By ROCCO THOMPSON
Cryptozoology-centric production company Small Town Monsters’ first entry in their new ON THE TRAIL OF miniseries takes on what is arguably the most famous American legend of all: Bigfoot! Filmed over the course of a year, writer/director/narrator Seth Breedlove’s one-man odyssey to separate fact from folklore and experience some unexplainable phenomena firsthand is chronicled in six fascinating, half-hour installments. Along the way, he interacts with believers, skeptics, scientists, and historians across fourteen states, and emerges with what may very well be the best, most exhaustive cinematic document on the subject to date. We sat down with Breedlove to discuss the production and where he falls on the Bigfoot argument now that he’s had this life-changing experience.
Can you tell us a bit about how Small Town Monsters came to be?
In 2015, me and some buddies made a short form documentary about a case that was local to where I grew up in Ohio, called MINERVA MONSTER. After that came out and was fairly successful, we decided we could use the money to continue making movies and found a production company that would be entirely dedicated to tracking legends and cryptid lore around the country. And it’s just grown since then! We’re in our fourth year, and we’re actually operating as a full-scale, completely independent, autonomous production company.
How is ON THE TRAIL OF BIGFOOT different from your other work, besides being a miniseries?
Well, most of our stuff is very cinematic. We have a crew, and when we go out, the intention is to create these documentaries that have a very intense mood and specific visual style. ON THE TRAIL OF BIGFOOT was completely different from that, because it was about as verité as it gets. Most of the time, it was just me and whatever camera I had on hand; some days I’d be shooting stuff with my iPhone! I wanted it to be more raw than our usual output, but still have a sort of style and tone, a lot of which was pure luck. The places where we were shooting did the heavy lifting because it’s hard to screw that up when you’re filming in the Olympic Mountains or Northern California. The scenery is so incredible, and if you have the right equipment to shoot it, I think the setting itself will sort of set the tone and style for the movie.
Was there something liberating about shooting on your own?
It’s way more “seat-of-your-pants.” I would just take interview subjects, sit them down in front of my camera, and have them talk directly to me. There’s no lighting…there’s nothing! So yeah, it was very freeing and a totally different experience. You didn’t have the camaraderie of working with your buddies (which I really missed) but at the same time, you could do anything you wanted at any moment. It was partly out of budgetary necessity, but also out of an interest in just trying to see if I could even accomplish something like this by myself. I didn’t have to worry about going into a situation that might be dangerous for a crew. I never would have taken my team into the Ouachita Mountains where we were, because I would have been convinced that my director of photography would be bitten by a black widow spider within an hour. There would have been any number of concerns, safety-wise, that I would have had to watch out for. Not to mention, of course, getting beheaded by Bigfoot!
Speaking of Bigfoot–he’s easily the most iconic cryptid. What’s the appeal of the legend to you, personally?
It’s funny because I had decided that I was never doing another Bigfoot project. Three of our movies are about Bigfoot. I did a podcast about Bigfoot. I’ve said everything there is to say about Bigfoot! But I always, always, come back to the subject. I think the main reason is, out of all the cryptids it’s the one that’s famous-yet-believable. If you really boil it down, and you get into the minutiae of how they would live, what they would eat, what their family units look like, all that kind of stuff…it really sets it apart from something like The Mothman, which, at the end of the day, is really just a collection of very cool, creepy stories that happen to be anchored by the Silver Bridge collapse. With Bigfoot, there are opportunities to speak to people who have had real experiences.
In the documentary, you mention something about knowing where to draw the line between the believable and the outlandish. Where is that line for you, now that you’ve had this experience?
Well, our fifth movie, INVASION ON CHESTNUT RIDGE (2017), went really deep into the weird stories–Bigfoot coming out of UFOs, portals, etc. I mean, personally, there does come a point where you start to wonder if some of the more outlandish tales are the reason that legitimate scientists won’t even bother with the subject. I can come at it one of two different ways: as a fan of scary stories who can appreciate the entertainment value of some of these wild eyewitness encounters, or as a person that really wants to know the truth. You have to ask yourself, “What’s the most believable hypothesis about what these things are, and where does the evidence actually lead us?”
