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Why Netflix’s ‘Heist’ Director Brought the ‘Fun’ to True Crime

Derek Doneen’s show breaks down how real-life heists were pulled off

Director Derek Doneen wanted to bring “more fun” to the typically grim world of true crime in his newest docuseries, “Heist,” which recounts real-life heists from the perspectives of the criminals that pulled them off.

“I’ve just been feeling a little fatigued by the darkness by most of the fare in the true-crime universe,” Doneen told TheWrap. “I was craving something a little bit more fun.”

When his wife pointed out the lack of heist stories in the documentary space, Doneen made it his mission to transport the high-stakes robbery story to the documentary genre.

“What really interested me was, can I access to the people who pulled them off?” Doneen recounted.

Turns out he could.

In Season 1, the docuseries follows three heist plots: “Sex Magick Money Murder,” “The Money Plane” and “The Bourbon King,” with each story told in two parts for a total of six episodes. And each section features interviews with people associated with them — Heather Tallchief, Karls Monzon, and Toby Curtsinger (otherwise known as “The Bourbon King”).

During the episodes, Doneen combines traditional interviews with the subjects with cinematic re-creations that break conventional rules of documentaries, an initiative led by director of photography Adam Stone (“Mud,” “Loving”) who shoots both documentary and narrative films.

“The twists and turns come with humor,” Doneen said. “We looked for those moments in the storytelling.”

Not only do these cinematic re-enactments enable heisters to relive their wildest memories — like laying atop $3.1 million in cash or disguising a 21-year-old as an elderly woman — they also allow the viewers to imagine the experience as their own.

“The idea from the beginning was to put the audience in the driver’s seat,” Doneen said, “There’s a sense of wish fulfillment — we ask ourselves, ‘could I have pulled that off if I was in their shoes?’”

Doneen balances this lightness in the second episodes of each story — which shed light on the cost of the decisions. Come for the levity, stick around for the consequences.

“There’s the fun of planning, execution and the getaway, but we don’t always think about the burden of living a double life,” Doneen said.

Those words ring true as the audience experiences the pain of a single mother who turns to prostitution before turning herself in to benefit her son in the second episode of “Sex Magick Money Murder.”

Doneen made his feature documentary directing debut in 2018 with “The Price of Free,” a film that follows Nobel Peace Prize-winning Indian activist Kailash Satyarthi, whose team has liberated more than 86,000 children in India from child labor, slavery and trafficking. The film was nominated for an Emmy for Outstanding Social Issue Documentary.

Yeah, so this is not that — but it’s good.

“Heist” premieres globally on Netflix July 14.