17 Compelling Facts About ‘Making a Murderer’

Netflix
Netflix

Following the success of Serial and The Jinx, in late 2015 Netflix released Making a Murderer, a documentary series that follows the at-times unbelievable story of Steven Avery, a now-56-year-old man from Manitowoc, Wisconsin who is currently in prison for a murder he may or may not have committed. It's a familiar scenario for Avery, who previously spent 18 years behind bars for a sexual assault he was wrongfully convicted of (DNA evidence freed him in 2003).

If you didn't binge-watch all 10 episodes of the highly addictive Netflix series as soon as it dropped, you'd better get started. Because after nearly three years of waiting, a second season just arrived with 10 all-new episodes that dive into Avery's life post-conviction, and his ongoing efforts to clear his name and be released from prison once again. Here are 17 compelling facts about the making of the docuseries.

1. THE PROJECT WAS INSPIRED BY A FRONT-PAGE ARTICLE IN THE NEW YORK TIMES.

In 2005, Making a Murderer co-creators Moira Demos and Laura Ricciardi were both film students at Columbia University when a front-page story in The New York Times—“Freed by DNA, Now Charged in New Crime”—caught their attention.

“I found it riveting and kept elbowing poor Moira and saying, ‘I cannot believe this,’” Ricciardi told BuzzFeed. “The focus of that story was the backlash the Wisconsin Innocence Project was experiencing as a result of having been instrumental in freeing Steven. Of course, as it got deeper into the article, I realized that there was an apparent conflict of interest between the county and him.” As storytellers, they were immediately intrigued.

2. THE FILMMAKERS DIDN’T HAVE AN OPINION ON STEVEN AVERY’S GUILT OR INNOCENCE.

The question of Steven Avery’s guilt or innocence wasn’t what motivated the filmmakers. In fact, they told Vulture that it wasn’t a question they even considered. When we first started we didn't have an opinion as to his guilt or innocence,” Ricciardi admitted. “What drew us to this story was Steven's status as an accused. In this country, people being accused of heinous crimes is unfortunately not that rare an event, but the fact that Steven had been wronged by the system, and was in the process of trying to reform the system and hold people accountable just raised so many questions. Could somebody who had those motivations possibly do something like this? Or did somebody trying to change the system see the system come back down on top of them? Either way, there was a story.”

3. BEFORE SHE WAS A FILMMAKER, LAURA RICCIARDI WAS A LAWYER.

As much as it’s a true crime documentary, Making a Murderer also operates as a forensic science procedural and courtroom drama, which made Ricciardi’s legal background extremely helpful in reviewing Avery’s case and how it was handled. Before pursuing her MFA in film at Columbia, Ricciardi earned a JD from New York Law School. Throughout the decade she and Demos worked on the first season of the series, Ricciardi helped pay the bills by continuing to work in the legal field.

4. THE FILMMAKERS MOVED FROM NEW YORK TO WISCONSIN TO IMMERSE THEMSELVES IN THE SUBJECT. 


Netflix

Within weeks of reading that original New York Times article, Demos and Ricciardi made their way to Wisconsin after learning that they were allowed to watch video from the courtroom and could dig further into the story. As they were getting ready to head back to New York, the police held a press conference, during which they announced that Avery’s nephew, Brendan Dassey, was officially being considered a suspect. “It caught everyone off guard,” recalled Demos. “At that point, we knew that this was going to be more than we had thought.”

The two decided that if they were going to pursue this story in earnest, they needed to relocate to Wisconsin. “Part of that was so we could be there for every court date and every development,” Ricciardi said, “but also so that we could start to reach out to subjects and do interviews about the past and go through archival materials.” They moved to Manitowoc in January 2006, and remained there for about a year and a half.

5. THE FIRST SEASON WAS PRODUCED OVER A 10-YEAR PERIOD.

The math is pretty easy on this one: Demos and Ricciardi began developing the project in 2005, and celebrated its debut on Netflix in December—meaning they invested a full 10 years of their lives in just the first season of the project.

