Andrew Jarecki’s first feature, the documentary Capturing the Friedmans, about a father and son who were arrested for child molestation, won 18 major international prizes including the New York Film Critics Circle Award, and was nominated for an Academy Award.
Jarecki has now moved on to produce and direct All Good Things, a drama about a real life crime which took place in the 1980s. The movie is inspired by the story of Robert Durst, of the wealthy Durst family. Mr Durst was suspected but never tried for killing his wife Kathie, who disappeared in 1982, and was never found.
Changing the names of the characters, the movie stars Ryan Gosling as David Marks, the wealthy son of Sanford Marks (Frank Langelia) who reluctantly joins his father’s firm. The only person who appears to bring happiness into David’s life is his wife Kathie (Kirsten Dunst), but their relationship is volatile and one day Kathie disappears without a trace and is never seen again.
Kirsten mentioned she saw a documentary you did on this subject.
When we first started working on the screenplay we knew that we wanted to have a story that was very grounded in reality. We knew we wanted to go back to the original story. This wasn’t really a situation where we were going to read somebody else’s research like a magazine article and buy it and make that the story of the movie.
The story was so badly butchered in various media, there was always some kind of caricature version of it that was in the press, so we didn’t really trust that the existing information was out there.
So we went and interviewed people that had to do with the story and we got incredible access to all of these people that were friends with the original couple or were close to the story, police officers, detectives, the District Attorney, everybody talked to us. (So the ‘documentary’ was) really designed to be a primer for the actors and, as we were writing, also for us. In the end, the stuff was so good we made a half hour piece out of it, which I’m sure will find its way onto the DVD.
In constructing this film, we used extraordinary elements from the life of Robert Durst as the inspiration for a dramatic story of desire, family, obsession, and murder. We didn’t try to replicate the exact history, but worked to capture the emotion and complexity of this love story turned unsolved mystery that has for years been kept hidden from public view.
Why did you change the names?
We changed the names very shortly before we started shooting the movie. We didn’t have a legal reason for changing the names at all, we were very careful about not defaming anyone in the movie, and some of the names we left. But I think our feeling was we were going to get hung up on trying to imitate some of these real life characters, and we just felt the framework of the story is really what we care about.
Whatever we call them, people are going to know this movie is related to this true story, but I wanted to give ourselves a little freedom to not focus so much on that. In the end, what we ended up with was all the beats of the story are the beats of the original story.
What was it about Ryan Gosling and Kirsten Dunst that made them right for the movie?
Ryan has a natural inscrutability that he shares with David Marks. You can never be sure what he is going to do from one minute to the next. He can give you a sense of a kind of hair-trigger unpredictability, and that potential for danger and explosiveness is always right below the surface. The role was also extraordinary in that his young actor would have to play a 30 year span of his character’s life.
Kirsten Dunst is glamorous, but what attracted me to her is how real she is. She has a guileless personality and is a very straight shooter, and that is who Katie is as well. She brings the heart to the story – we worry about her and we root for her.
What were the challenges dealing with a story where you don’t know what happened?
I think we knew that we couldn’t act like we were making a documentary, that we couldn’t say, ‘We know precisely what took place,’ because we weren’t there. We were trying to gather all the information that we could and trying to relate it to the audience, but we didn’t want to draw conclusions about things that took place when we weren’t present.
There were certain things where we would exploit the gray areas, where we would know that the elements of the story that can’t be known are really interesting and so when the trunk (of the car) opens and you see Sanford Marks looking into it, we don’t know what he saw in the trunk. I think that’s a really important thing and I think a lot of the audience appreciates that, that they’re left with some mystery in this story. So we did create some limits for ourselves about what we wanted to reproduce.
For me, the most important thing was getting inside the heart and mind of a man who was suspected of being involved in three deaths over the course of thirty years. Whatever the truth is about his involvement, David Marks loses everyone who is closest to him, most importantly his wife – the one woman who truly loved him for who he was and who he could have been; the woman who could have been his salvation.
I wanted audiences to experience their love story at an emotional level, to gain some understanding of what went wrong, and that meant bringing the story to life in the way that only great actors can.