When we’re thinking about the future of media creation and consumption we should be considering web series. They’re free to view and accessible to anyone with a computer. They’re also relatively low cost to make, which opens the door for new voices in filmmaking. Additionally, web series are an ideal medium to foster collaboration and interaction between an audience and a filmmaker and there’s fascinating content being generated in this way.
One example is One For Ten, a documentary web series about people who have been exonerated and released from death row. Each of the ten films in this series range from 5-6 minutes and focus on an individual exonerees’ story. One For Ten’s co-director Will Francome explains, “Many of these people left prison and thought there was going to be an investigation, or some ramifications for the fact that the state almost killed them and they spent 20 years of their life on death row. They thought people were going to care and something was going to change. But nothing changes. So what is that about? What do people gain from the death penalty politically to make this self-perpetuating thing keep going?”
The films in the series are direct, personal, and further enhanced by the website designed around them which includes features like death penalty facts and legal reviews of each case profiled in the episodes. Perhaps most compelling about One For Ten is its sense of timeliness and, therefore, urgency. Just 3 months ago, Reginald Griffin became the 143rd person to be exonerated and freed from death row. And, as the recent media coverage surrounding Edgar Arias Tamayo and Dennis McGuire’s executions illustrates, questions surrounding the death penalty, including who should die and how, continue in our national dialogue.
Filmmaker Will Francome is actually no stranger to FDL. Back in 2008, Lisa featured his documentary, In Prison My Whole Life, for Movie Night. I caught up with Will while he was in Ohio covering Dennis McGuire’s execution for an upcoming documentary project to learn more about One For Ten.
You’ve been looking at death row, false accusations, and exonerations in your work for some time. What drives you to continue to explore these issues?
I believe, there are structures in place surrounding the justice system that a lot of people don’t understand. That’s what I’m trying to look at. That’s the research I’ve been doing for the last 10 years. Only 2% of counties in the U.S. are responsible for most of the executions. Why is that? I don’t believe that most prosecutors are evil, or that they’re trying to have innocent people executed, but I do believe that there is pressure in certain prosecutors’ offices to try and win these cases. And, this then becomes a way for certain authority figures, from police officers to politicians, to move up the political ladder. But people can die; people do die.
Tell me about the significance of the name One For Ten and how this project started for you.
Mark (co-director Mark Pizzey) and I were looking at the death penalty information website and we realized that for every 10 people that had been executed 1 had been released. This is quite a meaningful statistic no matter what your view on the death penalty is. I think about how if my garbage wasn’t collected 1 in every 10 times it was supposed to be collected, I’d be outraged. That level of failure is ridiculous, especially when the stakes are so high. So, we thought this statistic would be a good way to approach this project and decided to interview 10 exonerees. We wanted to find out how these people ended up on death row. No matter what your thoughts are on the death penalty, we hope you’ll be curious as to why this happens and how we can fix it.
How did you choose these particular stories?
We worked with a lot of organizations, especially a great organization out of Philadelphia called Witness to Innocence, which is run by and for exonerated death row inmates. We wanted to look at the top reasons that people are wrongfully convicted, not only with death penalty cases but with normal criminal cases as well. False confessions, incorrect eyewitness testimonies, and things like that. The organizations we spoke with highlighted 20-30 people we could talk with. Because we wanted to make the films in an interactive fashion and put out 2 films a week, we had to consider these people’s locations and decide who we could realistically get to and film during this time period.
How did you make the One for Ten interactive?
The whole project ran through social media. Our audience would hear about the cases we were going to focus on and we’d give them some quick information, you know, like, this person was the first person exonerated from DNA evidence. Then we’d ask, do you have any questions for him? People would tweet us, email, or post their questions on Facebook and we would then incorporated them into our interview. Whether they were positive or negative, whether we liked them or not, we would ask the questions that were given to us. We would then live tweet sections of the answers and quotes from the interview. The next day, we would release the interviewee’s full answers. Then as we went, we would ask the audience what they thought of the last interview and what they would do differently with the next one. So we had this ongoing relationship with our audience where they were able to be involved in creating the content they were getting. We’d turn each film around in 36 hours from the beginning of shooting to loading it on YouTube.
Is there anything that surprised you as worked on the films?
I was surprised at how common the themes were. Our idea was to make 10 films and focus each around 1 issue, but almost all of our films could have featured 3, 4, 5 issues. For instance, Sabrina Butler’s film was about expert witness testimony but it could have also been about false confessions, or racism, or eyewitness testimony. The consistency of the stories, the fact that they were all similar, was shocking to me. You know, how many times can you hear the same things over and over again? There are political structures that enable this to happen again and again.
What do you want viewers to take away from One For Ten?
I want people to regard criminal convictions and authority with a level of skepticism. We all see the stories about someone who committed a horrible crime, but those cases need to be looked at with a bit more scrutiny. They’re just too often proven wrong. Whether you agree or disagree with the death penalty, there are 143 people that have come off death row after being found innocent. We owe it to them to ask questions about whether convictions are valid and what we can do to make them more valid. As a society, we have the ultimate punishment that you can’t come back from and we’ve had so many clear examples of it going wrong. It’s almost too dangerous.
To view the One For Ten episodes click here. Have questions for Will? Contact him at will AT oneforten.com.