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.”

13 Facts About Amadeus On Its 35th Anniversary

Warner Home Video
Warner Home Video

Though much has been written about the life of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, the most entertaining look at the master composer's life might very well be Amadeus, Milos Forman's film about the artist's life (and rivalries), which was released on September 19, 1984.

Here's a look back at the Oscar-winning biopic that not only brought renewed interest to Mozart's music in the 1980s, but inspired Austrian rocker Falco to write the chart-topping "Rock Me Amadeus." Poor Salieri never stood a chance.

1. Amadeus began life as a Tony Award-winning play.

Russian poet/playwright Alexander Pushkin wrote a short play in 1830 called Mozart and Salieri, and playwright Peter Shaffer—who was already a Tony winner for Equus—took inspiration from that to write his own play. Amadeus played in various theaters in London beginning in 1979, then premiered on Broadway in 1980 with Ian McKellen as Antonio Salieri, Tim Curry as Mozart, and Jane Seymour as Constanze, Mozart's wife. The production won five Tonys, including Best Play and Best Actor for McKellen, who beat out Curry for the award; the two leads had been nominated in the same category.

2. Mark Hamill wanted the lead role, but Milos Forman wouldn't let him audition.

In an attempt to circumvent any typecasting he might get after three blockbuster Star Wars films launched his career, Mark Hamill played the composer on Broadway for nine months in 1983. But when the time came for the movie to be made, Czech director Miloš Forman couldn’t get the space cowboy image out of his head. “Miloš Forman told me, ‘Oh no, you must not play the Mozart because the people not believing the Luke Spacewalker as Mozart,’” Hamill said in a 1986 interview. “He was very upfront about it, and I appreciated that rather than getting my hopes up that it was possible I’d be playing the role.”

3. Kenneth Branagh legitimately thought he had landed the lead role.

A young Kenneth Branagh was an early contender for the part of Mozart. In his autobiography, he wrote that he thought he had the part in the bag until Forman informed him they were casting Americans for the leads. Other actors who auditioned for the Mozart role included Tim Curry and Mel Gibson. Though Mozart was a rock star in his day, actual rock star Mick Jagger was also turned down after his audition.

4. Mozart's frequent collaborator Emanuel Schikaneder was played by another stage Mozart.

Actor Simon Callow originated the role of Mozart at the Royal National Theater production of Amadeus in 1979, and though Forman told him his portrayal was "truly brilliant, fantastic, asshole and genius, funny, tragic, crazy, a baby and a god," the director wasn't prepared to give him the title role in the film. Instead, he cast Callow as Emanuel Schikaneder, the librettist who worked with Mozart on The Magic Flute and played the part of Papageno the bird catcher.

5. The movie was shot without the use of light bulbs or other modern lighting devices.

The Tyl Theatre in Prague was the original theater where Don Giovanni first premiered in October 1787, and the authenticity of the building was a huge boon for the production since it had hardly been updated since it was first built in 1783. “[The Tyl is] where the opera premiered. And he conducted the first performance. And none of the opera house had been touched since he was there," choreographer Twyla Tharp recalled in 2015. "We had fire everywhere. We could have burnt down the opera house. We had live fire in the chandelier. We were lighting people on stage, and these guys were whipping these torches around."

Patrizia von Brandenstein—who became the first woman to win the Oscar for Best Art Direction with this movie—had nightmares about damaging the all-wooden opera house. "I thought, 'God will truly punish me if this place catches on fire,'" she said.

6. Tom Hulce practiced piano for four to five hours a day.

In order to look believable on camera, Hulce spent a month with a piano teacher before filming. Although he knew some basics—he could read music, and had played violin and sung in choirs as a child—he needed to look like a natural. "I spent four weeks, four to five hours a day learning to play,” Hulce told People in 1984. “The first two days were scales and exercises. The next day was a concerto." And for that scene at the masquerade ball when Mozart plays a tune while lying on his back? That was really Hulce.

7. Tom Hulce's laugh is semi-historical, though he had trouble recreating it.

Throughout the movie, Mozart has an infectious cackle—it comes out just as often when he’s giddy as when he’s uncomfortable. Though there are dubious historical reports that the real Mozart had such an obnoxious laugh, Hulce created the giggle after Forman asked him to come up with "something extreme." "I've never been able to make that sound except in front of a camera," Hulce later said. "When we did the looping nine months later, I couldn't find the laugh. I had to raid the producer's private bar and have a shot of whiskey to jar myself into it."

8. Someone really did commission a requiem from Mozart—it just wasn't Salieri.

The script clearly took some artistic liberties, including the plot line of the masked man who comes to Mozart pretending to be his dead father. This was not, as the movie portrays, Salieri. But in 1791, Austrian Count Franz von Walsegg—who had a penchant for commissioning music to pass off as his own at his twice-weekly concerts—approached Mozart and asked for a requiem for his beloved wife, who had died on Valentine’s Day.

