Big Foot horror at it’s finest!
Bruce Wemple is a New York-based filmmaker who has tackled Sci-fi thrillers such as his film Altered Hours, music videos, and more. His latest project Monstrous is taking the Bigfoot film genre in an entirely new direction. PHASR was excited to chat with him about Bigfoot and all things monsters.
An Interview With Bruce Wemple
How did you become involved with Monstrous and what was your initial draw to it?
Bruce Wemple (BW): So the writer of Monstrous; Anna Shields, I’ve known her for many years, many years before we were even developing Monstrous. She was in another one of my first movies I made called Altered Hours and she had a role in that and we hit it off after creatively. We started talking about potentially collaborating on something and she had a lot of ideas and eventually, she had this script which was this psycho, borderline noir thriller that had you know those pretty heavy gore elements and she was toying with the idea of putting a monster in it just to kinda keep the characters together and I had never made a monster movie before and I love that kind of genre.
Then I had the idea what if it was Bigfoot? This whole movie takes place in upstate New York and there’s this town Whitehall that is known for these Bigfoot sightings and already in the script, you have you know this town which had missing people, to begin with so it’s like it would all kind of really work well together. Beyond that I had always been like a really big Bigfoot fan if you will, my dad was a really big Bigfoot fan when he was younger and he gave me a bunch of old cutout articles of like Bigfoot sightings that he’d kept from the sixties, seventies, eighties so I had all that so I already had this kinda history with Bigfoot so when the opportunity came to get involved with it I was already just full steam ahead at that point.
That was actually something I was going to ask because I read you were born in Albany. Did you, being from that area hear a lot of Bigfoot stories and such growing up?
BW: Yeah, So again my dad was really into it and we’d watch Bigfoot movies together and kinda talk about it. We’d go and do a lot of hiking and camping and things where Bigfoot was always the big joke between us and that kind of thing. Being in Albany was pretty close to this town Whitehall which I knew about and knew they were really into Bigfoot. They had like a couple Bigfoot street festivals per year so they’re really into it in this town and there’s even a big statue of Bigfoot there so once I started exploring that more I was like wow this place, this is one of the Bigfoot capitals of the country here and it’s you know an hours drive away. Taking that I was like this would be the perfect setting.
That’s super cool, I didn’t know that that town was that invested in it.
BW: Oh yeah, the Bigfoot statue that’s in the movie that’s right on roadside when driving in there. They got t-shirts they got everything in that town. I think they declared the official town animal or something like that. The whole town just commits to it and they all talk about it, it’s a real attraction for them. Obviously if you get further into it down the rabbit hole online there’s so many articles about conspiracies and actual Bigfoot sightings and you know Bigfoot walking down the road and crossing over and stuff like that so it’s pretty fun when you look into it.
That sounds great, I’m probably going to have to fall down that rabbit hole at some point.
BW: It’s a tough one because when you go down that rabbit hole on Youtube you know it leads to aliens and it leads to ghost sightings and everything like that so be careful.
Oh I welcome it, bring it on. So, working with Anna, since she was also the writer of the film did you approach working with her as an actor differently? Did you find her kind of giving her own insight and direction to her character as well?
BW: A little bit. At that point I obviously helped develop it a little bit when it came to putting Bigfoot in there but we had talked so extensively about the movie, about what the movie was about the tone and about everything you know there were no unanswered questions going into production so once we were shooting we might have little tweaks here and there and we talked about stuff but we had pretty much gone over everything so it was really just about getting it in the can and being on the same page which we definitely were.
Backtracking to what you said about her wanting to add the bigfoot character as sort of this thing to tie everything together, I kind of noticed when I was watching it that Bigfoot almost seemed like, not an afterthought but he kind of seemed as if he was just there to be that tie in.
BW: Yeah, we talked a lot about the movie Ten Cloverfield Lane and how they used the aliens and how that was essentially what was keeping them in there and it wasn’t necessarily a full-blown alien movie. The tension of the aliens being right outside or potentially being right outside the door is what drove the characters and then the more you got into that stuff you could really string that out so was the danger was outside or was the bigger danger inside? Which was kind of the theme we wanted to use and obviously at the end of the movie (spoilers) as that movie progresses that question becomes more pertinent as the plot develops.
Yeah, I think that was a really clever use of the character was to kind of bring them all together.
