The Fan Carpet’s Paul Risker talks to Christopher MacBride about his debut feature The Conspiracy
Ahead of the release of The Conspiracy on Blu-ray and DVD last month, The Fan Carpet had the chance to catch up with the film’s writer-director Christopher MacBride ahead of the UK premiere at FILM4 FrightFest.
So as we enter November, let’s take a look back at one of the Horror film highlights from October as we chat to MacBride about The Conspiracy…
Why a career as a filmmaker? Was there that one inspirational moment?
I was one of those weirdoes who since the age of five years knew that I was going to make movies. There has never been any other job that I wanted to do, so if I was going to say one magic moment it would probably be the first time I saw Star Wars as a kid. That was what made my brain explode as a five year old. I have always known, and it has been do or die. Thankfully it’s working out right now.
Your feature debut The Conspiracy screened at FrightFest. What did it mean to play at the UK’s premiere horror and fantasy festival?
I have been hearing more and more about FrightFest over the years. Every year it gets bigger and it has a great reputation internationally. In Canada where I’m from people in the film industry knows of FrightFest, and I was more than happy to be there. We actually completed our festival run in North America a while back, and we’ve opened in regular cinemas in North America. Our UK distributor told us that before we open in the UK we would have to do FrightFest first because it is such a great festival. I agree one hundred per cent, and it was an exciting way to start things off in the UK.
Have you always had an interest in conspiracy theories or has it been a slowly developing interest of yours?
I was never a conspiracy theory person. I just had friends who were, and they were the real deal. They were very adamant about this, and they were always like you’ve got to watch this conspiracy movie on the internet, you have to read this conspiracy theory book, and I was always, “Oh you guys are insane. No thanks.”
For whatever reason, whether out of boredom or curiosity I got hooked like that. It just sucked me down this rabbit hole, and I found myself staying up all night devouring every conspiracy theory film I could find on the internet. For a while there I turned into one of those guys. Luckily I had an outlet and rather than losing my mind I could put these feelings I was having of paranoia and delusion into a story, and that’s sort of what I did. I’m still not a conspiracy theory person necessarily, but I have a respect that they ask questions that are not asked anywhere else.
In a recent interview with Bloody Disgusting, you spoke about how individuals can be “Seduced by the allure of so called secret information, and how so many different types of people can become addicted and obsessed with that world for many different reasons. But I also became fascinated by how many conspiracy theories seemed frighteningly possible.” From your previous answer, conspiracy theories serve a purpose to ask questions, and as a society perhaps we should be asking ourselves whether we should perhaps all be asking these questions.
Just in my opinion because I am not the be all and end all on this subject, at least eighty per cent are just ludicrous, but there are a small percentage that are terrifying. I think there are some smart people who are kind of like activists almost, who are just in these conspiracy theory groups and who just really care about their world. They are just trying to ask questions that are not being asked anywhere else. I feel for those people because I think they are trying to do something important, and there are a lot of forces against them. It get lost in the lunacy of everything else; people going on about planes shooting out experimental drugs and all of these crazy conspiracy theories that gives them all a bad name, which is unfortunate. The – indistinct audio – are a great example, because they were talking about programs like Prism years ago and no one believed them, and now everyone believes them. I just think people shouldn’t be too quick to judge them all as crazy. There are some that are actually legitimate; it’s just so hard to tell which ones are real.
What we are talking about now is that idea of the way we generalise and we pigeonhole. We say one’s crazy, so they must all be crazy. Like in fiction there is always the reality, so the same must apply to conspiracy theories. Life is a quest for the truth.
Absolutely, and I really like your point about how if there’s one crazy one then they are all crazy. I think people do that in films – nothing to do with conspiracy theories – but when people go to watch a film if there is one corny line of dialogue, or one slight thing that’s off, it’s oh I hate this, or on the other hand if there is one great scene of action and yet the rest is terrible. That always bugs me that people don’t always see the nuance in things. You don’t have to form an opinion on conspiracy theories because they are right or wrong, you can just accept that they are an interesting phenomenon that has a big grey area.
What was the genesis for The Conspiracy?
My friends influenced me to start looking into this world, and it bothered me at first. I got very bothered by the fact that I couldn’t figure out if these things were real or not. Some of them are obviously ridiculous, but then there were a chunk of them that were so compelling but how do I know? Should I trust this conspiracy web site? It’s Tuesday night and I’m in my pyjamas at four am, starring at a conspiracy theory web site. Is this really a reliable source of information? But then on the other hand can I trust CNN? You really start to have this unreliable narrator thing go off where you are just questioning how you get your information. What are the sources that are sending me the information that I use to put together my world. As much as that bothered me, it became the genesis for the story. It was the idea of how great it would be to tell a fake documentary where you were not sure who was behind it, and at the very end you wonder if this has been lying to you the whole way through. Again I had an outlet for I guess this frustration of dealing with the conspiracy theory world, and I just poured it all into the film. That’s pretty much where the inspiration for the film came from.
What were the challenges in writing a script of that nature, which I imagine could quite easily lose direction?
