Now might not be the best time to go camping as Sasquatch sightings are expected to be reported all across the UK in the light of today’s cinema release of director Bobcat Goldthwait‘s found-footage horror/thriller Willow Creek.
Gallant enough to label his latest affair “The Blair Squatch Project” and well aware of the found footage fatigue phenomenon, Goldthwait decided to challenge himself by filming what what would best be described as a ‘shockumentary’ in Bigfoot territory. For those in the dark, Willow Creek and the surrounding area is where Bigfoot became a household name in the ‘60s when caught on film by Patterson and Gimlin.
Most renowned for his zany characters Zed in the Police Academy franchise and Bill Murray’s co-star Eliot in Scrooged Goldthwait quit acting when “no one wanted to hire him anymore” (his words) and turned his hand to maverick movie directing. We spoke to Bobcat all about Willow Creek, his decisions to head off in search of Bigfoot, why on earth he decided to make a found footage movie when he is by no means a fan and his thoughts on the upcoming Police Academy reboot.
So first up, is it true that the real driving force behind you choosing to do a Bigfoot movie was that you wanted to ‘unpussify’ the sasquatch image that Steven Spielberg had created?
Well yeah. I mean somebody cut off Sasquatch’s balls somewhere along the line. Basically when they were doing Harry and the Hendersons they were like “Oh man, we can’t have a dick hanging out!” And then obviously Chewbacca didn’t wear pants either did he?
So you wanted to bring back his masculinity or, more seriously, is Bigfoot something that you have always been genuinely interested in?
No, actually I drove around California for about 1400 miles in my car just driving around visiting famous Bigfoot sites and that wasn’t with any intention of making a movie. That was just my idea of having a good time. Making this movie was really just a by-product.
As a matter of fact, before I went to Willow Creek I had intended to do something more like a Christopher Guest style comedy but when I got there I just felt that a found footage movie was the right thing to do, even though I was well aware that people are tired of so many of these types of movies. I saw it as a challenge to make this type of film.
Absolutely, reading a lot of reviews for the film many crtics actually came away with the idea that you must be a massive found-footage fan but they couldn’t be farther from the truth, right?
No, I’m not a fan at all. I mean, I always wonder like “Who is the creep that edited that movie after they found this footage?” I mean it’s like “Hey here’s some footage of some people who got killed! If I cut it a bit I can make a tremendous motion picture!” Apart from that there are a lot of things, simple things like why is the camera still running? These were all challenges for me when making this film.
Watching the film I got the sense that most of the film was very improviso. It didn’t at all come across as a tightly scripted affair or am I totally wrong?
We went with a very small crew and the few actors and crew would camp out together and stuff. There wasn’t an actual screenplay. It was a twenty five page outline but the funny thing was that some of the stuff that seemed like ad-libby stuff was actually very scripted. Then some of the key scenes that I thought maybe should have been scripted, but weren’t at all, came out really well. The proposal scene for me was great and on the outline it just said “Jim asks Kelly to marry him.” That’s all. But then things like at the beginning when Bryce (Johnson) is trying to be a presenter, that stuff is very scripted and I think the reason I scripted that bit so much was that I was trying to explain to Bryce who this guy is and then once he got that he was off and racing.
A pleasant surprise I got was discovering that all the people interviewed in the film were not actually actors but locals who thought they were being interviewed for a documentary. How did you actually come across these folk? Did you discover them on your travels or were they introduced to you by others who thought they would make for great interviewees?
Yeah, some of them I came aross on my own in the past and others we literally discovered when we were up there. The trick of all that is not to have an agenda. I kind of knew that if we spoke to enough people we would get what we needed. The more I direct the more I realise the need to lose that sense of panic. You know, it’s like when you are filming a documentary and are about to turn off the camera and then suddenly someone says something and the whole thing just turns right round.
And did you actually let the people in on what you were doing after you had interviewed them? If so, how did they react?
