Jim Clemente's Mission to Bring Authenticity to Criminal Minds
One of my favorite things about writing as the CrimeCon Informant is the anonymity. But I can afford to give you a scant few details about me for the sake of one post:
If I see a turtle crossing the road, I stop and move him so he doesn’t splat. When I take risks, I never know whether I’m being brave or stupid. I still have the same couch from my first post-college apartment, and I apparently have no idea how to fill my water bottle without dropping at least one ice cube. It’s possible I don’t have everything quite “together.”
What I can do quite well is read people. So squaring off against a legit former FBI behavioral profiler? QUITE high on my list of fun things to do.
I’m not a professional journalist, but I’ve learned to look for one particular thing in when interviewing someone: the outlying attribute. The saturated habit far beyond the standard deviation that makes this person irresistibly intriguing -- and often, there’s my angle.
But Jim Clemente’s life, personality, possibly even his entire genetic makeup, seem to lie outside the deviation. Jim Clemente isn’t a guy who retires to a beach somewhere to watch time tick by. Since his retirement from the FBI in 2009, Clemente has:
- Started an entertainment media production company with his brother Tim
- Continued to consult on select investigations
- Worked with Criminal Minds producers to turn the show into one of the realest, grittiest, and most accurate representations of criminal investigating on television
- Taught and lectured around the world.
“Is that it?” you ask. Not even close. He’s also:
- A novelist currently in progress on his second volume following an FBI investigator (who bears a strong resemblance to himself. . .)
- Works as on-air talent for numerous true crime shows
- Begun creating a series of specials that will provide an exhaustive look at all evidence in high-profile cases in the same style as The Case of: JonBenet Ramsey
- Oh, and he hosts two podcasts .
So that he’s taking the time to attend CrimeCon is a treat. He’s looking forward to it, as well.
“I’m excited that they’re taking it very seriously,” he says as CrimeCon has come together as a large-scale event with an impressive lineup of speakers covering a range of experiences rather than sitting in a room hearing a lecture. “The event is about real crime experiences. That is so much more exciting and educational than just talking about fiction based true crime shows. The fact that they want CrimeCon to have a foundation in real law enforcement processes and real prosecution, real crime. . . I can’t wait to be there.”
His enthusiasm makes me want to shadowbox my way up the nearest flight of stairs. Getting pumped to get to June and see some REAL CRIME. Gonna catch some bad guys and solve some mysteries and national news will hail us as star amateur investi --
“We may emcee a couple of sessions.”
Record scratch. This is new and exciting, and now I have to know more.
The “we” to which Jim refers is X-G Productions, an entertainment and media firm he and his brother Tim created in 2008. They were both working on shows in LA and had sold a couple of pilots, including Washington Field and Killer Profile, after Jim’s retirement from the FBI in 2009.
But -- and I know this is hard to believe -- it turns out that working in television is a little bit different from working for the FBI. I suspect it’s the “real bad-guys-with-real-bullets” vs. “fake-bad-guys-with-fake-bullets,” thing most likely. But there’s also the “knowing-what-you’re-doing.”
“So my brother Tim and I are watching these shows and scratching our heads,” he explains. “Both of us spent years in actual investigating and bad-guy catching, so we were perplexed at how poorly most shows portrayed the job. And how often they were doing it. It was the same wrong story over and over.”
They’re G-men; they know an opportunity when they see one. Together, Clemente and his brother Tim created X-G Productions to function as a “hub” for other shows and creative talent who shared their enthusiasm for authenticity in the genre.
“There are so many intriguing and rich stories out there,” Clemente says with a hint of frustration, “real life is way more interesting than rehashing the same fictional situations over and over again.”
It also helped him discover a solution to a problem he didn’t realize he had.
“Over the course of twelve years in the Behavioral Analysis Unit, I must have rattled off these statistics over a million times: Forty percent of kids who are abducted and killed are killed in the first hour after their abduction. Seventy-five percent in the first three hours. Ninety-nine percent in twenty-four.” And he’s right; he recites them so effortlessly that I suspect those may have been his first words as a baby. And during his twelve years in the BAU, he estimates those words reached about 60,000 people.
“But to see it in Criminal Minds. . .” he goes on as he seems to drop gears into a more serious mode. “The first time when I saw Dr. Reid walk into a scene, there was a green screen with an image of several kids playing in a playground. Then they begin to fade away and disappear.
“Suddenly, half are gone. Then some more. Then more, and eventually there’s one kid left on a swing. Then the swing is swinging empty.”
For the first time, his voice slips and my giddy fangirl demeanor follows it. “For all the times and all the people to whom I’d lectured those stats, seeing that played out on the screen like that. . . it was the first time that it made the hair on my neck stand up. I reacted so much more viscerally and I finally “got it.””
But the goosebumps gave way to something else: “I realized that 18 million people saw what happened at that moment, and it was accurate. Twelve years speaking to thousands upon thousands of law enforcement officers, investigators, students, even victims, and I don’t know that it ever sank in. And yet here, they were able to tell that message better than I ever had, and to many more people, in a matter of two minutes.”
