We talked to the filmmaker about why he’s always been fascinated by Bigfoot, the challenges of making a kickass Sasquatch movie, what’s going on with Blair Witch Project 3, and what it’s like seeing his first film still talked about.
We saw the film at FrightFest and were told that the creative impulse for Exists was making a kickass Bigfoot movie. Is that accurate?
Yeah, I’ve been a big fan of Bigfoot ever since I was a little kid. I watch just about every move that comes out about Bigfoot and I just felt like there hadn’t been a good representation of the creature. Ether the suit looked bad or the story didn’t work, or they never showed the creature, or the creature’s just like this killing machine that has no feelings and there’s no character to the creature, and so I always felt that Bigfoot was out of all the legendary monsters, if you want to call him that, he’s the one with the most personality because to me I feel there’s a big part of humanity in Bigfoot. He’s half human or at least partly human.
And at the same time, a Bigfoot movie is a monster movie so to me showing the creature and putting a really very realistic creature on screen was paramount. I always felt that Bigfoot had to have a personality and a character arc of his own in the movie. So that’s what I set out to do, and also just put a good Bigfoot on the screen. I really hadn’t seen one ever done well. So that was the main priority of the movie and that’s the big reason why I set about doing it.
Were there any clichés that you were keen to avoid?
Well I just wanted it to feel like it could really happen, and it’s a found-footage movie and you have to suspend your disbelief a little bit. Because it’s a found-footage movie there’s always a little bit of ‘Well, why are they still shooting the footage?’ and all that stuff. But I think the genre’s old enough now where people kind of accept that. To me it was really avoiding the fat guy in suit cliché. To me the big thing was to get a realistic creature on the screen that felt the way Bigfoot looked when I was a kid, when I looked in the woods and imagined Bigfoot walking around. That was my big thing; I wanted it to be realistic. Other than that, that was the big thing and trying to avoid some of the clichés but sometimes the clichés are there for a reason so you kind of have to play with them a little bit.
Was it always going to be a found-footage movie?
It was originally a normal film, a normal conventionally shot film and when we started writing it, we were constantly fighting against the idea of found-footage and it kept coming up. And I think it became something where we were fighting the basic foundation of what Bigfoot is and we realized that Bigfoot is really a found-footage creature. Everything you’ve ever seen or reportedly seen of Bigfoot is found-footage. The infamous Patterson-Gimlin film is found-footage. So once we made the decision to switch over to found-footage it became a lot easier to build the scenes that we wanted to build around the camera.
Yeah, absolutely because Blair Witch, the technical aspects of the film were determined by the idea that this movie took place in 1994. And Blair Witch was found-footage before found-footage was even a term. For this movie we discussed things with John Rutland our DP and the idea that we were definitely going to use Go-Pros because that’s the camera that everybody’s using now. So that was a prerequisite. But then John let us run with idea of what cameras this guy would have and what he could afford, and once that was done it was basically trying to get the best image quality on the screen as possible.
For Blair Witch there wasn’t any kind of thought about that because we never imagined the film was going to be in theatres. We were just like ‘This is going to be on video,’ so we definitely didn’t know what we were doing with Blair Witch, we didn’t know it was going to succeed and be in theatres and surprise all of us. So this was more a regular movie prep as far as what cameras you’re going to use and what movement you’re going to have and what’s practical and what isn’t and stuff like that.
Bigfoot looks amazing in the movie, but is it quite nervewracking when you’re making it and you’ve just got a guy in a suit?
It’s very challenging and it’s kind of scary too, which is part of why I make films. I think even Spielberg says it, if you’re not scared you’re not making the right movie. For me I had really never seen a fully realized Bigfoot creature on screen that I was completely satisfied with. So I was like ‘Is this even possible? Obviously there’s a lot of talented people that have come before me and tried this and, in my eyes, mostly failed. But I knew that there are good and bad creature effects, so for me it was starting off with the best people I knew possible, and that was Spectral Motion who we’ve done a few movies with.
So they helped design the suit and build it, and we built around Brian Steele who’s the premiere big creature suit actor, but yeah, once you get to the set, even though the creature looks amazing and you’re like ‘Wow that looks great,’ it’s still a guy in suit! We have to plan around it, some careful editing and some careful shots and the structure of how you shoot a scene, not showing too much but showing just enough. So it’s a balancing act but I think that we had such a great suit that I knew I was going to be able to get away with things that other films wouldn’t be able to get away with. Because that’s also the problem, you have to spend a pretty good amount of money on a suit, those suits are not cheap.
So for us we had this premiere suit but we had to figure out how to shoot it and it was a little nerve-wracking. We definitely didn’t know, was this going to play out comedically or what? But the first time we shot with Brian it was the scene where he’s chasing the guy on the bike and we were really anxious to get back in the editing room and see what it looked like. Then that night the editors did a really quick version of the scene, of just Brian running through the woods and it looked amazing. We were like ‘Wow man; we might actually have a Bigfoot movie here!’ And the more footage we saw the more convinced we were that it was going to work.
It’s kind of a trip, man, because going back, just seeing myself and my partners making that movie and the amount of work, and really just the experiment that it was. It does surprise me that Blair Witch is still this movie that people still talk about, sometimes good, sometimes bad. But we never expected that, obviously, it was this explosion and at the time it was this rollercoaster but yeah, I’m very proud of it and I feel very blessed that I was a part of the filmmaking team that brought it to life. And it still surprises me that it’s still part of the modern discussion of film, Blair Witch still comes up and I think that once we get The Woods Movie out there I think the fans, and fans of film, will really appreciate just, not really the balls, because we really had nothing to lose so it wasn’t like we were risking much, you know what I mean, but that we were really filmmaking just for the sake of filmmaking.
It was a total experiment that we went at 150% and we just ploughed forward and we had no idea how it was going to turn out, and it was scary but it really is the main excitement of making films is ‘Maybe this might be a disaster, it might not work!’ But the idea of pushing the envelope always intrigues me.
Has there been any update on The Blair Witch Project 3?
I think with all the popularity of the Blair Witch name still, the brand name is very recognisable; I think it’s inevitable. But at this point I don’t know what’s going on and I haven’t really heard much.
Finally, what do you think it is about Bigfoot that has kept this great American myth alive?
I think it sticks around because it hasn’t been proven but it hasn’t been disproven. For me, even though I’m sceptical as far as whether it’s real or not, as you get older you start realising ‘Why haven’t they found any evidence?’, your logical mind comes into play, but then you look at the eyewitnesses and some of them are very credible. And even personally to me, people tell me their story.
think there’s always this idea when you look in the woods, what can harm me, and the idea of Bigfoot, this big humanoid, semi-intelligent, very big and hairy just watching you. Because that’s also what’s scary about it is that Bigfoot is very reclusive. It’s not like it’s walking into the cities and grabbing people or robbing convenience stores, it stays to itself. It’s the same kind of thing that Blair Witch brought about, just about everybody has got lost in the woods. So the idea of getting lost in the woods and the idea of something beyond your comprehension stalking you is just scary. I think that’s the fascination with it.