The story of Geoffrey MacDonald has been told over and over since his conviction for the murder of his family 50 years ago. The Green Beret Army surgeon claimed that a group of four “hippie” infiltrators broke into his home and killed his pregnant wife and two young daughters, but was eventually sent to prison for three life sentences for the killings.
For years, there have been a number of competing novels that have called into question MacDonald’s guilt and innocence – including Errol Morris’s best-selling documentary novel “The Wild of Wrong.”
This book is now showing on the small screen by FX as a five-part true crime series that revolves around how to present the facts of the case as the crime itself. Jason Bloom, Founder and CEO of Blumhouse Productions of the same name, produced the series alongside “The Jinx” director Mark Smerling.
Bloom spoke with Salon about his desire to collaborate with Smerling, how it felt to see Errol Morris on camera, and how the series consciously questioned the concept of “fake news”.
This is an issue that has captured the attention of a lot of prominent journalists and investigators – apparently Joe McGuinness, Janet Malcolm and Errol Morris – why do you think so?
It’s sad to say that because of the ugly nature of it, because it’s so unexpected. And since there are very few cases – at all – where there is such an apparent path of guilt and such a clear path of innocence. Time does not make this path in focus anymore and that is very unusual.
So, I think for a modern viewer who is probably up to date on the issue, McDonald’s claims that he was awakened by four “hippie” hackers certainly seem a little doubtful, but can you talk a little bit about the societal view of counterculture at a time?
So, I think it was 1971 when this happened and “hippies” were definitely the enemy of a lot of people and people were threatened by them. They were threatened by the counterculture and threatened by this new sexual revolution and all these things that were thought to be the cousins of communism. When people threaten something, they demonize it. He told him that was a direct result of that. Now it might have been [true]We don’t know, but the statement caught fire because so much of the country was under threat and scared of hippies.
I was the one who left Mark Smirling’s “Wild of Wrong” book. Did you know at that point that you want to collaborate with him on this project?
As you know, I was so keen to collaborate with him after “The Jinx”, his work on “The Jinx” was extraordinary. A bunch of things ran by him just hoping he’d be bitten by something. him too. It was a long time ago. It took a long time to get this done the right way, but I was lucky enough that it was the movie “Wilderness of Error” that caught my attention.
At first it was given to me by [British producers] Michael Jackson and Rachel Horovitz. Rachel and I have been friends for 30 years and I fell in love with it and said, “Let’s do this with them.” Then I got to Mark, but it wasn’t the first thing I had given her. I tried a bunch of different things. He said no to everything, then finally he said yes to this book.
It didn’t make you speak on his behalf, but did you have discussions about what this story had sparked?
My guess is what I talked about before – his constant obscurity and obscurity of him over many years. I think he was fascinated by the same thing that Errol was fascinated by, and Erol only added to that, which is how public opinion has been so influenced by the narratives in the movie, in the book, in the articles. Public opinion has already turned 180 degrees several times. I think that was something Mark was interested in exploring as well.
Speaking of Errol Morris, it was so much fun to see him in front of the camera from jumping in. Did you and Mark know from the start that you wanted him to be a character? If so, how did that help shape the chain?
At first, no. I interviewed Erol about it and the first question she asked was, “Why don’t you do this?” I mean, he’s a great documentary filmmaker, especially with the movie “The Thin Blue Line.” He made great crime documentaries, and it kind of pointed out to me that he wrote a book about it and took it out of his system. For whatever reason, he never saw it – people weren’t really doing multiple parts when he wrote the book, but he also seemed too big for the movie.
So, he wrote his book and felt like he had told his story. He was clearly a brilliant, brilliant fellow, and incredibly talented artist, very understanding of the issue. So once Mark was interested, I said, “Mark, you have to talk to Errol about this because he’s got a lot more information than what gets put into the book.” Mark started talking to Errol, and I think it was Mark’s idea because Errol was so cool about it.
True crime as a literary genre has changed a lot since the MacDonald Case first surfaced and the Wilderness of Error was first released. Who do you think is the audience for this story now and what do you hope they learn from it?
I think the real crime audience tends to deviate a little bit from the females and maybe a little larger, and I don’t think that would be any different from the general standards of real crime. What I hope people will take is the old saying: Consider the source. In a funny way, it’s like another way to fake news, right? It’s another way around the way a story is presented – even if you use facts – but the way you present the facts can change public opinion a lot.
Ultimately I think that’s what this documentary is about, as far as the actual events that took place. I think there will be a new audience that has never heard of this crime before, has never heard of anything related to it, and they will learn how the story of that crime has been told over the years by different people in different forms: books, articles, films, documentaries. And how each time the story is told, public opinion changes to a certain degree. I think it will turn out again after this documentary. That’s kind of the point, that’s the message we’re trying to get across.
“A Wilderness of Error” premieres on Friday, September 25 at 8 PM FX time, with new episodes on Hulu on FX the next day.