BEVERLY HILLS —“Murder In Fashion” was a film I looked forward to since all the buzz started when it was seen around festival circuits. It is a chilling film that chronicles the 1990s murders of serial killer and star wannabe Andrew Cunanan. Surely his most famous victim was Italian-born fashion designer Gianni Versace, but there were four other innocent victims. During that period L.A.’s gay community and the gay communities around the nation were gripped in paranoid fear as the almost cat-like hunting behavior of this man was chronicled in the pages of newspapers around the nation and Vanity Fair magazine. Cunanan’s desperate desire to be much more than the hustler he was is showed in great detail in the film that is now in limited-release. This week I spoke candidly and exclusively with the film’s writer Linda Boroff.
Q-What made you decide to write “Murder In Fashion?”
A-“I was asked to draft the screenplay that became “Murder in Fashion” by the producer, Mark Boot, a friend of another producer, Mark Headley, who had optioned a script of mine. Mark Boot explained to me that he was planning to create a film about the notorious Andrew Cunanan, a serial killer who had murdered five people including Gianni Versace back in 1997. It was a seemingly random murder spree that put the gay community he frequented —and was believed to have hidden in for months —into a state of terror. I myself had been horrified reading of the murders at the time, and I was a bit frightened of delving into the particulars of these grisly murders themselves, but the challenge of writing the script and the professional opportunity finally overcame my hesitation, and I committed to the project.”
Q-I remember where I was each time a victim was identified and when it was on the news. Is your story/film a fictional take on it or true to each point?
A-“The movie was to be a fictionalized account rather than a documentary, which gave me creative leeway as far as imagining conversations, characters—including that of Cunanan himself—and various incidents. However, I had to stay based in truth and not just irresponsibly concoct or fabricate something that ignored the facts surrounding the murders and victims.”
“Any time one fictionalizes a true story or the life of a real person, one must remain credible, responsible and plausible. But in speculating based on fact—especially with regard to a mysterious character like Cunanan—one can often get closer to emotional truth than by slavishly following a list of incidents.”
“But before I did any outlining or writing at all, I had to re-educate myself about the murders and about Andrew Cunanan himself. I was given a fairly free hand as to how I wanted to undertake the project, but the producer reserved the right to make final determinations and judgment as to any creative concepts I came up with, of course.”
“I decided to fictionalize the spree and the manhunt for him, which meant that I had to create law enforcement officers and certain elements of the chase. I had to make informed guesses as to where Cunanan was and what he was doing while in hiding. Like everyone else, I wondered how he managed to stay invisible and ‘hide in plain sight’ even as a feverish multi-state task force pursued him. The movie was to be a thriller—entertainment, in other words—and while not wishing to crassly exploit the very real tragedies that Cunanan perpetrated, I also had to create a movie.”
“I thought of movies I respected that followed a fictionalized, edge-of-your-seat manhunt and thought immediately of ‘The Day of the Jackal.’ If you recall, this 1973 movie, based on the Frederick Forsyth novel, with screenplay written by Kenneth Ross and directed by Fred Zinnemann, followed the pursuit of a potential paid assassin of Charles de Gaulle. The frantic chase of The Jackal culminated, of course, in his being killed in the act of attempting to assassinate de Gaulle, interrupted in the nick of time. The screenplay was the 1974 Golden Globe award and was a magnificent work. It seemed to me to embody the momentum and deadly cat-and-mouse game across a broad geography that I wanted to reflect in my own more modest effort. In the movie, the Jackal, a heartless psychopath, kills anybody who stands in his way or can identify him. Cunanan too, seemed to murder out of convenience—to steal a car, for example—with the same cavalier disregard for the humanity of his victims. I thought, if I could capture the frustration, the ”˜one-step-behind’ tension and agonizing frustration of law enforcement as it pursued The Jackal, then I had something. I did a lot of research, reading newspaper articles of the time, as the pursuit continued, and then stalled while Cunanan, now on the FBI’s Most Wanted List (belatedly, some thought) eluded their best efforts to catch him and finally murdered Gianni Versace, the last of his victims before killing himself.”
Q-How long did it take to write the treatment and the script?
A-“The time frame was short for writing this movie. The producer wanted to take the concept to the Cannes Film Festival and acquire funding, which is one of the major activities of that festival besides screening the films. Promising ideas are vetted and proposed at numberless meetings, and the producer wanted something that would attract the funds to make the movie, although he already had some of the funding in place. I pretty much dedicated all of my time for weeks to researching, outlining and then drafting the script. I had been working as a freelance copywriter and was without a project so I had the hours to devote to immersing myself in the facts of the case and in the mentality of Cunanan himself, as best I could.”
Q-Did you speak with victim’s families in order to tell the story closest to the actual incidents?
A-“I didn’t speak with any of the victims’ families nor with Law Enforcement. I did not want to make the families relive those incidents, so I relied on statements in the press; the national press, plus local newspapers; transcripts of TV reports and articles in the gay press, of course. There was no shortage of information surrounding the murder sprees, although there was much less on Cunanan himself. Friends and associates had been interviewed by the press, of course. I looked for articles that I felt had the most integrity, but I also used my own judgment as to the credibility of reports and people. I had to trust my own instincts and rule in or out some of the speculation that ran rampant about the murders, especially that of Versace. The producers of the movie by this time also had a say in what I was to write. I had to accommodate their creative vision as well, as I wove the story.”
Q-Did you find out anything in research that shocked even you about this young man?
A-“I have to say that nearly everything I read and heard about this shocked and puzzled me. The brutality of the opportunistic murders, the casual cruelty and complete lack of mercy were very disturbing. To actually write those scenes was wrenching. The killing of Lee Miglin, a 72-year-old Chicago man whose car Cunanan stole frightened me just reading about it—as did all of the murders. The casual cruelty of the murder of William Reese, the caretaker of a Civil War memorial graveyard, for his car”¦ reading the horrified grief of the friends and relatives of Jeff Trail, his first victim and David Madson, his second victim, was very upsetting. It brought home to me that it wasn’t only the loss of Gianni Versace that caused great suffering. All of his victims were respected, loved people and those who knew them or were related to them were deeply traumatized.”
Q-So when are you planning on having this film released?
“The film is currently in release in Los Angeles this week, and will be in release in San Francisco starting January 29. It has been reviewed by the New York Times and Los Angeles Times.”
“Murder In Fashion” can be seen at select theaters around the city. For future shows around the nation go to http://murderinfashion.com/.
Photographs Courtesy, Here Media / Regent Releasing / 11