Screenwriting and Conspiracy Theories

Conspiracy theories are a part of life. Any high profile story that has unanswered questions or holes if you will would likely be queued up in this category. A definition of conspiracy is entertaining in itself… To conspire means “to join in a secret agreement to do an unlawful or wrongful act or to use such means to accomplish a lawful end.”  The term “conspiracy theory” is frequently used by scholars and in popular culture to identify secret military, banking, or political actions aimed at stealing power, money, or freedom, from “the people”.

Writing a good story with a multi-layered conspiracy is complicated and takes most of the movie’s plot to figure out. Keep in mind, you’ll still want to ensure that your setup, conflict and resolution are tight, just don’t give away any crucial details or answers early on. Instead you’ll want to drop hints throughout your story that fuels the readers’ paranoia but also creates doubt.

Do you already know of a real conspiracy? Are you also a writer? Well, that would be the best case scenario, right? You’d have all the details, it would be a passion project and you’d know how to assemble all of the many complicated layers that makes for a great movie thriller. However, if you were that close to a real conspiracy you wouldn’t have any time to write because the guys that look suspiciously like your local gas or electric company would be paying you a visit. Hell, I don’t think you’d even make it to act two before you were missing a nipple or a finger. And forget about penning act three if you were lucky enough to get away… doing a hundred miles an hour through your city with duct tape still over your mouth, looking for the nearest police station.

Well, take a breath and rest easy because ninety-nine point nine percent of us will just have to create a story or borrow ideas from stories that are already known. When searching for ideas or a place to start, think of information that, if it got out to the general public, it would cause great concern or even mass hysteria, and would mean the end for the individual or organization attempting to suppress it. Regardless of the ideas you pull together or the story or choose to write, the stakes have to be so high that your hero would be killed to keep any secrets from becoming public.

A good example of a story that has many unanswered questions took place April 2, 1997 – Phoenix AZ Military A-10 Pilot Craig D. Button Disappears.

When asked to describe the mysterious disappearance of A-10 “Warthog” Pilot Craig Button. The U.S. Secretary of Defense – William Cohen Replied: “It is a Mystery, Wrapped in an Enigma, Inside a Riddle.”

My generation was brought up to believe news reports on television were true, but what if they weren’t? This is the mindset you need to have if you’re going to write a good conspiracy story.

On Wednesday, April 2nd, Davis-Monthan AFB in southern Arizona reported that one of its A-10 aircraft went down on a training mission, somewhere near Lake Roosevelt and the Superstition mountains in Arizona. However, a detailed chronology of events was later made available to the media. The timeline included many sightings that placed the plane in a flight path crossing the northwest corner of New Mexico and into Colorado. The last reported sighting placed Button northeast of Aspen, near Craig’s Peak and New York Mountain.

An unanswered question that stands out… Why did the USAF originally report that one of its A-10 aircraft went down somewhere near Lake Roosevelt and the Superstition Mountains, and then days later release a timeline of events that included sightings placing the aircraft in Colorado? The story changed… something changed.

So, where are the holes to work with? Looking at the chronology of events, the times are too well-ordered; almost to keep the plane in the air until it reached a mountain peak in Colorado. After all, the high altitude and inclement weather would make any recovery efforts almost impossible. Buying time?

If you really scrutinize the timeline of events, the elapse time between the sighting South of Lake Roosevelt and North of Lake Roosevelt is eighteen minutes. Would this be enough time for Craig Button to land the A-10? This would be consistent with the USAF first report that one of its A-10 aircraft went down on a training mission, somewhere near Lake Roosevelt and the Superstition mountains in Arizona.

Did Craig Button land the A-10, offload the four 500-pound bombs, and then take off again? Or, did he leave the A-10 near Lake Roosevelt and simply walk away…? Did the USAF recover the A-10 intact minus the four 500-pound bombs?

There are many unanswered questions regarding this story and many ideas to pull from. This is just an example of the kind of story you’ll want to pick apart in order to generate ideas. To start, do the research and ensure you’re acquainted with the subject matter. Keep in mind, a conspiracy theory is a story, not a scientific work, so you are entitled to an Artistic License (within reasonable constraints).

Screenwriting is a wonderful opportunity to tell a story that will resonate with an audience and leave lasting memories. Make it count.

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