You can’t buy love. But you can buy marriage. This series explores the dark side of Mail Order Marriages. Where the dreams of the perfect life end in deceit, lies, disaster…and murder.
Pioneer Productions have a long association with the science-based Discovery Channel in the US with credits that include Extreme Machines, Raging Planet, Miracles of Life, and How the Universe Works.
With the launch of their new crime channel, Investigation Discovery, Pioneer had the chance to explore new ground and came up with Mail Order Murder.
This 6 x 30’ series used interviews and immersive drama to tell true stories of Mail Order marriages that had ended in ultimate violence.
To test out the concept and to establish a style, a pilot show was written, shot and edited in Los Angeles. It went down well and the series was green lit by the channel.
Now the research team had to find five more cases that would fit the bill – preferably some that were not simple or straightforward - a crime story needs a few twists and turns to keep an audience engaged. Another essential requirement was that people closely involved with each case would be willing to talk in depth on camera – whether relatives, friends, law officers or attorneys.
Satisfying these criteria proved harder than anticipated, but eventually five more intriguing stories were agreed.
There was debate about what should be shot first - the interviews or the drama scenes. Do it one way and you could shoot drama that accurately reflected the revelations in the interviews; do it the other way and the most effective drama scenes would act as guides to steering the interviews.
In the end the interviews for all programs were shot across the US while in the office, drama scripts and preparation were finalized.
The drama was to be shot in Toronto to provide convincing US locations and cast.
Pioneer has a good partner in Toronto - Cream Productions – who agreed to take on the servicing of the drama shoot. They would look after casting, locations, design, wardrobe, makeup, lighting and cameras. Pioneer sent over to Canada just two production staff as well as a director and DOP, both UK based.
The schedule was a real challenge. When time ran short, scenes were cut or curtailed. In one case the shoot had to wrap at midnight, just as the victim, doused in ‘blood’, lay down on the floor. They just managed to grab the wide shot. Later, back in the UK, a lookalike in the same dress and similarly bloodied was used to pick up the close-ups needed for the scene.
Editing the show was a challenge too. With the story to be told entirely in the words of the interviewees, there was no recourse to lines of narration. When it became impossible to turn corners in the narrative any other way, full frame caption cards were used.
Pace and mood were important, so that the programs had the real excitement of a whodunnit. This meant carefully intercutting the drama with the interviews, and using music stabs for punctuation.
The final result was a series of short dramas that keep viewers gripped right to the denouement, when the guilty party is revealed.