With an abundance of true crime shows in the market and the savvy nature of their audiences, Ari Mark, co-founder of AMPLE, the production company behind A&E Network’s Cold Case Files reboot, said making the show stand out was important.
Mark and the team had to determine how they could breathe new life into the franchise and make it modern.
“Given the technology changes in crime solving, there’s an urgent need to tell these stories in a different way because the way they are being solved has changed,” explained Mark. “So the storytelling needs to change as well, and I think that’s what we’ve done: we’ve breathed life into a really celebrated franchise.”
In this revamp of the Emmy-nominated true crime series that spanned nearly a decade, until 2008, Mark said there’s a focus on framing the series through the perspective of the family members, the detectives who worked the case, their investigative beats and how the two point of views intersect to create a full picture of the crime.
Mark said AMPLE partnered with Blumhouse Television (The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst), who brought a signature voice the true crime platform needed.
He said combining what worked with the original Cold Case with interviews and present tense actuality helped create a series that was thoughtful and cinematic.
The (10×60) reboot faced its own set of production challenges. Mark said it took about 10 months to cast the cases with the help of in-house researchers. Some of the cases were so old that some of the detectives would forget the facts, meaning the team and the detectives would both have to review those case files. The team also needed access to police departments, the families and the wider community.
“A&E, to their credit, put us through a grueling casting process. They know these episodes need to work on two levels: they need to work on a character and emotional level, and on an investigative level. The details of that case need to sustain an hour of television, and they sustain an hour of television with twists and turns,” he said.
Mark said one of the most difficult challenges of telling crime stories is they are often predictable in how they’re told. And with crime audiences being savvy, it’s important to make sure there’s a switch up in the way the story unfolds and how the clues are revealed, which means high production value on the scripted scenes.
“Yes it’s on a cable budget, but we were offering scene work and cinematic scope that felt more than your run-of-the-mill cable hour,” Mark explained. “That was the biggest production challenge—how do you do that ten times?”
It came with a small team that was able to do without a lot of equipment to create a cinematic series.
Mark said conducting the interviews with those who had lost loved ones could at times be emotionally challenging, as they were often devastating and could go on for hours.
“Some of these mothers wanted to talk to us because they knew we were the ones handling the content. It was really heart wrenching. You want them to say what you need them to say, and on the other hand, it’s really hard to guide the conversation because someone is opening up about the brutal murder of their daughter, sister or their mother or grandmother or father, so you want to be respectful,” he said.
Mark hopes that for those who took part in the series they will get some closure from the show.
Mark and Phil Lott executive produce the series for AMPLE alongside Blumhouse’s Jason Blum, Marci Wiseman, Jeremy Gold and Jessica Rhoades. Laura Fleury, Elaine Frontain Bryant Bryant and Evan Lerner serve as executive producers for A&E.
Cold Case Files returns to A&E on Feb. 27 at 9 p.m. ET/PT.