Well, I did tell Stephen at Bigfoot Books what kind of movie we were doing because I thought that he would be really key. I think he does a really good job of laying a lot of the story for us. But a lot of people I didn’t tell them just because I thought saying to them “Hey can we interview you for a horror movie?” would be just too much information. I have had screenings of the film near to Willow Creek where the majority of them showed up and they seemed to really like the movie a lot. It’s funny, you forget the population is 1400 people and I showed the movie about 40 minutes out of town and as soon as the sign for the town showed up in the film the whole theatre erupted with applause.
Also, whilst I know you at no point are trying to ridicule people in this movie there are some scenes where the couple are obviously poking fun at the legend of Bigfoot and the people. Did you witness any begrudged reactions in terms of how you portray the legend and the locals?
Well, no. I wasn’t going there to make fun of the people because I myself am a wierdo and outcast but at the same time the folks in this movie are well aware that some of the stuff they believe in is pretty funny. I really wasn’t trying to take anyone down a couple of notches.
Also, when the couple got down near the actual site they come across this irate guy who urges them to leave straight away. It had me asking myself if you had to deal with anyone like that there who didn’t want you filming.
Well it’s not in the movie because I thought it would be kind of too weird for people to believe. I thought it would be easier for people to just think that Bigfoot is running around those woods but there is a lot of pot growing in that part of the woods in an industry that used to be run by hippie types and now there is a large drug cartel there. So, that was one of the things we were warned about when we went making the movie. We were told to be careful to not stumble on anyone’s pot field because they would shoot us.
So did you exploit these warnings and use them to frighten the cast even more to get even more terrified reactions from them when filming?
Ha, well I wouldn’t say that I really needed to warn them. They know that I treat a bad idea with the same amount of enthusiasm as I do a good idea. The first time we shot the tent scene towards the end of the film Bryce actually started crying. I told them I thought it was a great take but I didn’t think his character would actually cry. Bryce said “My character’s not crying. I’m crying. I don’t know why we’re filming this in the middle of the woods when we could film this in the middle of a parking lot.” We’d also see a mountain lion earlier so that was probably why he was spooked out.
We did three takes for that scene but I knew that I just wanted to use a single take so I never thought about editing bits and pieces together. For me the challenge for this movie was I had to edit the movie during the filming. I wanted to make sure the actors were always turning the camera on and off at the beginning and end of each scene so you had to kind of figure out how the scene was going to begin and end and not have coverage.
So to finish off, I know you are always coming up with different ideas for films. I think you have been working on a musical with Ray Davis from The Kinks, maybe a companion piece for World’s Greatest Dad and a gay Western. What have you got planned for the immediate future?
Well I’ve been shooting a documentary right now. I also just finished another screenplay which would best be described as a junkie comedy but I mean I just always like to write and then try to hustle the movies. The difference for me is that a lot of people write the screenplay and go to development and then they have to make compromises and then they make a movie whereas I just constantly write movies and then go out to try and get money so I don’t have to change the way I want to make or see my movies.
Yeah, I read that you actually still do stand-up comedy to help you pay the bills and make the movies that you want to make.
Yeah, that’s totally what I do. I just want to be able to keep making movies on my own terms and stay off of reality shows.
To end then, I imagine you are aware of a planned Police Academy reboot. What are your thoughts on that and if they asked you to reprise your role as Zed would you be up for that?
They say they are going to reboot the series and do what they did to 21 Jump Street. I honestly don’t think they would ask me to come back. I mean, I’m nothing but a pain in the ass to the producers of those films. Having said that, people have a soft spot for those movies so I think if they asked and I didn’t accept to do it then people would think I was a big asshole for not doing it. With that said though, I’m certainly not sitting around badgering my agent going “Hey, did they call yet? You know, I wanna do the ‘Paging Mr. Herman. Mr. Pee-wee Herman.’”
OK so reboots aside, I know you stopped acting when they stopped hiring you but if people did start hiring you again would you be up for getting back into the acting business?
I’m not very interested in acting. I have had offers to either be in things or audition for things but I’ve stayed away from them. This isn’t me fishing for a compliment but I really don’t think I’m a very good actor and the more I make movies the more I become aware of that. I have a new found respect for peope who try the camera.
We’d like to thank Bobcat for taking time to speak to us and we urge you to catch WILLOW CREEK when it hits cinemas on 2nd May and DVD on 26th May. We’ll leave you wth the trailer.