6. IT WAS STEVEN AVERY WHO CONVINCED HIS FAMILY TO PARTICIPATE.

Over the course of the decade they worked on the film, the moviemakers “developed an amazing relationship with the Avery family,” according to Ricciardi. And they owe much of the access they were given to the Avery family to Steven directly. “We started to get to know Steven by telephone and we eventually started meeting him at the county jail, developing a relationship with him and gaining his trust,” Ricciardi told Vulture. “He called and arranged for Moira and me to go out and meet his mother. We were really impressed with how open the Averys were to meeting us. They heard us out about who we were and what we were doing and why we were interested in their story. It's very much Steven's story, but it's also a family's story. It's clear that when someone is wrongfully imprisoned, not only that person but all their loved ones endure it as well.”

7. AVERY’S PAST BRUSHES WITH THE LAW WERE WHAT MADE HIM AN INTERESTING SUBJECT TO THE FILMMAKERS.

Netflix

Though critics of the series claim that the filmmakers did not give a detailed accounting of Avery’s criminal past, both Demos and Ricciardi have said that Avery’s flaws are what made him so interesting to them in the first place. “In some ways that’s part of the point,” Demos told BuzzFeed. “If you want to push him away at the start and by Episode 10, you care about him, you’ve grown as a person and that’s really important.”

8. THEY SHOT NEARLY 700 HOURS OF FOOTAGE.

According to The New York Times, Demos and Ricciardi “shot over 500 hours of interviews and visuals, then recorded another 180 hours at trials” throughout the 10 years of production.

9. THE FILMMAKERS BELIEVE THE STATE OF WISCONSIN WANTED TO BURY THE FILM.

Demos and Ricciardi made their presence—and their project—known while they were in Wisconsin, which purportedly didn’t sit well with the state. In 2006, the filmmakers were forced to hire a lawyer after the State of Wisconsin attempted to subpoena their footage. “The state wanted any statement Steven made … and statements by others who might have knowledge or claim to have knowledge about who was responsible for the death of Teresa Halbach,” Ricciardi explained to BuzzFeed. “Our argument in trying to get the court to throw out the subpoena is that the state has access to all of this material. Steven is currently incarcerated. All of his calls, all of his visits are being recorded, so they don’t need to get that from us. It was a fishing expedition, and we really think it was an effort by the state to shut down our production. There was a way in which, on the one hand, Wisconsin is a very media-friendly state. It was great for us that cameras were allowed in the courtroom, it was great for us that they had a very expansive public records law so we could get the types of materials [we did]. On the other hand, the people on the ground, the people in power, weren’t always happy we were there.”

10. THE STAIRCASE INSPIRED THE EXTENDED FORMAT.

Though they originally envisioned the film as a documentary feature, the filmmakers quickly began to realize that—with all the twists and turns happening in Avery’s case—confining his story to a two-hour running time was going to be difficult. And it wasn’t until they saw the 2004 Sundance docuseries The Staircase that they realized a multi-part documentary was a possibility. “We were very interested in documenting the historical context for the new case,” Demos told Vulture. “It was then we realized the story could sustain a much longer form. There wasn't an outlet at the time that we really knew of. The one example there was was The Staircase, an eight-part documentary series on Sundance.”

11. BOTH PBS AND HBO PASSED ON THE PROJECT.

Three years after they first began production on the documentary, Demos and Ricciardi met with a number of network executives to discuss distribution, including representatives from PBS and HBO; all of them passed. It wasn’t until years later, in 2013, that Netflix optioned the series (they said yes based on seeing a rough cut of three episodes).

12. PROSECUTOR KEN KRATZ ISN’T A FAN OF THE SERIES.

Unsurprisingly, former D.A. Ken Kratz—who was part of the prosecution team that put Avery back behind bars—isn’t exactly a fan of the Netflix series, or his representation within it. “If you pick and choose and edit clips over a 10-year span, you’re going to be able to spoon-feed a movie audience so they conclude what you want them to conclude,” Kratz told Maxim. “That the theory of planted evidence ... is accepted by some people isn’t surprising at all. The piece is done very well, and I would have come to the same conclusion if that was the only material I was presented with.”