That experience called to Clemente, and he spent some time freelance writing and consulting on other crime procedurals to infuse more authenticity into the medium. But when X-G Productions came around, it served to bring more than television shows.
“We want to corner the market on authentic crime and military entertainment. But we’re looking at all sides of the equation: not just true crime and documentary series’ but scripted series,’ digital entertainment, even podcasts,” he rattles off. “The future of entertainment is not going to be limited to one method of delivery. This “hub” model will allow the consumer to choose how they want to consume entertainment. We’ll put our shows and materials out in all forms, and they can decide how to consume it. But it will always be authenticity-driven.”
Lawyer. Prosecutor. Profiler. Entertainment consultant. Writer. Producer. Actor. Businessman.
I can’t help but notice that it’s an odd path. He’s not “climbing the ladder” so much as he’s climbing a lattice. Darting to the left, then to the right, wherever he can learn something new. Then he crawls along a tree limb and into the neighbor’s yard except the neighbor lives two states away. How does a guy with decades of law enforcement experience in dozen-ish specialties end up as an author and television producer?
Sheer determination, it seems. “My family has a lot of prolific writers in it, especially on my mother’s side. My uncle Jimmy wrote several books; my uncle Peter was a speechwriter for President Kennedy. [cue eyebrow raise] So I think it was always in my blood,” Clemente explains.
However, Celemente struggled with dyslexia for many years. “So I thought all these people around me who could put words together in a book were gods. I never thought I would be able to do it.”
But he did. He explains that he was, in a way, fortunate to be officially diagnosed later than most -- a junior in college. Once he identified the problem, he set forth a plan to fix it; he worked with professionals to undergo intense exercises and treatments, rewiring his brain until the day he read a 250-page legal brief by himself. Then he went to law school.
“That was a huge deal for me. Going to law school, then becoming a lawyer were things I thought I’d never do.”
Then in 1994, he wrote his first screenplay and sold it to CBS.
When the time came to cast Criminal Minds, Mandy Patinkin wanted to begin by talking to people who worked in the field. So he made the trip to Quantico. But after several hours speaking with agents and not finding the inspiration he needed, Patinkin asked: “Isn’t there someone here with a personality?”
There was only Clemente, and he answered the call. Although home recovering after treatment for Lymphoma (he and many others developed the disease after serving as first responders during 9/11), Clemente made an impression on Patinkin and the rest, as they say, is police procedural history.
And he does, indeed, have personality in spades. This barely feels like an interview and I’ve long abandoned my questions just to have a conversation with Jim and see where it goes.
The longer we talk, the more I begin to realize that almost every time Clemente speaks, the word “victim” is there in some capacity. It’s there in his voice and likely his blood; he’s still on the same mission he was as a lawyer. A prosecutor. A profiler. And luckily for us, he’s bringing some of that to CrimeCon.
In the Behind Criminal Minds experience, Clemente will demonstrate the realities of investigation compared to how it’s often portrayed in the entertainment industry. We’ll have a chance to see what he sees as an investigator and profiler and put our observational skills up against his (gulp!).
Most of all with this session, Clemente seeks to educate: “I want people to come out of it knowing a little bit more about how to avoid becoming a victim in real-life scenarios. I want them to know that perpetrators don’t look or act a certain way like they are accustomed to seeing on television. I want to let everyone ask their questions and get something useful out of the session.”
Clemente will also host a live, interactive recording of his true crime podcast Real Crime Profile as well as let listeners dive into his new podcast venture named Best Case/Worst Case which will feature expert guests from all law enforcement disciplines.
“With Real Crime Profile, we aim to give the victims a voice again,” Clemente weighs in. “Their voice was stolen from them. They still have stories to tell -- they’ll tell us what we can learn from their deaths so we can make an inch more progress toward catching the perpetrator and preventing it from happening again.”
With Best Case/Worst Case, we will pull the curtain back on what it’s like to be a law enforcement officer or prosecutor. We want to show how these cases affect the professionals who do this kind of work day in and day out.
We soon descend into the rabbit holes of well-known cases like JonBenet Ramsey (“In the BAU, it was the crimes with child victims that got under my skin”) and Meredith Kercher, which comes with strained exclamation marks at the end of each statement (“The real tragedy is that the victim didn’t get justice because of political smoke and mirrors! The real killer gets out on day passes now!”).
It takes me a moment to place the name “Meredith Kercher,” although he’s pinned it as the case he can talk about all day if I let him, and I will.
My brain is buffering as he continues: “Who did Meredith Kercher kill? What did she do? I know that name.” He breaks my silent panic with one clipped sentence before continuing his impassioned summary:
“You may know Meredith Kercher’s case as the “Amanda Knox” case.”
Aha! Yes, I do. I know that one! I feel disproportionately smug until I realize that I knew the acquitted suspect’s name, her boyfriend’s name. The perpetrator’s name. The judge’s name.
But Jim knew the victim’s.
And suddenly, I’ve found my angle.