Christopher MacBride talks about new film The Conspiracy
The Conspiracy is a mockumentary inside a mockumentary, a fitting format for a film dealing with the vertiginous anxieties of the information age. It follows two young filmmakers who take an interest in local character Terrance – a conspiracy theory evangelist. When Terrance disappears without a trace, the young filmmakers become more deeply immersed in his ideas, entering a strange world in which shadows and distortions hint at the imminent discovery of some great scheme, if only they can distinguish between the vagaries of their imaginations and real events.
Congratulations on a thoroughly entertaining film! We hear you became a believer of conspiracy theories yourself – can you tell us more?
I would say, now, that 80% of them are not true. But there are, I think, some that are plausible – say about 15%, there’re a lot of interesting, mysterious things about them. I would put September 11th theories in that group where there’s a lot of mysterious stuff, which we talk about in the film. However, just because there are mysterious clues doesn’t mean that’s proof of anything. I’m not an expert but I think it’s a very small percentage of conspiracy theories that are plausible.
The ones that interest me the most – they’re not exactly conspiracy theories – but I am really drawn to information about secret societies. I find that fascinating; I love researching Freemasons, the Bohemian Club and Bilderberg Group. I don’t necessarily know if they’re up to anything bad, they quite possibly are not, but I find it fascinating that there’s not much in the media about them. For instance The Bohemian Club is a real secret society who meet once a year and perform this pagan ritual. There are so many big movers and shakers in the world who are part of this club – the Bush family, Nixon was in it, Reagan was in it. They really do get in robes and there’s a giant owl and it’s crazy. Again it doesn’t mean they’re up to anything bad, as conspiracy theorists say they are, but there’s a good quote that these theorists use: “If 100 of the top actors or athletes in the world got together and did a pagan ritual in the woods every year, every journalist on the planet would be covering it.” But there’s next to nothing in the media about them… it’s not proof, it’s just fascinating. That sort of stuff gets my imagination going crazy and I express that through writing a script and making a film, whereas the conspiracy theorist will take that and express it through starting a website to expose these people.
Paganism and ritual seem to fit quite naturally into people’s conceptions of these conspiracies. What do you think about the hold they seem to have on popular imagination?
I just think the idea that there are groups that people aren’t a part of, where secret things go on, fascinates and terrifies people. I think since we were cavemen and in separate groups, it is kind of instinctive to wonder “What are they doing over there? Were they praying to a carcass? Were they talking? Well, we’d better form our group, see if that group comes to us…” There’s something bred into humans that when you think you’re out of the loop on something that other people are in on, you start to get scared.
Specifically, the pagan stuff, I guess there’s a whole load of different reasons why it scares people. First of all, it’s a part of our history – I think people don’t know too much about that: a lot of organised religions have roots in much older pagan beliefs. And people might not want to believe it; devout believers of certain religions don’t want to believe it was based on an older myth. And there’s a definite portion of these theories that are driven by people who are very, very religious. They believe that the world is moving away from God and Christianity, and that there’s got to be a reason for the world not being as religious as it used to be. So they think it must be these cults, these pagans. This fuels the fire, so the pagan stuff hits a nerve for them. For the rest of us, to put it in simple terms, I think it’s very creepy – people getting into animal masks and performing rituals that are thousands of years old in the woods.
Absolutely, and many times I would talk to these conspiracy theorists for a long time for research and only after months of talking to them would I then find out that they are born-again Christians or something, and suddenly so many things made sense: “Ah, now I get why you think this, why you think there’s this great big Satan behind everything.” Again, I don’t want to paint all of these guys with the same brush, that’s only one aspect, but I saw it recurring quite a lot.
On the other side of things, do you think that the idea of surveillance is not as dark and potent as it once was? People are so used to it, they really don’t mind if they’re spied on a little bit – perhaps the idea of privacy isn’t what it once was?
I think there’s a line in the film that says “Orwell predicted that one day Big Brother would be watching us but what he didn’t predict was that we would create Big Brother ourselves and give ourselves over to it.” So even before these NSA/Snowden revelations that came out recently, I feel that in a way people already took it for granted they were being watched. That’s just my opinion – it’s still somewhat shocking – but not as shocking as it could be because I think we all just accept that if we want to be interconnected by the Internet someone will be watching it.
There are conspiracy theories out there that claim that Facebook and other social networking sites were designed by these high-level think tanks; that people who are thinking about global issues put in motion the events that would make sure these social networking sites got created, specifically as surveillance. So people would say “Oh Facebook? I’m gunna put all my stuff on here – all my pictures, my friends, everywhere I go…” Again, that’s just a theory but I have a friend who is a police officer and he has told me that Facebook is the biggest gift to a cop that you can possibly imagine. Say there was a shooting at a party and no witnesses were talking – no one saw, for instance, the guy in the red hat. They get these people’s names, go on their accounts, they see in their pictures a guy with a red hat, and see who his friends are, and in that way they use it as a hunting tool… and so that can feed into conspiracy theories right there.
There are some great shots at the start of the film of Terrence with his puny megaphone; the lecture he’s trying to give is just reverberating around these big corporate buildings to absolutely no effect. Is Terrance’s character a fabrication or based on someone in particular?
He is a completely fictional character. The actor is Alan Peterson, who’s a great Canadian actor, but also has a bit of Terrance in him – he’s very into conspiracy theories. So there were times shooting those scenes on the street – like the one you described – where Alan would just ad lib and totally go off script. And those aren’t extras he’s screaming at, those are real people walking around and he would just scream at them for five minutes about every conspiracy theory you can imagine. So there’s a spark of Terrance in this guy for sure, but at the same time we did build this character and imagine his back story, why he thinks the way he does. I live in Toronto, which is not as big as London, but a big city, and there’re people like Terrance everywhere, on every other street corner.
Do you have anything new in the pipeline?
Yes, I’m making my first movie with a big American studio – a film called Echo, which I’m making with 20th Century Fox. It’s a thriller revolving around the CIA and some controversial issues to do with them. It’s kind of Philip K Dick-esque with a lot of mind bending twists and a little bit of sci-fi in there too.
So you’re continuing to explore your interest in these sorts of subjects through your movies?
Yes, that’s the perfect way to put it. But you never know I might be directing Smurfs 3 soon if I run out of money.
The Conspiracy is released nationwide on 11th October 2013.
Watch the trailer for The Conspiracy here: