn’t even have enough drive space for all the footage we had, so we would, the interns would be logging and capturing our footage. Then our drives would get loaded up. Moira would be working on an assembly or something. Then we’d have to dump stuff from the drives to make room for more… I mean, it was just… It was insane.

Kary:

How did you come to the conclusion that you had enough to go, to go somewhere to sell it How did you feel like you were ready to finish what became season one?

Moira:

Well, in the end I feel like timing worked out that it took us this long. We went to some markets. We went to IFW, Independent Film Week, in New York. It’s a feature market, so you’re packaging it as a feature. You’re pitching it as a feature. But it was funny, actually. While we were there, Catherine Lowe from PBS was like, “Have you ever thought about doing this as a series?” We’re like, “Actually, I have an outline right here,” yeah.

Kary:

You had thought about it?

Moira:

Yeah. I think at that point we had it as a three-part series. Basically, what happened is, the more you worked in material like that got fleshed out, and so material we hadn’t been in so much, you could imagine might just be one episode, but it was really three. Along the way, we had a three-part, four-part, five-part, six-part, eight-part, ten-part… but it was always the same story. It was just how much material did we have to be able to tell it the best.

Moira:

I think what happened to us partly was when we jumped on this train, it was moving very fast, and so we at least made that commitment to stay on. But then what I often point out to people is, so when we moved back to New York with all this new debt and have to figure out a way to keep going, we’ve also, we’ve basically filmed Episodes 1 through 9 at that point. If you can imagine having witnessed that sort of from the inside, the choice of just putting that in a box and saying, “Oh, that’s not really that interesting,” or, “It’s okay not to share that,” that really wasn’t a choice. I think you just have to get to the place of if you can’t not do it, then you don’t really think twice about the sacrifice. It’s just how you get by and what you have to do.

Laura:

I would add to what Moira was saying too, because part of what we felt we were witnessing was history being erased, and we really couldn’t tolerate that. It was really like, well, what price are you willing to pay to ensure that this story gets out there, a more complete story, gets out there. Because there wasn’t much talk about the lawsuit as being relevant to any of this, and regardless of whether it had a true effect on the Halbach case or the Halbach investigation, it happened and it deserved its moment.

Laura:

There was a lot that Steven’s lawyers and Steven himself were uncovering that went wrong in the 1985 case, and it was so appalling that, in my opinion, at least, that the the Attorney General’s office didn’t take it more seriously and do something meaningful with it. Steven’s attorney, Steve Glynn, was saying when the Attorney General found that there were no criminal violations, no ethics violations, in the 1985 case, which was so clear, Stephen felt he had no choice but to bring the lawsuit, so we felt like that was a very important part of the story, and we didn’t want it to be lost.

Laura:

The other thing is, in terms of choosing a format and really fighting for it., we really felt… We were afraid that if we had to put it out as a feature, we knew that the part of the story that would be sacrificed was Brendan, because Steven was our protagonist, and we really felt like Brendan’s story needed to be told. We really stuck to our guns on that., and we tried to think… We tried to be creative and think of all different ways. We were like, well, Paradise Lost became a trilogy. Maybe we could do three features of something, but we just, we committed and said, this has to be long form storytelling.

Commercial break for crimestory.com.

Kary:

Our last guest was Dave McMahon, who with Sara Burns, did The Central Park Five film, and coerced confessions is a big part of that story. When did you become aware of the nature of Brendan Dassey’s confession and the nature of the questioning that so clearly feels coerced in the film, in the finished film?

Laura:

I think it was a press conference when Jerry handed out his memorandum with the-

Moira:

Well, we had already interviewed Larry White. I actually think this is an opportunity to talk about our goal… Because we moved out there for 18 months, we lived through all of this. We had our own responses to everything that was happening. Then we had the whole story basically and then had a lot of time to do research and fill it out and figure out how to lay it out. One of our goals in the edit and in the writing was to tell it chronologically and to take the viewer on a journey and to give the viewers an experience.

Moira:

I think this episode in particular really captures very much our experience of you’re going along, you’re mostly with the family. They’re saying Steven didn’t do it. There seems to be a million reasons why he wouldn’t have done it. Then all of a sudden there’s this press conference, and it’s horrifying, and you don’t know what to think. That was very much our experience.

Moira:

Laura says we get this call and we’re going… It’s actually the first press conference we were in town to cover, so that’s the first time we’re just behaving as if we’re allowed to be there. Shooting and listening to everything Kratz has to say about what Steven did, and it was very shocking. We wanted in the episode to let that play out in a similar way. Nobody’s commenting on it. He’s just saying that, and you can believe it, you can not know what to think, all of that. But then as you start to hear a little bit more from the family about what was going on with Jodi and how that related to when they went to Brendan and then talking to an expert in confessions who starts walking you through it, you start rethinking what all of this means. It was within a few weeks of the press conference that we then learned more about the context of everything.

