The team behind “Dahmer – Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story” knew full well there was a fine line between staying authentic to the story of the titular serial killer and glamorizing his crimes, and that extended to every single department on the Netflix series that is now nominated for 13 Emmys, including Outstanding Period and/or Character Hairstyling, Outstanding Picture Editing for a Limited or Anthology Series or Movie, Outstanding Period and/or Character Makeup (Non-Prosthetic), Outstanding Sound Mixing for a Limited or Anthology Series or Movie and Oustanding Limited Series.
“My biggest fear when I started working on this project was that Jeff could come off as a sympathetic character, which I know is not something that any of us wanted,” Emmy-nominated editor Stephanie Filo said in an installment of TheWrap’s of “How I Did It” sponsored by Netflix. “I think that also led to us dialing back in the edit as well. A conscious choice that I think all the editors on this project made was that we should really strip back how often we’re cutting and then really just live in these wider shots where you can just see the moment happening objectively and feel what was happening.”
“We held back quite a bit,” Emmy-nominated re-recording mixer Laura Wiest added. “Usually we would take this moment to do something really cool with sound and that just seemed inappropriate to do.” Wiest described a scene in which Dahmer’s neighbor hears him murdering someone through a vent, revealing that the sound team cut back on any graphic sound effects. “It doesn’t need to be in your face for this.”
The authenticity extended to Evan Peters’ transformation to play Jeffrey Dahmer. “Evan in no way shape or form looked like Dahmer,” Emmy-nominated head of makeup Gigi Williams said. “I put on a full five o’clock shadow with just tattoo color and red-ringed his eyes and shadowed him and gave him dark circles. By the time I was finished, he looked in the mirror and you could see him go, ‘OK I’m Dahmer.’ The transformation was amazing.”
That transformation extended to Dahmer’s alcoholism, and Peters’ look was dictated by how drunk his character was in a scene. “I’d go in in the morning and I’d say to Evan, ‘OK how drunk are you here? How debauched are you?,’” Williams said. “Then it was like, ‘OK so darker circles, more sweat, dirtier fingers.’”
The attention to detail seeped through every inch of “Dahmer,” including an authentic depiction of the supporting cast.
“I’ve watched so many documentaries because I wanted to understand the timeline, including their family members,” Emmy-nominated department head of hair Shay Sanford-Fong said. “We did constant boards from ‘70s, ‘80s, ‘90s and all different hair textures. Even his grandmother, there aren’t many photos of her. It was constantly watching, pausing, taking photos, printing those, putting those on to understand this is what the grandmother’s gonna look like.”
Through it all, the team kept a focus on the victims – especially when it came to editing the sequence involving the victim impact statements.
“There’s actual footage of this happening and that’s haunted me for 30 years,” Filo said. “When I knew I had to edit that scene in particular, I saved it to the end, it was like the final scene that I cut in that episode even though they shot it early on because I felt like I had a real responsibility to do justice to telling that part of the story.”
Wiest explained that traditionally, in a scene like this, the sound would pick up seat movement and other sounds throughout the courtroom during the impact statement. “We didn’t do that with this because we wanted to be on the victims when they were talking,” she said. “My dialogue mixers Joe Barnett and Jamie Hardt were really careful in making sure that the futz on the microphones was going to be similar to what you would have noticed for those people who remembered watching it on TV.”
Filo summed up the experience: “Really it was just a matter of being able to tell this story as authentically as we could.”
“Dahmer – Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story” is now streaming on Netflix.
Note: This episode of “How I Did It” was originally published at a prior date and has been updated to reflect the Emmy nominations received by “Dahmer.”