How Hollywood Treats True Crime: Netflix Takes On Ted Bundy

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Actor Zac Efron playing Ted Bundy in "Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile." (Brian Douglas via Netflix)
Actor Zac Efron playing Ted Bundy in "Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile." (Brian Douglas via Netflix)

With Kimberly Atkins

Ted Bundy is one of the country’s most notorious serial killers. His savage acts of murder — targeting young women across the country during the 1970s — belied the outward appearance of a clean-cut, charismatic and intelligent young man.

Bundy is depicted in a new feature film on Netflix starring Zac Efron, "Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile." It’s told through the eyes of his then-girlfriend Liz, who he charmed even as he went on trial for murder.

We speak with director Joe Berlinger.


Joe Berlinger, Emmy Award-winning filmmaker. Director of "Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile" and "Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes." (@joeberlinger)

From The Reading List

The Atlantic: "‘Serial Killers Are a Uniquely American Phenomenon’" — "In 1979, the American discourse on serial killers was irrevocably changed. Ted Bundy’s serial-murder-and-rape trial, which was nationally televised, ushered in a new era of live entertainment. Fifteen years later, O. J. Simpson’s trial became the next national obsession. Today, the true-crime genre reached new heights with the podcast Serial. The proliferation of successful murder-centric content that followed is indicative of a public obsession.

"Why do serial killers inspire such fervent intrigue among Americans? A new video from The Atlantic investigates.

"'Serial killers are in many ways a uniquely American phenomenon,' says Joe Berlinger, the acclaimed true-crime documentarian behind the Paradise Lost trilogy and the director of the popular Netflix series The Ted Bundy Tapes. In the video, Berlinger explains why this dark subject maintains its enduring grip on the American psyche. The Atlantic Senior Editor Julie Beck also describes the process by which serial-killer lore is inducted into Americana, and why women are more likely than men to be interested in true crime."

Realscreen: "Joe Berlinger on timing, tenacity and his Ted Bundy projects" — "True crime has been enjoying a massive surge in popularity for some time now in both the scripted and doc spaces, so there was something rather intuitive about director Joe Berlinger taking on the story of notorious serial killer Ted Bundy in both a docuseries and narrative feature simultaneously earlier this year.

"Berlinger was on hand at Realscreen West in Santa Monica yesterday (June 6) to talk about both of his Netflix projects: Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes and Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile, as well as other aspects of his career as a documentarian.

"Berliner credits at least part of his success with the two projects to luck and timing, though digging deeper, he clearly made some smart choices.

"He was initially approached by Stephen Michaud, who had hours and hours of audio tape of Ted Bundy, recorded in the lead-up to the killer’s execution in 1989 for Michaud’s book Ted Bundy: Conversations with a Killer, co-authored with Hugh Aynesworth.

"Michaud had just come across his old tapes and reached out to Berlinger thinking they might make for captivating true crime content, coinciding with the 30th anniversary of Bundy’s death. While wary of taking on such a well-known — and well-documented — case, Berlinger signed on when realizing his college-age daughters were unfamiliar with Bundy."

NPR: "Netflix Film Prods At Ted Bundy's 'Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil And Vile' Appeal" — "Say you're a filmmaker and you want to make a movie about Ted Bundy, arguably the most notorious serial killer of the 20th century. It's a normal impulse to have. The guy's an irresistible figure to storytellers: pure misogynistic evil who disguised himself for a decade under swashbuckling charm. Sure, maybe it's not the most original idea (again: 'most notorious serial killer of the 20th century'), but Bundy existed, he killed somewhere between 30 and 100 young women, and people should remember that. So now, how do you tell them?

"Well, you could choose to go the way of so many other serial killer films and dwell on the lurid details of the murders. You might feel an urge to follow Bundy as he assaults, strangles and brutalizes his victims, leading hard into the voyeurism under the guise of just trying to understand this monster.

"Or you could go the route of director Joe Berlinger and star/executive producer Zac Efron in Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile, their surprisingly smart and challenging new take on the Bundy story. The film might take its title from the description of Bundy offered by the judge at his sentencing verdict, but it doesn't actually focus on his crimes. Until the film's very end, the only violent act of Bundy's we witness onscreen is when he punches a police officer to escape a traffic stop."

Adam Waller produced this hour for broadcast.

This program aired on June 14, 2019.



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