Laura:

I think what’s important about that too is part of what we were interested in were these competing narratives. We had cast the widest net we could to try to involve everyone in the production, and the State turned us down. There wasn’t much we could do about it. It was a pending, ongoing case. But we had reached out to them, so we sought ways to include their point of view. What Moira was describing, and part of the experience we wanted to give the viewers, the first two episodes are so, it was really important for us to tell the story chronologically because it is so complex, and we thought people would not be able to follow it. With the Penny Beerntsen case and Sandy Morris coming before that, and also we were very interested in exploring potential cause and effect. That was on our minds a lot too.

Laura:

Part of what we learned just from some feedback screenings, which was always a small, select group, was that when people watched the first two episodes, by the end of the second episode, they had empathy for Steven. They knew he’d been wrongly convicted. They knew he was trying to do something constructive and not have his 18 years in prison have been in vain. But then of course he gets rearrested, and there seems to be really compelling evidence against him, physical evidence against him, but you’re not sure what to think, but they feel for the guy, which is really important, because he’s our main character. We need people to care about him.

Laura:

When Brendan, we sort of called it, “Kratz has his day,” when he gives his March 1st and March 2nd press conferences, the tables have turned once again, and now he has the dominant narrative, and the dominant narrative is this guy has not only gotten out, squandered whatever opportunity he had to rebuild his life, killed this poor, innocent young woman, who he’s lured to his property because he’s this sex-crazed maniac basically, and not only that, he’s gotten his 16-year-old otherwise innocent nephew involved.

Laura:

People really felt like the rug had been pulled out from under them when they first learned about Brendan as we did. It was very destabilizing. But then of course when we started to learn about the tapes themselves and knew that Dean and Jerry had hired an expert, Dr. White, we knew that if Dr. White would give us an interview, that we could hear his analysis of the tapes, and once we did, my questions… I conducted all the interviews, and I asked very open-ended questions. I asked a question and I sit and I’d listen. I’m not trying to guide anyone in their answers. When we had the footage and were able to analyze it, we realized this person is deconstructing what we’re seeing in the interrogation. He’s educating us about what’s playing out. We thought that was really important.

Laura:

I think the first time we saw the tapes must have been when they became available through the clerk’s office maybe. For us, it was always really important to try to maximize our use of primary source materials, because we thought… We are not using any voice-over narration. As Moira said, we wanted to try to immerse the viewers in the story, and through primary source materials it’s an amazing way to do it. Of course we had to rely on some bit of narration that’s coming in this episode through Jerry Buting and Dr. White, but it also contextualizes things, and as long as it’s moving the story forward and you’re learning something new, we felt that’s okay.

Kary:

There’s also a very noticeable juxtaposition between the slice of life scenes with the Avery and Dassey families and the more procedural aspects of the story. Can you talk a little bit about what inspired you to establish that juxtaposition?

Moira:

Sure.Some of it could go back to, like I was saying, really admiring Barbara Kopple’s work in that. What we were telling really was the experience of the accused, and we had identified Steven as this incredibly unique person, and then in a film character, who could go on this journey from really one extreme to another of our US criminal justice system, but you’d have to be willing to be by his side if you were going to go on that journey.

Moira:

We see so many news reports about court, or you’ve seen court, but what does it actually feel like to be there? If you’ve driven to court with somebody and then you see them sitting there, you’re more likely to place yourself there or… Then often it’s also exactly like you said, the juxtaposition, they’re saying… Something happens in court. Something else is being described as happening on the news, and then about the effect of it on the family is totally different, and how did those three worlds connect. Because we had that a lot, of what was on the news had nothing to do with what was going on, and yet that was, that’s the public narrative, and then there’s what’s actually happening. If you can recognize those two different things, it teaches you to read the news differently.

Laura:

Yeah. We also recognized our limitations in producing this. Part of it was just we had no money, and we’re out there, but we had time, we learned over time that time was the best commodity to have actually, because it afforded us the opportunity to be at the yard. That combined with lots of other people not wanting to shoot with us meant, okay, well, these are the people we have access to. We’re trying to build relationships with them, trying to build trust with them. That’s the most important thing with subjects. If you’re able to do that, they’ll let you in, and they’ll let you in even in their darkest moments.

Laura:

We learned very quickly that we were not going to be able to bring cameras in to film Steven. We were able to visit him at the jail, but most of the time we decided we’d prefer to be filming with family or Jodi visiting than going in ourselves. We wanted to build a rapport with Steven, but we mostly did that by phone.