13. KRATZ CLAIMS THE FILMMAKERS LEFT OUT SEVERAL PIECES OF KEY EVIDENCE.

Netflix

In an interview with People, Kratz said the filmmakers left out and/or glossed over several pieces of evidence presented in court that he claims point to Avery’s guilt in the murder of Teresa Halbach, stating: “You don't want to muddy up a perfectly good conspiracy movie with what actually happened, and certainly not provide the audience with the evidence the jury considered to reject that claim.”

14. THE FILMMAKERS REFUTE KRATZ’S CLAIM.

In response to Kratz’s accusations, Demos told The Wrap that, “We tried to choose what we thought was Kratz’s strongest evidence pointing toward Steven’s guilt, the things he talked about at his press conferences, the things that were really damning toward Steven. That’s what we put in. The things I’ve heard listed as things we’ve left out seem much less convincing of guilt than Teresa’s DNA on a bullet or her remains in his backyard.”

“Ken Kratz is entitled to his own opinion, but he’s not entitled to his own facts,” Ricciardi added. “If he’d like to put together a documentary and try to discredit us in some way, he’s welcome to do that. We’re not going to be pulled into re-litigating the Halbach case with him.”

15. AVERY MAY NEVER SEE THE DOCUMENTARY.

Despite his cooperation, Avery may never get a chance to see Making a Murderer for himself. He has no access to Netflix streaming in prison and DVDs are prohibited, according to Dean Strang, who represented Avery during his murder trial.

16. IT MAY BE THE DIRECTORIAL DEBUT OF BOTH FILMMAKERS, BUT DON’T CALL THEM INEXPERIENCED.

When asked by Indiewire what the biggest misconception was about them and their work, the filmmakers were quick to respond: “That we don't have any experience. Over the past 10 years, we made the equivalent of five feature films.”

17. WHETHER OR NOT AVERY'S CASE WILL BE REVIEWED AGAIN IS UNKNOWN.

Netflix

Since Making a Murderer's Netflix premiere, worldwide interest in Avery's case—and whether or not he was wrongfully convicted a second time—has grown. In addition to a Change.org petition imploring President Obama to pardon Avery (there are more than 350,000 signatures and counting), a petition directly to the White House acquired more than 100,000 signatures, which prompted a response—though probably not exactly the answer that Avery's many advocates were hoping for. The White House stated that, "Since Steven Avery and Brendan Dassey are both state prisoners, the President cannot pardon them. A pardon in this case would need to be issued at the state level by the appropriate authorities." Still, the online hacktivist group Anonymous has taken up the cause and claims to have evidence that will exonerate Avery. If that's true, it's likely the only thing that would allow Avery's case to be reexamined: He has exhausted all his appeals.

“What ultimately freed him [before] was newly discovered evidence where the technology advanced to the stage where you could test the DNA,” said Avery's post-conviction attorney, Robert Henak. “In this case, we’re looking for technology to do the same kind of thing, to show that the evidence at the original trial really did not mean what the state was arguing that it meant and what the jury believed that it meant.”

Disney's Most Magical Destinations Have Been Reimagined as Vintage Travel Posters

UpgradedPoints.com
UpgradedPoints.com

Many of the iconic settings of animated Disney movies were modeled after real places around the world. Ussé Castle in France’s Loire Valley, for example, is widely rumored to have been the inspiration behind the original Sleeping Beauty story. (Although the castle in the movie more closely resembles Germany's Neuschwanstein Castle.) Likewise, the fictional island in Moana was made to look like Samoa, and the Sultan’s palace in Aladdin shares some similarities with India's Taj Mahal.

If you’ve ever dreamed of exploring Agrabah or Neverland, then you’ll probably enjoy getting lost in these Disney-inspired travel posters from the designers at UpgradedPoints.com, an online resource that helps individuals maximize their credit card travel rewards. Only one of the posters features a real destination ("Beautiful France"), but these illustrations let you get one step closer to scaling Pride Rock or plumbing the depths of Atlantica.

All of the images are rendered in a vintage style with enticing slogans attached—much like the exotic travel posters that were prevalent in the 1930s.

