Photo by Angela George
BOBCAT GOLDTHWAIT INTERVIEW
Interview conducted by Hamzah Sarwar
I recently had the esteemed pleasure of interviewing the multi-talented American extraordinaire, Bobcat Goldthwait, whose eclectic skillset has seen him excel in comedy, acting, writing and even directing. Goldthwait's rise to directorial prominence began with the refreshingly original World's Greatest Dad (2009) and more recently the searing black comedy God Bless America (2011). His latest project, Willow Creek, is Bobcat's first foray into the murky waters of horror. The found footage film follows a couple's efforts to uncover the truth behind the urban legend of Bigfoot by interviewing locals in the surrounding area and visiting the actual site of the infamous Patterson-Gimlin footage of 1967 (which captured Bigfoot on film). See below as we discussed the genesis of Willow Creek, the pitfalls of the found footage medium, inevitable comparisons to The Blair Witch Project and the art of crafting tension fuelled, character driven horror.
Hamzah Sarwar: Let's talk about the genesis of Willow Creek and to what extent the original Patterson-Gimlin Bigfoot footage from 1967 inspired you make this film?
Bobcat Goldthwait: The genesis was that I am fascinated by the Patteron-Gimlin footage and went up to Willow Creek not with the idea of making a movie in mind. In fact I thought I would make another kind of movie altogether, but then the more I was there I knew it lent itself to found footage. I think there's a lot of pitfalls in found footage movies but [fellow director] Joe Lynch just said, "You should just go make this found footage, it'll be your version of one and don't even think about that", which is why I went ahead and made the movie.
I'm completely aware of the comparison with Blair Witch and there's no way that there aren't things that aren't influenced by it, but on the other hand Blair Witch is a really great movie. I think people who make POV movies have really gotten far away from things in that movie that really worked in their efforts to try and re-invent the found footage film. They throw up the good stuff from that movie. I'd also like to point out that the Patterson-Gimlin footage is the original found footage movie (laughs) because it was a movie about people who went into the woods and shot on a really big camera! I'm derivative of the original found footage.
HS: For sure, why did you feel the documentary found-footage style was best suited to tell the story rather than using a standard medium? What was the POV's biggest selling point for you?
BG: Well, I write a lot of screenplays and then it's a question of getting to make them and not having to compromise how I see them. This was a very small, easy movie to quickly pull together the money, go out to make it and have fun. But at the same time, the real thing, and why I really wanted to make this movie was I felt like a guy who makes films who was very unsuccessful at creating tension and suspense in my movies. And so I truly wanted to see if I could really not have a lot going on and make people feel engaged and scared. I didn't know if it worked for anyone or for an audience, I mean that 19 minute long take is kind of exhausting and I wasn't sure of what the audience was going to do and what they thought. Whether they wanted to watch it at all even.
HS: It worked very well. The beauty of Willow Creek is in its authenticity both in terms of the location and the character dynamics. Let's first talk about your experience being in Bluff Creek itself and your experiences with the locals?
BG: It's funny that you say that about it being authentic. I think to actually go to Bluff Creek, it's 17 miles dirt road, 2 and a half hours to get down to the location. During that tent scene Bryce started crying when we did that first take. And I was like, "Whoa I thought that was really good but I don't know if your character would cry!" and he was like, "My character's not crying, I'm crying! Why are we out in the woods, we could shoot this in a parking lot (laughs) instead of being out with mountain lions!" That is very key, you know actually being in the place. Those folks, some of them I had actually met when I went up to Willow Creek. A lot of them I knew and I thought if we interviewed enough people then we would get what we needed. We would get people who would be re-affirming to them that it's real or saying don't go out in the woods it's terrifying or there would be people saying they don't believe. I knew that we would get all those things and that was another reason why it was kind of key to go up there to film it. You could make this whole movie within 35 minutes of LA but it wouldn't ring true I don't think.
HS: I totally agree, the location made a huge difference and it really shines through on film. Were the locals aware that you were creating a genre film or did you present your film as a non-fiction documentary?
BG: Some people I would be very square with and very honest. Other people I didn't, I just think it would be very confusing for them.
HS: For me, this is character driven horror at its finest. Stephen King once said, "Horror is when you know and love the characters, but you also know something very bad is going to happen to them. It's not the monsters!" To what extent would you agree?
BG: Yes I definitely agree, I wasn't too concerned about making the characters that we care for because we like them. I wanted them to be characters that we cared for because they were flawed and reminded us of ourselves. And to make them a very real couple. In genre pictures there's a weird pattern that started in the seventies and eighties where everybody who gets killed in a movie kind of deserves their comeuppance. For me there's not much tension in that and I agree with the idea that what's scary is that you feel you know these characters' fate. Yeah that is true.
HS: I know we talked about the buildup of tension earlier, the slow burning suspense and the transition of fear works remarkably well. Do you think it's important to make the audience wait for their pay off and big scares?
BG: Yes, and I also feel that also implies to not just scares but any kind of emotional relief. It's like if you're swimming and you take a ball down with you in the water. The further down you go, when you finally let it go then the higher that it will shoot. I'm aware that when I'm making characters in movies, the further down and the longer I make the audience wait or the worse their life gets then the release will be much greater.
HS: The tussle between the skeptic (Kelly- Alexie Gilmore) and the believer (Jim- Bryce Johnson) is very powerful. How important was this element in your storytelling?
BG: Well it just seemed very natural because it was a hybrid relationship you know (laughs) when one's foolish and says, "Let's just go do this, why cant we?" and they have people around them who are more grounded so it was very important to me. Not that I was exorcising some demons but again in regards to making these people feel very real.
HS: The urban legend that has stayed with me the most since watching the film is the reference to the Curse of Bigfoot. The notion that you will search for something that you'll never find. Were you aware of this before you went to Bluff Creek or is this something that you discovered once you started filming?
BG: Yeah I was aware of it before.
HS: Is that something that you believe in or did you just think was important to the story?
BG: I thought it was important to the story and would definitely help.
HS: I have to mention the nerve shredding tent scene that we eluded to earlier. I think it's the subtlety which is scary in that you don't know what outside, that fear of the unknown rather than gross-out, in your face terror? Is that subtlety something you prefer?
BG: Actually I really enjoy when I'm watching a movie, be it Roman Polanski, Quentin Tarantino or David Lynch, that tonally when you are really uncomfortable but there isn't necessarily a lot going on. I am a big fan of that. But then with that being said, I don't have a problem with the more traditional gore splatter monster movies. I know for a fact that one of the challenges that I'll give myself is that 'ok now you've done this suspense film, now let's see can you actually shock and scare people and show it?' which would now be a bigger challenge for me.
HS: I know that your background is so eclectic. I mean you've done everything from comedy through to horror genre now. What have been the key lessons you've learned from being a horror director? Would you return to the genre again in future work?
BG: Oh definitely! I hope I get to. I have a couple of screenplays written along those lines and in a perfect world a challenge for me would be to create a new monster!
HS: That's the dream!
BG: For sure that would be fantastic! And that for me that's what it should be about for a guy who makes movies. It shouldn't be anything other than can I pull this off? Can I tell this story? Can I have these elements in the movie and connect with an audience despite the subject matter being unpleasant? Or even if the subject matter is something that people believe to be silly or that we know everything about. That's the challenge for me.
Willow Creek is in UK cinemas from 2nd May and available on DVD from 26th May. Click on the cover below to pre-order.
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