Laura:

In terms of story, we realized that you have the person who’s incarcerated. At that point Steven’s awaiting trial, accused of crimes that will put him away for life. But the people on the outside who care about that person, they might as well be sitting in a jail cell next to them. They’re just as close to it as anyone could be. We felt very fortunate and grateful that Mr. and Mrs. Avery, especially, let us in, and Chuck and Barb, and of course there was a scene where we sat down with Mrs. Avery, Chuck and Barb, and they’re reading hate mail that they’ve been getting from the public. This was before Brendan, so we’re sitting there and we’re talking to Barb and hearing about how her other sons don’t even want to come home and these different things. None of us is aware at that point about what’s going to happen with Brendan.

Laura:

Just getting back to recognizing our limitations, one of them was that we had no on-camera access to our protagonist, and so we… and Maureen Ryan, the woman, the professor I mentioned earlier, she said to us, she gave us a great piece of advice, and she said, “You have to embrace your limitations and think about ways to overcome them.” We said, “Well, we’ll just make it part of our aesthetic.” No one really has access to Steven, so why should the viewers? We just decided that I was going to do phone interviews with him, and then we also were fortunate enough to get his recorded calls, so if reporters did interviews with him… because they would go much further than I would.

Laura:

Moira and I were not interested in anyone talking about, like any family members or Steven, talking to us about what may or may not have happened to Teresa Halbach, because we weren’t investigating the crime. As Moira said, we were trying to document the experience of the accused. There were reporters, though, and it helped, because there were certain plot points where it was important, where a reporter would ask Steven things, and they would get into, “Well, how did your blood wind up in the car,” or whatever it was.

Kary:

Before I get to Netflix and the airing of it, I want to establish a baseline for the community response and the feelings of the family members on the one hand and the members of the prosecution team, including investigators and cops, toward you before the film was released on Netflix.

Moira:

There was a long period of time, and things did shift, because… When we first arrived and you see it in this episode too, there were a lot of people in the public that were thinking, “Why would Steven do this,” and the key, that key doesn’t make any sense. There was some open debate, but things really shifted after Brendan happened. At that point, it was few and far between who would even have an open mind about guilt or innocence.

Moira:

Our criteria for who we wanted to be in this series was anybody with first-hand experience. We didn’t go out looking for some expert just because they’re knowledgeable about the topic. Larry White, we interviewed him because he had been hired by Dean and Jerry, and he was potentially going to be part of the case, so anyone with first-hand experience. We had a lot of cases that we were covering, from the Sandy Morris case, the Penny Beerntsen case, so everybody on all sides of all those cases we reached out to. Some people said no. Some people didn’t even respond to that.

Moira:

For the most part, law enforcement was, tolerant. We had a right to be in the courthouse, but we did have a lot of trouble. We were trying to license footage, because we had so little on-camera footage of Steven Avery. They were all perp walks of him being led into court, and he had had two years of freedom and was in the news a lot. This was a period of his life we knew had to be in the story. We would call up news stations to try to talk to their news directors about procedures for licensing footage. This is, we’re offering to pay them money for their footage, and we would say, “Footage of Steven Avery,” and they would hang up on us. There were obstacles out there.

Moira:

It was clear that the State was very suspicious of us. They tried to subpoena our footage. It was totally baseless. They said that they believed that we had information that was pertinent to the case that was either helpful to the State or helpful to… I think they might have even just said helpful to Steven. It was ridiculous and they knew it. We had to hire a lawyer, and this was right around the time I found out that my student loans were being clawed back, so we had lost all that money. Then here we were penniless. We were beyond broke. We had negative money, and we had to hire a private attorney to fight the subpoena, because we were at that point heading to the trial. We knew it was going to be a five-, five-and-a-half-week-long trial.

Moira:

I had to give an affidavit. Then we attached some exhibits to the affidavit that showed that my letter asking Ken Kratz to participate in the filming. That was in 2006. If you watch him on the news in 2017, I think it is, he’s claiming he’s never asked to be in the show, or he wasn’t asked until 2013. I mean, just craziness. It’s like my letter is part of the case file.

Moira:

Yeah, that was unpleasant and very scary, because we thought if the judge rules in their favor, they are effectively shutting us down, because we’re shooting on mini DV, and they want copies, they’re trying to get copies of all of our footage. We were very fortunate. It was Steven’s trial judge, Judge Willis. He ruled in our favor. He said we were entitled to journalistic privilege, First Amendment grounds. We won, and we thought that was great for that jurisdiction at least, so the next person who comes along and tries to tell a story, we’ll have some protections and not be bullied like that.

End of Part 1

Kary:

This is the Crime Story Podcast with Kary Antholis where we have conversations about how and why narratives of crime and justice are told.

Today’s podcast is part 2 of a 2-Part conversation with Moira Demos and Laura Ricciardi, the makers of the breakout True Crime series Making a Murderer.

During this part of our conversation, we discussed Moira’s and Laura’s making a deal with Netflix to broadcast Making a Murderer as their first documentary series, the experience of watching the series become a cultural phenomenon, the process of making season two of the series and where things stand in the cases of Steven Avery and Brendan Dassey.

