‘TikTok Star Murders’: How the Doc Got Audio of the Grisly Killing and Brought on 50 Cent as a Producer

“TikTok Star Murders” is the heartbreaking story of an abusive relationship between a couple that was almost hiding in plain sight — their worst moments were captured on social media.

The married couple Ali and Ana Abulaban met in 2014 when they both served in the Air Force and were stationed in Okinawa, Japan. In 2019, Ali started to gain attention online under the name @jinnkid. Ali became internet famous, attracting millions of views for posting videos of himself doing sketch comedy and impressions of Tony Montana from “Scarface,” to which he went full method and would film himself doing drugs — it wasn’t a bit.

More from Variety

While the couple first tried to push forward a false image of a happy marriage, Ali began to get verbally abusive with Ana when he was jealous or felt insecure in their relationship. He recorded much of his berating to Ana.

Tragedy endured when Ali murdered Ana and her friend, Rayburn Barron, on Oct. 21, 2021. However, he actually recorded the audio of him taking their lives; viewers can hear the gunshot.

The documentary, which was released on Peacock on Tuesday, was also released just three days before Ali will be sentenced for two convictions of first-degree murder. He also faces a sentence of life in prison with no option of parole.

Elizabeth Fischer, the show’s executive producer, spoke with Variety and answered the most burning questions, including how they obtained all the footage they used and if that phone call was edited.

How did you first hear about the story of Ali and Ana and think this could be a documentary?

What fascinated us was the blatant evidence — that what was portrayed on social media wasn’t really the case. This was a beautiful couple that was putting forth this enviable life. Then, when the tragic homicides happened, we wanted to look into an obvious dark underbelly beneath the surface. That’s where we started and what first caught our attention. Once we dug a little deeper and discovered that Ali was recording his whole life and putting things out there that people wouldn’t normally put out there, that opened up even more conversations and, of course, domestic violence being one of them. Another thing that was really fascinating to us was that when we first started researching the case, there was a lot of ugliness online, a lot of chats and arguments about whether or not this was justified. A lot of Ali’s social supports were speaking in his defense, which is completely their right to do, but there was a lot of arguing going on in the comments of social media and a lot of Ana’s friends were speaking out for her, so that seemed interesting to us, to say the least.

How were you able to obtain the extensive footage used in the doc?

We were fortunate enough to have a lot of sources, and a lot of people really trusted us to tell this story. I hesitate to use the word fortunate, because everything about the situation is unfortunate. But we felt it was really important to get those insiders to give us first person accounts. Because of the age of social media, too, a lot of that was put out there — a lot of the evidence is easily obtainable. Ali was recording things and saving things to his phone and saving things that most people would not want to document and want to memorialize, just a lot of fights and venom.

Was there any pushback to include as much footage as there was?

We had to make sure that we were telling the story through the lens of what was important. Our message is about domestic violence and social media. We did a lot of our own filtering, and our team on this film was very careful about how we presented this material. The last thing that we wanted to do was to be gratuitous about it. Unless something pertained to our larger theme, and our larger conversation, we didn’t include it.

That phone call was just heartbreaking to hear. Was the recording edited at all?

No, the phone evidence for the murder itself is not edited — and it is brutal. It’s very brutal and hard to listen to. It was especially hard to listen to in court and for Ray and Ana’s loved ones to hear– that was heartbreaking. It was so important for the larger conversations about domestic violence, but also for the argument over whether or not this was a premeditated double murder. It was really important to stress the amount of time that took place between when he pressed record and rode up 35 floors. Then the short amount of time between that and when he actually fired at the guy. It’s pretty immediate. As far as hearing her voice, there are things we could have done to enhance the audio, but we chose not to.

Was it challenging to get Ana’s friends on board to share their perspective on witnessing this abusive relationship?

Absolutely. We had to gain their trust, because they didn’t want this to be gratuitous. They were very guarded. Once we gained their trust, it was mutual and they made the film what it was. We are very fortunate for that. Not only Ana’s friends, but people who knew all parties and were there. They had a lot of very poignant things to say — we couldn’t have done it without them. So it was difficult to gain their trust. But once we had their trust, it felt like we had one hundred percent of it.

What was the decision behind the narrator named Lucifer that’s in a black hoodie talking throughout the doc?

He is a very guarded person and refers to remain anonymous. He’s just one of those people who really values privacy, so that was a personal decision. We’ve run into that before with other documentaries, and it’s common in this day and age. People are very hesitant to put themselves out there for a variety of reasons.

How was it work with 50 Cent on this documentary, and how did he become attached to the project?

We were very fortunate to have 50 Cent as one of our executive producers. It was just a large collaboration between G-Unit Films and Television and Lucid Media and the very talented people at Peacock. We felt very fortunate to have this unique collaboration. He was just as fascinated in this case as we were. Having someone with an entertainment background like 50 Cent, since this story is very much about [Ali], who was an aspiring entertainer, helped us to have that perspective.

Have you heard from Ali’s family or friends about this story?

I have not. Ali is very much a person who loves to speak for himself, and we saw that in court when he spoke in his own defense. We have spoken with him off the record, and we did tell him and his family about this documentary from the very beginning. He respectfully declined based on his impending trial. However, he is very aware of it. I haven’t heard from him since the release was announced. But his family is very informed — at least one family member is a part of the film. So I think they’ll be watching.

Was there anything that you felt couldn’t make it in the final cut?

Yes. There was a lot we had to cut out. We decided to keep this film at 90 minutes because honestly, it’s so heavy that we wanted to be sensitive to our viewer. So we did have to make a lot of editorial decisions and keep a lot of things out that are compelling. This could easily have been more than 90 minutes, but we felt that it was important to keep our message contained to 90 minutes so that it was as impactful as possible. Hopefully, the takeaway will be that number one, be sure you’re separating social media from your real life. Number two, if you know someone who is experiencing domestic violence, hopefully this film will help push them in the right direction to seek help.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

Best of Variety

Sign up for Variety’s Newsletter. For the latest news, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.