‘The Jinx’ May Have Sparked a True Crime Trend, but Its Director Has Some Notes: ‘The Storytelling Is Not True’

Andrew Jarecki explains why he wanted to explore the “village” that helped Robert Durst and what many documentaries are lacking

The Jinx Part 2
Robert Durst in "The Jinx Part 2" (Photo Credit: HBO)

When the first season of “The Jinx” concluded in 2015, it did so with a bang. That March, Robert Durst’s mumbled confession — “Killed them all, of course” — became the catchphrase of news broadcasts, late night shows and everyday conversations. It also sparked a trend in the larger television landscape. After years of being sidelined as a niche interest or confined to low-budget endeavors, true crime documentaries were at the forefront of pop culture. 

“The Jinx” was followed by other buzzy, critically-acclaimed installments in the genre such as “Making a Murderer,” “Amanda Knox” and “The Keepers” on Netflix and “Mommy Dead and Dearest,” “I’ll Be Gone in the Dark” and “The Vow” on HBO. But the man who unintentionally sparked this boom doesn’t necessarily see it as a good thing. 

“When people say true crime, I think there might be a misnomer,” Andrew Jarecki, the director behind both seasons of “The Jinx,” told TheWrap during an interview tied to the Season 2 finale. “Often they’re not true, the true crime stories that people say, ‘This is a true crime story.’ The storytelling is not true. It’s either not sufficiently deep, or it’s not longitudinal.”

In the filmmaker’s opinion, many of these projects don’t end up looking at their cases for “a sufficient amount of time.” 

“You can’t really figure out what happened, which is why you end up with the explosion in streaming, which generated a tremendous amount of bad content because everybody was like, ‘Oh, now we can make documentaries in 45 minutes. We don’t need to shoot documentaries with nice cameras. We can shoot them on our phones,’” Jarecki said. 

The filmmaker clarified that there have been impactful projects filmed on phones and that this increase in documentary interest from networks and streamers has also produced some projects that have impressed him. Jarecki pointed to Zachary Heinzerling’s “Stolen Youth: Inside the Cult at Sarah Lawrence” as a “high-quality piece of thought” that strives to ask deeper questions beyond its central story. Instead of the method, it’s the the lack of depth behind many of these projects that Jarecki opposes. He pointed to the “900 Jeffrey Epstein documentaries” that have been released as an example.

“They’re all going to, pretty much, say the same fact pattern. They’re going to say, ‘Isn’t this terrible? Let’s like make fun of this guy. Let’s say he was so disgusting, and let’s make fun of the people that helped him.’ But are we really doing anything very helpful in terms of our understanding of human beings?” Jarecki said. “A lot of documentaries are, ‘Hey, this is a terrible story. Let me give you like the most salacious version of it.’”

The Jinx Part 2
Nick Chavin, Susan Berman and Robert Durst in “The Jinx Part 2” (Photo Credit: HBO)

Jarecki doesn’t mind that the public has a hunger for salacious content. “But hopefully, what we’re trying to go for is to actually engage people at the level of trying to understand themselves better. That’s a big thing to me,” Jarecki said. 

This need to understand people is what drove the six-episode installment of “The Jinx” Season 2. When Jarecki and his team were making the first season, there was a saying that would often pop up in the editing room: “How do you kill three people over 30 years and get away with it? It takes a village.” That saying became the title of Episode 6.

If Season 1 was about the killer behind the deaths of Kathleen McCormack, Susan Berman and Morris Black, then Season 2 is about the group of people who made these brutal murders possible and kept Robert Durst out of jail. 

“I look at all the people who helped Bob. It’s very easy to say, ‘Well, those people are ridiculous. Those are amoral people. They sold their soul for money,’” Jarecki said. “But isn’t it more interesting to say, what would I have done in that situation?”

By its end, Season 2 is a deep dive into the web of influence Durst cast. Jarecki was careful to note that Durst’s power went beyond his immense wealth. “I feel like those people are actually a constellation of pretty decent people,” Jarecki said. “I don’t think of them as all being like money hungry.”