One final note before we begin.  Apologies for the sniffles and congested tone of my voice during this interview. I was fighting a pretty significant head cold that day. And with that said, here is Part 2 of our conversation.

Kary:

Okay, how did Netflix happen? 

Moira:

So we were applying to grants and spending a lot of time doing that. Again, they’re all for features. There was a point at which we decided to not spend our time cutting samples and writing proposals but to just keep making it. By the time we approached Netflix, we had rough cuts of the first three episodes, and we had sketches of Episodes 4 and 5. One of our goals was not to be asked, “Can you do this as a feature?” We wanted to give a sense of where it was going and how much more there was than what you saw in the first bit.

Moira:

We also had a 20-page outline of the entire series, so every episode was five acts. We work in five-act structure, so it was an outline of pretty much the series you see, small shifts in once we edited it.

Laura:

Yeah, and I would say, earlier you asked about influences. I think possibly the only example but certainly the best example we could point to was The Staircase, which at that time we knew to be an eight-part 45-minutes each, so eight times 45, story that aired on the Sundance Channel. It was a single case that was arced out over the episodes.

Laura:

I don’t know if you’re familiar with it, but Michael Petersen was a writer and a journalist living in Durham, North Carolina, well-off, and he was accused of murdering his wife and was… The filmmakers, it was a French filmmaking team, and they had incredible access to the defense and to Michael Petersen. He was out on bail, so they were in his home, which was the alleged crime scene. They had tremendous access. Anyway, so when we were thinking about this as a series, we were influenced by The Staircase as well and just-

Moira:

We certainly mentioned it in terms of trying to… because nobody was doing series in this period, in the ’07 to ’15 era, there really weren’t any documentary series, and so trying to point to the one that had been done in recent history to show audiences would be interested.

Laura:

Right. In fact, we were being told that it was a thing of the past, like no one would be interested in that now, The first time we met with Netflix, fortunately, they told us they wanted it and that they would make us a proposal, and we were thrilled, but it took another year to actually paper t became the first original documentary series for Netflix.

Kary

Moira:

Yeah, that was part of why it took the year, because the original docs didn’t exist when we first met with them, and then they did, so then we had to start over, yeah.

Kary:

Then it came out, and it became a sensation. Over that holiday period everybody binged it. Tell us about that experience.

Moira:

It was pretty surreal. The first thing that happened was the experience of finishing the series. What was so rewarding was actually, when we finished and then we were going to have to go out and do PR and hadn’t spoken publicly or talked about the work, we’d just been doing the work, we went back and looked at previous sales pitches and sales material, and it was incredibly rewarding to read a two-page thing about the series and realize this is describing the thing that we just made six years later. We really felt like we had made exactly the thing we had been trying to make and had finally gotten the money so that we could quit our day jobs and make it, so that was amazing, and that was really only a few days before it came out. It was in December.

Moira:

Then it came out on December 18th, which we credit Netflix with the genius of launching it right, the Friday before the holiday week. We’d had a big launch party, so our families were in town and here for the holidays, and so we were just sort of tracking things on social media, and it was pretty insane that so many people were responding to it and getting involved and caring about different issues. That had always been our goal, was to start a dialogue about this stuff.

Kary:

wo questions The conversation with Netflix about doing a Season 2 and the response from Manitowoc County, particularly about the impact of the film and the pressure that that put them under.

Laura:

irst we had to think about would we want to continue telling the story and what our criteria were, and a big part of that was, if we’re going to continue following these same subjects, will we be offering something new? We don’t want to just, we don’t want to retread ground. What we realized was, especially after sort of exploratory calls with Laura Nirider and Steve Drizin, who were representing Brendan, and Kathleen Zellner, who represents Steven, that what we would be documenting would be the post-conviction phase.

Laura:

So, we started to think about, we had a central dramatic question for the first season. Then we had a central dramatic question for the second season. It was basically like, okay, Steven Avery and Brendan Dassey are serving life in prison. Will they be able to overturn their convictions, regain their freedom, and regain their reputations essentially.

Laura:

We answered that question affirmatively yes, there would be something new, and we also realized that the post-conviction phase is such a lesser known phase to most people, so we thought that could be sort of cool to show. We wanted to make sure that we would have access to key players. Once we learned that Laura and Steve were on board, and Kathleen was on board, and of course the Averys themselves, we were really excited and thought, we’re going to go back out to all the people we went to before. We’ll reach out to the Halbachs. We’ll reach out to Ken Kratz. We’ll reach out to Len Kachinsky, all of these people, and if they all happen to turn us down, we think that there will be public events or enough happening that there still could be a story.

Kary:

This is after it aired or-

Laura:

Yeah. As Moira said, it aired in December. We did some traveling with it and actually took a vacation in, I don’t know, February or March, started having initial calls with our subjects in the spring, and then we were back in production in June.

