Eduardo Sanchez interview: Exists, Bigfoot, being scared of horror movies

Sarah talks to the director of new found footage movie Exists about why he’s so well qualified to make horror…

A group of kids going to a cabin in the woods is hardly a new idea in horror. But the killer lurking in the trees in Exists doesn’t have a knife – it’s far more primal than that. Eduardo Sanchez, one half of the directing team who basically invented the found footage horror movie with The Blair Witch Project, has returned to the genre with a new monster: Bigfoot.

We caught up with Eduardo to catch up on all things hairy and big-footed…

Why did you want to make this movie?

Well, I grew up in the ‘70s, so I’ve always been a fan of Bigfoot. He was the creature that scared me when I was a little kid. So when Dan Myrick and I started to come up with the idea for the Blair Witch, we were thinking about The Legend Of Boggy Creek and the Gimlin-Patterson film and a lot of those Bigfoot based documentaries and mockumentaries from the 70s. They really influenced us. I really wanted to make a Bigfoot movie so after Blair Witch it was inevitable that I would make a Bigfoot movie, it just took 13, 14 years to get it going! But you know, it was like a dream come true when I was on set directing a guy in a Bigfoot suit, it was a pretty exciting moment.

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It is kind of perfect for a found footage style format. It’s that kind of creature.

Yeah, absolutely. The original movie was intended to be a normal movie, not found footage, and then we began thinking about the idea that Bigfoot is a found footage creature, so it was an easy transition, and I’m pretty happy we made that decision.

Let’s talk about the creature design. Were you drawing on any specific inspiration for your version of Bigfoot?

For me, the creature had to look real. Bigfoot to me is an Earth-based creature: it’s not an alien, it’s not some government experiment, it’s an evolutionary offshoot of humanity. So that was the basis for it. I didn’t want it to be supernatural, I didn’t want it to have supernatural strength. I wanted it to be about as strong as a gorilla; it’s fast and agile but it’s still very much an animal.

And for the creature design, we had WETA from New Zealand start with the creature design and then Spectral Motion took over, and built the suit. It was very much built around Brian Steele, who played the creature. So it was always about keeping the balance between animal and human.

Brian Steele played Harry in Harry And The Hendersons, right? He kind of is Bigfoot?

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Yeah, in the TV show! He was really excited to play the creature in this movie because he’s never gotten a chance to play a serious Bigfoot – as serious as you can get with Bigfoot. He was excited to bring this real creature to life and not play it in comedic terms. He did a fantastic job.

And your creatures have a sympathetic side, too; they’re not just evil or violent, there’s a reason why they attack…

That was really important to me too. I consider myself a Bigfoot enthusiast and part of the reason I made the film was that I hadn’t seen a Bigfoot in the movies or on TV that really jived with my idea of what Bigfoot is. I don’t think it’s a killing machine, I think it’s a hiding machine, you know? It’s really good at hiding. So there had to be a good reason for this creature to come out and attack people.

Why do you think there haven’t been more Bigfoot movies?

It’s weird because I think that there hasn’t been a successful Bigfoot movie in a long time and I think that Hollywood or the marketing machine equates that with no interest. So I think there’s a bias against Bigfoot movies.A few years ago we were working with one of the major production companies in LA. It was a different script but they loved it and said “we’ve been trying to do a Bigfoot movie for years and you guys have cracked the code!” We were going through the motions of putting a deal together and they sent it up to the studio they had an output deal with, and the studio flat out said “no”. It had nothing to do with anything, just “we’re not gonna do a Bigfoot movie”. I don’t know why that is, because with the proper marketing, I think you could have a very successful Bigfoot movie. Most people who see my movie love it; it’s an exciting monster movie. So I don’t know why Bigfoot movies have a hard time seeing the light of day.

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It’s weird because sightings of Bigfoot haven’t stopped happening, people still say all the time that they’ve seen one…

Yeah, here in the United States it’s almost every week! There really is a fascination with the creature; there are even TV shows about Bigfoot hunting. But for some reason Hollywood just doesn’t believe that that can lead to theatrical success.

Going back to The Blair Witch Project, how do you feel about its legacy nowadays?

I’m very proud to have been a part of it. I feel really fortunate that I met the guys I did in film school and we came up with this idea and we got it out there and its success was very surprising to all of us. And in terms of its legacy, it’s one of those films that keeps getting talked about, sometimes in good ways and sometimes in bad ways. But you know it’s given me a career and it fascinates me that people continue to talk about it and the found footage genre is still thriving and it’s something none of us ever expected.

We just finished an edit on The Woods Movie, which is a making of on the Blair Witch Project, which is 15-year-old footage of us making the movie, and we’ll have it out this year, but it’s fascinating looking back at yourself going through the motions of making this movie and none of us knew what it would become.

So what are you working on now?

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Right now I’m driving to set, I’m doing an episode of From Dusk Till Dawn, the TV show, and then later this year I’m doing another feature. I can’t say much about it but it’s another horror movie and I’m pretty excited about it. So I’ll continue to make horror movies and hope to be appreciated by the fans and keep making ‘em till someone stops me.

Is horror your passion then? Do you watch a lot of horror movies?

I watch them because I have to because I have to keep in touch with what’s going on but no, I’m not really a big horror fan. I appreciate the artistry of horror films but I don’t like being scared. I’m actually not a very brave guy when it comes to watching horror movies.

My daughter is 14 years old and she’s a lot braver than I am and she’s the one who pushes me to go and see movies with her. I don’t like rollercoasters and I don’t like haunted house attractions and I don’t relish the feeling of being scared. Ever since The Exorcist when I was a kid, that haunted me for the rest of my life – my mom presented that movie pretty much as reality, as a lesson: “here, if you mess with Satan, this is what happens!” – so since then I’ve just been scared of watching horror movies. I do like watching them now but the really scary ones give me nightmares.

But YOU MADE THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT. That’s terrifying!

Well, there were times when I was editing The Blair Witch Project by myself late at night and I had to stop because I was getting freaked out. I scare easily! I think that’s part of the reason I can make horror movies, I can relate to just being scared.

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Since this is a Den of Geek interview, can we talk about Star Wars? You were in the Jedi Junkies documentary, so I know you’re a fan! So how do you feel about the upcoming new movies?

I think JJ Abrams is a great director, and I think the movie will be great! I know people complain about the prequels and they definitely were not the best films ever. But they were Star Wars movies, and I just enjoy being in that world so much. I read a lot of Star Wars novels and there’s something reassuring about that world and those characters, especially the original trilogy characters. So I’m pretty excited!

Honestly I hope one day I can be part of that creative world and make a low budget Star Wars horror movie. That would be my dream. I love the fact that they’re making more movies. I think people are hungry for that and I think Disney will do a good job of keeping the films at a certain level so it’s an exciting time.

Also, we ask everyone this, so… what’s your favourite Jason Statham movie?

Um… let’s see. What’s the one that’s like a period movie? There’s one where it’s kind of like a low budget Lord Of The Rings?

That would be In The Name Of The King: A Dungeon Siege Tale.

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I think that’s my favourite because it’s so out of character. It just seemed like everybody was having fun with that movie.

I love that you picked that. No-one else will ever pick that. Eduardo Sanchez, thank you very much!

Exists is released on DVD on 6 April.