Docs

Reliving the Manson murders

Upon the 40th anniversary of the infamous murder spree conducted by Charles Manson's 'Family' (known as the Tate murders), Canada's History Television is unveiling the world premiere of Manson, a two-hour docudrama that boasts a lengthy on-camera interview with Linda Kasabian, who was the Family's driver on that night. Nick Crowe, a History Television production executive on Manson, talks about the genesis of the doc.
August 6, 2009

Upon the 40th anniversary of the infamous murder spree conducted by Charles Manson’s ‘Family’ (known as the Tate murders), Canada’s History Television is unveiling the world premiere of Manson, a two-hour docudrama that boasts a lengthy on-camera interview with Linda Kasabian, who was the Family’s driver on that night. Nick Crowe, a History Television production executive on Manson, talks about the genesis of the production, one of realscreen‘s MIPTV Picks from earlier this year.

View the trailer for Manson here.

How did this project come to be?

It was pitched to us in June of last year by Cineflix and they had done a fantastic film on Jonestown [Jonestown: Paradise Lost] that had a similar format. It was a true docudrama in every sense of the word that we really loved, and it ended up on Vision instead of History and we were very keen to do Manson. Channel Five in the UK and History in the U.S. were also involved, and History was the first one involved. We were last to the table. It’s a story that’s obviously been covered in a lot of places and a couple of feature films, a mini-series and A&E documentaries. But this was a really unique window into it, where they had access to Linda Kasabian, who’d never done an on-camera interview before, other than a very short piece on A Current Affair in the late ’80s.

How did you get the interview with Kasabian?

That was all up to Cineflix. There’s a fantastic creative producer there, Greta Knutzen, [who found Kasabian and thought] ‘That’d make a good film.’ They had to hire a private investigator to track Linda Kasabian down; she’d gone into hiding after the trail. I think there had been the occasional report that she had been in trouble and they eventually narrowed it down to two Linda Kasabians. When they had found the right one she really wasn’t keen on the idea of talking about this, let alone talking about it on film. It took about six months of getting to know her and reassuring her that this would be done properly. That’s all Greta’s doing.

Why depict the story as a docudrama?

The Jonestown film is so successful on a creative level but really it’s the closest you can get to the story as possible. There are only four interviewees in the film: Linda, the prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi, Sharon Tate’s sister and another Manson family member. You have this incredible access and it’s largely told through the two points of view of Linda and Vincent Bugliosi, so what you end up with is the incredibly visual evocation of a great feature film but also the emotional depth of hearing the story straight from the people who were there. So we see a lot of documentaries that have recreations that are a bit like wallpaper, they just mirror what the interviewees are saying. This is a true docudrama where I think the dramatic elements are really feature quality. It is a beautifully shot and acted film, with great documentary aspects as well. It was filmed in the U.S. but certain things were shot [in Canada]. The scenes in the Spahn ranch were shot north of Toronto. They found an abandoned Old West town that had gone to seed and it was absolutely perfect. Of course, there are other scenes that could only be shot in California.

Why does Canada’s History Television have first run?

There were two theories as to when this should go up. One was for the anniversary, which is this weekend [August 8]. The other theory in scheduling is that you never put something up in the summer. History in the U.S. is playing it on Labor Day weekend. There seems to be a lot of articles hitting magazines and newspapers right now anticipating this anniversary so we thought we could piggyback on that press and get a lot of attention. Internally there isn’t a lot of new stuff that goes up in the summer so we’re getting a lot of promo on the network but I also found out yesterday we’ll be repeating it on Labor Day weekend as well.

Why is there so much fascination with Charles Manson and the Family?

I think there’s a lot more to it than just the mayhem, the murder and the true crime aspect. It’s commonly referred to as the ‘end of the hippie [era],’ that it’d been a really idealistic wide-eyed time and this was a real sign that there was a dark underside to it. There’s a lot of political and cultural baggage wrapped up in it as well. It really is indicative of a particular era, a time and a place. Manson is a horrible guy but also a very charismatic figure and continues to be to this day.

Manson airs on History Television in Canada on August 9.

About The Author
Daniele Alcinii is a news reporter at realscreen, the leading international publisher of non-fiction film and television industry news and content. He joins the rs team with journalism experience following a stint out west with Sun Media in Edmonton's Capital Region, and communications work in Melbourne, Australia and Toronto. You can follow him on Twitter at @danielealcinii.

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