“A few of our designers wanted to capture that longing to experience the true locations of these fantastic films, and the inner child in all of us couldn’t resist seeing how they interpreted the locations of their favorite films,” UpgradedPoints.com writes. “The results are breathtaking and make us wish we could fall into our favorite Disney movies.”

Keep scrolling to see the posters, and for more travel inspiration, read up on eight real-life locations that inspired Disney places (plus one that didn't).

A Disney-inspired poster of France
UpgradedPoints.com

An Atlantica travel poster
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A Disney-inspired poster
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A Disney-inspired poster
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A Lion King travel poster
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A Neverland travel poster
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11 Memorable Facts About Cats the Musical

Mike Clarke/Getty Images
Mike Clarke/Getty Images

“It was better than Cats!” Decades after Andrew Lloyd Webber's famed musical opened on Broadway on October 7, 1982, this tongue-in-cheek idiom remains a part of our lexicon (thanks to Saturday Night Live). Although the feline extravaganza divided the critics, it won over audiences of all ages and became an industry juggernaut—one that single-handedly generated more than $3 billion for New York City's economy—and that was before it made a return to the Great White Way in 2016. In honor of Andrew Lloyd Webber's birthday on March 22, let’s take a trip down memory lane.

1. The work that Cats the musical is based on was originally going to include dogs.

Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, published in 1939, is a collection of feline-themed poems written by the great T. S. Eliot. A whimsical, lighthearted effort, the volume has been delighting cat fanciers for generations—and it could have become just as big of a hit with dog lovers, too. At first, Eliot envisioned the book as an assemblage of canine- and tabby-related poems. However, he came to believe that “dogs don’t seem to lend themselves to verse quite so well, collectively, as cats.” (Spoken like a true ailurophile.) According to his publisher, Eliot decided that “it would be improper to wrap [felines] up with dogs” and barely even mentioned them in the finished product.

For his part, Andrew Lloyd Webber has described his attitude towards cats as “quite neutral.” Still, the composer felt that Eliot’s rhymes could form the basis of a daring, West End-worthy soundtrack. It seemed like an irresistible challenge. “I wanted to set that exciting verse to music,” he explained. “When I [had] written with lyricists in the past … the lyrics have been written to the music. So I was intrigued to see whether I could write a complete piece the other way ‘round.”

2. "Memory" was inspired by a poem that T.S. Eliot never finished.

In 1980, Webber approached T.S. Eliot’s widow, Valerie, to ask for her blessing on the project. She not only said “yes,” but provided the songwriter with some helpful notes and letters that her husband had written about Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats—including a half-finished, eight-line poem called “Grizabella, the Glamour Cat.” Feeling that it was too melancholy for children, Eliot decided to omit the piece from Practical Cats. But the dramatic power of the poem made it irresistible for Webber and Trevor Nunn, the show’s original director. By combining lines from “Grizabella, the Glamour Cat” with those of another Eliot poem, “Rhapsody on a Windy Night,” they laid the foundation for what became the powerful ballad “Memory.” A smash hit within a smash hit, this showstopper has been covered by such icons as Barbra Streisand and Barry Manilow.

3. Dame Judi Dench left the cast of Cats when her Achilles tendon snapped.

One of Britain’s most esteemed actresses, Dench was brought in to play Grizabella for Cats’s original run on the West End. Then, about three weeks into rehearsals, she was going through a scene with co-star Wayne Sleep (Mr. Mistoffelees) when disaster struck. “She went, ‘You kicked me!’” Sleep recalls in the above video. “And I said, ‘I didn’t, actually, are you alright?’” She wasn’t. Somehow, Dench had managed to tear her Achilles tendon. As a last-minute replacement, Elaine Paige of Evita fame was brought aboard. In an eerie coincidence, Paige had heard a recorded version of “Memory” on a local radio station less than 24 hours before she was asked to play Grizabella. Also, an actual black cat had crossed her path that day. Spooky.

4. To finance the show, Andrew Lloyd Webber ended up mortgaging his house.

Although Andrew Lloyd Webber had previously won great acclaim as one of the creative minds behind Jesus Christ Superstar and other hit shows, Cats had a hard time finding investors. According to choreographer Gillian Lynne, “[it] was very, very difficult to finance because everyone said ‘A show about cats? You must be raving mad.’” In fact, the musical fell so far short of its fundraising goals that Webber ended up taking out a second mortgage on his home to help get Cats the musical off the ground.