According to a famously censored document in which a teacher near Vienna, Anton Herzog, recorded firsthand accounts of von Walsegg’s court, the Count often rewrote these commissioned quartets and other scores in his own hand and didn’t give credit to the original composers. His staff musicians often laughed this off because it seemed to amuse the Count, and because the Count was also an amateur musician in his own right. Mozart’s “Requiem Mass in D minor,” the document alleges, was one such piece. And Mozart really did die later that year, in December, before completing the full mass. Salieri didn’t help him complete it though; Austrian composer and possible Mozart student Franz Süssmayr took that on.

9. The actors felt intense jealousy, too.

Salieri and Mozart were the 18th-century equivalent of frenemies: They were contemporaries in a competitive field, and though they needed each other’s support, they weren’t above petty jealousies and a little backstabbing. Hulce and F. Murray Abraham (who played Salieri) also felt those pressures. ''Tom and Meg [Tilly, the actress originally cast as Constanze] were very close,'' Abraham told The New York Times in 1984. ''They had these secret jokes and were always laughing together. I was pushed out, and I was resentful. I began to have very nasty feelings that were exactly like Salieri's feelings toward Mozart. When that correspondence between a film and real life occurs, it's a director's dream.''

“Occasionally Murray and I would go out and drink this terrible sweet champagne that they have in Prague," added Hulce. "But at other times there was a rivalry between us, and I found myself suspicious of him.''

10. It was shot almost entirely on location in Prague—while under surveillance from the Secret Police.

During filming in 1983, Czechoslovakia was under Communist rule. The production team was often followed around by the secret police, and Forman and the cast spoke about their fears that a Fourth of July prank—the unfurling of the American flag in the concert hall and the singing of "The Star-Spangled Banner" by the large cast and crew—would lead to their arrests for inciting rebellion. Many suspected that their hotel rooms had been bugged during the six months they spent filming the movie.

Forman, who was considered a traitor for becoming an American citizen and not returning to the Soviet-controlled area, had previously had one of his movies banned in the country (then called the Czech Socialist Republic). According to Twyla Tharp, in order to shoot in red territory, Forman had to make certain concessions. "Miloš had to sign an agreement that he would go to his hotel every night for the year that he was there and that his driver would be his best friend from the old days," Tharp told The Hollywood Reporter. "And everybody knew what would happen to his best friend if something untoward politically happened around Miloš, because Miloš was a sort of local hero and he was dangerous to the authorities."

11. A teenage Cynthia Nixon had a small but pivotal role.

At age 17, Nixon played Lorl, the maid employed by Salieri to spy on Mozart. Though she was an experienced child actor at that point, she was also trying to finish her schooling. Thus, she and her parents were cautious of the time she'd need to be abroad for filming. "When I was cast in Amadeus with Miloš Forman, which was shooting in Europe," Nixon said in 2014, "I said, 'I want to be in your film so much, but I have a request: If I don’t shoot for two days in a row, you have to send me home.' They agreed."

12. The distributor made a promotional video depicting Mozart as a modern rock star.

Since the movie wasn't financed by a major studio with lots of promotional dollars behind it, the distributor, Orion Pictures, decided to get creative. And what better way to promote a rock star in the age of MTV than with a music video featuring David Lee Roth and cuts of Bruce Springsteen, Van Halen, KISS, Michael Jackson, David Bowie, and Madonna dancing along to Mozart's "Symphony No. 25 in G minor"?

13. The movie was a huge hit.

The film nearly tripled its $18 million budget at the box office, which was particularly impressive considering it opened in a limited 25 theaters and didn’t have a wide release until several months later. The movie also swept the Academy Awards—of its 11 nominations, it won eight, including Best Picture and Best Director. And, just as on Broadway, Salieri won the Best Actor statuette over Mozart, with Abraham beating out Hulce.

Pod Search, a Search Engine for Podcasts, Can Help You Find Your Next Binge-Listen

Milkos/iStock via Getty Images
Milkos/iStock via Getty Images

Having too many options definitely seems like the best problem to have when it comes to picking your next top podcast obsession, but that doesn’t make it any less overwhelming. To streamline the hunt, try Pod Search—a website and mobile app that has all the information you need in order to choose a winner.

As Lifehacker reports, the user-friendly site is organized in several different ways, depending on how you’d like to operate your search. You can browse its list of about 30 categories, which range from “Storytelling” to “Crime & Law,” and each has a set of subcategories so you can get even more specific. If you trust the opinions of the general public, you can choose an already-popular podcast from the “Top Podcasts” tab. Or, if you like to be the first to recommend the next big thing to your friends, you can pick a program from the list of new podcasts.

Pod Search also has a handy tool called MyPodSearch which will pretty much do all the work of choosing the perfect podcast for you. All you have to do is check whichever categories interest you and add any additional keywords you’d like (which is optional), and MyPodSearch will deliver a list of podcasts personalized for your tastes. This is great for people who have wide-ranging interests, a proclivity for indecision, or both.

Each podcast has its own landing page with a description, audio samples, places you can listen, website and social media links for the podcast, and a list of other podcasts from the same producers. You can also create an account and bookmark podcasts for the future—so, hypothetically, you could have MyPodSearch create a personalized list for you, bookmark them all, and then have a binge-listening itinerary that’ll last you until next year.

[h/t Lifehacker]

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER