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Saturday, March 5, 2016

The Making of a (Good) Bigfoot Documentary

There have been many documentaries on Bigfoot made over the years, especially in the last decade. Shows like MonsterQuest, Finding Bigfoot, Bigfoot: The New Evidence, Bigfoot: The Definitive Guide, and others are on TV quite often. Then, there are those shows that say they're "documentaries," but are really just something totally fake (You know which ones I'm talking about - Megalodon, Mermaids, Russian Yeti, and the horrible Bigfoot Captured), and the ones that are obviously fake (but entertaining) like Mountain Monsters. 

Last year, however, a new sort of Bigfoot documentary appeared. Made by Seth Breedlove and his crew, the series is called "Small Town Monsters," and currently consists of Minerva Monster (2015), Beast of Whitehall (April 2016), and, in production now, Boggy Creek Monster. 

While working on this article, I asked Seth about the process of making the Small Town Monsters documentaries. But, before we get to that, here's what Seth said about his interest in Bigfoot (when it started, and how Small Town Monsters came to be):

"I got into the subject back around 2001. A friend of mine mistakenly thought I was already into the subject of cryptids and he burned me a dvd with a bunch of different monster documentaries. I watched them, grew fascinated with the subject and started looking into it for myself. I started out basically just driving dirt roads near the town where I grew up late at night. When I grew tired of that I started doing research into old newspaper archives and began to unearth a lot of really fascinating articles from the late 1800's and early 1900's that detailed run-ins with giant, upright walking apes. These really piqued my curiosity because, while most people are familiar with the Wildman sightings we always hear as being possible historical Bigfoot accounts, we don't hear as much about these ape reports.
"Anyway, eventually I started SasWhat, which is my podcast about Bigfoot that I do with my friend Mark, and around the same time I put together a book proposal for a series called Small Town Monsters. It was conceived to be a guidebook to unusual creature sightings around the country and sort of highlight the towns where the sightings took place. The proposal was rejected by nearly everyone I sent it to.
"In 2014 I took the idea to these guys who owned a production company and I pitched them the idea of making a movie out of one of the cases I'd researched during the book proposal days about a creature called the Minerva Monster. I guess the rest is history. I've always loved documentaries as it combines my love of writing and research with my love of the visual medium of film. That was what excited me so much about doing independent cryptid docs. It just wasn't something you saw a lot." 

As I noted at the beginning of this article, STM documentaries are not like your "normal" documentary on any type of cryptid.  Why is that? Seth explained:

"Well, in all honesty, our approach was born as much out of budgetary constraints as it was some sort of attempt at a different approach to the subject. I mean, Minerva and Whitehall are both very influenced by what I personally would've looked for in a doc about this subject. However, on Minerva the no-recreations, no-narration, grass roots sort of approach was due more to the fact that we had no money. We had no money on Whitehall either but with that project I was able to wrangle in a narrator.
"We now eschew recreations simply because I find they pull you out of the reality of the film more often than heightening it. I don't really care for recreations in ANY doc let alone one that centers around a hairy, man-like creature that stalks people through the woods. I just think it's too hard to pull off and I find the witnesses' stories much more unnerving than some guy in a bad suit chasing actors around."

I agree with Seth on many of the points he made about this. One of the reasons I like both Minerva Monster and Beast of Whitehall so much is because there are the witnesses telling what happened, and while they do, you actually get to see the location and see them talking about it. In any other documentary or TV show (take Finding Bigfoot or Monsters and Mysteries in America, for example) there's always a re-creation of the sighting. In the latter show, the re-creation and editing of the witnesses telling their story usually makes it more dramatic than it actually was. Take, for example, the Ohio Grassman episode. One of the sightings featured was one by some kids in Salt Fork State Park a few years ago. The youngest of the kids had gone off by herself, so the older two went to get her. When they did, they saw a Bigfoot. In the show, it seems like the Bigfoot was there to try to get the kids. But, in reality, they said it was looking at some deer. If that sighting was in a STM documentary, it would be "we saw a Bigfoot and it was looking at some deer." Hearing the stories exactly as they're told is better than some dramatized re-enactment.

Lastly, Seth explained what the whole process is like of making a documentary - from the planning, to filming, and editing:

"It's a huge challenge simply preparing these films. You spend months (in the case of Minerva, over a year) just wrangling witnesses or finding witnesses' names and contact info. The actual filming is the fun part, to me. By the time we set out to film we already have a good idea of what we're doing day to day. Basically, we just go shoot the interviews and b-roll and get to experience the fun of filmmaking. But then, once it's all in the can then we have to get serious and that's when the real grind begins. Editing takes a long time and unlike scripted films, on a doc, the story seems to only reveal itself during editing. It's good to have an idea of what you want to do going into the project but if you make a doc I think it's pretty typical to have no idea what the story is until you sit down and start cutting footage. Once it's cut together Brandon starts working his magic on the film score. That's a unique process in itself because he's off along with the film sort of finding the story audibly and he's very much responsible for the 'tone' of the finished product. Watch Whitehall to see what I mean. 
"Interestingly enough, once the film is done and released, that's when the major work begins for us. Due to the fact that we're independently produced and distributed we have to schedule screenings, handle printing of dvds, streaming avenues, all that stuff, ourselves.  So it's and endless sort of cycle right now. I've been working non-stop on STM since mid-2014. It's been an incredible experience."

So, now you know what the making of a Bigfoot documentary is like. If you haven't, I would definitely recommend that you get Minerva Monster and Beast of Whitehall, even if you aren't super interested in Bigfoot. I have no doubt that you'll enjoy them.

If you want to find out more about Small Town Monsters, check out their Facebook page. 

The official premiere of Beast of Whitehall is April 2 in Whitehall, NY. If you're in the area that day, check it out! Minerva Monster Day is also happening on September 24 in Minerva, Ohio.

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