Nearly 20 years ago, Reed Hastings and Marc Randolph started a little ole’ company in Scotts Valley, California. Randolph had the idea and Hastings had the money.
Randolph’s unfocused idea was to sell items over the Internet, but he had no idea of the product to sell; that was until Hastings was forced to pay an obscene amount in late fees for the movie Apollo 13 at a local video store.
That “unfortunate” connection spawned the birth of the first monthly subscription DVD-by-mail service known as Netflix. The idea? No late fees ever. The customer mails it back whenever they’re ready, with no need for obvious fictitious excuses the customer makes up to con their way out of late fees.
In January 2008, Netflix began a streaming service at no additional cost, buying up libraries of content from studios and production companies to leave snail mail in the dust. Then in 2011, Netflix used its profits to not only buy up libraries of content for streaming but to start producing their own original content — feature-length movies and television shows.
Netflix veered away from the conventional business model, like the recently deceased Blockbuster Video, and ventured towards an HBO-model — and consequently the Netflix owners officially became filmmakers in 2011. And now, they’re one of the 10 most profitable companies in the world.
Now, meet filmmakers Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos, who met (both females, they are in a long-term relationship with each other) while they were both graduate students in film school at Columbia University School for the Arts. But Ricciardi, prior to being a Columbia film student, received her JD from New York Law School and worked as a lawyer before attending Columbia.
While attending Columbia in November of 2005, Ricciardi and Demos came across an intriguing article in the New York Times by Monica Davey entitled, “Freed by DNA, Now Charged in New Crime.”
Davey’s article details the bizarre and unfathomable journey of Steven Avery, a man from Manitowoc, Wisconsin who was exonerated through new DNA evidence after spending 18 years in prison for a sexual assault he obviously not commit.
Upon his release in 2003, Avery became a symbol of the gross injustice of treating a not-guilty civilian unfairly. Avery even became the spokesperson for the Wisconsin Innocence Project at the University of Wisconsin Law School, which deals constantly in sketchy evidence cases, including Avery’s case.
Avery and his newfound lawyers were on track to sue the city and state for Avery’s wrongful arrest and imprisonment for a whopping 36 million dollars. Then another crazily unexpected tragedy occurred.
Just 2 years later in 2005, Avery just so happened to be back behind bars for the murder of 25-year-old Teresa Halbach. Again, he did not do it. Or so he claims.
In fact, the motive supports Avery’s claim that he did not do it. Avery had no clear motive, but the city and state had 36 million reasons.
After reading the New York Times article, Ricciardi and Demos embarked on a 10-year journey that would inevitably become Netflix’s 10-part miniseries Making a Murderer.
In fairness to the filmmakers, they devoted an astounding amount of time of their lives because the concept of an exonerated man and consequently convicted of murder had never happened before. It was unprecedented.
But if you’ve watched Making a Murderer, by the time you get to the murder trial, it becomes an indictment of the police department and a conspiracy documentary, and the 36 million dollars is a truly convincing motive.
The other convincing evidence against the department in support of the conspiracy included:
–The Manitowoc Police Department was not supposed to get involved beyond lending equipment, but were there at every critical juncture.
–One of the local officers was left alone by the vehicle for several hours after the car was discovered in Avery’s junkyard, but BEFORE blood had been discovered inside.
–When the key to Halbach’s car was conveniently discovered inside the home of Avery, it was found in plain view even though they had turned the place upside-down for nearly a week.
–A fragment of a bullet was found in Avery’s garage after it had been searched many times.
–A vial of Avery’s blood from the 1985 wrongful conviction had clearly been tampered with by a punctured hole on the rubber top.
–Brendan Dassey, Avery’s dimwitted nephew — also convicted of Halbach’s murder — was clearly taken advantage of during interrogation by the detectives who were obviously leading him into answers. Dassey’s IQ level was valued around 75, which is right around Forrest Gump level for context.
This evidence has left viewers of the popular documentary entirely convinced that Avery was wrongfully convicted, again. In fact, a petition about the re-trial of Avery — that received over 400,000 signatures — was sent to President Obama (but this is a state case and Obama has no jurisdiction over re-trial state cases like this one).
In the documentary, co-directors Ricciardi and Demos’ accusations about the Manitowoc Police Department are malicious and entirely convincing — and they are also incredibly one-sided.
But before we get into the evidence that was left out, let’s tie back around to why the Netflix filmmakers may have been a huge factor in the editing process — and possibly forced the co-director’s hands into a different narrative.
In the last couple of years, non-fictional true-crime murder mystery documentaries have exploded onto the entertainment market.
Serial, co-created by Sarah Koenig and Julie Snyder, revisited the case of Adnan Syed, who was convicted in 1999 for murdering his high school classmate and former girlfriend, Hae Min Lee.
Then came The Jinx, which was a 6-part miniseries by HBO about Robert Durst, who was involved in multiple murder cases, including his wife, dating back to 1982.
Then there was Making a Murderer.
Most recently, was the retelling 5-part miniseries of Orenthal James Simpson called OJ: Made in America (not to be confused with the fictional FX series), which was a smash hit for ABC and ESPN.
African-American filmmaker Ezra Edelman proved the narrative for OJ: Made in America and proved beyond a reasonable doubt through massive research, analysis and prior footage, that Simpson was unequivocally guilty. But is there a reasonable doubt with the Avery case?
The viewership for these types of shows is unprecedented and has created a whole new sub-genre of non-fictional documentaries, often called “True-Crime-Docu-Series.” The point is, audiences clearly have a morbid fascination with bloody crimes.
But there is one documentary that supersedes all of these and is the Holy Grail, the Citizen Kane of documentaries, called The Thin Blue Line.
