Lifetime went there.
With the 20th anniversary of JonBenét Ramsey's death approaching in December and the true crime trend taking over pop culture, there's been several specials and movies to air about the unsolved murder of the six-year-old that's captivated a nation's attention. The latest? Who Killed JonBenét?, Lifetime's original movie that premiered tonight, and focused on investigation led by Detective Steve Thomas (played by Eion Bailey). Oh, and had JonBenét (played by Payton Lepinski) narrate the film.
E! News chatted with the movie's director Jason Lapeyre about that bold decision, as well as the title of the movie and choosing to use real footage of the Ramsey family...
What was the goal with this movie? To tell a story we hadn't heard, or just to tell the story we already knew in a new way?
It was actually really interesting to do this one, because I knew that it had actually been told before. I was aware that there was a TV movie made about 15 years ago, so I definitely wanted to try and do something different and new with it, and one of the things that we talked about—the writer, the actors, and the producers and I—was humanizing JonBenét Ramsey as a person. Over the past 20 years, the amount of media attention the story's gotten has to rival almost any other true crime story in the same time period, so we felt like in that, her name and her face especially had become almost turned into a symbol and the actual human being JonBenét Ramsey had gotten lost in all that. So that was kind of a theme that ran through the making of the movie, and we hope the movie itself.
Is that why you decided to have JonBenét narrate the story?
It was one of the ideas. I mean that was something that originally came from the writer, but I immediately really liked the idea. I liked it because I felt it was haunting, literally, but I thought it was a very unsettling device. But yeah, it was this idea of this human being, JonBenét Ramsey. Lots of people have seen video of her dancing and heard her singing, but I'm not sure anyone's ever stopped to think of her saying something or having a conversation, or having her own ideas about what may have happened that night, so we thought dramatically that was an interesting device with which to frame the story.
Was there any discussion about not being too unsettling or haunting, like when deciding to show the body or use the narration?
I don't think there were things we consciously thought about. Certainly it was always my intention to really remind the audience of how incredibly disturbing the crime itself was, so that's sort of what led to the decision to show the body. As far as the decision of when and how to use the narration, that was more of a poetic device of when in the story do we feel like the audience could use a bit of a framework, and what can JonBenét say here to illustrate what's happening.
You used the original footage of the Ramsey interview, right?
Yeah, that was the CNN interview they did. That was the first time most people saw them.
Why did you decide to use the original footage, as opposed to recreating it with the actors?
Right from the get go, I thought it would be way more interesting to try and incorporate as much real footage as we could, a.) because it was such a well-documented case, I knew that that stuff was all out there, and b.) because true crime, as a genre, it's a way of storytelling that really draws on reality and one of the ways to do that visually is to use documentary footage and news footage, and it's a pretty powerful tool that you have in your toolbox as a true crime storyteller. And c.) I thought it would be jarring in an interesting way to the audience to sort of snap them out of the movie and into reality for a moment, in case they had forgotten that what they were watching was real, and to just sort of make it inescapable for them for a minute.
Since the film doesn't really answer the question, did you have other titles other than Who Killed JonBenet?
Yeah, the working title was just JonBenét, which I actually really preferred, because like I said, we were trying to reclaim the human being, JonBenét Ramsey from the media frenzy JonBenét Ramsey. But Lifetime came up with Who Killed JonBenét pretty late in the game, and I've actually kind of grown to like it, because one of the things I like about the movie as well is that we don't answer the question. It remains a question, and the audience is kind of just asked to deal with that, which I think that's pretty unusual for any kind of movie, especially a Lifetime movie. They're usually more interested in traditional endings, so I thought the idea of ending the story with a question mark was pretty powerful, and the title lent itself to that.
What did you think of Lifetime's JonBenét movie and the choice to have her narrate it? Sound off in the comments.