Meet ‘Faking a Murderer’ filmmakers Stu Stone & Adam Rodness
True crime stories have become incredibly popular in the last few years. From books, to podcasts, to Netflix series, true crime comes in all forms. Viewers are absolutely fascinated by tales of crime & intrigue, and a new independent film seeks to capitalize on that public fascination.
Faking a Murderer follows two filmmakers on a journey to find a true crime story – whether or not it exists. This Borat-inspired comedy takes mockumentaries to a whole new level. Everyone from the interviewees to the camera crew following the filmmakers around have no idea that they’re part of an elaborate joke.
We had the chance to speak with Stu Stone and Adam Rodness, the dedicated documentarians who decided to create an irreverent true crime story. They told us about their inspirations, careers, and the hilarious story of Faking a Murderer.
Stu Stone: Tell us about your history in filmmaking. How did you start your journey?
I grew up a child actor and have spent literally my entire life on set in one way or another. As a kid, while other people were playing with toys, I was playing with my camcorder. I was always making movies with my friends, my sisters, my wrestling figures, whatever I could shoot. I think it was a natural progression in my career to eventually work my way behind the camera. It’s such a different world on the other side of it and there’s so much work, it’s insane. But there’s nothing more rewarding than having people watch the finished product!
Adam Rodness: Who were the screenwriters who influenced you the most growing up?
Guys like The Coen Brothers, Jerry Zucker (Naked Gun) and Rudy De Luca (Transylvania 65-000) have all been major influences for me.
SS: Your new film, Faking a Murderer, takes an incredibly unique approach to the mockumentary format. How did the idea for the film come about?
We had already done a few horror movies and had just finished shooting our documentary Jack Of All Trades and were a well oiled machine shooting wise… we were such huge fans of the brilliant wave of true crime shows that were coming out like The Jinx, The Staircase and of course Making A Murderer. These shows were all, in different ways, BRILLIANT. We thought the genre was ripe for the picking as far as satire goes. We knew we couldn’t actually find a killer, so we decided to create our own and basically trick everyone we know that it was, well, real. I still can’t believe we managed to pull this off!
AR: You met with real police officers and investigators while prepping the film. How much of their accounts made their way into the script and/or final cut?
We actually didn’t do as much prep off camera as you would think with law enforcement. Although, we did have a friend who was a DA and gave us some advice to try to stay out of actual trouble. We were really treading the line on this one. Most of our prep would consist of playing devil’s advocate trying to find holes in our backstories. In terms of a script, we didn’t have a traditional screenplay, instead we wrote out a beat sheet with all of our arcs and let the power of improv take the stage. With the exception of a few scenes, everything you see and hear are real and genuine reactions.
SS: You pitched Faking a Murderer as a real-life documentary to Breakthrough Entertainment. Were you ever concerned that the studio would find out the truth about the film before it was completed?
To their credit, Breakthrough is an incredible company to work with as a creative. They trust us to go out and shoot the best movie we can and let us do our thing. Of course once a cut was ready to send to them, we were careful to only have the people who NEEDED to know, know. Ira Levy has been like a mentor to us and he put a lot of effort into helping us succeed in taking the over 100 hours we shot and tell the whole story in 85 minutes. To everyone’s credit, the cat was NEVER let out of the bag.
AR: As the film’s producer and screenwriter, was it difficult to advise the crew without giving away the mockumentary angle?
We had to be extremely sensitive on what we allowed to be revealed even to the crew. We had them sign NDA’s and from there they just knew what we told them.
So, for the most part the crew was in the dark. On any given day they just knew where to show up and be ready to roll. We treated it as an organic follow doc.
SS: You both were clearly fans of and versed in horror and documentary prior to this film, what about the mockumentary element? Are you fans of the genre?
Christopher Guest movies are the best. The first Borat movie was a real eye opener. I was already working with Jamie Kennedy a ton and we were doing a hybrid style on our MTV show where we fucked with people, of course he also had a hidden camera show, so I was already very well versed in it. But when I saw the Borat movie, it was a game changer. He managed to use the style and use real people to help move his plot along and it worked. We used a similar approach, but instead of being a character like Borat is, we just played ourselves. So all of the people who KNOW us who are in the movie, they just thought they were dealing with Adam and Stu.
AR: Given that you wear multiple hats on set, what is your favorite part of the filmmaking process?
It’s actually an interesting question. Being in front of and behind the camera has its pros and cons. When I’m producing all I want to do is act. And when I’m acting all I want to do is produce. I’m lucky I can move back and forth so consistently in my career. However, my first love will always be performing in front of the camera.
SS: What was the hardest aspect of directing Faking a Murderer?
