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B. Alan Orange talks with Director Fred Tepper & Producer Tom Zimmerman about Sasquatch Hunters! (Part 1)

CLICK HERE for Part 2 of the interview!

CLICK HERE for Part 3 of the interview!

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Sasquatch, a cheapie independent thriller directed by Jonas Quastel and starring Lance Hendrickson, was originally acquired by Sony Pictures Home Entertainment division in 2002 for DVD distribution rights. All things considered, it was a pretty horrible film. And it wound up on Movieweb’s “Worst DVD Purchases of All Times” list. Despite its setbacks and painstakingly abhorrent storyline (think Blair Witch without the charm), Sasquatch became a modest hit for Sony’s DVD department. It made enough money that Sony started shopping around for a sequel. They found one in Fred Tepper’s already finished project Primeval.

Tepper’s Bigfoot movie was a done deal way before the general public got a whiff of Quastel’s stinky Z grade camping trip. And it has absolutely nothing to do with that previous film. Didn’t matter to Sony. They snatched Primeval as an easy follow-up, hoping to insight a fevered recognition. Unbeknownst to Tepper and his hardworking team, the film’s original title was soon changed to Sasquatch Hunters. Fred’s okay with that. Except, maybe, for the little fact that their awesome Bigfoot thrash’em-up is now being associated with a wretched little stretch of cinematic offal. It’s hard not to correlate the two flicks. The cover art looks strikingly similar. And the title font is the exact same.

I recently got in touch with Sasquatch Hunters’ Director Fred Tepper and Producer Tom Zimmerman to dispel the myth that their film is a sequel of sorts (which it’s not). What followed was one of the best times I’ve had discussing a film with its creators. Tepper is an unusually humble guy, and neither he nor his producing partner Tom Zimmerman could keep a straight face about their new project. They’re quite aware they’ve made a “Bigfoot” film, and that it isn’t some huge, groundbreaking epic.

Here’s what the guys had to say about their self-inflicted thrill ride:

O: I talked to you on the phone not too long ago; and I was a little too overenthusiastic after having seen the Bigfoot footage in your trailer. I love Bigfoot movies, seriously. And I hadn't seen anything quite like that. The first thing you say to me is, you're not going to go to any bars and try to pick up women by telling them, "I made a Bigfoot movie." I'm wondering, why not? If I made a Bigfoot movie, I'd be in every bar telling every girl I saw that I made a Bigfoot movie.

Fred Tepper: It depends on what bars you go to.

Tom Zimmerman: Unfortunately, though, if you say to somebody you made a Bigfoot movie, you're going to wind up picking up women that kind of resemble Bigfoot. If you say, "Hey, I made a Bigfoot film." They'll say, "Yeah, my dad is a Bigfoot, so why don't we go out?" So, there you go…That's my thought.

O: What about the Bigfoot Lodge? Wouldn't the girls that go there just love the fact you made a Sasquatch movie?

Zimmerman: They might. I was thinking the more generic Hollywood club scene. If you say, "I directed the Aviator." That's better than saying, "I directed a Bigfoot film."

O: I disagree. But I'm coming from a different school.

Zimmerman: I need to go to the bars your going to, then.

O: I only hit the dive bars. There's a lot of girls there that like Bigfoot. But that brings up the next question…The title of your film was originally Primeval, but it's been switched to Sasquatch Hunters. Which do you prefer? Bigfoot? Sasquatch?

Tepper: I think Bigfoot is easier.

Zimmerman: I think Bigfoot sounds like slang to me. He's really called Sasquatch. Bigfoot's just some wacky slang term.

O: Do you think Bigfoot would take offense to that name if he got acclimated into society?

Zimmerman: There are a lot of different schools of thought.

Tepper: I think Bigfoot would be able to pronounce "Bigfoot" better. Sasquatch is a complicated series of sounds.

O: The Abominable Snowman. I can't even say that.

Zimmerman: There are different schools about his temperament. If you ask him about it, he just crushes somebody's head.

Tepper: We tried to ask him about it when we met him.

O: You guys met Bigfoot?

Tepper: Actually, when we were scouting locations in Frazier park, which is about an hour north of Magic Mountain, we did find this big footprint. It obviously had to be something else…

O: Some hippie or something?

Tepper: Probably a bear. And it was running and slid, or the wind and weather erosion made the footprint bigger. It really did look like the classic, iconic Bigfoot footprint that you see everywhere.

Zimmerman: There was only one.

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O: There weren't even two footprints together, side by side?

Zimmerman: Yeah, it was just one single impression. It was kind of weird.

Tepper: We found three different things. We found the footprint. We found this huge bone that looked like some kind of hipbone from some really big animal. It was totally reduced, and there was no flesh on it.

O: You know; that came up recently. No one has ever found a bigfoot bone.

Zimmerman: Right. This was just a bone.

