We sat down with filmmaker Celene Beth Calderon to talk about her upcoming documentary, Theodore. You may recognize Celene Beth and her film project from Episode 113 of My Favorite Murder, Live in Salt Lake City! There has been a recent reprisal in interest in the life of Ted Bundy, but Celene Beth’s documentary will take a different approach by focusing on the victims and survivors, families, and communities impacted by one man’s actions.
What inspired you to make Theodore?
I grew up in Park City, Utah and was pretty naive about crimes in our state until Elizabeth Smart went missing when I was a freshman in high school. At that point, I became fearful of my surroundings and to this day, I still refuse to sleep with any windows open. About 14 years later, I picked up Elizabeth’s book and read it over the summer of 2016. The book left me incredibly fearful of my city since I now reside in Salt Lake, where her kidnapping took place. I even lived in the same neighborhood at one point a few years prior. After that, I decided to dig deeper into Salt Lake’s history and I was only made aware of Ted Bundy 4 years prior when I went on a ghost tour with some friends. I picked up Ann Rule’s, The Stranger Beside Me, and found out that I lived only a couple blocks away from Bundy’s home in the SLC Avenues.
This book made me question so many things in life, specifically not knowing someone like I thought I did. After learning about their time at the suicide hotline, I knew that I had to create a project or a study around this. Up until this point, the only murderer that I had a real knowledge of was Charles Manson and his family. I watched a documentary years ago about Manson and it stuck with me for years and years. One night after reading the book, I had a girls’ night with my friends, Brooke and Amanda who were Bundy enthusiasts (if you will) and we watched the film adaptation of Ann’s book. It was at that moment that I joked about making a documentary about Bundy to get all of these facts correct. They, of course, encouraged me to do this but alas, I thought maybe in a 5-7 year timeframe.
In 2016, I first volunteered for the Sundance Film Festival and in their Documentary Film Program as an office assistant. I returned to the position for the 2017 festival and somewhat pitched the idea to a director and staff member during a slow moment in the office. They thought it was a wonderful idea and told me to begin the process the very next day. I laughed nervously and said that I had no idea what I was doing but they said that I had more of a concept than I realized and to run with it. So I did just that. The very next day, I reached out to a friend at the time and he suggested that I speak with his friend who filmed educational documentaries and that maybe he would be interested. A couple of days later, Timothy John Psarras and I grabbed some beers at the Twilight Lounge and Theodore was officially born.
As a first-time filmmaker, I had no idea what I was doing– hell, I still don’t know what I’m doing! However, I knew that in our small city people always had some kind of Bundy story. I reached out to local news outlets as well as radio stations and asked to be interviewed about the project. During these interviews, I put it out to the world that I was looking for interviewees and for anyone that had a Bundy story. We also started social media pages to help with the outreach and less than a week later, I was receiving emails, texts, and phone calls! From that point on, it was like a snowball and it just kept growing and is still growing. What eventually was supposed to be just Utah participants, it turned into Washington, California, Colorado, Idaho, and of course, Florida.
The concept of Theodore has evolved over time due to conversations with some of the victims’ mothers, our interviewees, and what has been in the media about Bundy. In 2016, I saw a documentary titled, Newtown, by the brilliant Kim A. Snyder, that was about the child victims from Sandy Hook and their grieving families. It dawned on me that these individuals have experienced similar traumas in their lives/communities and we as a society often forget about them. The abundant amount of discussion circulating around trauma and PTSD is crucial and my hope is that these current families see that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Our society has been so fixated on Bundy for all the wrong reasons and it’s time to bring reality back and inform audiences everywhere about the warning signs of a killer but equally, help share their stories. We have conducted close to 30 interviews and even though not everyone will be featured in the series, it still has taught us a great amount of understanding trauma and what it means to be reminded of evil daily. This is a cautionary tale with a modern conversation but most importantly, our series is indirectly about Theodore Robert Bundy.
What got you interested in true crime? Was there a murder in your hometown? A story that has always haunted you?
I have always had my little eye on true crime stories and as early as the JonBenet Ramsey case. Since JonBenet and I were close in age, I was always fearful of someone out to get me! But I do recall always looking at the magazine covers with her on it, as well as conveniently walking into a room when I would hear her name on the evening news. My parents did what they could to shield me from such horrific news but I always managed a way to get some type of information. I vaguely remember going to my friends on the playground and asking if they knew about this little girl’s story. Alas, none of them did and I was just a little murderino in the making.
However, my life was changed when Elizabeth Smart went missing 30 minutes from my hometown in 2002. This also hit close to home since her cousin was my cheer coach at the time and she quit in order to assist with the national search out of Washington D.C. Our high school took her disappearance very seriously and it instilled a lot of fear into my daily life. I can still remember coming home from school, watching Oprah, then having it be interrupted by breaking news that Elizabeth was found. This was the first moment that I shed real tears over a true crime story and after that, my interest was forever peaked.
What’s your favorite murder, mystery, or disappearance?
I definitely don’t want to use “favorite” in this context but I am forever haunted by JonBenet’s story and I know we will never get the truth. After the CBS special back in 2016, I feel it’s the closest answers we will ever get and I hope to speak with Jim Clemente and Laura Richards down the line about their findings.
What true crime podcasts are you listening to right now? If podcasts aren’t your thing, we would also love to hear about a spooky book you’re reading or your favorite murder-related tv show!
While I have to stay true to my friends from My Favorite Murder, Georgia, Karen, and Steven Ray Morris- I am a big listener of linear podcast series. Right now, I’m listening to Chasing Cosby, Your Own Backyard, and just finished Hunting Warhead. But to be fair, I’ve been listening to a fair amount of comedy podcasts and oddly enough, many discuss true crime! Examples, Conan O’Brien Needs a Friend, The Margaret Cho, Whitney Cummings’ Good For You, and In Bed with Nick and Megan. I also want to give a special shoutout to my buddies from The Murder Squad (even though I’m a few episodes behind!). Billy, Paul, Polly, and Steven do such a remarkable job and they recently just closed a case that they reported on last year! Great work, y’all and please support their podcast, The Murder Squad!
How can users find and support Theodore?
You can follow our journey on all major social media sites!