There’s so much hard stuff that went into this. Keeping everyone in the dark was almost impossible but I would say the editing process was the hardest because we shot so much good stuff and so much of that isn’t even in the movie. Tough decisions always happen in the edit bay but at the end of the day, the final product is one that we are so proud of.
AR: Given that the title gives away the main hook of the film, did you have a different working title?
We workshopped this title a lot and heard the same thing from multiple people. We actually saw it as a good thing. We definitely wanted the audience to kind of know what they were watching, but not be exactly sure what they were in for. In my opinion, the title can be suggestive in a couple ways. You can also think about it as Stu and Adam trying to “frame” someone for murder. However, when we were out in the field conducting our real people interviews, we used the generic title of “An untitled true crime project”, and had many code words and names throughout the process too (none which I am at liberty to disclose except for the word “piineapple” ;)
SS: You and Adam previously collaborated on the films Scarecrows and The Haunted House on Kirby Road. What did you learn from these films that you were able to apply during the making of Faking a Murderer?
Anyone who has seen our horror films knows that there’s always been a huge element of comedy even in those movies. But the art of scaring the viewer, that jump scare, that big plot twist, that bad guy reveal… all of that came from the horror world. Comedy and Horror go so beautifully together when cooked properly. The audience is laughing and smiling and feeling at ease and then, when they least expect it, BOOM, now they aren’t laughing at all, now they are scared! It’s so much fun to map out the “ride” that ends up being the movie.
AR: Did you pull inspiration from specific films during the writing process?
We are definitely guilty of borrowing tropes from our favorite true crime stories like “The Jinx”, but we were also inspired by movies like “Borat” and “Waiting for Guffman”. We just wanted the audience to live vicariously through our characters and watch two ordinary true crime fanatics attempt to solve their version of a true crime murder.
SS: You’ve had experience working on reality TV and music videos. How does directing a feature film differ from these formats?
A feature film is different for a lot of reasons, but most notably its the tight bond you get with your crew. Short form jobs, you are with your team for a few days. When you make a feature you spend months together, almost every day and every day you are making some form of magic happen and everyone is involved in making it happen. It’s incredible but also kind of sad, because like summer camp, the shoot eventually ends and everyone goes back to their real lives.
AR: You and Stu have now done a number of horror films together, do you foresee sticking with this genre or plan to explore other realms like Jack of All Trades?
We are lucky enough to work across all genres of film and TV and will continue to do so. It keeps us fresh and excited. I can promise more realms like Jack of All Trades for sure, but we have a lot more planned to do within the fictional stories of the stoner-horror genre.
SS: How much improvisation do you allow on the set? Do you prefer to stick closely to the script?
This movie was ALL improv. We had no script. I’m a huge fan of improv when it’s being done well. When it’s done by the real pros, there’s nothing better! Of course when it’s a scripted film, we want to try and stick to the script, but if an actor can really bring their character to life, there’s always room for improv.
AR: Given that most of the people and scenes in the film were real, were there any close calls or instances where you had to stop rolling?
Keep in mind when filming our “real people” interviews we only had one take to get it right. Every scene was so important and we got nervous a few times to be outed but it never happened once. The closest we got to getting found out was when we met with “Brian” the P.I., he knew something was up with us but was genuinely interested in the case we presented. He also followed up several times about the intel we had and asked when his firm could start their probing of our target.
SS: What’s your mission as a storyteller? Name the most important thing you want viewers to experience when watching your films.
We want people to feel immersed in the journey we are taking them on. We want them to feel the highs, the lows, the ups the downs, the laughs and the screams. All of it. And most of all we just want them to have a good time.
AR: Can you tell us about any upcoming projects?
We have been doing a ton of development in both scripted and unscripted. A few more true crime stories are in the works as well as a biopic with an NFL sports star. We will also be going to camera on our next stoner-heist-thriller titled “Vandits” in late September. Filming will take place in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada.
SS: What do you consider to be your greatest success as a duo?
I would say the fact that we started a company together called 5’7 Films (we are both 5’7) and that we are here doing this interview right now talking about the release of our new movie, that means we are on the right path. The fact we’ve come this far without killing each other, that’s a success in itself. But I believe in my heart that if we keep on
working hard our greatest success as a duo is yet to come! Faking A Murderer definitely raises the bar for us in all the best possible ways.
AR: What advice do you have for aspiring filmmakers?
Consistency. Stay consistent in your work ethic, don’t be afraid to cold call or approach talent. Always stay active by way of learning and improving your skills. Even if you’re not “working”, listen to film podcasts and watch interviews. Keep it around you at all times. Networking and collaborations are also key. Go to the events, touch elbows and follow
up! If you know deep down that this is the industry for you, then it will work out. Believe that and you will be fine.