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'The Ted Bundy Tapes' and 'Shockingly Evil': Why Joe Berlinger doubled down on the serial killer

Jen Yamato, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Entertainment News

The timing was uncanny: Days apart, on the weekend marking the 30th anniversary of the execution of notorious serial killer Ted Bundy, Academy Award-nominated filmmaker Joe Berlinger ("Paradise Lost" trilogy, "Some Kind of Monster") premiered his Zac Efron-starring Bundy film "Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile" at the Sundance Film Festival and unveiled the four-part docu-series "The Ted Bundy Tapes" to voracious true-crime fanatics on Netflix.

"It's a little bizarre," Berlinger admitted, stopping by the L.A. Times studio at Sundance. "I'd love to take credit for this master plan ... but the fact that I even did both is somewhat coincidental."

It was nearly two years ago that Berlinger was contacted by author Stephen Michaud with a tantalizing offer to dive into hours and hours of taped conversations with Bundy that Michaud and Hugh Aynesworth wrote into the nonfiction book "Conversations with a Killer."

"He said, 'I've never really done anything with these audio tapes that I did a book on," said Berlinger. "'Do you want to listen to the tapes and see if you think there's anything there?'"

The docu-series that would become "Conversations With a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes" was already underway with Netflix when Michael Werwie's Black Listed script for "Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile," a narrative retelling of Bundy's crimes told from the perspective of his live-in girlfriend Elizabeth "Liz" Kloepfer, fell into his lap.

Within a month and a half, the feature film secured financing with Zac Efron attached to star as the duplicitous Bundy and Lily Collins as Kloepfer, whose 1981 memoir "The Phantom Prince: My Life With Ted Bundy" shed rare insight into the private life of the convicted killer.

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Now, with both Bundy projects unveiled simultaneously -- Netflix announced its acquisition of "Extremely Wicked" after the film's Sundance premiere and the trending success of its "Ted Bundy Tapes" launch -- Berlinger has found himself in the controversial business of Bundy. And audiences are wrestling with their own fascination with the man who confessed to murdering and raping as many as 30 women and girls across seven states in the 1970s.

The question of the hour: Why is Joe Berlinger so obsessed with Ted Bundy -- and why can't audiences look away?

Q: The timing of these two Ted Bundy projects makes for quite the coincidence. What sparked your interest in exploring all things Bundy?

A: It's a story that's been told many times, so my bar was high. But I listened to the tapes and I thought there was an amazing opportunity to go inside the mind of a killer and tell a story, with a little distance and with some freshness, because we had this perspective from Bundy himself.

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