Exclusive Still, Q&A: Director John Portanova on “VALLEY OF THE SASQUATCH”Movies/TV,News Ken W. Hanley
Not too long ago, FANGORIA revealed the exclusive trailer for John Portanova’s VALLEY OF THE SASQUATCH, an independent horror picture that proudly puts the North American monster front and center. In the time since, VALLEY has become one of the more talked about terror titles in the subgenre as its made a name for itself on the festival circuit, and with two big screenings ahead of it, FANGORIA caught up with director John Portanova, who offered us an exclusive chat and a still from the film (which you can see below)…
FANGORIA: What inspired this particular take on the Bigfoot mythos?
JOHN PORTANOVA: I’ve had a lifelong fascination with Bigfoot. I spent a lot of time when I was a kid being freaked out by paranormal investigation shows such as UNSOLVED MYSTERIES and SIGHTINGS, and my favorite segments were always the ones focusing on Bigfoot. I just loved the idea that there could be a monster that actually existed out in the real world. So I would spend a lot of time reading up on the unexplained and discovering as many Bigfoot encounter stories as I could.
When I got a little older, I realized that there was a vast reservoir of Sasquatch cinema that I hadn’t seen. So I dove in and tried to see them all. My favorites ended up being the ones that had a documentary feel to them; they scared and fascinated me the same way segments on UNSOLVED MYSTERIES had. I especially enjoyed the ’70s classics such as SASQUATCH: THE LEGEND OF BIGFOOT, THE CREATURE FROM BLACK LAKE and THE LEGEND OF BOGGY CREEK.
The script for VALLEY OF THE SASQUATCH came about when I decided to put a lot of these true stories I had been reading about all my life into a melting pot for the fictional characters to work their way through. So the main plot of a group of men assaulted in their cabin on Mount St. Helens was inspired by a true story from 1924. Mixed into that is a story of a man being kidnapped by a family of Sasquatch, which also contains elements of a real encounter.
Even the characters names are references to various pieces of Bigfoot lore. The character of Bauman (Bill Oberst Jr.) for example, gets his name from one of the only stories ever referencing a human being killed by a Sasquatch. This story is particularly famous in the Cryptozoology community because it appeared in President Teddy Roosevelt’s book THE WILDERNESS HUNTER in 1892.
FANGORIA: With the amount of low budget bigfoot tales in horror recently that chose to keep their Sasquatch hidden, what inspired you to bring the Sasquatch to the forefront?
PORTANOVA: With VALLEY, I really was just aiming to make the kind of Bigfoot movie that I wanted to see. So I put in a lot of character stuff as I like my horror movies to have a nice dramatic story that develops throughout the tension and also made sure to include plenty of Sasquatch. I liked the idea of a siege movie in vein of ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 (1976) featuring my favorite monsters trying to get into the home of the humans intruding on their land.
There are a lot of Bigfoot movies out there and for whatever reason, probably budget, they only have one monster. We didn’t have a ton of money either, but I wanted to make sure we showed a tribe of Sasquatch facing off against the human characters in a bloody battle for survival. I thought it’d be more interesting if there were chances for casualties on both sides of this fight and for that you need multiple Squatches. One thing I knew I didn’t want to make was a slasher movie where a Sasquatch happens to be the killer instead of a masked maniac. I wanted the creatures to be characters themselves and that meant giving them more scenes than you might usually see in a film like this and also trusting our suit performer, Connor Conrad, to be able to show emotion through the latex and really make the Sasquatch come alive.
FANGORIA: Bill Oberst Jr. is proving himself to be one of horror’s busiest and most effective character actors as of late. How did he become involved with the production? Was he your first choice for Bauman?
PORTANOVA: Bill was someone we had seen in a few productions. As horror fans, we’re always trying to watch the latest the greatest in the genre and in the last five years, Bill has appeared in something like 100 movies, so it’s hard to not know who he is! Once his name came up in the conversation for playing the part of Bauman, all of the producers on the film along with myself knew he should be our number one choice. And luckily for us, he responded well to the project and signed on!
It was really a great experience working with Bill. As you mentioned, he’s always very busy, so we actually only had 4 days with him on set. His character goes through a lot of stuff with the Sasquatch so we had these heavy FX days where we just had to burn through the shot list to make sure we got everything. I think on either side of our shoot Bill had another film role and a convention appearance that he was committed to, so if we didn’t get it in those 4 days, it would be a costly reshoot. But Bill’s professionalism really helped us through that.
You don’t work on that many sets without picking up a thing or two that can speed up the process. For example, when blocking out the scenes, Bill would ask our Cinematographer Jeremy Berg which lens he was on. Just by hearing the lens size, Bill knew exactly where he could and couldn’t move on set or how high he needed to lift up props to get them into the frame. It was a pleasure working with him, something my producing partners at The October People agreed with and so we’ve already got him signed up for a role in our next production.
FANGORIA: As a member of The October People, what part of your directorial sensibilities is most different than your sensibilities as a producer?
PORTANOVA: I’m a very organized person, something that comes into play as a producer and as a director, so the differences aren’t as vast as you might expect. As a producer, I’m making sure we have everything we need to accomplish our scenes and that we stay on schedule. As a director, I’m making sure I’m capturing every shot that the editor will need and that the performances are hitting all of the emotional beats to tell the story properly. So even though I’m using two very different parts of my brain depending on my role, no matter what you’ll probably still see me on set glancing at my notebook and making sure we’re getting everything we need.
FANGORIA: In terms of crafting a Bigfoot tale, what was the most important aspect of the creature for you to deliver in VALLEY?
PORTANOVA: I wanted to tell a Bigfoot story that respected the history of the creature. I love a good gore fest featuring a savage Sasquatch tearing people apart for no reason, but that’s not the kind of story I wanted to tell. If Bigfoot was going around killing people all the time, which is what happens in most of these movies, then the world would know they exist because there’d be piles of bodies everywhere!
I wanted to incorporate real life encounter stories and figure out a way to explain why a human being killed by a Sasquatch is such a rare thing. So throughout the film I sprinkle in these clues as to why the Sasquatch are attacking now, why they kill the people that they do, etc. And hopefully by doing that I’ve made a Bigfoot film that can appeal not only to horror fans, but also Cryptozoology enthusiasts who are tired of the creature they love being portrayed as nothing more than a marauding monster.
John Portanova’s VALLEY OF THE SASQUATCH plays at the Crimson Screen Horror Film Festival in Charleston, SC on May 17th as well as the Seattle International Film Festival in Seattle, WA on May 24th and 26th. You can find ticketing information for Crimson Screen here, and ticketing information for SIFF can be found here. Check back for FANGORIA’s official review of VALLEY OF THE SASQUATCH next week.