Celebrity Interview: Director Joe Berlinger Talks on John Wayne Gacy True Crime Series Part II

Conversations with a Killer: The John Wayne Gacy Tapes, a three-part series from Netflix and Joe Berlinger, presents a shocking portrayal of John Wayne Gacy, and discusses how he was unable to shake the details of this case. 

Having the opportunity to interview Director Joe Berlinger, this is the second installment of a two-part interview. His true crime stories have become part of the global psyche as he brings to streaming devices around the world the alarming, and horrifying truths that expose deep flaws in the criminal justice system which allow many to hide in plain sight as they continue their senseless brutalities.

Celebrity Interview: Director Joe Berlinger Talks on His Newest True Crime Netflix Series

Part II

Janet Walker: When you're making a film it always comes down to the script you hear that all the time. When you're making these non-scripted series what is your writing process or how do you take your elements, I mean like you said you have thousands of elements what makes it to the episode and what doesn't how do you separate it?

Joe Berlinger: Yeah well I had a great team of people and the showrunner was a woman named Catherine Park, Co-Executive Producer was a guy named Ted Schillinger and together we have lots of creative conversations. In the editing process, for us is like the script writing process lots of trial and error and trying to figure out what's important. You go into the shoot with an open mind, of course, we talk about all the story elements and what we need to get from each interview but you also want to allow the interview to be an organic process of discovery of things you can't predict in advance and then you just haul all that material in the edit room.

It's hard to explain but things start to develop a rhythm and take on a life of its own and that tells you which story points to drop and it's a little hard to explain other than to say the editing process is like the screen writing process. And you're right it's all in the script in this case the script is the final show. So either it works or it doesn't work. But the editing process is challenging but it's my favorite part of the process for that reason 'cause you're actually then really crafting the material.

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Janet Walker: Thank you, So what surprised you most about making this project?

Joe Berlinger: You know you hear 33 bodies under a floorboard or whatever but you know in the crawl space and that's been the lure of the case but when you really spend time thinking about it telling that story it's just the degree to which it sickened me and the degree to which it could have been avoided. Really I was surprised at how much anger bubbled up in me as I was telling the story 'cause I've done many terrible crime stories but this one really got to me because I feel like it could have been easily avoided. There was so many clues along the way and so many opportunities to bring Gacy to justice far earlier. Because people had a bad attitude towards homosexuality really is the reason so many of these young men lost their lives. It just surprised me how emotionally upsetting it made me 'cause I've tried to separate the making of my films with my personal headspace and this one invaded my personal headspace to a much larger degree then I would have liked because it's a very disturbing story.

Janet Walker: Yes it is and there are obviously sensitive issues in all of the stories all of these types of true crime stories in this case the lifestyle choices of other victims may not have been known for some of the families and how did you go about approaching that did you speak to the families or did you how was your what was your process for approaching those issues?

Joe Berlinger: Yeah, well if this were a newer story, I think there would be greater sensitivities about revealing information that they might not have known or something like that if that's what you mean. I mean I think this story is enough in the past that that was not an issue per say but of course you still  want to be extremely sensitive with the victims' families. Of course, we reached out to all of them for which we had information on, and a lot of the family members didn't tell us not to do the show but they also did not want to participate which I understand. They feel like this is they've talked about the story enough, so we did not get a lot of the families cooperating, but I feel like we had enough critical mass of people that the victims are nicely represented in the show.

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Janet Walker: Sure, after thousands of hours of tape did you come to any conclusion how some of his victims were able to get away and the majority not or are there more victims out there do you think?

Joe Berlinger: I think there probably are more victims just based on a lot of factors that would be too complicated to say in this format. We'd have to talk for like an hour, sorry what was the first part of your question? I apologize.

Janet Walker: How some of how some of the victims were able to, there were a couple that were featured, that escaped.

Joe Berlinger: I think it was just it was random how he felt whether he felt like they were going to um be a threat to him or not. There is not a rhyme or reason to it which is part of the mystery and part of the horror of it all like you know some people were able to escape and some weren't but I don't think there's I don't think there's an organizing principle other than those who felt would reveal we get and then the trouble he had to terminate in those that he felt he could get it was better to let the person go he let them go.

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Janet Walker: So, I'm being told to wrap it up. What was your most memorable moment of this entire process?

Joe Berlinger: I think the most memorable moment was getting an email with the information that these tapes existed shortly on the heels of Bundy because I actually was expecting Bundy to just be a one off. I didn't think this would be turning into an ongoing franchise. I was surprised my God there's more tapes. In fact, there will probably be another installment of this because we also received tapes from another source. So, it's just surprises me that there's so much tape that hasn't been heard before for a multitude of these serial killers and that was the most surprising or memorable. It was like, oh I thought this was a one off maybe I'll do maybe I'll do a second season.

Janet Walker: Thank you so much for your time I certainly appreciate it and I appreciate the insight, the investigative reporting on the series and all the information thanks you again.

Joe Berlinger: I appreciate all your intelligent questions.

Janet Walker: Thank you.

Joe Berlinger's Conversations with a Killer: The John Wayne Gacy Tapes and Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes are streaming on Netflix. Shocking, terrifying and testaments to the reality of true crime.

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