It’s never been a better time to be a consumer of true crime stories. The genre has been around for hundreds of years, but ever since Serial pretty much took over the world five years ago, true crime's moment is really sticking. The market is becoming so saturated that famous cases are seeing multiple films (podcasts, books, docuseries), including that of infamous serial killer Ted Bundy. Netflix has a docuseries featuring never-before-heard interviews with Bundy, Conversations With a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes, is now streaming and a biopic film starring Zac Efron as Bundy, Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile, premieres Jan. 26 at Sundance Film Festival. But aside from the obvious subject and source material, the Netflix Ted Bundy docuseries and the Zac Efron movie are connected in way that makes them doubly trustworthy: they both come from the mind of Joe Berlinger.
The Emmy-winning and Oscar-nominated filmmaker serves a director on both projects; Netflix’s four-part documentary series comes out first, with the Efron film debuting just days later. But does Berlinger have the credentials to be the world’s foremost expert on Bundy? While his storied career hasn’t always focused on the 1978 case of Bundy, the brutal rapes and murders of more than 30 women, and the personality, good looks, and social graces that allowed Bundy to hide in plain sight for years, Berlinger is a pioneer of the true crime genre.
With a career in nonfiction film and television spanning over two decades, Berlinger has brought national and global attention to extremely important cases with his work. One of his most important projects was the Emmy-winning HBO series Paradise Lost about the “West Memphis Three,” three young men wrongfully convicted of murder. The series helped spark a worldwide movement to free the men from prison, which was ultimately successful. Not only did Berlinger help draw attention to a case that deserved to be investigated further, his attention to detail and commitment to the truth ended up overturning a death sentence and two life-without-parole sentences. He helped save three innocent lives.
And that’s just one of a long, long list of true crime docuseries and films that Berlinger has helmed over the years. His 2009 film Crude shined a much-need spotlight on the issue of oil pollution in the Amazon rainforest and won 22 human rights and environmental awards that forced giant oil companies like Chevron to be held accountable for their actions. His 2014 film documentary Whitey: United States of America v. James J. Bulger, explored the notorious crime boss Whitey Bulger’s trial and corruption in the highest level of law enforcement. My Brother’s Keeper, Intent to Destroy, Paris to Pittsburgh, and Gone: The Forgotten Women of Ohio are just drops in the bucket of Berlinger’s extensive list of honest, emotional, groundbreaking, and, above all else, true investigations into real cases.
Berlinger’s entire body of work, including films and docuseries, are all highly-regarded as the top of the true crime genre and are (according to his official website) used as lessons in film schools and law schools, which shows that he’s thought of as a true master of the medium. So while he’s not a life-long expert on Bundy, you can trust that he did the research and hard work necessary in making sure that both the Netflix docuseries and the Efron movie are authentic. After all, when you’re diving into the genre of true crime, the most important part is that it’s, well, true.