Brian Flemming's Nothing So Strange is set in a parallel universe identical to our own, save for one detail: in 1999, a mysterious assassin killed Bill Gates. The film purports to be a documentary following Citizens for Truth, a ragtag crew of conspiracy theorists determined to uncover the true identity of Gates' killer. The film is based on a lie (Gates is alive, last we heard) in order to explore larger truths about conspiracies and people who lose themselves in them. Gates surely wouldn't agree, but we'd say Flemming writes a great wrong.
OC Weekly: I don't have to tell you this is a very strange film. What inspired it in the first place?
Brian Flemming: I'd been reading about all the political assassinations that happened back in the '60s and early '70s, and I started wondering what would it would be like if something like that happened today. Eventually I got kind of obsessed with the JFK assassination, and the dozens of theories surrounding that. I went to the annual conference of JFK conspiracy theorists in Dallas convinced there was a conspiracy; I came away thinking there wasn't, but I thought the people there and their various ideas were fascinating.
None of the theories in the film definitely explains who shot Gates. Did you go into it knowing who the killer was?
Not necessarily. I wanted to keep the audience guessing whether the Citizens for Truth were onto something or not.
There are a lot of stupid and/or crazy people out there. Has anybody fixated on this shooting as a real thing?
No. But I sure keep getting asked that question. For some reason, a lot of people think somebody must believe in this! The South Korean stock market took a dive when a hacker altered a bogus CNN story from one of the film's websites and made it look like the real deal. But that's it, and I don't think we can really be blamed for that.
What kind of reactions did you get from people at the public events where you staged Citizens for Truth scenes?
Well, we mostly structured it so nobody knew what we were really doing. Like in the film, when David James gets up and denounces the police at the police commission meeting, I'd written a speech that sounded like it was about the Rampart scandal. Other times, people just thought we were crazy. At the Democratic convention, the cops heard us ranting about how Gates had died in 1999, and they just looked at each other like, "What the hell?" One reporter from the LA Times asked us about it, and the actors just said "no comment," as I'd instructed them to. She ended up writing a short item about this strange event at the DNC.
While you've copyrightedNothing So Strange as a whole, you're releasing the footage online for people to do with as they please. Don't you worry somebody could release a slightly different version of your film, and you'd never see any royalties?
No, I want other versions of the film out there. Maybe somebody will make a better film from the footage than I did!
But how can you make a living as a filmmaker, if all your films become public domain?
Well, obviously if somebody spends $200 million making a movie, it would be impractical for them to do this. But now we can literally make movies for nothing. All you need is a camera and a computer.
When I've described this film to people, they've sometimes said things like, "Bill Gates wasn't killed. What's the point of making a movie like that?" What do you say to that question?
It's a hard movie to explain. I've been talking about it for a year and a half, and I never came up with a quick sell. The movie really threw down the gauntlet, to see how much you get people to suspend disbelief for something they know didn't happen. It tells a giant lie in order to explore the truth.
Have you been threatened with legal action because of this film?
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No. Well, there have been . . . legal incidents. GMD, the company that put together our websites for the film, was approached by the DA's office over a hoax DA page we put up. We took it down fast. We definitely didn't want to upset the DA.
But have you heard from Gates?
His people issued a statement saying they were "very disappointed" somebody would make a movie like this, but there's been no comment beyond that. Honestly, this film isn't intended as character assassination. The assassination is literal, and that's all we see of Gates. I have no strong antipathy or affection for Gates. I think the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is doing some wonderful charity work. Having made a film like this, I always go out of my way to try and say nice things about him now.
Brian Flemming hosts a screening ofNothing So Strange at the UCI Film and Video Center, Humanities Instruction Bldg. 100, Campus & W. Peltason Drives, Irvine, (949) 824-7418. Tues., 7:30 p.m. Free. You can download it for $3-$5 at www.nothingsostrange.com.