BW: Yeah I think the interesting thing with Bigfoot, or rather the dangerous thing I think if you’re a filmmaker and you’re dealing with something like Bigfoot is there’s so much content out there and a lot of it is very goofy and it’s considered to be a joke and it’s because if you show to much of the monster or the creature you know too much about it and that mystery leaves your mind or your imagination and it starts to get less scary or less mysterious and then you’re filling in blanks that the audience should be filling in cause we can never show the audience something scarier than their imagination might be; so as you saw in the movie when we did show Bigfoot we tried to keep it in shadows and give you just enough information that you can really expand on that yourself and then we really let the characters do the work in terms of telling the story.
We had talked about like; how do we want to show his presence before that because I didn’t really want to show his face and stuff cause again it just felt like it gave away too much too soon and as soon as you do that it’s hard cause where do you go from there after you’ve shown everything and you’ve shown what you can do and what it’s about, so I just really wanted to lean into the scale of the creature and really just show that it was towering and when we did do it you could really just get that sense that it was that much bigger than everything else and we actually used a guy whose name was Dylan Grunn and he played Bigfoot he but he was an experienced stilt walker before being an actor and so we made stilts that had Bigfoot feet at the bottom and had the fur around them so they fit in with everything else and he was walking around like that so it was pretty fun.
That’s amazing, and that’s actually one of the things I liked about the film is that it’s a lot more than a Bigfoot film. You’ve got these characters and this story that stand on its own apart from Bigfoot and the added bonus of Bigfoot just makes it feel bigger so I really enjoyed that.
BW: I appreciate that, cause the movie could exist I guess; I don’t know if it would work but it could exist with just the girls and the relationship between these two women and really getting into that but there would just be something missing in terms of why they’re there and that ever-present danger that exists in the realm of leaving is not an option. The option of leaving goes away very quickly, and we used that to really really dig into the two women deeper.
As far as the Bigfoot costume goes did you have any hand in the creation of that costume.
BW: Yeah I actually designed the costume. I put that together, that was something I really wanted to do already and so I was like just let me take care of it and I had help from a prosthetic makeup artist for the actual face but for the suit I kept on looking at other Bigfoot movies and what I thought people did well and what I thought people didn’t. There were two big things; the fur needed to be right, which I eventually found the right fur that I had to kind of dirty up, dye it a different color, and kinda get it to be a little more crusty and feel worn while still feeling long so you’re like watching an animal that could’ve been rolling around in the snow and the mud and everything like that.
So getting the fur right and then getting the power and muscle in there and what I actually ended up doing was getting a full muscle suit and I got it off somewhere I think it was overseas I can’t remember where but they were making these big big big foam muscle suit that people would actually just wear for fun for other costumes and so it effectively just made whoever was wearing it look like Arnold Schwarzenegger. So the actor put that on and then we built the fur over that pretty tightly and then the same thing with the legs so it really felt like a strong creature and not just a guy in a suit you know a saggy fursuit where it would feel either chubby or silly so that it could actually feel like something semi athletic and powerful. I tried to do as much as I can, the makeup and prosthetics were this woman Allison O’conner who did a great job I thought and she did the gore as well
Like you said earlier when you’re talking about the idea of Bigfoot most people tend to joke around and that type of thing, was there any worry going into the process that the costume wouldn’t turn out how you wanted?
BW: Absolutely, I mean there’s always that worry a little bit. You just have to purposely go the other way especially for a movie like this where the tone isn’t really goofy and it’s not very campy in a way that probably you would expect a Bigfoot movie to be. So we had to make sure that whatever we’re putting on screen kind of fit into that same movie and added to the danger and to everything that we had already built and didn’t just distract and you were thinking about how the monster looked or that it was bringing something Goofy and comical. That was a big thing we talked about and that was as much the creature design as how we shot it and how we lit the creature which was this huge thing almost as much as how the actual creature was designed.
So another thing that I noticed while watching the film is that you tend to play with color a little bit in a few scenes, for example there was a few scenes that were completely tinted blue or maybe red. Do you like playing around with color in different films and were you using them in this film to invoke any specific feeling or emotions?
