In season 2 of Making a Murderer, attorney Kathleen Zellner pushes forward in Steven Avery's post-conviction case with near lunatic determination. She recreates multiple crime scenes. She double checks several pieces of evidence that were once used against Steven Avery. She concocts harebrained conspiracy plots that just might work. She's crazy, but she's also very much not: She's pursuing something that is dolefully important.
That's how Moira Demos and Laura Ricciardi, makers of the show, proceeded, too. Demos and Ricciardi, who are life partners, met as film students at Columbia University. Two years into their relationship, they heard about the case of Steven Avery, a man who'd been wrongfully convicted not once, but twice. From there, they took off to Manitowoc County, WI, where they decided that this was something they were going to pursue. They then spent years trucking after the possibility that a) Steven Avery was innocent, and b) that anyone outside of Manitowoc (like, say, a streaming platform) might care about Avery's story. That was their harebrained plot — this story might actually be streaming gold. Thirteen years in, they're still riding that gamble.
Following the release of the second season, Refinery29 spoke to Demos and Ricciardi regarding the making of the series. To clear everything up, we'll be organizing their timeline much like Zellner and associates have organized theirs. Behold: The Making Making a Murderer timeline.
Summer 2003: Demos and Ricciardi meet.
The summer after her first year in the film graduate program at Columbia, Ricciardi needed an editor for one of her projects. It's a bit of a meet-cute.
"A classmate of mine who had a history with Moira from the Edit Center here in New York was directing a short film. And he asked Moira to shoot the film for him, and I was supposed to be working with an editor on my own film," says Ricciardi. "[The editor] was a classmate of mine, and she said, you know, 'I'm not really available, I have to go and [assistant direct] this shoot.' I said, you stay at home at my apartment, and you edit, and I'll go AD for you. I showed up on set, and as soon I open the door, I see the director and Moira. That's where it all started: New York City on a film shoot."
We were conscious of the fact that by the end of part one, there were lingering questions.
November 23, 2005: Steven Avery's case makes the front page of the New York Times.
The headline read: "Freed by DNA, Now Charged in New Crime." Demos and Ricciardi, who were taking the Metro North upstate to visit Ricciardi's family for Thanksgiving, found the headline intriguing.
"We identified that as a unprecedented story worth finding out more about," says Ricciardi. "That was the day before Thanksgiving. The day we got back, we made a few calls, and we found out he was going to have a court date for preliminary hearing, which ended up being the first scene in episode 3, and that was going to be taking place on December 6."
December 6, 2005: Demos and Ricciardi take their first bit of footage.
"Our first day of shooting was that court date. We stayed out there for about a week, kind of testing the waters, thinking, is there really a story here?" Ricciardi recalls. "Is it a feasible that we could get access to any of the players here? I think after a few days in that first week, we were pretty excited — that this was something we really could do."
Adds Demos, "That first court date, it was standing room only. The court room was packed. It was clear that there were very compelling characters. It was clear that there was a lot of conflict. You know, we knew that Steven was claiming his innocence. He wasn't going to take a plea deal; there was going to be a trial. As storytellers, it had an inherent structure to it."
June 2007: Demos and Ricciardi finish the first 18 months of production, wrapping what would eventually be the meat of season 1.
Avery was sentenced in spring of 2007. Brendan Dassey, his nephew, went to prison almost a full year earlier in 2006.
Sometime in 2014: Demos and Ricciardi secure funding — finally.
Moviemaking is expensive work, even when you're working with documentary subjects, who are considerably cheaper than feature film actors. Demos and Ricciardi funded their own project for the first nine years of it, by their own estimate.
"The project was self-financed for the first eight years or so," admits Ricciardi. "We did apply for some grants — there was a window during production where we could sit down and actually do some grant writing. And we were fortunate enough to receive some grants, but nothing that would really position us. A lot of it was student loans"—
Demos interrupts, laughing: "We maxed those out."
Ricciardi agreed. "And credit cards. It was a huge risk we were taking, but we were very committed to what we were doing. And the longer it took to complete the project, I think the more we felt like we can't not do this. We knew that we would see it through to the end."
Says Demos, "We just were shooting, shooting, shooting. In the community and at court. After that 18 months, we then moved back to New York City and went back to work. To pay the minimum and settle our debts and try to finance any post-production and the little bit of production we had left. Borrowing money when we could to buy us time, and then going back to work making money."
In the interim, Demos worked as lighting technician on film sets, and Ricciardi would work as an hourly lawyer, both of them trying to maximize their income without taking too much time on the project.
December 2015: Making a Murderer drops on Netflix, all 10 episodes of it.
It arrives over the holidays, which makes it prime couch-bingeing material.
June 2016: Production begins on Making a Murderer season 2.
The team knew that they had another season on their hands once the Tadychs and the Averys were both signed on. Plus, they had Zellner.
Says Ricciardi, "We were conscious of the fact that by the end of part one, there were lingering questions. I think we were certainly [comforted] by that, and definitely excited by the idea of telling a story that maintained some ambiguity...We knew by the end of part one that people did have questions, and certain individuals were looking for ways to find answers."
For those looking for answers, the show had Zellner, a fierce attorney who would stop at nothing to get them. "She certainly embodies what many viewers would like to do themselves. [She] takes an active role and reexamines the case," says Ricciardi.
She adds, "What we saw documenting this part of the process would offer was a window into a lesser known phase of the process: The post-conviction phase. You know, what does it look like to have two individuals who've been convicted of serious crimes serving life sentences but proclaiming from behind bars that they're innocent? And that they want to fight? They want to be free. They want to restore their reputation."
July 2018: Production wraps on Making a Murderer season 2.
Says Demos, "It's interesting — in a way, it's as if production was sort of longer." They were in post-production from the start, generating rough cuts of episodes as soon as they had enough footage. With this season, there was pressure on the filmmakers from both Netflix and the viewers.
"It's a high-profile case," says Demos. "People were watching the news all the time. People were asking when we were coming out. There was a time pressure to figure out a way to be in post and be editing as we were gathering material."
As of today, Ricciardi and Demos have been working on the show for well over 13 years. They've become accustomed to Manitowoc County. What's weird is that, after all these years, not much has changed. Time wreaks a lot of effects, but, for the most part, it just happens. It's Demos and Ricciardi's job to make sure we witness the passage.
"We often remark and sort of marvel at how consistent — with the Averys, for instance, the people we met back in 2005 are still the same in 2018," says Demos.