Tepper: Before we did the shoot, we did a little test shoot on video. Just to try out a couple of things. We were at Griffith Park, and we were trying to block out scenes. Trying to get an idea of what it would be like working in the woods. There was this thickly overgrown hill, so we said, "Why don't we get a shot of everyone coming down the hill?" It would be one of those montage scenes of everyone going into the forest. We went up there, and there was half of a horse skeleton. This bone was huge. It wasn't some tiny bird thing. This was like a giant leg bone. A horse femur. The kind of thing you pick up that has serious weight. Thing was, it wasn't dried out. It wasn't bleached by the sun. It looked like something had gone to town on it, and then left it behind. Then, up in Topanga State Park, we were shooting some other test stuff, and there was this dog running around. It was okay if the dog ran through because it was just a test thing. But then, all of a sudden, it comes through with the spine from a deer, or something.

Zimmerman: It's in the background digging around, and we're like, "What the Hell is it doing?" The dog turns around with a deer spine in its mouth.

O: Do you guys have that footage?

Tepper: Yeah.

O: Did you put it on the DVD?

Tepper: Unfortunately, there was no time to get anything on the DVD. What we might do is put a bunch of things on the website. There's not even a commentary on the DVD. What we thought we might do is put a commentary on the website as an MP3, and you just download it and press play. I know that's not as cool as having it on the actual disc. At least its there.

O: Girls seem to like that.

Tepper: We've got a lot of stuff for extras; there just wasn't the time to do it.

O: The reason I got in contact with you was because I thought this was a sequel to Sasquatch. But this is in no way related to that film, right?

Tepper: Our principle photography was in 2002. I don't know when that one was shot, but we didn't even hear about it until six months later. We found it scouring the web. To backtrack all the way to the beginning, the idea came to me when I was sitting in a movie theater waiting for Amelie to start, and it was about the second or third time I'd seen it. Somehow, while I was sitting there waiting…

Zimmerman: Bigfoot whispered?

Tepper: No…I thought, "No one's done a Bigfoot film "Alien" style, with people in the forest getting picked off. Its always Harry and the Hendersons or Bigfoot attacks a hillbilly town…

O: What do you think of Harry and the Hendersons?

Tepper: I only saw it when it came out, and I haven't seen it since.

O: I hate that movie.

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Tepper: I was really impressed with the face make-up. There was plenty of stuff I didn't like. I don't remember hating the film. I remember thinking, "Okay, it's a kid's film." And it was better than a lot of kid's films that were out at the time. I won't mention their names.

O: A lot of movies have, not to use a rude word, pussified Bigfoot. When I see Bigfoot, I want a kick ass monster. And that's what I got from your trailer. When he picks up that guy and slams him into the ground? That's the kind of Bigfoot I want to see. That's what's been missing from the genre.

Tepper: I got an email a few weeks ago from a Bigfoot researcher who is very angry. He's planning a boycott of the film, and he's telling all of his friends to boycott the film.

O: Let him Boycott it, though!

Tepper: He was mad because he says, "Bigfoot is not an evil, violent creature. People try and say that. Yeah, if people push them and they have to try and defend themselves, maybe." I wrote him back and told him that he was going to love the film. Bigfoot is not a bad guy until he's pushed to his limits.

Zimmerman: It's not like he starts attacking for no reason. You know? I sort of look at his demeanor as, and this is just my personal take on it, typical of any animal that has the potential to be dangerous. If you leave him alone, he'll leave you alone. But if you go in there and you stumble across their feeding ground, or get in their way and create a problem for them, then they're going to defend themselves.

O: Just like Vin Diesel.

Zimmerman: Him or his movies?

O: Him and his movies.

Tepper: The other funny thing about that guy writing that letter is that I thought, "That's just like a bigfoot person. He doesn't even look at the evidence. He jumps to a total conclusion without analyzing the evidence."

Zimmerman: I saw an interesting video one time about a woman that went over to Rome for the running of the Bulls. I guess, to get the bulls to run, they do certain things like throw darts at them. Whatever. They do these things to get them aggravated. There was one that had gotten separated from the pack, and she went over there to try and comfort this animal. This thing weighs as much as a car. So it goes crazy on her. It starts goring her, and stuff like that. It was horrible. But then I thought, "God almighty! Don't personify this thing so much."

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Tepper: The one thing we tried to do, good or bad, whatever people think about the film when they see it, was avoid as many of the annoying clichés as possible. We didn't do any sort of research. Its not based on any tales, or anything. It's just the concept of Bigfoot and the Forest. That's all we got. We didn't go, "Oh, I once read about this." Or, "Bigfoots are supposedly like this, or like that." We didn't do any of that. We ignored all of that. But the other thing we tried to avoid was the, "Whatever you do, don't open that door." And then two seconds later the person goes, "Oh, whoops!" In this, when things start going wrong, they immediately say, "Let's get out of here." Not, "Lets try to be friends with it. Let's try and figure it out." It's, "Let's get out of here and worry about everything else later. I know you're scientists. I know you're interested. Who cares? We're getting the Hell out of here." And we also don't have the, "Oh, it's just a cat that jumps out!" moment.

