Dead Asleep interview with director Skye Borgman

Aleathea McRoberts, Dead Asleep BTS - Courtesy of Skye Borgman
Aleathea McRoberts, Dead Asleep BTS - Courtesy of Skye Borgman /

Have you ever seriously considered what happens to you when you’re asleep? Do you sleepwalk? Sleep talk? Is it possible that you’ve even roamed somewhere outside and hurt another person? Those are all questions considered by Hulu’s new true crime documentary Dead Asleep, which examines the tragic murder of Brooke Preston at the hands of Randy Herman Jr. Randy claims he killed Brooke while he was asleep, but is that true, or a convenient cover story?

We spoke with the award-winning documentary filmmaker Skye Borgman, who also directed Abducted in Plain Sight, about what attracted her to this project and how she navigated the filming process. Apart from these two projects, Borgman also directed Murdered and Missing in Montana, Subway Vigilante, and Lady in the Lake. She is currently working on a new documentary series with Netflix.

Dead Asleep releases this Thursday, December 16, on Hulu. Keep reading to see what Borgman has to say about the film and why she thinks the true crime genre continues to be so popular to so many people.

1428 Elm chats with Dead Asleep director Skye Borgman

Dead Asleep
Dead Asleep key art – Courtesy of Hulu /

1428 ELM: How did you get involved with Dead Asleep?

SKYE BORGMAN: It’s interesting because the media had reported when Randy Herman went to trial and Pulse Films came to me and they were talking about it and I was really interested in the whole, I guess it’s pretty obvious, the sleepwalking component to the film.

I wanted to figure out if that was something that is real. I’d never heard a story like this before so I started researching around and I was like, this is interesting. I think what was the most fascinating to me was really the idea of figuring that out, figuring out more to the story, figuring out the social implications, the judicial implications, the psychology of it and the science behind it.

Our first steps were reaching out to those kinds of people, to experts on parasomnia and to reporters who had reported on the case and to the prosecution and the defense. To really look at this case of Randy Herman and look at it from many many different angles. That’s always interesting to me in the projects I choose, is to choose ones that are complicated and confounding to me.

1428 ELM: From a director’s standpoint, how do you remain unbiased when you’re making a documentary like this?

SKYE BORGMAN: I think it really is surrounding yourself with a good team of people. The editors on this project, you know Peter Santana, our producer Sandrine, really to bounce ideas off of them and to keep us honest and to keep us going, “Okay, how are we veering too much this way, or how are we veering too much this way?” And to continually remind ourselves to step back and tell the most balanced and the most true story that we can. It’s surrounding yourself with a good team.

1428 ELM: You’ve done several true crime projects. What do you find appealing about true crime and why do you think true crime documentaries and series are so popular?

SKYE BORGMAN: Yeah, it’s true. True crime is really popular right now. I think it’s a combination of things. I think it’s our quest to learn as much as we can, especially for women, I think, to protect ourselves and to be armed with as much knowledge and information we can when we go into the world and have to make it through.

If we can watch shows and documentaries that arm us with that information I think that’s a really powerful thing. I also feel like people are just really, I know for myself, I’m always fascinated with the human condition and crime is a phenomenal place to really evaluate that and dissect that. While we may not know exactly why someone does something, I think looking at all the different ways that somebody could do it is really the most intriguing thing to me.

I say it all the time but I never think of myself as a crime director but I want to tell human stories and crime is the perfect place to be able to do that because I think we are able to see the entire range of humanity in these crime stories and that’s infinitely fascinating to me.

Dead Asleep
Dead Asleep BTS – Courtesy of Skye Borgman /

1428 ELM: What are the biggest differences between directing a documentary versus a regular film?

SKYE BORGMAN: It’s funny because I’ve had this conversation with a lot of other documentary filmmakers, it’s approaching the story from different ends. With a documentary you do all of this research and you don’t create a script, but you create—at least I do—this idea sheet, or beat sheet, these are themes I want to explore.

Then you go out and explore those themes and you interview people and you spend some time with people and then you come back and you really put the story together in post. With a classic scripted feature, you’re putting that story together at the beginning and it’s way more front-heavy while with documentary it’s more back-heavy. It’s approaching the story from a different side of it.

1428 ELM: When you’re editing a film like Dead Asleep, how do you decide the right moments to go back and forth between the two perspectives?

SKYE BORGMAN: A lot of it I think is trial and error, it’s putting it together. It speaks exactly to what we were just talking about with really trying things out in post. I don’t know, well I do know, I can say one thousand percent that I’ve never gone into post with any documentary with a script and edited it based on that script.

It always changes into a completely different movie than you create in your head, prep stage, it’s a completely different movie that you shoot and a completely different movie that you cut together. It’s trusting your gut in a lot of ways, too, when you’re cutting these scenes together and realizing that this information might be better here and constantly shifting things around in edit.

1428 ELM: What do you hope happens when people watch Dead Asleep? Do you hope it starts a conversation? 

SKYE BORGMAN: I want that conversation to get started. I really would love for people to walk away from it and really question and ask each other and talk about sleep. Is it possible to kill someone in your sleep? And to think about how we live our lives and what social media does to us, what technology does to us, what living with devices does to us, how our sleep patterns are changing and just think about things in a deeper, more complex way.

And hopefully, I really hope the film struck a good balance between telling Brooke Preston’s story and Randy Herman’s story and looked at it in a really balanced kind of way and incorporated the science and the psychology. That’s the true hope, that I hope people can walk away from it thinking about that.

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This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Dead Asleep starts streaming exclusively on Hulu starting this Thursday, December 16, 2021.