By now it may no longer be a shock that Bobcat Goldthwait — best known for his ’80s stint as a screeching comic and reluctant “Police Academy” icon — is an acclaimed filmmaker. But his latest film may surprise fans of his comedies “World’s Greatest Dad” and “God Bless America.” “Willow Creek” is a found footage horror film about a couple (Alexie Gilmore and Bryce Johnson) filming their search for Bigfoot. And while it may follow many of the beats laid down by “Blair Witch Project,” its maker’s personality and dark sense of humor shine through. And no, for the last time, Goldthwait doesn’t talk like his former stand-up and movie persona. In fact, try to avoid talking about “Hot to Trot” altogether, even if he’ll be nice if you do it anyway.
Did this come about because you have a particular passion for found footage movies?
No, no. I’m not a fan of found footage movies — although that’s kind of like saying you’re not a fan of Westerns. There are good found footage movies. It’s just that I always wonder who is the creep who found this footage and edited it together? Who said, “Well, I’m sorry your family got killed and mutilated, but if we re-edit it it will be a really good tribute to them”? [Laughs] There are only 67 edits in “Willow Creek.” I was trying to always think about why someone’s still filming. I feel for the most part I justified why the camera stays on.
What was the original impetus for it?
I’ve been fascinated with Bigfoot since I was a kid. Initially I thought I’d make it like a Christopher Guest movie, exploring this Bigfoot world. I went to the convention and just loved that there was so much in-fighting. Everybody has their version of what Bigfoot is, and everybody thinks the other guys are a little crazy or a little off. There was this guy who had a cardboard pointy-headed Bigfoot at his booth. All the Sasquatch guys, they don’t believe Bigfoot has a pointy head. The one guy goes over and says, “You disgust me. Look at that head.” And the other guy says, “Well, I’ve seen Bigfoot three times, and you’re never going to see him because you smoke.” There are so many different theories, and some believe Bigfoot doesn’t like tobacco. But he clearly has no problem with weed, because there’s a lot of pot-smoking in the Bigfoot community.
Did you go back and study found footage movies?
No, but I actually think “Blair Witch” is a great movie. But I didn’t go back and revisit it. I probably should have, because then there’d be less similarities. But I think people have gotten away from what makes them great. In an effort to be different from the older found footage movies, they make them more and more unbelievable. Honestly I was drawn to this idea mostly because there’s a lot of filmmakers I really admire who are great at creating suspense when there’s nothing going on. Tarantino has these long scenes where nothing’s going on and you just wet yourself from being nervous. I felt I had never successfully done that in a movie. I know I can make people uncomfortable and awkward and make them laugh, but I didn’t know if I could creep them out. And that was the challenge. The 19-minute scene in the tent is the thing was what motivated me to make the movie.
It also has unusually well-rounded characters who aren’t mere meat to be hacked up.
In a lot of horror pictures the characters are never too likeable. When slasher movies started we all started vicariously living through the monsters. You have people on-screen that you want to see dead. I wanted you to empathize with [these characters] before horrible things happen to them. I try to make them believable characters. I’m not a fan of horror movies that are self-aware. I don’t like meta. If I’m in a movie I want to be caught up in the world they make.
It’s also a relationship movie, with two people who make an oddly good pair. Did you draw on your own life for that?
I’m sure it’s a hybrid of actual relationships in my own life. And then I’m a fan of Joe Swanberg and Lynn Shelton and the Duplass Brothers. I wanted to see if I could make a movie without an outline. And that’s what we did. We spent time together discussing what we thought would happen and who these people were. But the outlines was very simple. It would just say, “Jim proposes, Kelly says no.” [Laughs]
What was it like shooting in the woods? Did you think it was a great idea then start freaking out once you’re in the middle of a forest?
We saw mountain lions while we were filming. We filmed that big scene in the tent in the middle of the night, and during the first take Bryce [Johnson, one of the leads] started crying. I was like, “That was really good, but I don’t think your character would cry.” And he was like, “My character’s not crying. I’m crying because why are we filming this outside in the middle of the woods? [Laughs] We should film it in a hotel parking lot. No one’s going to know where we are.” When I was outside the tent, I was thinking the irony of me possibly being mauled by a big cat wasn’t lost on me. “Bobcat mauled by a bobcat.”
You’ve been working for years on your dream project: a film of the Kinks album “Schoolboys in Disgrace.” What’s the current state of that?
“Schoolboys” is definitely my passion project. It’s my dream. I’ve been talking to some actors who would be great for the [lead] part, and if they got attached that means I could get funding. Most of my movies are small, so getting funding isn’t hard. But this is a bigger movie, where I have big sets and big dance numbers. It’s the movie I want to make more than any other movie. It would be funny if I make it and people go, “Eh.”
Have you gotten Ray Davies involved?
Oh yeah, Ray’s on board. That’s been the greatest side product of me trying to get the movie going: getting his blessing and then becoming friends. Ray’s on board as one of the producers. He’s going to re-record the songs with the cast. The thing about Ray, and I think we have this in common, is he’s really about creating and constantly moving forward. If I was trying to pitch this as a nostalgia piece, I don’t think that would interest him. It’s the idea of putting a new spin on it. I mean, personally, I try to be polite the fourth time a day someone brings up “Police Academy.” I’m polite, but if you want me to collaborate with you, that would be the worst way to start the conversation.
You’re working on a documentary about political comic Barry Crimmins. Do you have any fiction films up next?
There’s this other movie I wrote, which is about a heroin addict who tells everyone he wasn’t living on the street — that he was actually in the Black Ops in Afghanistan. It’s kind of like my “Hail the Conquering Hero,” but in the junkie world. It’s Preston Sturges does “Trainspotting.”
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