How Making A Murderer Helped Netflix's The Keepers Happen, According To The Creator

sister cathy cesnik the keepers netflix
(Image credit: Photo courtesy of Netflix)

After establishing itself a scripted programming powerhouse, Netflix successfully veered left with Making a Murderer, capitalizing on a growing fascination with true crime, as boosted by the much acclaimed Serial and The Jinx. The company's latest crime-focused effort is the hauntingly powerful The Keepers, which centers on the 47-year-old unsolved murder of a Baltimore Catholic school nun, along with a ring of sexual abuse that allegedly occurred within the school. Creator and documentarian Ryan White recently spoke with CinemaBlend, and when I asked if Making a Murderer and others made him think an audience would definitely be there for The Keepers, he said this:

Yeah, I mean if we had a fraction of the success of those two series, as far as popularity goes, I'll be thrilled. Because that means more visibility, and that means more people are talking about the story that I believe was deliberately buried. I began The Keepers -- it was actually before either of those series had come out. It was before Serial had come out, too. Serial was coming out the month I first visited Baltimore. There wasn't that trend yet, or at least that business model of making these long-form documentaries. We weren't really entertaining the idea of making a series. We were hoping that it would become a feature film that the story unfolded in. And then over the course of the three years, all three of those serialized true crime stories came out and caught the zeitgeist, the American mainstream, it seems.

Ryan White was responsible for such winning documentaries as The Case Against 8, Serena and more, so it's understandable that he came at this project early on with the scope and parameters of a feature film in his mind. That was three years ago, though, at a time when the legwork was certainly being done on Making a Murderer and others, but before U.S. audiences had any idea just how overwhelmed the collective consciousness would get with the stories of Steven Avery, Brendan Dassey, Robert Durst, Adnan Syed and, in a fictional sense, O.J. Simpson again. Once the concept of a quasi-serialized true crime TV show became a viable option for a storytelling avenue, the door was open for The Keepers to take over anyone with justice on the brain.

Of course, it wasn't merely the existence of Making a Murderer that formed The Keepers as it stands today, since Ryan White probably wasn't super-focused on checking out all kinds of other programming involving murders while putting this series together. White told me he and producer Jessica Hargrave traveled to and from Baltimore two weeks out of every month during the three years when The Keepers was coming together. Upon viewing, audiences will see just how wide the story expands surrounding the late Sister Cathy Cesnik and the former "Jane Doe" that serves as the lynch pin for unraveling the sordid history of Baltimore's Archbishop Keough High School. So while White had at one point conceived The Keepers to fill a runtime befitting of a film, there were just too many stories and victims to fit into a set time limit.

As Ryan White put it during our interview, he's used to crafting beginnings, middles and endings for documentaries, but he had a combined 21 of them with The Keepers. And every one of them was worth the filmmaking efforts to get these tragic stories out there, regardless of what led to its release. He says as much below.

So, you know, that's a lot of pressure to follow. But if it leads to people tuning in to The Keepers -- which is quite heavy -- and looking at what might have happened in Baltimore, and that is undoubtedly happening all over the world right now, then I will be a very happy filmmaker.

As it happened with Making a Murderer's Brendan Dassey, one would hope that The Keepers will inspire a similar launch to bring justice to Cathy Cesnik, Jane Doe and everyone else whose nightmares were kept silent for decades. You can check out the trailer below.

There are also a few behind-the-scenes connections to be made between Netflix's true crime behemoths Making a Murderer and The Keepers. Netflix producer Lisa Nishimura first worked with Making a Murderer before joining this most recent series, offered Ryan White guidance in the whittling-down-through-editing department, while White's The Case Against 8's co-director Ben Cotner offered a Netflix connection, as he later produced the service's crime docs Amanda Knox and 13th.

Don't waste another minute before loading up Netflix and expanding your brain with the unthinkable atrocities documented by The Keepers, which is available in its seven-episode entirety. To see what other shows you'll be able to obsess over in the near future, head to our Netflix premiere schedule and our summer TV guide.

Nick Venable
Assistant Managing Editor

Nick is a Cajun Country native and an Assistant Managing Editor with a focus on TV and features. His humble origin story with CinemaBlend began all the way back in the pre-streaming era, circa 2009, as a freelancing DVD reviewer and TV recapper.  Nick leapfrogged over to the small screen to cover more and more television news and interviews, eventually taking over the section for the current era and covering topics like Yellowstone, The Walking Dead and horror. Born in Louisiana and currently living in Texas — Who Dat Nation over America’s Team all day, all night — Nick spent several years in the hospitality industry, and also worked as a 911 operator. If you ever happened to hear his music or read his comics/short stories, you have his sympathy.