Kary:

hat were the challenges of now having money but, a lot more money but a lot less time to tell the story?

Moira:

Yeah, it was an entirely different process. We had to learn a lot of new things. At first, it seemed great, we’d have support from the start, we could hire crews, we could hire post-production staff. It seems great. It’s funny. Both seasons happened very quickly. There was really no pre-production for either one. I think we went in and pitched to the officials, part two pitch to Netflix, and within a week it was official, and within the next week we were out there shooting. It was a quick staff-up. We opened the post offices here in LA, so we’re commuting back and forth. Now we don’t have time, so we’re not moving there, and we have the money to fly back and forth, but it’s very hard to be there for everything when you’re in LA, and it’s all happening in Chicago and Manitowoc, so that was a whole thing.

Moira:

Then we had a very open-ended arrangement with Netflix for Part 2, because nobody knew what was going to happen. They didn’t have the experience of just diving in without knowing where things are going to come out the way we had in Part 1, so they had to kind of learn that. We didn’t know would we have just one episode and then a few years later another episode or what was going to happen. Things started happening very quickly, so t you start building scenes, and you start arcing out episodes, but then more stuff that’s happening, and suddenly scenes are moving around, and you’re restructuring. Because I mentioned every episode is five acts, but then within the season, we’re really sort of working in three-act structure, so the seven episodes, the midpoint is in a different place than if it’s in ten episodes. There’s a lot of re-editing 

Kary:

Talk to us about starting the season with that cold opening. Then we’ll go back and talk about the challenges of putting the season together, but it feels like you’re confronting head on the controversy and the kind of out-of-control feeding frenzy that the first series, the first season, provoked.

Laura:

Well, when we’re working, we’re always thinking about the jobs, the job of a scene. We were thinking about, we have cold opens for all of our episodes, and we thought for 201, the first episode of Season 2, one of the jobs should be, in a way, to bridge the gap from the end of Season 1 to the beginning of Season 2. One of the major things that happened was that there were news reports that this series was coming, and that it was going to be a series about Wisconsin’s most notorious killer, so we wanted to capture… It doesn’t last very long but wanted to try help our audience understand what the dominant narrative was in Wisconsin at the time. So, before Season 2 came out, everybody thought the jury’s spoken-

Moira:

Season 1.

Laura:

Oh, yeah… everybody thought, the jury’s spoken, law enforcement was right all the time. This guy did do it, and it’s good that he’s put away. Let sleeping dogs lie, basically. But then we also thought we need to establish the context for Season 2. As you said, it was this dialogue that was happening, and it was playing out very publicly. Everybody had an opportunity to speak in the press. Dean and Jerry, Ken Kratz, ultimately Kathleen Zellner, so we really wanted to set the stage just in the hook for Season 2.

Moira:

Yeah, it was very clear as we went back to Manitowoc and went back to the Avery Salvage Yard, that the world had changed, and that we couldn’t avoid that it had changed, because the series had come out. We couldn’t pretend that wasn’t true. People would mention that in interviews of like, “Well, when the series… When Making a Murderer came out, or when I saw Making a Murderer,” or whatever, so it was becoming very reflective, but it was, as Laura said, we’re all about context and cause and effect. To really capture the multifaceted responses and the sort of frenzy of it all and how that had then impacted people’s lives.

Moira:

You’ll see in the first few scenes of 201 people now getting what we call sort of love mail, boxes of letters of support, whereas in Season 1, it was hate mail. It does have an impact on the world, this other world.

Kary:

When you went back to report the second season, how had Season 1 impacted Manitowoc County? We know how it impacted the rest of the world. I would imagine the vast majority of people felt like Steven and Brendan had been, in the case of Brendan coerced into the confession, in the case of Steven, set up for some potentially nefarious reasons, but what was the impact on Manitowoc County of the documentary?

Laura:

Well, it’s interesting, because I think we were concerned that it might have just repelled most people in the community, and we were hoping that wouldn’t be the case, because we spent a significant amount of time there. We felt like in a way like a part of the community or at least tried to do justice to the community in the first season and really felt like what we were doing with the first season was holding a mirror up.

Laura:

One of the things we didn’t talk about tonight, and I was saying earlier one of the reasons we chose Steven’s story was his unique status as a DNA exonerated charge in a new crime, but the other thing was, we thought that it would allow for an exploration of the system, because it was 2005, 13 years into DNA, and we had been hearing there have been these amazing scientific advances and legislative reforms, and these mistakes that have been happening in the criminal justice system for so long are a thing of the past. Part of what we wanted to do was test that theory.

