With a film career that includes memorable supporting turns in 80’s blockbusters like Scrooged and the Police Academy franchise, writing and directing duties on cult classics such as Shakes the Clown and World’s Greatest Dad as well as a defining stand-up career, Bobcat Goldthwait has earned the many creative labels thrown his way.
He sat down with me at the Fantasia film festival, where his latest directorial effort, Willow Creek screened. The found-footage quasi-horror film about a couple searching for Bigfoot easily stood out at the festival with its keen observation of and dedication to human behaviour, to which we spoke about, as well as the film’s stance on the Bigfoot myth.
With your last movie, God Bless America, you were definitely lamenting where your nation was culturally. But I’m curious if Bigfoot speaks to a classic element of Americana that you’re really fond of?
I would say Bigfoot is less cynical, at the least those who are into him. You know, I think about God Bless America, like I said it’s a violent movie about kindness, and there’s a lot of things I criticize in that movie, but I don’t necessarily agree 100% with Frank, I mean not just the killing people but some of that stuff is in that movie just because I wanted the two of them to have something to bond over. I always think that it’s not liking the same things that makes a good strong couple, it’s hating the same things.
This is a found-footage film, and I’m curious as to what are your thoughts on that subgenre; is it something you still find scary or was is it something you wanted to poke fun at?
No, it’s not a parody. Because I’m not a film critic or someone who selects movies for festivals, I haven’t been exposed to so many found-footage films. I’ve only seen a handful of them, and I just feel that this movie kind of lent itself to being told that way. I can understand if you had to watch a bunch of them getting kind of over them; it’s like I said at the screening last night, I always wonder who are these creeps who go “I’m sorry your daughter got raped to death, but when we recut it, it’s a really hell of a good film” you know? So that doesn’t work for me, and the fact that someone always keeps filming even though they’re about to get killed doesn’t work for me, so those were the challenges of this movie, and I hope if it works for people I addressed that.
Really when you think about the film, it’s one about a couple, and it’s entirely through their point of view; where they’re pointing the camera, their conversations. Can you talk about how through both writing and direction the challenges of creating a young couple’s perspective?
My wife likes to say this, that the characters in this movie are just really good-looking versions of us [laughs]. And I think I have Bryce’s [Johnson, the film’s lead] character’s personality where I show a lot of enthusiasm without thinking things through. My wife says I treat a good idea and a bad idea with the same amount of energy because I don’t know the difference. The thing about how to make them young people is that there was a fair amount of ad-libbing and discussion about who the characters should be so Alexie [Gilmore, the other lead] and Bryce both contributed a lot to what they say and do in the movie. In fact, after we got done with the movie I gave them producing credits because they were more than just actors.
There’s a long-take near the end of the film where it really becomes a horror movie; can you talk about how intensive the rehearsal process for that was?
The rehearsal process was more not rehearsing, it was more actually going to being in that location and being in the middle of the night, you know. If anything happened to any of us, we’d have to be helicoptered out of there, it was really in the middle of nowhere. We basically discussed the beats that should happen, but I didn’t let them know what was going to happen to them, so that they would keep their performances fresh. We only did three passes of it, so that’s the second take of it. The first take, Bryce started crying also, so it was really weird, well it wasn’t weird, but it didn’t help the movie because that’s what he was feeling, but when they both cry they’re kind of both the same character and the conflict went away. The second take was where all the beats seemed to be the most natural.
Were you constantly striving for realism?
Yeah, that’s the whole thing. And even in the other movies I do, I always have the leading characters played super-realistic. And then the other characters can be one-dimensional, broad and silly, but to always find the truth of whoever’s driving it is really important, especially in this movie, more important than the other movies. What I wanted was the more real it felt, the more scared people were, and it’s funny because everyone just assumed they were a couple, I didn’t tell people that they were in a horror picture. I mean, they’re not a couple but they act like a couple, and everything about them felt like a couple. So it wasn’t me off-camera interviewing Bryce, they actually did do the interviews.
Are there any interesting real people you caught on camera that maybe didn’t make it into the movie?
You know what’s funny is that Cliff Barackman from Finding Bigfoot was actually up in town and I interviewed him, but it took you way out of the movie; it was really strange. But there was some behaviours that didn’t make it, like some time when you’re talking to Bigfoot enthusiasts, if you discuss things other than Bigfoot, they kind of zone out [laughs]. So that’s not in the movie.
Were you very conscious about making Bigfoot an invisible force? You obviously see him through drawings and paintings throughout but he’s really manifested through people talking about him.
Definitely, these characters like Bigfoot, as soon as you see them you, it doesn’t work. So many of the monsters I like are the ones where less is more. Like I like P.O.V. shots from monsters, I like Jaws. Even like Rosemary’s Baby, which is one of my favourite movies, but the few seconds we see Satan’s eyes it looks really silly [laughs].
I’m a big fan of the Tales From the Crypt HBO show, which you were on a few episodes of. Did working on that show teach you about horror or inspire you to make it?
It didn’t teach me about horror, but it was the second thing I did with Richard Donner and I don’t even know if he was aware of it, but I would ask him a million questions. Actually, he did because he would go [does imitation of Richard Donner] “You wanna learn how to direct? Take a lot of naps!” [laughs]. Yeah he said something funny but watching him direct that Tales From the Crypt episode and Scrooged, and then opening himself up was probably the biggest learning curve I’d ever had as a guy behind the camera.
You’ve directed a lot of television, and on those shows there’s usually a style bible of sorts, so do you feel liberated making films and being able to experiment?
With the T.V. shows I work on I usually try to facilitate a comedian’s idea and vision, so I don’t mind. On Maron it’s been interesting because we’ve all been trying to figure out what the show looks like and what it is and what it isn’t, so I’ve been contributing to that. But when you write and direct, if you come up with an idea, you film it, if you want to cut something, you cut it out, but that’s the big difference, there’s no committee, it’s just me. I should say that my wife gets to weigh in pretty heavily too.
Do you find yourself moving towards other genres?
Oh sure, like I did write a movie that’s an out and out gore kind of picture, and then there’s this musical I wrote based on the Kinks album from the 70’s “Schoolboys and Strays”. I also wrote a gay western about this Billy Jack type character that comes into a homophobe town and kicks ass, so yeah if I can just keep making movies I want to make all different kinds.
When can we expect to see the next one?
Probably next year if I keep at this rate; there’s a couple other screenplays that I have that are waiting, but there’s a smaller picture I might do in the fall if I can’t get any of the other movies going. I’m just trying to make a movie a year, which some people think is really ambitious but then you talk to Joe Swanberg you know [laughs].
Willow Creek screened at Fantasia Festival.