American Conspiracy The Octopus Murders Zachary Treitz
Main Image: Danny Casolaro and his son pictured in American Conspiracy: The Octopus Murders courtesy of Netflix.

When photo journalist Christian Hansen first started telling his friend and filmmaker Zachary Treitz about the vast conspiracy called “the octopus murders” in 2013, Treitz worried that Hansen was losing his marbles.

“It kind of got more and more esoteric and weird. I was just like, Christian, are you sure you want to do this? Are you sure you know what you’re doing here?” Treitz tells MovieMaker. “He would tell me about weird people that he was talking to. I just kind of got worried for him, just on a personal level. More than, ‘Oh, great story, let’s make a documentary about it,’ I was like, ‘Dude, are you alright?'”

But somewhere along the line, Hansen piqued Treitz’ curiosity enough to bring him into the fold of his research. More than a decade later, the pair have just put the finishing touches on American Conspiracy: The Octopus Murders.

It’s a four-part docuseries that delves into a never-ending web of conspiracies surrounding a theory developed by late reporter Danny Casolaro in the early 1990s — that there was a powerful, controlling, and secretive criminal shadow network helmed by eight high-ranking former intelligence officials, including George Bush Sr., whose tentacles extended into all branches of world government.

Casolaro called it “The Octopus.” Some people believe he was murdered because of what he knew.

The Octopus Murders hinges on the mysterious circumstances surrounding Casolaro’s death in 1991, and a string of other deaths surrounding the conspiracy. But it’s also a fascinating look into how Hansen and Treitz followed the trail of research Casolaro had been compiling into a book — and how difficult it can be to separate the truth from fiction.

Executive produced by Mark and Jay Duplass and Chapman and Maclain Way alongside Treitz, Hansen, Juliana Lembi and Mel Eslyn, The Octopus Murders premieres Wednesday on Netflix.

Below, Treitz tells us about delving into a 30-year-old case that’s known for being dangerous; getting to know electronic expert and complex character Michael Riconoscuito; and how his filmmaking partner Christian Hansen is doing now.

Also Read: 13 Riveting Netflix True Crime Docuseries You Might Have Missed

Zachary Treitz on Making American Conspiracy: The Octopus Murders

MovieMaker: How’s Christian? Is he still working on the case, or has he closed that chapter now that the docuseries about to come out?

Zachary Treitz: How do you think Christian is?

MM: I would imagine he’s still thinking about the case and working on it.

ZT: We’re both still, but Christian is definitely still a little bit obsessed.

MM: Is he going to finish Danny Casolaro’s book?

ZT: I mean, that would be nice. It took all of everything to try to make this thing, and it will take a similar amount of effort to make that, so it would be cool.

MM: So the door is open to more Octopus?

ZT: You can’t close this door. That’s the whole thing. I wish you could, but you can’t. Because even if you knew the answer to every question we pose in there — we get, I think, some answers — it’s like weeds. They just pop up. New things, new connections, new weird people, new strange coincidences, and it’s just hard to stop it. It ain’t a fairy book story where you can just be like, ‘The end.’ You know? Like, ‘Oh, God, like that was also connected to that.’ Suddenly, you’re talking about really conspiratorial stuff, and then you’re speaking about it in terms that don’t sound like your former self.

MM: Where did the filmmaking journey begin?

ZT: The honest truth is, when Michael [Riconoscuito] was getting out of prison, we went out to pick him up. And that wasn’t to make a documentary. But I just told Christian, I was like, ‘Dude, you will regret this for the rest of your life if you had ever wanted to make a documentary out of this and you didn’t take the opportunity to go meet him there.’ So we just like put it on my credit card, and went out to pick Michael up from prison. And that was really where the sort of filmmaking started.

MM: The documentary posits that Danny Casolaro and others involved in this case may have been murdered, perhaps for knowing too much. Did you ever fear for your life while you were making this?

ZT: I think that the story lends itself to a fair amount of paranoia because of the people who are associated with it who have died along the way. When you’re looking at the actual story and the people who Danny was talking to, some of them being dangerous, just inherently dangerous by the line of work that they’re in, which is not always entirely clear.

So I would be lying if I said that I — I’m just kind of a naturally worried person, so it doesn’t take much. So yeah, you worry. Especially when you have zero background in this kind of work. It’s like, what are we getting into? We really went into this with no knowledge of how to do it or what we were really getting ourselves into, which I think is, in some ways, fun.

MM: Did you or Christian ever get death threats like Casolaro did?

ZT: We had a lot of people who warned us that that would happen, or warned us that we were getting into dangerous territory with dangerous people, which I don’t think is entirely wrong. Look, hopefully, it’s an old enough story that whoever’s out there is in a wheelchair at this point or worse that would be a problem. But that’s the sort of myth that we go into about this story, that it’s just too dangerous, that it’s too hot, that it’s too weird. And I wouldn’t even discount that really now. I don’t want to jinx it, but we did not get any direct death threats from anybody.

MM: Did Michael Riconoscuito ever make good on his promise to finally tell you the big secret about what was happening with The Octopus?

ZT: Michael has told us a lot of things over the years, and as you see in the movie… more things that he told us turned out to be true than I ever expected. So when he talks, he talks in extremely long paragraphs with footnotes of footnotes, and names and all kinds of stuff. He said a million things. Like, yes, he’s told us all kinds of things that happened.

It simply takes almost years to decipher everything… it’s part of, I think, the larger idea of Michael, and a lot of these people, to keep this thing going, keep playing the game. He just keeps telling us a lot of different things, but there’s never been a sort of like, Okay, you guys, you did it. It’s coming out. Now, I can sit you down on Oprah’s couch and we can like talk. There’s been none of that. Well, maybe that’ll happen after it comes out.

MM: After watching this docuseries, I’m amazed that it’s on Netflix now, considering how much secrecy there’s been around it and how much power to silence information these mysterious shadow figures seem to have had, at least at one point in time. Are you surprised that they are allowing it to come to light now?

ZT: Who’s ‘they,’ right? It’s like, is there a ‘they’? Are ‘they’ keeping things away from the media or whatever? I don’t know. I mean, I don’t know who ‘they’ is. The story that we were telling was about what happened to Danny and what he was writing about, and how much of all those things was real and what was not — which gets into a really esoteric, weird, Hall of Mirrors kind of a world.

So when it comes to what happened to Danny, there’s a lot of stuff that’s just not accessible to us anymore… there’s always something more that we want out of this thing. But in terms of a cover up and stuff like that, I mean, I guess coming to it 30 years later, this was kind of our advantage, because a lot of people are dead who were involved that Danny talked to. One hopes that the memories kind of fade.

Main Image: Danny Casolaro and his son pictured in American Conspiracy: The Octopus Murders courtesy of Netflix.