Laura:

We really felt like we didn’t know what the community’s response would be. We had hoped that in some way, maybe through some of the PR we were doing, or whatever we could have an opportunity to describe our process and how organic we felt it was and what our intentions were, and then interestingly, we were really pleasantly surprised, because we knew there were people who were offended by it or didn’t appreciate it or thought it brought all this unwanted attention to Manitowoc, but then there were other people who were grateful and thought, “I had no idea. I didn’t know that certain things went on,” or, “I didn’t know the historical context for the Halbach case,” or whatever it was. We felt a lot better understanding that there was sort of a range of responses to the season.

Kary:

Tell us about the process by which you became aware that you would have enough material to do another ten-episode season, and in the context of talking about that, talk about when Kathleen Zellner came into the picture and how she became the driver of the second season.

Laura:

You can talk about Kathleen.

Moira:

We had secured the participation of Kathleen before we went forward with Part 2. She seemed crucial to it, because, as we had in Part 1, you know you’re not going to have access to Steven, and so who is enacting his want, like his attorney. So, if you don’t have access to his attorney either, what crazy solution are you going to find to tell his story. We knew we needed to get her participation if it was going to really work, so that was before we even started.

Kary:

Could you talk a bit about that? Was there compensation for her? How did all that work?

Laura:

We don’t pay our subjects, and I had initial calls with Kathleen. We learned that she’d been in another documentary called Dream/killer, and it was about a case she had, Ryan Ferguson’s case. We watched the documentary. We like to do research as much as we can, and so we did that, spoke to her. Interestingly, we found out from her that other outlets were interested in picking up this story and telling it and wanted to get access to her.

Laura:

I’d actually first learned about Kathleen taking the case. There was a feature on her in Newsweek, and I remember reading it. She sort of jumped off the page at me. I thought, she just sounds amazing in terms of her determination, her work ethic, her success in the system, and I thought she’d make a wonderful character. She’s so competitive, and she clearly wants to win. I was actually jealous when I read the Newsweek feature, because I thought, someone’s interviewing her, and I want to be doing that. We reached out to her and just left it up to her. We knew she had other offers, and we said, “We would like to film with you.”

Kary:

How does she finance her work?

Laura:

most of her clients, at least on the post-conviction side, so she has a very vibrant civil practice, so there’s that. When she takes on her post-conviction clients, I imagine most of them are indigent, and so she essentially takes them on pro bono, but then if she’s successful, which she has been, she represents them in a civil rights lawsuit, like the one Steven had going in the Season 1, and she’s just won, she’s won millions and millions of dollars for her exonerees, and that’s just apart from even the civil practice she has.

Kary:

There’s two different cases that we’re following in Season 2. There’s the Brendan Dassey case, and then there’s the Steven Avery case. Talk to us about the balance in following those two stories and the challenges in trying to balance those two stories.

Moira:

That’s definitely one of the main… It was the challenge too in Part 1 but especially in Part 2. Going in, we came back to Brendan’s story really where we had left it off in Part 1. His lawyers had taken his case out of the Wisconsin court system and into the Federal court system and filed a habeas petition, and they were just going to be waiting. There was a little bit of a question of, that’s not very cinematic, what’s going to happen there. That was certainly an open question of how are we going to capture that, but one of the things we did want to capture in Part 2 is the incredible amount of time that passes and how slow things are and how much waiting there is. We saw some potential in that storyline.

Moira:

Then from those early conversations with Kathleen that we had, she had told us that she was going to be filing what she was calling a post-conviction petition and that she was investigating the case and would put all of her new evidence in and file this petition, so we thought, well, that will be an arc. Whether that be the end of the first episode or the end of a second episode or, but we thought that would be what we were following with her, and we’d be trying to reach out to the other side, the Halbachs, spending time with the Averys and the Dasseys. Then unbeknownst to us at that time, but very quickly in the summer of 2016, we started in June, and by August 2016 there was a ruling in Brendan’s case, and suddenly his storyline started to eclipse Steven’s, because Kathleen’s just doing her investigation and major news is happening in Brendan’s story.

Moira:

That was part of how the season grew and kept growing. You asked earlier when did we know we had ten episodes, and probably not until the spring of ’18. It was four, and then it was five, and then it was six, and then it was seven, yeah.

Laura:

What we’re documenting here is the most active characters trying to win another day in court. Kathleen is trying to convince a circuit court judge that Steven is entitled to an evidentiary hearing or a new trial, if not to be released, and Laura and Steve are trying to get him, Brendan, a day in Federal court. None of that is guaranteed. I mean, Moira used the word “cinematic.”We were just uncertain all the time. We didn’t know how much our characters would be interacting with one another, how much their storylines would intersect, and we certainly had no idea how dynamic Brendan’s story would be, how dynamic his experiences would be.

Laura:

One of the challenges for us from the beginning has been, we refer to it as putting a face on the antagonist. At least in Season 1, there were court events and press conferences. It was really important to us to even if people in law enforcement wouldn’t sit down with us, Robert Hermann did briefly, would only allow us to talk about certain things, but anyway, we at least in Season 1 could include the point of view of the Halbachs or Ken Kratz because of the press conferences and the court dates. In Season 2 we had no idea if we’ll ever even get into court, if anyone will give a press conference.

