By: Kayla Caldwell
You've heard of Making a Murderer. And you've heard of Borat. Well, FAKING A MURDERER is the mashup of those two concepts, a documentary for a killer that never was, with real-world stakes provided by unwitting participants. It's a movie that demands more than one viewing - and, don't feel bad if you feel like your brain is totally twisted upon watching it.
I'm kind of in awe of the concept of using your real information - names, jobs, family members, film company names, etc. - while acting out a fictional plot. We were fortunate to chat with stars and co-writers Adam Rodness and Stuart Stone about the logistics of such a project, their inspirations, and what it's like managing a crew who have no idea they're basically participating in the true crime version of Punk'd.
So how did you come up with the idea for FAKING A MURDERER?
ADAM RODNESS: Stu and I were big fans of the true crime genre. So we're obsessed with shows like The Jinx and Making a Murderer, Evil Genius and The Staircase. We were just such big fans of the show that we're like, we can create one of ours… Why don't we try to do this social experiment where we kind of concoct a fictitious murderer, and then use the public to push the narrative of the story forward. Kind of like in the same theme as Borat, but for the true crime world. Then we started bouncing some ideas around, and started coming up with the perfect killer. And that's how it was all born. You know, there's five different actors and about 50 people that appear in the film. It was quite the ride to keep everyone on track.
STUART STONE: Yeah. So wait, there are five actors, but like 50 real people in the film that aren't actors, and think that it's real. It's crazy. Also, we had just finished filming a documentary called Jack of All Trades, which is a legit documentary. And we were like a well-tuned machine already, shooting that style. We had done horror movies previously. We were obsessed with the true crime stuff. It just made sense for us to try, you know, take a stab at - pun intended - take a stab at pulling the wool, and doing a satire of the whole thing. It was really fun.
Are you fans of other kinds of mockumentaries, like The Office?
ADAM RODNESS: Yeah, totally. I think the one thing that's different though, from this movie is that on those shows, those are all still scripted. They’re just shot in a documentary format, where on this particular movie, there was no dialogue script. We had outlines, and kind of beat sheets, but everything that you hear in the movie is all improv.
STUART STONE: Also, historically speaking, especially with horror movies, the more you can get the audience to believe that they're watching something real, the scarier it is. You watch Friday the 13th or those movies, and you feel scared, but you're safe knowing that that's scripted. If you even go back to the origins of the most successful horror stuff, like go back to Orson Welles doing “War of the Worlds” on the radio - people thought it was real and they thought aliens were attacking. So this is not a new thing, but it's something that hasn't really been done in a long time. So this is where we were really excited to do it. And, of course, we love Christopher Guest movies, you know, This Is Spinal Tap and we love those movies. But, you know, in a documentary, as Adam said, everyone knows they're in a documentary - and in this movie, like no one knew.
So did you have any cases where you had to change something because of the way the real people reacted?
STUART STONE: I'll give you one great example. Our assistant Mikayla, who goes to look for a body in the trunk of the car, that's completely legit. Originally, in our sort of plan, she's supposed to come in the house with us, and go along the rest of the ride, but she like took off. Of course, as much as we sort of anticipate that, choose your own adventure of what's going to happen here and there, we also shoot with somebody for, you know, you see them on screen for like three minutes. We may have shot two hours with them. We got it going until we get what we want for the most part, or at least enough to edit it together that way. But, we had a few times where people didn't stick to the script, and we just went with it, and it actually ended up making a better movie because of it.
Was it ever kind of weird or hard to balance the fact that this movie is a fake documentary, but you’re using your real details? Like, is that your family in the beginning, or actors?
STUART STONE: That's our family. And they thought it was real, too. We didn't tell them it was. Adam, talk about your mom, making her a big screen debut.
ADAM RODNESS: My mom gets enough air time as it is, but yeah, we invited our real family, our parents, our great aunts, wives, sisters, and nobody knew what we were doing. This was a, a chance for us also to show what we wanted to create for the audiences - like we're just ordinary guys who are obsessed with true crime, and just loved the genre. So this is kind of like a love letter to that, and have the viewer live vicariously through us in the movie. Like, how would you solve a murder? How would you go and investigate a serial killer without any, you know, know-how or practice before?
STUART STONE: You shouldn’t, by the way. Family and friends and our distributor that we pitched, all those people, they're used to seeing us filming stuff. Because we’ve made documentaries, right? So when we just tell them we have a new project, and we're going to film, they just assume it's that. They don't ask questions.
ADAM RODNESS: They just sign the release, and then that's it. They walk away.
STUART STONE: So, using our real family wasn't that difficult of a process. It wasn't like, why are there cameras here? ‘Cause they're used to that. So that's an advantage, I guess.