BW: Yeah I think we definitely talked about how we wanted the film to have a fairly extreme look to it, especially since we were dealing with a low budget and we were kinda scrapping our way through certain things. We felt that we couldn’t just try to make it look like something like a studio kind of film would because I think what you would end up with is just a cheaper looking version of stuff that people kind of already see all of the time which maybe wouldn’t work and so it was decided to lean the other way and really get pretty extreme with the colors like you said, keep things pretty saturated.
You know like there’s a scene later in a basement that we were like what you do nothing but red in here and it works for the plot and the story and everything like that but yeah it was that kind of leaning into whatever the practicals were or whatever the room was just really leaning into it and letting that be what drives the scene and not trying to manufacture something that we thought more traditionally would be looked at as a studio cinematic image if you will.
Did you have any types of hardships while you were filming? It seemed like you were filming in a pretty snow filled in cold environment.
BW: Yeah I think that would probably be the main one was just dealing with the temperature.I run hot so this wasn’t really that big of a deal to me but a lot of times the actors had these scenes that they weren’t in jackets, they had been out in the cold in nothing but maybe just a long-sleeved t-shirt or something like that and we had to do enough takes to get it right and so yeah it gets tough.
Beyond that, there’s a scene in the movie where you kind of see Bigfoot walk around the deck of the house and that deck was covered in ice so we kind of had to get it to work in a safe way and the guy in the Bigfoot costume was kind of using the house to kind of get his balance while he’s walking so you have to cut around that as well as do it a bunch of times to get it right and move slowly if you will.
The temperature was definitely a huge huge factor but I think all of that helps the film and helps everyone kind of get into those elements and you know really be able to explore it so yeah I think in terms of huge obstacles or anything that probably would have been if you asked most of the cast and crew other than me, they probably would have said that was probably the biggest one.I do well in the cold so it’s a little different. We had a lot of L.A. people on set too so they were bundling up and they would take their jacket off for the take and that was it.
We had to just be a little careful too because the place we were at a snowstorm came through. We shot at that location for a couple weeks and the snowstorm would come in we would be like great we’re shooting and then all of the snow would effectively melt and then we’re like okay does this really work with the continuity of the film? A lot of times it really would be that at night we would get some snow and there would be some snow on the ground and by noon the next day the snow will have melted and so then we have to look at the script and everything to be like this really is happening here so that’s okay let’s just make sure it’s in order with how we’re shooting and everything and this makes sense in the actual film so that was just something that we had to keep an eye on.
I saw recently that it looks like you have a new film coming out called The Retreat which is in post-production? It sounded like it was another monster/survival-type movie.
BW: Yeah! After we finished this movie I was kind of asked by the same company that’s Distributing this movie if I would be interested in doing another monster film and I had already been working on a movie about the Wendigo, I’ve been fascinated by the Wendigo for a while and it’s very intimate it’s these two guys that are going winter backpacking and then some stuff goes down with the monster and then it’s just a guys survival and you know fight for his life against the monster out in the snow.
What really fascinated me about the Wendigo other than that it’s a really cool looking creature and and there’s a couple of different other aspects to it, is that there’s really a psychological horror element to the Wendigo and its kind of mind manipulation if you will that comes with it and The Possession stuff. So I was like you really get the best of both worlds if you’re able to have a literal monster that’s chasing you as well as you know your mind turning against you and trying to keep a grip on reality.
Would you say that making Monstrous, while I know you said you’ve always been into monster movies, kind of gave you and appetite for making more monster movies?
BW: Yeah I think so. It’s fun to shoot, it’s very exhausting and time consuming just because you have to be so careful, especially like when we were getting into The Retreat where we were including a bit more monster than Monstrous; which is obviously like you said a heavy kind of romance thriller that Bigfoot is just kind of keeping the pieces in place for versus The Retreat where the Wendigo is driving the story a bit more. You know you’re up in the snow again and we actually shot up in the mountains where we were backpacking and everything and you’re trying to light a monster and you just have to be very careful how you light it, what you show, and everything.
Then after you finish that it’s just so gratifying to just shoot two people talking just without any monsters in the frame but yeah, to answer your question I definitely got an appetite for it and I had a lot of fun doing it so I was like as long as I can get an opportunity to make something and the collaboration seems right I’m definitely in I would love to do more monster movies. It’s that careful balance, I love horror in general and I think monster movies kind of are just such a physical thing and you get to explore so much and you can do so much with it it’s great, just a huge blast.