Laura:

With Kathleen, part of the pitch, I’ll call it, to her was we really are interested in documenting your process. What does it look like for someone who’s advocating for someone serving life in prison to do what you do, to try to get them back into court or try to get them released outright. The thing about Federal courts too is we knew if there were any proceedings cameras would not be allowed in, so again we had to embrace our limitations and figure out what to do.

Commercial break for crimestory.com.

Kary:

Much of Season 2, focuses on Brendan Dassey’s post-conviction attorneys appealing the use of the conviction through various stages of the court system, initially, in state court and then going to Federal court. They win at two layers of… Well, at the first layer of Federal court, Federal District Court, and then they win at the appellate level in a three-judge panel. Then the prosecution succeeds in getting the entire appellate court to rehear it What we see and hear in the course of the film is we see drawings of the judges hearing that, and then we hear audio tape of that Q&A between the attorneys and the judges.

Kary:

On the other side, what we see is Kathleen Zellner doing a series of investigations of the various strands of evidence that were used to convict Steven Avery, and we also see her exploring alternative theories to how this could happen. What we become aware of over the course of the season is something called the Brady Rule, which is evidence that the prosecutors had, which they by law have to share with the accused, and which a Brady violation is not doing that, not sharing it. There are multiple pieces of evidence that the prosecution never shared with the defense. I think it’s probably worth exploring a few of those things and then kind of bringing us up to speed on where we are now in the Avery and Dassey cases.

Moira:

I think you did a great job summarizing. One of our jobs, one of the main jobs in our storytelling is also to educate the viewer, because if you’re lost as a viewer, we’re lost as storytellers. There’s a lot of graphics in Part 2, because, as you mentioned, so Brendan’s in the Federal court system, and Steven is still in the state court system, and they function in very different ways. They’re looking at very different issues. Even though there’s one murder here, these two sets of lawyers are employing very different strategies. It can be fascinating to watch.

Moira:

Brendan’s team, they talk about, it’s going to take a legal miracle. They’re not exuding confidence that they’re going to win, and yet what you see them do in the first couple episodes is win and then win again, so things are going great for them despite the odds, whereas Kathleen is incredibly confident, and yet it can seem like she’s taking a long time or things aren’t going her way, but there are points in the story where those arcs cross each other.

Moira:

What you do see with Kathleen, because she is incredibly thorough, that she really tries to address every piece of evidence that was used to convict Steven Avery, so whether that’s about times where you’re flashing back to something you saw in Season 1 and learning a lot more about it, because neither the prosecution nor the defense was actually getting at the truth of the matter in court, or sometimes she’s investigating something that didn’t seem like a major issue and wasn’t part of Part 1, so you’re seeing new material from court or from the interrogation.

Moira:

In a lot of ways, because what post-conviction, just by definition, post-conviction, the lawyers are looking back at what happened, what led to the conviction, arguing that it was wrong in some way. So, not only is the viewer learning about post-conviction, but they’re also actually learning a lot about what they saw in Part 1, either things that they didn’t, not to any fault of their own, but they didn’t put together, about what was going on, or going deeper into something and understanding it at a much deeper level.

Kary:

The key pieces of evidence that Kathleen Zellner uncovers or is ultimately given are, there’s a trove of digital evidence that Brendan Dassey’s brother had of pornography, child pornography, violent pornography, that was never shared with the defense team. There was also evidence, human bone evidence, that emerged that was in a place on an adjacent property to where the prosecution said Steven had committed the murder. What were the other Brady Rule violations?

Laura:

Oh, there are a number. I think Kathleen is up to at least six at this point.

Kary:

What happens is we’re taken through each of these pieces of evidence, and then on the Brendan Dassey side of things, ultimately, the seven-member court did, overturns the decision of the three-person court of appeals, and then the Supreme Court of the United States refuses to hear the case. All of Brendan’s appeals seem to have been exhausted. There remains a flicker of hope in Steven’s case, but what we also experience is that there’s this same appellate judge in the State of Wisconsin who has conflict of interest, but keeps denying Steven’s appeals. It gets sent up to a higher level of the state court system and then comes back to her, and she keeps denying it, so it seems like a vicious cycle.

Kary:

What is your sense post the airing of Season 2 of what the prospects are for Steven and Brendan’s ultimate release from prison?

Laura:

I’ll start with Brendan, because, as you said, it seems for now that there’s nowhere for him to go in the Federal system, because it did go, his case did go all the way to the US Supreme Court, and the US Supreme Court denied review. 

Moira:

But just on that one issue.