I feel like the way you guys presented it was very relatable. Like that scene where you’re talking to the cop, and he’s just like, yeah, you don’t have enough evidence for us to do anything with that…
STUART STONE: Yeah. Real cop. And that could've gone really bad… Yeah. I'll tell you, this was maybe three years ago. You know, we were obviously watching The Jinx, which is amazing, and The Staircase, and all the great ones. But when we ran out of those, you sort of still want to watch documentaries. So I went back and watched Catfish again, which is great. Now that I've made this movie, I don't know what's what, and I watched that [Catfish] like, how much of that is produced? But there's this one scene in Catfish where he's going to meet up with the girl, and he goes to check out this barn. There's an address that leads them to this barn. And it's like two o'clock in the morning. It’s pitch black. They get out, and they're like looking to see if anyone lives there. It's not a scary movie, and it's not a scary scene. It's sort of played for comedy or quirk in Catfish. But I was watching that, and thinking, holy f***. This could be so scary. If this would have had scary music or a drone sound, this is terrifying, because I'm watching this, and I believe I'm watching something real. These guys could get killed right now. So, you know, that was sort of inspiring, too, in a lot of ways, just seeing other films that didn't even realize that they could be scary.
You'd be surprised how easy it is to scare people. You know, the crew that worked on this film with us, when you see us going to that first house, that's a false alarm or wherever we're going, they're with us. And they think it's real, too. It's like, everybody thinks that we're looking for a killer, and only the select few that shot those scenes with us and Tony know what's up. But other than that, nobody knows what's up. And it's pretty awesome.
Yeah. It's such a concept. Were you surprised by how people were willing to go along for the ride with you?
STUART STONE: Nobody stopped us. You know, our family did protest at the beginning, but once we got going, nobody was like, be careful. It just goes to show you how much people really care about you, I guess. Or the distributors want a good movie. Adam, did anybody stop you? Well, Dina, my sister, who is his [Adam’s] wife, she was complaining the whole time.
One of the very comedic elements in FAKING A MURDERER is the dynamic between you two. Is that how you’d say your dynamic really is?
STUART STONE: You tell me.
ADAM RODNESS: That's us. Even now, in a one-on-one conversation with you, that's us, you know. We'll have to push each other off the screen, or off the ledge. But that's how we communicate. I think we actually do the best job, coming up with the best creative, because we're really just both so passionate about what we think is best for the project. So sometimes we collide, but then out of that collision comes, you know, these beautiful ideas that somehow come to fruition for us. I mean, is it amped up a little bit? Sure. But that's definitely how we would communicate. And that's definitely, you know, a small piece of behind the scenes of Adam and Stu's life.
STUART STONE: We would argue so much that the crew didn't know if this was this part of the film or…
ADAM RODNESS: They were confused, too. Like, is this a real fight or is this a fight for the movie? Where am I? It was very meta.
STUART STONE: Ninety percent of the fights were real fights.
How did you come up with your villain?
ADAM RODNESS: We just wanted someone who, the most important thing was they couldn't be a recognizable face. We have to find someone who's a very talented actor to carry this through, because without them, without selling that confession tape, when we show that to random people - that could have blown us right there with any one of these interviews. If they don't believe that this is a real confession tape or that this guy is a real person, they're going to be like, are you just trying to like pull one over me? So definitely finding someone who could disguise himself.
STUART STONE: When Tony Nappo met with us for this, I said to Adam, like, I don't know, man, this guy's in a lot of stuff. Someone's going to see this, and it's going to be blown right away. And then he's like, well - [Stone mimes plucking teeth out of his mouth] and all of a sudden he's got, like two teeth only. And we were like, “Would you do that in the movie?” He said sure, and as soon as we saw him with just those two teeth, it was like, sold! We actually had a real YouTube channel for him, so when we were going around pitching people, we would refer to this YouTube channel, and they would see his videos. And not one person questioned, is this guy real? I don't know if he's a killer, but he's real - and I'm so surprised. Maybe someone will find these videos, and it’ll just be this cool Easter egg.
So everything when you're at David's house, that was all just complete improv?
ADAM RODNESS: We knew that we had to get into the house, and we knew what we had to do to get out of the house. But yeah, a hundred percent is improv. There was literally no dialogue script at all.
STUART STONE: Yeah. When he asks for the boom, like, the boom guy didn't know he was going to do that. It's all just happening.
Well, it certainly makes for a roller coaster ride of a film, and really fun to watch.
STUART STONE: We were entertained making it. You have no idea. You see the final product, but we were fooling people the whole way. You're on a balance beam the whole time, because you don't want to blow it. So you don't have multiple takes to get things.
Were there moments that you wanted to include, but you had to cut them for time?
STUART STONE: We shot 100 hours. You saw 85 minutes.
ADAM RODNESS: There's this really great montage party scene where Stu and I celebrate with everyone in my backyard, and we're popping champagne, and there was a slow motion dance going on. We're just having the time of our lives, and it was so much fun, but you know, the movie didn't need it. We just had to go on with the story. There's tons of these moments, hilarious, hilarious moments that we just, unfortunately, we have to meet a runtime, and some stuff just has to get put on the chopping block.
STUART STONE: Plot-wise, us spending the money was a bigger plot point in the original cut. All those crazy things that we spent money on - we went, and did that.
ADAM RODNESS: I mean, it's a multi-watch type of movie, right? So you'd have to watch it once for, “Okay, I get what this is,” and then you can watch it the second time to be like, “Ah, okay. That was real. That was fake.” You can make a drinking game out of it, too. You never know. It could be a great party film.
Anything else our readers show know?
STUART STONE: The rolling paper company was real, and they actually made us pallets of thousands of rolling papers. ‘Cause they were so happy with how it came out.