To describe Bobcat Goldthwait as having a dark sense of humour would be an understatement. Forever known to a generation as Zed in the Police Academy movies, Goldthwait has made quite the name for himself helming some mischievous gems like Shakes the Clown, Sleeping Dogs, World’s Greatest Dad and the fantastic God Bless America. A life-long believer in the idea of Bigfoot, the writer/director’s latest project, Willow Creek, is a found-footage movie which focuses on a couple who set out to unearth the truth about the Sasquatch legend…
STARBURST: So, why the topic of Bigfoot?
Bobcat Goldthwait: Just because I really liked Bigfoot ever since I was a boy. In fact, even more specifically, as a little boy I was really obsessed with the Patterson-Gimlin footage. So this is just an excuse for me to go out into the woods with a group of grown men and look for Bigfoot.
What led to you making Willow Creek as a faux documentary rather than a “regular” movie?
Initially I had the idea that I would do a completely different kind of movie set in the Bigfoot community; a kind of comedy along the lines of Spinal Tap. Even though found-footage movies are kind of annoying, this just binded itself to it. It didn’t seem to be that far. If this guy went up to Willow Creek looking for Bigfoot, there’s no way in hell that he wouldn’t film it in the day and age we live in. The challenge is trying to make the movie not seem like it was edited after the fact. I think in a lot of genre pictures, the protagonists aren’t very likeable. I don’t think that’s on purpose. I think it’s so that you’re rooting for the monster. But I hoped to make these characters, I shouldn’t say likeable, but I wanted to make these characters believable.
You touched on it there, but the last few years have seen a stigma often attached to found-footage films. Did that ever cause you any concern?
I think if I’d given it a lot of thought I probably wouldn’t have gone and made a found-footage movie. But it really was just the movie I wanted to make. I think there’s a real naivety to the way I make movies, almost like the character of Jim in this movie. I don’t really think about it, I just do it. If you’ve ever tried to write a song, you pick up a guitar and you put three chords together, then you go, “Goddammit, that sounds just like Proud Mary!” But that’s not how I approach making movies. There’s always something in them that I wonder if I can do and that’s what keeps me writing the scripts that I do and making movies. It’s a challenge.
With the script, the performances of the actors come across as very real. How strict was the script or was a lot of the work just improvised?
Yeah, there was only a 25-page outline. Bryce , who are the stars, we drove up together in my car. It’s almost a 12-hour drive from Los Angeles. So we’d talk about these people and even come up with their backstories. We would loosely rehearse the scene, or sometimes not even that – just discuss what would happen. Then I would give my tweaks there or sometimes I was in the foetal position in the trunk of a car lying down and I said, “That was good, say that again.” It was a really fun movie to make.
And was it quite a compact, quick shoot then?
Sure, we shot it in a week. We filmed for 5 days. A lot of it was getting to the location then finding the places to film at.
The movie has various Bigfoot-themed places throughout. Were these real places that you were aware of beforehand?
The places I was aware of, because I’d been there. Some of the people I’d met, and others I didn’t know at all and met them while we were making the movie.
A lot of the smaller roles, such as the guy who plays the guitar and harmonica whilst singing a Bigfoot song, are these just locals that you just happened across?
Yeah, the Bob Dylan of the Bigfoot community! Part of it I knew that if I interviewed enough people in town then they would do the work that I needed to be done, which was tell the story and at the same time would be giving warnings about not going out to the woods. So it was kind of fun.
Moving away from Willow Creek briefly, most people will likely associate you with the character of Zed from the Police Academy movies. As a director, was it ever difficult to move people’s perception of you away from that character and to take you seriously as a filmmaker?
You can’t change people’s perceptions, but there’s a large part of the population in the US who are unaware that I make movies, that I write and direct. Does that make me feel weird? Not really, because I’m just trying to make my own movies on my own terms. I’m not really interested in making hit movies. When I’m ego-surfing on the Internet and somebody has something snarky to say about me, like, “Oh, where’s Bobcat Goldthwait? What restaurant is he working at?” It’s like, “I dunno, dude. I’ve just been making movies and directing TV shows.” In America, it’s just really strange. Sometimes people are only aware of me as the guy who was in Police Academy. Does it hurt? No, because I know that those people are really unaware of a lot of things, so their opinion doesn’t really matter to me too much.
We absolutely adored God Bless America and its stance on the modern society that seems to be dictated by reality TV and social media, but then again we are possibly getting old ourselves…
It’s the ultimate ‘”Hey you kids, get off our lawn!” movie.
Going as far back as World’s Greatest Dad, Sleeping Dogs and even Shakes the Clown, you have a very unique, darkly-humourous style. Is that something that just comes natural to you?
Yeah, it’s not something that I’m thinking about. It’s really what I’m drawn to and who I am. Sometimes I write a joke or write a screenplay and I think that I’ve written A Night at the Museum 3 or something. I’ve just finished a screenplay that I thought was me writing a comedy for the first time, a comedy that people can go and watch and enjoy as a comedy. Then my agent was like, “It’s not a comedy! The guy’s on heroin for the entire movie!” I thought I’d written The Big Bang Theory movie. I think now is the time for a good junkie comedy.
Are there any particular shows or movies that you feel directly influenced your style and approach towards your films?
Well certainly there are filmmakers who have. People like Billy Wilder, people who kind of just had to go do their own different kind of movies. They were just telling stories.
Bringing things back to Willow Creek, what are your thoughts on the Bigfoot legend? We take it you’re a believer?
Yeah, definitely. Bigfoot represents, to me, this idea of what if. So I definitely believe in Bigfoot and want to believe in Bigfoot. People will go, “You’re are an atheist but you believe in Bigfoot?” I haven’t met anybody who has seen God. I think in a weird way it’s very hopeful. Also, if you’re looking for Bigfoot and you don’t find it, you just went camping.
Wrapping things up, the Bigfoot comedy that you mentioned earlier on, is that ever likely to see the light of day?
Yeah, I’m sure. I keep writing stuff and then I get the buzz or the cast or things together. But definitely, just to go back into this world again. I really enjoyed it.
WILLOW CREEK hits DVD on May 26th.