The Thin Blue Line is a remarkable 1988 documentary by Errol Morris that tells the story of Randall Dale Adams, who was convicted and sentenced to death for a murder he did not commit.
And if anyone tries to argue against the power of film, Morris’ documentary is the epitome of influence, because The Thin Blue Line was used as the primary evidence that overturned the conviction of Adams and his wrongful death sentence.
In 2008, Variety called this documentary “the most political work of the last 20 years.” It has been admitted into the National Film Registry and the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.” How could you not rank it as such? The work literally saved a man’s life.
When I first saw The Thin Blue Line, it was the most haunting, sleepless night I have ever had in my life. It changed me and I wanted to know and see more films like it. And do you know where I first saw it? Netflix. I streamed it in 2010.
Netflix only reports their original content for ratings but Making a Murderer was the highest rated show that they had ever had, until the 80’s thriller Stranger Things recently dethroned it.
You might be wondering why Netflix only reports viewing numbers on original content. The specific reason that Netflix designed it this way is to purposefully withhold that information so that the studio has limited negotiation power in selling their content. And if Netflix can hide their statistics, they can mislead anybody they want to for profits.
Profits. No one but Netflix can say how well The Thin Blue Line performed, but Netflix streamed over 420 billion hours worth of content worldwide and Making a Murderer, a non-fiction documentary miniseries, ranked number one until Stranger Things.
If you are old enough — think back to 2010-2011 — did Netflix ever recommend The Thin Blue Line to you even if you were re-watching X-Files episodes?
Is it not safe to assume that the gold standard in the same genre, The Thin Blue Line, was so successful that it exceeded expectations? Why else would this new true-crime genre fascination be doing so well? It has become a phenomenon, but only if the right narrative fits the mold.
There is no doubt that Avery’s case is unprecedented, but what if it was only designed to alter the true-crime mold?
Think about it. If Steven Avery were unequivocally guilty of the murder of Halbach, the Making a Murderer series would have only lasted 4 episodes.
If you were Netflix or the co-directors, why wouldn’t you withhold pertinent prosecutorial evidence to fit your narrative? You would want more viewership and skepticism as evidenced by the recently announced and upcoming second season.
So without further ado, here are only some examples of the prosecutorial evidence withheld from Making a Murderer:
–Upon release from prison, a prosecutor warned the judge that despite Avery’s obvious innocence due to newly-advanced DNA science, he is undoubtedly a very violent man and will persist again given his behavior in prison. The judge responded that you couldn’t convict someone on what they might do.
–The puncture from Avery’s vial from 1985 is actually quite common and nowhere in the documentary do they say this.
–The discussion of Avery’s alleged rape and torture of Halbach was not allowed during the trial because the judge ruled in the defense’s favor in burying the nephew’s confession.
–DNA, Avery’s blood, was found on the hood latch of Teresa’s car, but no fingerprints because the theory is that he took his sweaty gloves off to do this.
–Part of Avery’s past — classic psychopathic tendencies — included animal cruelty. Avery apparently doused a cat in oil and threw it on a bonfire, which is how they found Halbach’s remains behind his house. Her desecrated bones were found in a bonfire the same night as her murder behind his place.
–Avery’s prior criminal history included holding a person at gunpoint.
–Halbach had complained to her boss that she did not want to see Avery anymore even though he would call the Auto Trader constantly requesting her specifically to come see him. Clearly, he had an obsession with her.
–The day that Halbach went missing, Avery called her several times from a different number to hide his identity.
–The bullet fragment taken from Avery’s garage unequivocally had Halbach’s DNA on it and it had “always hung above his bed.”
–Dassey in his statement, although clearly dimwitted and taken advantage of, specifically said, without leading by the detectives, that he and Avery moved Halbach’s RAV4 to the junkyard and they had both lifted the hood and removed the battery connection. That is where Avery’s blood was found on the car.
The trial lasted 6 weeks and produced almost 240 hours of footage. What was shown in Making a Murderer lasted approximately 3 hours.
Halbach’s aunt commented on the documentary by saying:
“Not even close to what really happened. Everybody has their own side of a story. That is the Avery family’s side of the story. I wouldn’t expect it to be different. They think he is innocent. I am not surprised. I am surprised that someone would put that together in that way and have it [be] one-sided.” She added that Avery is “100 percent guilty. No doubt about it.”
At one point in the documentary series, in the heartbreaking seemingly unjust finale where Avery had been sentenced and time had passed, Avery’s lawyer, Dean Strang, said that he genuinely hoped that Avery was guilty because the thought of an innocent man doing two sentences for something he didn’t do made him sick to his stomach.
Tell me, would a very prominent defense attorney say something like that about their client if they weren’t positive about their client’s innocence?
Do you know the extent of how editing works? Editing is what really shapes a film.
To give you a perfect example of how editing can alter a film’s overall shape, ask any of the few hundred people that saw Suicide Squad a month before its theatrical release, because they will all tell you it was a completely different and much better movie.
Now consider rookie filmmakers Ricciardi and Demos fighting for the kind of acclaim that the brilliant The Thin Blue Line received — and the astounding viewership numbers that Netflix received for Making a Murderer and what that would mean to their business, especially being given the green light on a second season.
I’m not saying that both colluded to weave a deceptive narrative to you, but both Ricciardi and Demos were doing it for glory, or Netflix was doing it for viewership, or both.
It’s hard to tell at this point who had the money and who had the idea.
And finally, let’s bring back the “power of film” theme because these filmmakers fooled 400,000 people into signing a petition to the POTUS that had no control over the matter anyway. How ironic.