Director of Doc Series on Accused Murderer Robert Durst: "You're Going to Know What Happened"
By the end of the series, viewers will have a clear sense of what transpired.
Real estate scion and accused murderer Robert Durst has had his story told several times, but not by him.
Durst declined all interview requests until shortly before the release of the 2010 fictional movie based on his life, All Good Things, starring Ryan Gosling and Kirsten Dunst. At that point, Durst called the distributor, Magnolia Pictures, and the company put him in touch with All Good Things director Andrew Jarecki. Durst wanted to tell his story to Jarecki, and the six-part HBO documentary series The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst is the result of those conversations.
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And Jarecki said that when viewers get to the end of the series, which premieres on Feb. 8, "You're going to know what happened."
HBO debuted two episodes of The Jinx at New York's Time Warner Center on Wednesday night. The 80 minutes shown at the premiere painstakingly reconstruct both the disappearance of his wife, Kathie McCormack, whom Durst has long been suspected of killing, and Durst's role in the death of his neighbor, Morris Black, who was found dismembered in Texas, with Durst later acquitted of his murder. Durst also talks about his childhood, including witnessing his mother's suicide, and his relationship with McCormack's family.
At a post-screening Q&A, in which the well-heeled crowd was eager to know more, Jarecki and cinematographer-producer Marc Smerling wouldn't disclose what was in the next four episodes (nor whether they thought Durst was guilty), but Jarecki urged people to wait and see.
"There are some people who watch this and then immediately go Google everything," Jarecki said. "I don't think you're going to learn all that much by Googling it, and it tells you the story in sort of a confusing way because there are so many people that have lousy versions of the story and then the facts are wrong. The one thing that I can tell you is that the facts are right and methodically researched, so I would stay on this ride if you're trying to understand the story and all that will come out."
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Jarecki also explained that he and Smerling didn't intend to make another movie when Durst contacted them shortly before All Good Things was released. They had reached out to him during the making of that movie and were politely informed by his lawyer that Durst was unlikely to want to speak about things he hadn't talked about in 30 years. But when Durst called him, Jarecki said he was both surprised and not.
"[Marc and I] had talked about the idea of making [All Good Things] so real and so carefully researched that it would feel familiar to Bob and that he would have an emotional reaction to the movie," the director told THR ahead of Wednesday night's screening. And after Durst called, they showed him the film and sat down with him for an interview.
"We were [just] receiving that phone call and finding that intriguing and doing the next intuitive thing," Jarecki said in the Q&A. He wasn't sure what they would do with the footage, but Diane Sawyer helped him figure that out.
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"Somebody who's given us great advice is Diane Sawyer, and Mike [Nichols], obviously, who passed away, gave the greatest advice of anyone. And the two of them sat and watched a cut-down of the first 45 minutes of the interview with Bob," Jarecki explained. "And we were exhausted in a way about making a movie about Bob Durst. We'd sort of done that for a number of years already, and so I remember sitting with Diane and showing her this footage and saying, 'So is there a television forum where we could just put this and then be done with it'? and she said, 'I can't stop watching this guy. Nobody's going to be able to turn it off; you have to do this. You have to keep going. The sooner you realize you're making another movie, [you can do it] and get on with your lives.' So we were just doing what seemed to be the next necessary thing."
Another big name that helped The Jinx get to the small screen is Jason Blum, who came on board as an executive producer after seeing a rough cut of a few episodes of the series.
"I instantly fell in love with it and said, 'I'd like to throw my hat in to help with it in any way that I could,' " Blum told THR, adding that he helped place the series at HBO. The successful producer added that he thought the six-episode format "is perfect for the footage."
"I think this story is too intense and too big to tell as a documentary film," Blum said.
He added that he was most intrigued by Durst's involvement: "It's an incredible story that people have been telling for 30 years, but the person they've been talking about has never told the story, so to see him try to tell a story that everyone else has tried to tell is the most incredible thing about it to me."
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Similarly, Jarecki speculated during the Q&A that Durst spoke to them because he wanted to reclaim his story.
"I think there's a compulsion to tell the story, especially if you're someone like Bob whose story has been told so many thousands of times in a sort of burlesque fashion, and you've been given so many monikers and epithets that maybe don't feel familiar to you," Jarecki said. "So the idea of being able to get to a certain place in your life and feeling like it's time for you to take back your story on some level makes sense."
He also thought it helped that he was knowledgeable about Durst but didn't have any preconceived notion about him.
Still, both Jarecki and Smerling told THR there were a few things about their All Good Things inspiration that surprised them. Smerling didn't expect Durst to have such "a very acerbic, dry sense of humor." And Jarecki was surprised by how smart Durst is.
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"I mean, you're dealing with somebody who could easily be in a very sophisticated environment, a business meeting or a restaurant in New York City and have a very sophisticated conversation with, and find a person who's articulate and soft-spoken and well-educated and very free in talking about himself," Jarecki said. "He says some things in this series that are absolutely shocking to the average person, but are also true. There's a lot of debate about whether he says things that are also not true. But certainly he's willing to say things that the average person would never say. He's willing to admit to things that the average person would never admit to. And I think that shows a level of openness, intellectually and emotionally, that I didn't expect."
Indeed, Durst makes a number of surprising comments in the series, and knowing what they know now, Smerling, who wrote All Good Things, said he might have added a bit more to that story.
"I think that I would have delved into the other relationships a little bit more. All Good Things is really largely about Kathie and Bob, and learning about [his other relationships] and how Bob sort of attracts these people, that's really interesting."
HBO CEO Richard Plepler introduced the film to an audience that included HBO Documentary Films president Sheila Nevins, Barbara Walters and Diane Von Furstenberg.
Durst was not at the screening, and Jarecki said he hadn't seen the completed series, but he and Smerling were trying to show it to him.