We had the pleasure of speaking to the comedian turned actor turned director, about his decision to explore this genre and why he chose the myth of Bigfoot as his base for this tale. He also tells us whether he was scared when shooting on location, and what made actor Bryce Johnson cry during a take…
So why did you decide to tackle the horror genre? Was it one you were always keen on exploring?
Well I don’t really think of it like that, I just think about how I can do something, can I pull it off, and that’s what I think about. My favourite filmmakers are people like Billy Wilder, who did all kind of things. My favourite ever filmmaker is probably Bob Fosse, who did all different kinds of stuff.
You do seem to mix between genres effortlessly – do you make a conscious decision to be eclectic and try something different with each project, or is that what you’re naturally drawn to?
I’m naturally draw to them. It dawned on me the other day, I would probably develop a fan base if I was one genre [laughs]. If I made one kind of movie, or at least a signature piece. I’ve never figured out how to be more Wes Anderson and go, ‘where’s the scene with all the luggage?’ in every movie.
It’s not really luggage in Willow Creek, but there are a few backpacks. Maybe that could be your signature?
[Laughs] I guess my only signature is that I am interested in making people uncomfortable. That’s not my goal, but a friend of mine said it was natural I went into making movies because I could no longer freak out people doing stand up.
In regards to the subject matter in the film, why did you decide to explore Bigfoot?
Ever since I was a little boy I was thrilled and excited when I discovered the Patterson-Gimlin footage. Making this movie really was an excuse to drive 11 hours up to Willow Creek [laughs]. You know, Bigfoot was always top of my list.
Do you believe Bigfoot exists?
Sure. I cut slack from people, they say, ‘you believe that there’s a Bigfoot, but you’re an atheist?’ and I’m like, well, I have people who have actually heard and seen Bigfoot, but not the other! I’m waiting for footage of Jesus running through the words.
Maybe that could be your next movie?
While Willow Creek explores the Bigfoot mythology, is that effectively channeling your own fascination? Is the film almost a vessel for you to explore the idea yourself?
I think so. I guess it is, you know. When making a movie there’s got to be something in it that’s a challenge, and for me it was whether I could make a movie that didn’t have a lot going on in front of you, and yet make it suspenseful and make it intense. I’ve always been envious of these scenes that Tarantino does that are really long and there’s not much going on, so I was wondering if I can do that.
Did you ever feel scared of threatened when shooting? Because it was all on location.
Yeah and it’s a two and a half hour drive down a 17 mile dirt road to get to the site. There are mountain lions and we saw those, and when we were filming the tent scene, Bryce started crying in the middle of the take. I was like, that was good, but I don’t think the character would cry. He told me that the character wasn’t crying, he was crying, saying ‘Why are we out in the middle of the woods? We could have done this in a parking lot’. But yeah it was scary.
Alexie Gilmore and Bryce Johnson are both fantastic in the film, how did they come to be involved in this project?
Alexie was in a movie I did called World’s Greatest Dad, and Bryce was in another movie I did called Sleeping Dogs Lie. So I wanted people who I was really comfortable working with, because unlike the other movies I make, this was far less scripted and that was the other challenge, I wanted to see if I could do a more ad-libbed movie than the others I’ve made.
Alexie’s character Kelly in this instance is like the viewer’s entry point, because she’s the cynic and she represents us, needing to be convinced in the same way we do. How vital is it to have a character in there like that?
In regards to making this movie, it seems that a lot of horror pictures the protagonists tend to be very unlikeable people. I wanted to make these two seem like a real couple who really like each other, so you’re more engaged with them. Often when things go terribly wrong, I’m rooting for the monsters over the actors.
You spoke to a lot of strangers in the movie, did they know you shooting a film, because considering they aren’t actors, there were some really naturalistic reactions and performances.
Some folks we let in on what we were doing, and others we didn’t. Sometimes I had to back off and let the others do it. I couldn’t really let my presence be known because people would have thought it was a comedy, or that they were being messed with. So sometimes I had to pose more as a crew member rather than director.
So finally, what’s next for you now? Anything in the pipeline?
Yeah I’ve started to shoot a documentary which is as far away as you might think the next thing for me is. But that’s what I’m filming now.
Are you allowed to say what it’s about, or is that under wraps?
It’s about a comedian who is a friend of mine called Barry Crimmins and I think when you say that, people think it’s going to be a documentary about a comedian – but it’s a much, much larger story about his life that I would make even if it was about a plumber.
Willow Creek hits cinemas on 2nd May, and DVD on 26th May.