Laura: 

Yeah, so what was being litigated at the time was whether or not the confession he gave to the officers was voluntary, did he give it of his own free will. Of course Laura and Steve’s argument was that it was coerced and that was a violation of his constitutional rights.

Laura:

They had also made a claim of what they call ineffective assistance of counsel, arguing that Len Kachinsky breached his duty of loyalty to Brendan, that Brendan would have essentially been better off not even having an attorney, and that issue did not go very far. Brendan is sitting in prison today serving a life sentence. He’s eligible for parole, first eligible for parole, in 2048. I think he’ll be in his late fifties by then. I think I’ve heard at least that his best hope is if Kathleen were to get a break in the case that would somehow help his case.

Moira:

Yeah, because he could start over in state court with new evidence. He has that right. He’s only exhausted the entire chain on the issues that they were raising, but if they found new evidence, and right now Kathleen’s the one looking for new evidence, so she would be the one that might find something.

Laura:

Brendan’s confession can no longer be attacked as having been involuntary. That issue is dead. He would need lawyers to do what Kathleen’s doing essentially, try to develop new evidence. Kathleen’s, she’s developing her case on three different grounds. There’s so-called newly discovered evidence, which is evidence that was not known to the court or the jury at the time. Because essentially what the post-conviction lawyer is trying to do is trying to get back into court and say, “Look, Your Honor, you’ve never seen the complete picture,” or, “I have a fuller picture to present to you, and it’s material. It’s important, and you need to look at this new evidence.”

Laura:

She has tried to dismantle the state’s case by trying to take apart the nine pieces, I guess it’s nine pieces of physical evidence, including the hood latch, which was something we wanted to address in the hook. But the other thing that she’s doing, and she tells us flat out, she’s like, “Legally I don’t have to do this but practically I know I need to do this. I need to try to develop what’s called a third-party theory of liability, meaning I have to try to figure out who actually killed Teresa Halbach, and if I can do that and get back into court, then I can flip this case.”

Laura:

One of the threads in her through line is her trying to figure out who, if it wasn’t Steven and wasn’t Brendan, then who was it? She does develop a third-party theory, and she has suspects, and she files that with the court. We also have to be very careful, because you want to be careful of potential defamation claims and that sort of thing, that what we’re documenting and what we’re putting out there is actually part of the public record, because she does name names. The standard she’s trying to meet is she’s arguing to the court that this person or this person or this person could have done it, and so that’s a big part of her case as well.

Kary:

Two questions before I let our students ask some. At the tail end of Season 2, the fact that two members of Brendan Dassey’s family are suspected by Kathleen Zellner of having been involved in the murder, and we see a bit of the impact of that, the news of her suspicions, on Brendan’s family. What has been the residual impact of that on the Dassey family?

Moira:

That in itself was, that’s a tricky thing to navigate for us as filmmakers, because we’ve been filming with this family for 13 years, and they know us and trust us, and now this is happening, and are we going to include it in the series. So, there were a lot of just conversations of, of course we have to include this. You know we’re not taking any sides. We never take sides, but we have to document what’s happening. They already knew that this was what Kathleen was doing, and they knew we were following Kathleen’s process. But it’s a very strained time in the family, and that has a ripple effect to our ability to access people as well.

Moira:

From what we hear, ever since Kathleen filed the motions that included those names, things understandably have been very hard for those individuals, and it has done a lot to sort of tear at the family, but it’s also a family that has been through so much of this. You see it in this episode with Barb finding out about Brendan and telling Steven to rot in hell, but then they have a way of hashing it out and coming back to family. It’s a complicated question.

Kary:

Since Season 2 has come out, has there been anybody in the Teresa Halbach camp, in their family, who has begun to question whether justice was really done for her?

Moira:

Not to our knowledge, but quite possibly, but they certainly haven’t reached out to us.

Laura:

Yeah. I will say for Season 2, we were thrilled that one of Teresa’s college friends agreed to participate, because if we don’t have the material, we can’t include it in the series, and so Chris Nerat graciously sat down with us. I thought he gave a great interview, but, like Moira said, we haven’t spoken to the Halbachs about the substance of anything.

Kary:

Last question for both of you. We ask this of each of our guests. What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received as a filmmaker, as an artist, or what piece of advice would you like to share with the class as they embark on careers as storytellers?

Laura:

I think you already mentioned one great piece of advice from Maureen, which was, embrace your limitations, because you can get really caught up in the camera you don’t have and the crew you don’t have and all of that stuff. But you probably have something else that’s worth a lot more than the camera and the crew. Definitely, that was a good piece of advice.

Moira:

What I would encourage all of you is if you’re passionate about something and you want to make it, if you don’t see it out there, it’s probably proof that the world needs it. Don’t feel like you have to see a model of what it is you want to do. If you want to do it, just do it.

Kary:

Okay. Please join me in thanking Laura and Moira. Thank you, guys. That was fantastic.