Confronting a Serial Killer interview: Breaking down the series with art director Lee Clayton

Confronting a Serial Killer is the latest true crime docuseries from Starz. The series chronicles writer Jillian Lauren as she seeks out America’s most prolific serial killer Sam Little and investigates him further to try and get justice for his many unnamed victims.

We had the chance to chat with the art director on the project, Lee Clayton. Clayton also serves as the series production designer. Clayton has an extensive background in the industry, having worked on multiple crime and murder mystery shows including the Emmy Award-winning series A Crime to Remember and Diabolical. He also worked as an art director on several features like Friends and Romans and The Truth About Lies.

Additionally, Clayton has worked with several art directors on operas in New York and with the LA Philharmonics, including the London tour of the ballet and orchestral concert, Petrushka.

During our interview with the art director, we discussed the main goal of Confronting a Serial Killer and how true crime can be used to give victims a chance to tell their stories.

Confronting a Serial Killer: Keep reading for our interview with Lee Clayton

Show Snob: How did you get involved with this particular project?

Lee Clayton: I was connected through a producer named Matt Lipke who I had worked with before on another true crime series called Diabolical, I worked on the third season of Diabolical and we had just finished in March or February last year, just before the lockdown. So, it was kind of the last project I did before quarantine and then started up again with Matt.

Show Snob: You’ve worked on several true crime projects now, why do you think people are so attracted to these stories?

Lee Clayton: I think it varies quite a bit, actually. I think this Sam Little project, because it’s more of a docuseries, it’s a little different, I think, than the typical true crime show which really highlights the crime aspect of it oftentimes –– whether it’s a murder, financial crime or whatever it might be. This one was really highlighting more of the stories about the victims, and so it didn’t focus on the actual murders. So, they’re a little bit different, but some similarities, of course.

Confronting a Serial Killer

Confronting a Serial Killer Episode 1 – Courtesy of Starz

Show Snob: Yes, that’s one thing I really appreciated about the first episode of Confronting a Serial Killer that I watched. It highlighted the victims. I wasn’t sure how the show was going to go about that. How do you recreate these crime scenes without glorifying the violence?

Lee Clayton: I think the whole shoot, or the part that I worked on, was a three-day shoot in rural New Jersey. We were kind of working off of a series of shots as like a script, and each shot was oftentimes supposed to be evocative or suggestive like stalking or cruising, or lurking in a window or something like that. The overall effect was atmospheric rather than specific.

Show Snob: Recreating things like that typically means extensive research. I know the opening episode shows a few scenes meant to depict the 1980s. What goes into the research process for something like that?

Lee Clayton: It can be specific, especially if it’s like a driver’s license or something that needs to be fabricated that would be very specific. I think because this was so, in a way, nonspecific, we had a lot more flexibility in terms of choosing dressing or props that were ’80s or ’90s, a few even ’70s looks, I think there was a lot of flexibility there for us in this case.

Show Snob: Despite Samuel Little being dubbed “America’s most prolific serial killer,” he isn’t as well-known as say, Ted Bundy or Ed Gein. Why do you think that is?

Lee Clayton: That’s a good question. I hadn’t really thought of that. This is the first time I’d heard of Sam Little, I believe, when I was introduced to this project. If I was to make a guess, I would maybe say because his victims were often women of color or marginalized women, poor women that maybe didn’t have as much, standing or place in society where people talk about it as much.

Show Snob: The first episode really points out that the justice system has a habit of failing people in these communities, especially in previous decades. Do you hope this series sheds light on that and maybe even influences people to look into other overlooked cases?

Lee Clayton: Absolutely. That would be fantastic! That would make me so happy. I’m really happy to hear that. I’m really happy to hear that a lot of the focus is on the victims because while I was shooting it I was thinking about that.

These stories often don’t get told and what an opportunity and specific time in history where I think it’s really poignant to tell these stories, when people don’t want to just look the other way, people want to get involved and create a better society. That sounds a little cliché, but yeah, people are motivated to make a change right now.

Confronting a Serial Killer

Confronting a Serial Killer Episode 1 – Courtesy of Starz

Show Snob: I think that as a whole, true crime has been changing to focus more on victims, at least I’ve noticed that in some of the ones I’ve watched more recently so it’s nice to see that this one, which is one of the first really significant looks at Sam Little –– at least based on what I could find –– does that and really digs deep into these women and their stories.

Lee Clayton: I’m glad to hear that about the genre in general because I sometimes will pull away or avoid certain productions if there’s too much violence involved. And I usually will ask when I’m interviewing for the project, what is the level of violence? I think when you show horrific scenes and blood and all of that, for me, it becomes what I call “murder porn,” and it’s a kind of voyeuristic experience. And while that might be part of it, and might be interesting, it does feel exploitative of the victims and highlights the murderers.

Show Snob: I think that’s a really fine line that a lot of people struggle to grasp or even people who like watching this stuff try to make sure they’re watching it for the right reasons rather than for exploitative reasons. I know they did one recently on Ted Bundy from the point of view of the women in his life and I thought that one was really well done so this series reminded me a little bit of that.

Lee Clayton: Good, it was a really interesting project to work on and a lot of night shooting [Laughs].

Show Snob: I can imagine! So, to wrap things up, I know you said you pull away from the content in this genre but are there any that you’ve watched recently –– doesn’t necessarily have to be true crime –– that inspired you?

Lee Clayton: I’ve been watching the Allen v. Farrow docuseries on HBO, which is maybe a little different than a true crime show, but it really is actually the same genre. It was so well done. It was so personal, and it really gave such voice to Mia Farrow and to Dylan Farrow, as well, and I was so happy to see that this genre could be used in such a way to give such a powerful voice to people who maybe haven’t had a chance to tell their stories in the past.

New episodes of Confronting a Serial Killer air Sunday nights at 9:00 p.m. ET/PT on Starz.