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A Conversation with filmmaking legend Bobcat Goldthwait

Willow Creek
27 May 2014

Ahead of the home entertainment release of Bobcat Goldthwaite’s foray into found footage horror Willow Creek, The Fan Carpet‘s Paul Risker had the honour to follow-up our FrightFest conversation with the legend following it’s sold out screening on the Discovery Screen. In preparation for our own expedition to prove the existence of Bigfoot we took the opportunity to delve a little deeper into Bobcat’s journey to prepare ourselves for a little racoon horror.

Bobcat shared with us his memories of discovering genre cinema through another infamous creature, his motivation for tackling found footage, ownership of cinematic genres and movements, setting creative challenges, and uncovering a new appreciation of suspense.



Can you remember the moment you first discovered the horror genre?

I don’t know about horror, but I know the moment I discovered genre. One of the first movies I saw was Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster. It was probably the first time I came home from a movie with that feeling of having had my mind blown. I was so excited to retell and act out the story, and later on there were the big horror pictures such as The Exorcist that made an impression on me. But funnily enough as an adult it was Peter Jackson’s Brain Dead that made an impression.

There is a feeling that the found footage sub-genre is a tired and worn one, though the same could be said of the western, which continues to endure. What motivated your foray into found footage?

For better or worse it is another kind of movie like the musical or western. I’m not a fan of a lot of the found footage, and so the challenge I set myself was to see if I could address some of the things that I had a problem with in those films.

Also when people attempt to be original or different in found footage films it tends to get away from what originally worked well in The Blair Witch Project. I know people say Willow Creek is similar to The Blair Witch Project, but it’s more than similar, and at the same time I don’t feel that I’m ripping it off because The Blair Witch Project was not the first found footage movie.

It addresses the belief that one filmmaker can claim ownership of a genre or cinematic movement. Interviewing another filmmaker recently he spoke of how the problem stems from a lack of the knowledge of the history of cinema. When you go back through the history of cinema it changes the entire complexion of the art form for the individual.

On occasion when someone will accuse me of being derivative of something it’s a case of yeah, I am derivative of x, y and z. But I am not derivative of what you are talking about, because I’m willing to go back and watch movies that were the beginning of this kind of art. I’ve noticed the people who accuse you of being derivative of something don’t usually have a long sense of cinematic history. Rather their knowledge only goes all the way back to the first Ben Stiller movie.


You’ve spoken about how with Willow Creek you were challenging yourself to create a suspenseful story.

You’ll be watching a Roman Polanski movie, and you’ll even find it in a lot of Tarantino movies as well where there is not a lot going on but you are none the less riveted; you are at the edge of your seat; you are creeped out. I was wondering if I could do that, and so with Willow Creek this was not only the challenge, but it was what initially interested me about the project. I didn’t know how you created that, and I learned how whilst I was making the film. Now I get it and I just hope it works for people.



From before to after, how has making Willow Creek effected your appreciation of suspense?

Once I had edited it together I realised that there are tried and tested elements in a suspense movie that are there for a reason. Before you scare people you diffuse the tension. For example when you are watching a movie and you hear a noise; the camera pans over and you see that it’s just a cat. Only afterwards does a big scare come. But I realised I didn’t have the equivalent of that, and so I had to add the shot of the racoon after the movie was finished. In order to get a racoon to act it was $4,000, but I found a place that would let me climb into a cage with a wild racoon that was about an hour out of town, and that’s how we ultimately filmed that scene. It was funny because when they let the racoon out of the cage it ran over to me and climbed up my leg. I’d love to tell you I didn’t pee a little bit but I did [laughs].


Throughout the history of cinema there have been those filmmakers that have played games with the audience. But the creation of suspense could be likened to the filmmaker actively engaging in a dance with the audience.

It’s different to filming other scenes, and the dance with the audience is almost like… Well filming suspense is different. It is almost like recording a song rather than executing the traditional coverage of the scene. I’m not sitting behind the camera saying, “I need to do that line again, or this isn’t in the shot.” It’s sitting there and asking whether the suspense is working in that moment. That’s the difference, because everything else you create later on in the editing room, but to me at least the suspense has to work on the set.


At the heart of the film you have a believer and the sceptic. How different would the film have played if the two of them were believers?

For me this movie is about how the guy’s belief is his downfall; although it’s not his belief but his tunnel vision or single mindedness. The movie that influenced Willow Creek more than any other is Werner Herzog’s Grizzly Man. In a weird way and if this movie works for people, my goal was to make a genre version of Grizzly Man.

I never thought of this, but making the movie was very similar to the protagonist’s journey; it is almost the same story. I went into the woods rather foolishly and wondered if we could do this. It is something other people have explored before, but we were still going to try it. The thing that’s funny to me is that while there were elements of danger, I put blinders on and turned away. There was actually a Mountain Lion near us at one point when we were filming. I just realised that I am that guy [laughs].



Willow Creek Film Page