It was difficult especially with the research because you are trying to pick certain conspiracy theories that seem to have a bit more meat on the bone. So you have to do a lot of research to try to figure out if this is just people talking on the internet or is there something to it. You’re always doing this balancing act, and there was lots of stuff I almost put into the film, but then after researching it a little bit more it was like whoa that’s clearly all made up. So then you have to get rid of that, and then you have a hole in your story and you need a new conspiracy theory here in this part. The script evolved as we went along, and it changed depending on the research we did in the conspiracy theory world. Some stuff that seemed absurd at first turned out to be a little more valid than we thought, and so then we had to highlight that in the script. It was a bizarre back and forth process of writing the script.
Was it an enjoyable process?
Good question. I’d say yes. Screenwriting is always difficult and enjoyable depending on whether you are stuck or whether you are having a eureka moment. It was a unique experience I’ll tell you that. I don’t think I’ll write another screenplay where I have to move away from the laptop, and go on my desktop to look up 9/11truth.org or something similar. I don’t think I’ll ever be doing that weird level of research again for anything. It was enjoyable and unique for sure.
What difficulties did you encounter in financing the film?
It came together quite easily. It was about a year of development from the point I finished the script until the point that we were shooting it. By Canadian standards that is quite quick and I was really surprised, everyone really responded to the script. I kept expecting someone to stop us, not because it was bad but because you shouldn’t be making a movie like this. But that never happened; everyone almost without exception responded to the script and wanted to do it. I think I got lucky in the development process. Then in the actual making of the film, it was difficult the way it always is when making a film, but five weeks of shooting, two and a half months of editing and so it was difficult, but no Terry Gilliam moments.
Is that what every filmmaker is trying to avoid?
You know what, I think so.
What is your take on Gilliam? It seems more a case that certain individuals have wanted to orchestrate his downfall, and that’s the reason for his marred reputation.
In itself there is a link to conspiracy theories here, in that it is not beyond producers and studios to orchestrate the downfall of a filmmaker.
You’re right, it kind of ties into that sort of conspiracy line of thinking. I heard someone say a line the once, “the man who is convinced he’s going to die tomorrow will probably find a way to make it happen.” It may be just that with Terry Gilliam and to the point where you know athletes they have to think positively. Athletes can get into this downward spiral where they get really down on themselves, and lose confidence and then bad things just happen… or maybe it’s an actual curse on the man I really don’t know.
When you go back through his filmography they range from brilliant to average, but he’s never delivered a film that has dipped below average. All of his films to date are worth taking the time out of your day to discover.
I never saw Tideland. People have told me that it’s bad but until I see it I don’t know. I think that’s a good point. He did go from brilliant to average. I think a lot of filmmakers do that.
Yeah, Carpenter. Look at Walter Hill, Francis Ford Coppola. It’s bizarre the way that happened.
Except Martin Scorsese, who just continues to endure, and is on a roll since 1999’s Bringing Out the Dead.
True. He’s the exception and I don’t know how… It seems like every filmmaker loses their mojo at some point, and I don’t really know why.
The Found Footage film has become a genre in its own right. Was your original intention to make it a Found Footage?
I’ve never been a huge fan of Found Footage. I like the good ones for sure like The Blair Witch Project, the first Paranormal Activity was very scary, and I liked Chronicle. It is its own sub-genre now, and like any sub-genre there are good ones and bad ones, but I was never a huge fan of it. I just felt that this film had to be a Found Footage. I don’t like Found Footage films that just use the device as a gimmick or to save money, and that’s when you get a backlash against the genre. With our film the Found Footage, the fake documentary device is intrinsically linked to what the film is about. It is about perception and who is telling you the story. I think that’s why this film had to be that way. But I’ve joked with people before that I wanted to make this the Found Footage movie for people who hate Found Footage movies.
What would you hope audiences take away The Conspiracy?
I definitely don’t want it to have a message or anything like that. I think when you try to be too heavy-handed and include a message it feels wrong. You can sense the deliberateness of that. I guess if anything, just to question the source of your information can’t be a bad thing. That goes equally for conspiracy theorists and non-conspiracy theorists. Conspiracy theorists shouldn’t exist in a bubble where the references they quote are other conspiracy theorists. They shouldn’t assume everything in the mainstream media is made up, because they are missing out on a lot of information. On the other side, non-conspiracy theorists who I guess is most people shouldn’t be too quick to assume because you see something on the BBC, CNN or Wikipedia that it’s true. It can be remarkably easy to spread a gigantic lie, and that is at the heart of what the film is about; especially in the last ten minutes of the film. The idea that you have to question your sources of information and that you can’t necessarily trust the news or conspiracy theorists. At the end of the day, at the end of the film, you can’t really trust our film. Even our film is lying to you.
Also, because of the plot, there is the suggestion that there may be forces behind the film that you are watching, that are manipulating what you are seeing is probably the best way to put it.
THE CONSPIRACY IS OUT NOW ON DVD AND BLU-RAY