When you need a break from heartwarming Christmas movies, Committee Films has just the thing to cleanse your palate this holiday season. The Eden Prairie-based production company premiered its newest television series – “The Killer Next Door” – on Fox Nation in mid-October.
The five-episode series is a true crime anthology centered on some of the most notorious serial killers in modern history, along with the work of retired FBI profiler John Douglas. He pioneered the agency’s Criminal Profiling Program in the late 1970s, and personally interviewed the serial killers featured in the show.
“It was a great opportunity to work with him and hear him tell his stories,” said Maria Awes, executive producer and head of development at Committee Films. “This is the origins of criminal profiling itself.
“John is the original ‘Mindhunter,’” she added, referring to the popular Netflix series based on a 1995 autobiographical book by Douglas.
“The Killer Next Door” blends first-person interviews, news clips and cinematic dramatizations as it delves into the crimes and motivations behind infamous killers like Ed Kemper, John Wayne Gacy and David “Son of Sam” Berkowitz.
“To understand the artist, you have to look at the artwork,” said Douglas. “That’s what I’ve done for my entire career.”
Through his work, Douglas was able to find common denominators with many of his subjects – specifically, Douglas discovered a propensity for fire setting, animal cruelty and bedwetting among those who would go on to commit multiple murders.
This is not the first time Committee Films has tapped Douglas for one of their projects. They previously worked with him on “Serial Killer: Devil Unchained” – a three-part series that aired on Investigation Discovery about convicted murderer and rapist Todd Kohlhepp.
One of the tell-tale signs of a Committee Films television production is an engaging central character, whether it’s Douglas recounting interviews with serial killers, forensic geologist Scott Wolter investigating mysterious artifacts for “America Unearthed,” or “The Laundry Guy” Patrick Richards saving someone’s most sentimental fabrics with his expert stain-removing prowess.
“If you can connect with the person telling the story, it makes a huge difference in your enjoyment,” explained Awes.
That’s how the company found itself with a surprise hit in “The Laundry Guy” earlier this year. On paper, a show about removing stains may not have screamed must-see TV. But with the charismatic Richards at the helm, the owner of the Mona Williams clothing store at the Mall of America parlayed his love of textiles and laundry expertise into an irresistible and fresh television experience.
“We saw something special in him,” said Awes. “He’s so warm, so genuine.”
Though Committee Films pitched the idea around pre-pandemic, it didn’t go anywhere initially, said Awes. Then, in the middle of lockdown, HGTV came calling in the hopes of adding the show to the roster for their new streaming service Discovery+.
“It was a bright spot for us,” said Awes. “We had great success with it and it got a ton of press.”
The story of Committee Films began in Chaska in 2006.
While her husband Andy toiled as an editor and director, churning out mostly commercials and branded content from the comfort of their Chaska basement, Awes was working as an investigative journalist for WCCO. She left that position in 2009 to team up with her husband, bringing in her writing and investigation skills to help grow the production company.
As they added more staff, Committee Films was eventually able to move into a commercial space, first in Chaska’s Clover Ridge neighborhood and then to their current location in an office park on Martin Road in Eden Prairie, where they have been since early 2014.
Awes said the company has 17 employees on the roster right now. The pandemic, while forcing them to decrease staff (which Awes admits was “awful”), also allowed the company time to reevaluate things. “We asked ourselves, ‘What are the projects we want to be pursuing?’” said Awes.
Committee Films “cut their teeth” in the history/mystery television genre and has no desire to abandon that niche, but they’d also like to do more in the true-crime space, said Awes.
“We plan to continue our relationship with John Douglas,” she said.
Next year is gearing up to be a fruitful one for the company as they have projects in the works with the History Channel, ABC, HGTV and Vice.
“We’re very busy right now,” said Awes.
And with so many relying on television to fill the pandemic void, it’s a good time to be working in television programming.
“If (television) wasn’t important before, it is now,” said Awes.