O: If it jumps out, it's going to be Bigfoot?

Tepper: Yeah.

O: I think a boycott would do a lot for your film.

Tepper: You know what, people in general are going to be angry over everything. I think Bigfoot people are going to be angry. Anyone that has any interest in something, and someone makes a movie about it; they're going to be angry about some aspect of that film. Say his father's a volunteer fireman. He goes and sees a movie where there's firefighters in it, and he's like, "They'd never use a hose like that." If you make a movie that mentions religion, you make people angry. I'm sure that when Close Encounters came out…I'm too young to remember that aspect of it, but I'm sure there were a lot of UFO experts that were not happy with it.

O: They were angry about how nice the aliens were?

Tepper: Yeah.

Zimmerman: Because there's no probing in it.

O: I mistook your movie for a sequel. I'm sure other people will do the same thing.

Tepper: I'm sure that's Sony's idea.

O: Are you upset about that at all? I'm not afraid to say, I didn't like Sasquatch at all. It wound up on Movieweb's 10 Worst DVD purchases of All Times list.

Tepper: Yes, but from a marketing standpoint, I think it makes sense. I think that's why the title was changed. That film obviously did well enough, Sony's saying, "Another Bigfoot film wouldn't be too bad. If we can make it look like it's related, why not?" The title was one of the biggest problems we had with the film. With other things I've written, I almost always come up with the title first. Things just lend themselves to great titles. But with this, I kind of didn't want to call it "Bigfoot", or "Sasquatch", or "Night of the Sasquatch", because it feels like you're going on an uphill battle with a Bigfoot film anyway. So, to give it a title that sounds very B movie-ish is going to put people in a certain frame of mind. We wanted to avoid that. The titles I like are "Alien" and "Jaws", where they're evocative of a certain feeling or something about the movie. But without saying what the movie is about. We just couldn't come up with something. There were times during casting where we said, "If you come up with a title we like, you're hired."

O: Did you have a contest, or offer a reward for a good title?

Zimmerman: It was funny how some people really wanted so badly to come up with a name for it. They were breaking out in a sweat. Their brows where knit. Remember that Cyclops guy? He just so wanted to come up with a title for it.

O: What were some of the other titles before Primeval came up?

Tepper: I don't think we had anything. We were just calling it "Bigfoot." Just to have something to call it. Primeval had never been used. It reminded me of Alien, a film where people get picked off one by one. But with Bigfoot doing the picking. After thinking up the premise at Amelie, I went to IMDB and did a general search to see if someone had done a film like that. I mean, how could you not? I'm not expecting to get rich off it, it just seems too obvious and you don't need a fifty million dollar budget. With this, we thought we could do it for either five thousand, or fifty million if someone was willing to give us the money. On the low end…I've never seen Blare Witch, but I know enough about it, that it's about some videotapes that were found. I thought, along those lines, that these researchers found some bones so the Discovery Channel was going with them to do a documentary. We kind of see it through their cameras. We do it on video. That's the premise. It's a documentary.

O: Is that what happens in your film?

Tepper: No, its just one of the story options we considered. On the big end, we figured if someone said, "Hey, let's get Bruce Willis as the Forest Ranger" we could also go with that type of budget. So, uh…I have no idea what I was going to follow that up with.

O: Did you guys go to Sony, or did Sony come to you?

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Tepper: That was a very late thing. The film was done, and we'd been sending it around. It was a studio called Silver Nitrate Pictures that actually saw it and brought it to Sony. Then, that's where we get back on the title. I thought Primeval was a cool title, and I couldn't believe that no one had used it yet. There was "Prime Evil", which came out about fifteen years ago. But nothing with the actual spelling of the word. The closet thing was an English movie called Primeval Forest. We put the title with the poster, and it hinted at what this movie is, but it doesn't totally give it away. But, with the name change now, I thought, "Great." It might help sell it. We've been very conscious of title because there was a film on the Sci-Fi Channel called Sabertooth. And it did very well for them. And I thought that's the route we should go. This was after we'd shot the film. We thought maybe we should go back to something like Sasquatch. One of our goals was to get it on the Sci-Fi Channel. I mean, look at Sabertooth, it did very well for them. All you need to know marketing wise is that it's called Sabertooth and it's on the Sci-Fi Channel. That's all you need to know. You know immediately that there's a Sabertooth Tiger that's going to go around killing people. The same thing with this. Calling it Primeval, you have to tell people what it's about. Calling it Sasquatch Hunters, or Bigfoot's Revenge, puts you in that certain mindset.

O: Who came up with the new title?

Tepper: It wasn't us. It was either Sony, or Silver Nitrate, the people that brought it to Sony. It just seemed like they wanted our film tied in with that other Sasquatch film. That's why they used the same font and everything.

O: That goes back to the artwork as well.

Tepper: Marketing wise, it makes sense to sell this as a sequel. But as far as the individual customer or the consumer is concerned…

Dont't forget to also check out: Sasquatch Hunters