The paranormal stuff is the hot part of the subject that television shows are focusing on, but it’s a tiny percentage and the number of reports that actually involve weird activity is like 1 in 100. In the series, I interview Don Keating, who was a Bigfoot investigator here in Ohio for thirty plus years and I asked him how many reports he took that involved something paranormal during that time, and he said none! I don’t know that there’s a point where I’d completely tune someone out, but I know that there are scientific organizations who won’t even entertain the idea of interdimensional beings and all that kind of stuff.
“The activity we experienced later that night, however, was not something I could logically explain.”
What’s the most compelling evidence you saw or were presented with during your trip?
The activity that we experienced in “Area X” in Oklahoma…that was the thing that really tipped the needle for me from being pretty closed off to the subject to thinking, “Okay, maybe there actually is something here.” I filmed all over the country, and I’ve been to locations where Bigfoot supposedly exists and people have experienced activity, but that was the first time I’ve ever been in a situation where I could not just explain away what was happening to me. The “eye shine” we saw in the woods was cool, and kind of compelling, but it could have been a mountain lion. The activity we experienced later that night, however–with rock throwing and screams from the mountain–that was not something I could logically explain.
But, the most compelling evidence of Bigfoot’s existence is always just eyewitness accounts. That’s unfortunate, because it isn’t proof. There’s no scientific proof behind someone telling you that they saw something, but here are thousands of people claiming they’ve had these experiences, and even if you write off 99% of it as hoax or misidentification, you’re left with that 1% that seems to defy explanation.
You have such great interviewees, who truly believe what they’re saying, but you manage to strike that perfect balance between the objective and the personal. How do you go about maintaining that balance?
Well, because that’s me. I started out totally naïve and was always open to Bigfoot being real, but when you’re into it for years and you see and experience nothing for yourself, your skepticism starts to grow. That’s where I was at when I started making this. Where I am now—I’m not a believer that Bigfoot exists, but I’m open to the possibility that they might be out there. It’s sort of staying hopeful, but still keeping that objective skepticism.
I chose people [to interview] that I think are open to the subject, but still have some rational, logical sort of thinking. A lot of these people had not been focused on or talked about in mainstream documentaries and television shows on Bigfoot. I very purposefully picked people who were not celebs, but who were actively investigating, researching, or looking into the subject in some way. But, the community is very fractured and somewhat confrontational, and there are all these little camps. Even since the series came out, there are people that are upset about the representation of some ideas.
There are people that are not thrilled with the fact that I even included UFOs in the Bigfoot discussion. They almost don’t get the idea of historically documenting the entire subject, they’d rather just focus on what they think more people would accept.
Cut out the chaff. Or, what they consider chaff.
Exactly. It’s what they consider chaff. Everyone’s split off into their little groups. I mean, it was that way even in the very early days of the subject. The initial “four horsemen” of Bigfoot research all hated each other by the time they’d been into it for a while. So, it’s the same way today that it was in the 1950s.
What do you hope people to take away from the miniseries?
I really wanted people to come away from this with a totally different view on the subject than they had going into it. I don’t think it’s been represented properly in popular media or pop culture. I think there are still a lot of people that have the idea that Bigfoot is a singular sort of Santa Claus-like figure that wanders around the Pacific Northwest. But it’s such a fascinating subject, because there are so many different sorts of rabbit holes to go down.
I talked to a believer who saw the series after it came out and she came away from it totally unsure that Bigfoot existed. I thought that was super cool! She had just accepted things for years without really thinking about it, and when she watched the miniseries she was just suddenly filled with those skeptical questions we all have. And I told her that I was just glad that it made her think about it in a new way, because that’s kind of the big thing for me. I didn’t set out to make people believers, and I didn’t set out to disprove anything, I just want them to have a new approach to the legend.
ON THE TRAIL OF BIGFOOT is currently available on Amazon Instant Video, Vimeo OnDemand, VIDI Space, and DVD.