The director, who spent a signifiant amount of time with Durst before his death, called the late killer a “spellbinder.” “He’s a guy who convinces people to do things. He is very good at it. He makes you feel like if you’re not with him, you’re making a mistake,” Jarecki said.

The sixth and final episode of Season 2 contains a shocking example of that spellbinding effect in the form of an interview with Nick Chavin. The late real estate advertiser and alleged inventor of a genre of music called country porn appears repeatedly throughout the docuseries. In one of Chavin’s most memorable interviews, he asks the producers, “What do you do when your best friend kills your other best friend?”

Shortly before Jarecki spoke to TheWrap, he heard from Terry Chavin, Nick’s widow. Jarecki noted that it was a “big deal” for her to appear in “The Jinx” at all since she’s not a public person. She agreed to be part of the project because she felt “traumatized” by Durst being in her life “and you helped make Bob not in my life anymore,” Jarecki recalled.

During her phone conversation with Jarecki, Terry Chavin admitted she wasn’t watching the series but wanted to know how her late husband was coming across. 

“I said, ‘First of all, we can agree he doesn’t come off great all the time.’ Nick relished this bad boy relationship with Bob,” Jarecki said. “But at the same time, Nick is one of the few people who kind of redeems himself.”

The moment happens toward the end of “It Takes a Village.” After spending the past five hours joking about Durst and making comments about how comfortable they were with murder, Nick Chavin becomes more reflective about what happened. The jokes stop — a fact he acknowledges — and he starts to ask himself why he was so comfortable protecting his murderous friend for so many years. Repeatedly, he draws a blank, a fact that seems to make him increasingly uncomfortable.

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Nick Chavin in “The Jinx Part 2” (Photo Credit: HBO)

“You see the ether wearing off, and you see him in the moment saying he doesn’t understand what’s happening,” Jarecki said. “He says, ‘I’m yawning nervously.’ It’s funny, right? That’s what Bob almost does. He was burping and rubbing his face when I showed him the [Beverley Hills] letter.” That misspelled letter later became one of the central pieces of evidence that led to Durst’s 2021 conviction. 

Ultimately, Jarecki told Terry Chavin to watch Episode 6 even if she didn’t watch any other episode. “I said, ‘I can understand that it’s hard to watch, and maybe it’ll take you a while to watch it. But I want you to watch six, because it’s going to open your mind to what Nick was capable of.’ What he does in six is such a beautiful thing.”

The more time Jarecki has spent dissecting Robert Durst, the more it’s impacted his view of “every aspect” of the world. That includes the 2024 election. Repeatedly, Jarecki likened the pull Durst had over his friends and allies to the one Donald Trump has over his supporters and the one Harvey Weinstein had over Hollywood.

“It’s making me appreciate the power of hypnosis, the power of how dominant people are able to exert their will over submissive people,” Jarecki said. 

“I have friends who had experiences with Harvey Weinstein, these incredible, terrible experiences. The way they will describe it is like, ‘In the moment, it felt like he really cared about me. It felt like he was going to be an ally for me.’ That kind of feels like love. The fact that he is grotesque to look at, that’s very secondary. People need so much,” Jarecki said. “Bob gave people that feeling. He really made you feel like you were in the club and that he had a special connection with you.”

As Jarecki finally moves on from this story he’s spent the better part of 14 years telling, he’s grateful and hopeful: Grateful that he had the opportunity to fully explore this story that has gripped both him and America and hopeful that viewers will take a closer look at their own complicity when it comes to their friends and family’s bad behavior. 

“I feel like all of this material has made me understand human beings much better,” Jarecki said. “That’s probably my goal in life, or one of my main goals, just psychically, to try to understand the range of human experience.”

Comments

2 responses to “‘The Jinx’ May Have Sparked a True Crime Trend, but Its Director Has Some Notes: ‘The Storytelling Is Not True’”

  1. C Avatar
    C

    Why hasn’t Deborah C been charged with helping Durst?! She lie’s multiple times in the final episode!

  2. W Fal Avatar
    W Fal

    Really!! You had to trash Trump!  Liberal media of course!

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