5. When Cats the musical came to Broadway, its venue got a huge makeover.

Cats made its West End debut on May 11, 1981. Seventeen months later, a Broadway production of the musical launched what was to become an 18-year run at the Winter Garden Theatre. But before the show could open, some major adjustments had to be made to the venue. Cats came with an enormous, sprawling set which was far too large for the theatre’s available performing space. To make some more room, the stage had to be expanded. Consequently, several rows of orchestra seats were removed, along with the Winter Garden’s proscenium arch. And that was just the beginning. For Grizabella’s climactic ascent into the Heaviside Layer on a giant, levitating tire, the crew installed a hydraulic lift in the orchestra pit and carved a massive hole through the auditorium ceiling. Finally, the theater’s walls were painted black to set the proper mood. After Cats closed in 2000, the original look of the Winter Garden was painstakingly restored—at a cost of $8 million.

6. Cats the musical set longevity records on both sides of the Atlantic.

The original London production took its final bow on May 11, 2002, exactly 21 years after the show had opened—which, at the time, made Cats the longest-running musical in the West End’s history. (It would lose that title to Les Miserables in 2006.) Across the pond, the show was performed at the Winter Garden for the 6138th time on June 19, 1997, putting Cats ahead of A Chorus Line as the longest-running show on Broadway. To celebrate, a massive outdoor celebration was held between 50th and 51st streets, complete with a laser light show and an exclusive after-party for Cats alums.

7. One theatergoer sued the show for $6 million.

Like Hair, Cats involves a lot of performer-audience interaction. See it live, and you might just spot a leotard-clad actor licking himself near your seat before the curtain goes up. In some productions, the character Rum Tum Tugger even rushes out into the crowd and finds an unsuspecting patron to dance with. At a Broadway performance on January 30, 1996, Tugger was played by stage veteran David Hibbard. That night, he singled out one Evelyn Amato as his would-be dance partner. Mildly put, she did not appreciate his antics. Alleging that Hibbard had gyrated his pelvis in her face, Amato sued the musical and its creative team for $6 million.

8. Thanks to Cats the musical, T.S. Eliot received a posthumous Tony.

Because most of the songs in Cats are almost verbatim recitations of Eliot’s poems, he’s regarded as its primary lyricist—even though he died in 1965, long before the show was conceived. Still, Eliot’s contributions earned him a 1983 Tony for Best Book of a Musical. A visibly moved Valerie Eliot took the stage to accept this prize on her late spouse’s behalf. “Tonight’s honor would have given my husband particular pleasure because he loved the theatre,” she told the crowd. Eliot also shared the Best Original Score Tony with Andrew Lloyd Webber.

9. The original Broadway production used more than 3000 pounds of yak hair.

Major productions of Cats use meticulously crafted yak hair wigs, which currently cost around $2300 apiece and can take 40 hours or more to produce. Adding to the expense is the fact that costumers can’t just recycle an old wig after some performer gets recast. “Each wig is made specifically for the actor,” explains wigmaker Hannah McGregor in the above video. Since people tend to have differently shaped heads, precise measurements are taken of every cast member’s skull before he or she is fitted with a new head of hair. “[Their wigs] have to fit them perfectly,” McGregor adds, “because of the amount of jumping and skipping they do as cats.” Perhaps it should come as no surprise that, over its 18-year run, the first Broadway production used 3247 pounds of yak hair. (In comparison, the heaviest actual yaks only weigh around 2200 pounds.)

10. A recent revival included hip hop.

In December 2014, Cats returned to the West End with an all-new cast and music. “The Rum Tum Tugger,” a popular Act I song, was reimagined as a hip hop number. “I’ve come to the conclusion, having read [Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats] again, that maybe Eliot was the inventor of rap,” Webber told the press.

11. Another revival featured an internet-famous feline for one night only.

On September 30, Grumpy Cat made her Broadway debut in Cats, briefly taking the stage with the cast. Despite being named Honorary Jellicle Cat, she hated every minute of it.

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