Unscripted

Q&A: Steven Weinstock on covering Robert Durst for ID

This weekend, ID will re-run the Vanity Fair Confidential episode about Robert Durst, following the real estate scion's latest murder charge. The show's producer, True Entertainment's Steven Weinstock (pictured), tells realscreen about how they covered the case.
March 20, 2015

Director Andrew Jarecki’s HBO miniseries The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst made headlines earlier this week when its subject, real estate scion Robert Durst, was arrested the day before the finale.

Police in New Orleans arrested the 71-year-old real estate heir last Saturday (March 14) on a warrant issued by Los Angeles County in connection with the investigation into the 2000 murder of Susan Berman, a long-time confidante of Durst’s who might have had information regarding the 1982 disappearance of his wife Kathleen. Two days later he was charged with first-degree murder.

In last Sunday’s finale, Jarecki confronted Durst with a never-before-seen letter written from Durst to Berman in March 1999. Its handwriting resembled a letter sent to Beverly Hills police alerting them to the body’s whereabouts that Durst, during the interview, said “only the killer could have written,” prompting him to again deny that he was her killer.

He then went to the bathroom still wearing a live microphone, which recorded him talking to himself, and saying: “There it is. You’re caught… What the hell did I do? Killed them all, of course.”

This is not the first time Durst has been charged with murder. In 2001, he admitted to killing and dismembering his neighbor, Morris Black, but was acquitted on the charges. Durst maintained at the time the killing was done in self-defense.

On Sunday (March 22), U.S. cable network ID will rerun the episode of Vanity Fair Confidential based on ‘The Fugitive Air,’ reporter Ned Zeman’s (pictured) 2002 article on the Durst case, with a new title card at the end to update viewers on the recent developments.

Whereas Jarecki had four and a half hours over six episodes to tell the story, Vanity Fair Confidential had 45 minutes. Realscreen spoke with True Entertainment president Steven Weinstock (pictured) about the challenges of telling an abridged version of the Durst case.

What was the biggest challenge in telling that story in 42 minutes?
The great starting point is the article and Ned as the writer. We have a real sense of the construction of the narrative so it was up to us to take that story and turn it into compelling television. We were able to get a great interview from Ned, and great interviews from some of the other people involved in the case.

We put the writers through a very arduous interview process. It’s not just two bites. They become the narrative thread that we’re using to tell the stories. They’re interviewed for several hours. These are not necessarily stories they did yesterday so they really have to go back into their files and notes to get up to speed. Our interviews are very detailed. In order to compress the amount of time, you must have a very good handle on the story that you are telling.

Did you reach out to Durst?
We did reach out to Durst and he called us back. He actually expressed interest in participating but he said he couldn’t make the decision alone and we had to speak to his attorney. He was friendly and said that he wasn’t even aware of the fact that Vanity Fair had featured a piece on him and he actually asked us to send it to him and we did. Then we exchanged emails and phone calls with Durst’s attorney who ultimately decided he would not participate.

Interestingly enough, after we completed shooting Durst called us about of the blue to say he wanted to participate and didn’t care what his attorneys said he should do. Then, when we put a release in front of his attorney, Durst said his attorney would not allow him to sign it, and that’s how it ended.

What did you like about this case?
In New York, people recognized the Durst family name and you understood he was a scion of this incredible real estate family. Around the country, the story wasn’t as well known but it had these amazing components. You had three people very close to Durst – one mysteriously vanishes, one is killed and another is dismembered – and he’s at the center of it all.

It has so many twists and turns. It’s a mind-boggling case even in terms of what’s happened most recently with the final episode of the HBO series. Reality is so much more amazing than any fiction that you could create.

Watch a preview of Vanity Fair Confidential: The Robert Durst Story below:

  • Vanity Fair Confidential: The Robert Durst Story airs on ID on Sunday, March 22 at 7 p.m. ET. Read realscreen‘s feature on the series from January here.
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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