No-Budget Nightmares: Interview with Suburban Sasquatch director Dave Wascavage

SUBURBAN SASQUATCH really isn’t like any other film. Its unhinged mix of goofiness and monster movie gore is the brainchild of Dave Wascavage of Troubled Moon Films, who unapologetically has devoted himself to making Z-grade features which appeal to the basest desires of genre fandom. It’s batshit insane and technically inconsistent, but is always entertaining. Dave was good enough to sit down for a little chat with about Bigfoot, creating special effects on a budget, and his response to critics who attack him personally.

Sweetback: Your production company Troubled Moon Films describes itself as creating “cult entertainment”. Your titles show a definite love for classic genre entertainment. What are some of the films that inspired your love for horror and sci-fi, and which have had the greatest impact on you as a filmmaker?

Dave Wascavage: It’s difficult to choose, say, any 5 particular films that i base my inspiration solely from; inspiration comes from many different sources including films, artwork, advertisements, so reducing it to a few items almost reduces the impacts of other media. But I do know that STAR WARS (the original film release in 77), DEAD ALIVE, EVIL DEAD 2, HELLRAISER 2 and ALIENS all drove my interest in filmmaking. Yes, its a bit diverse of a list, but then again so were my reasons for wanting to make movies.

SB: When did the possibility of actually making films start to become a reality for you? You made the 50s Sci-Fi tribute REVENGE OF THE EARTH CHOMPING INTERGALACTIC SPACE MARAUDER in 2002, and that seems hugely ambitious for a first product. Were you making shorter films before that?

DW: I had been making 1 minute short films through college, kind of a stress relief and a way to express creative energy with my girlfriend (who I ended up marrying). I think I made about 20 of those films, and they were really bad, but we would get a kick out of showing them to our friends – so our audiences were really no more than 5-10 people. With the advent of being able to add rudimentary computer graphics to video in 1998, my interest jumped and i experimented with more short films, but still in the 1-2 minute range. REVENGE OF THE EARTH CHOMPING INTERGALACTIC SPACE MARAUDER was my first attempt at making a planned, sequenced effort with sound effects and some logical sense to a script. My goal was to create some sort of video that could last for more than a minute, and serve as a test bed for a full length movie.

SB: That same year you actually made your first full length film FUNGICIDE. What can you tell us about your experiences working on that movie, and how did it prepare you for tackling Suburban Sasquatch?

DW: FUNGICIDE is really where i cut my teeth so to speak. I had hoped, but had not planned, to make more than one full length film, so the first cut of fungicide actually had the same production company credits (ie, my name only) as the REVENGE OF THE EARTH… There were a million things that went wrong during shooting the film, from props to scheduling to weather, that i knew that if i brought that down to only 100,000 problems for my next film (SUBURBAN SASQUATCH) that i’d be able to make a slightly better film. Plus, everything in the film, going from FUNGICIDE to SUBURBAN SASQUATCH was going to be bigger and better – less CGI, more actors, more blood!

SB: Now the big ones. How did you first develop the concept for Suburban Sasquatch? Were you a fan of other Bigfoot/Sasquatch films like SHRIEK OF THE MUTILATED or THE LEGEND OF BOGGY CREEK?

DW: Its better to say i was always fascinated with the legend of Bigfoot – less from a theatrical film perspective and more from the historic one. I remember as a kid reading books in 2nd grade about him, watching episodes of tv specials in the 70s that talked about him. I mean how cool is this potentially unknown creature, stalking the night and scarring the bejeezus out of drivers, campers and people living in the woods? But in all the books and specials and stories about Bigfoot, i’d never heard of anyone asking what his motivation would be. You know, like why the hell does he exist in the first place and what purpose would he have to occasionally scare people? So i started from that seed of an idea – what would his story be, and what would motivate him? It seemed that with our continual drive toward more and more homes, at the expense of forests, that this creature would serve the purpose of not just surviving in the forest, but protecting his habitat as well.

SB: How long was production on SUBURBAN SASQUATCH? How did you go about financing it?

DW: Total production was typical for my films, in that it took about 3 years from the first script draft to closing the deal on the distribution. But actual production is about 1 1/2 years, which I would consider the time it takes from the completed script through casting, props, shooting, editing and post production. Financing was easy since it was so cheap to make. I think it came in around $550, and most of that was for food for the cast and the wrap party. I used my own funds and didnt have to go through the process of gaining any outside investors.

SB: We have to hear about that Sasquatch Suit. It’s rather prominently.. endowed. Was the intention always that it would look a little goofy?

DW: The number one rule I follow with my films is “how cheap can I make this so I dont have debt?”, so following that, I could have bought a suit or made one. I figured it would be more challenging and interesting to make my own suit – so its bagginess and low-budget look is from cost, and lack of knowing how to put such a suit together. I never doubted that it wouldn’t look as good as say, something emulating the Patterson-Gimlin footage. But I knew it would be something different and get the point across. Yes, the “endowment” was meant to allude to his more sexual nature, ramping up the speculation of what he actually did when he captured those girls. However, it proved to be difficult for the actors to move with the…ahem…extra weight, so I yanked it off after only one scene. And yes, i realize what I just said. Now that I think of it, maybe we should have filmed something like that happening to him!

SB: How much of the comedy in the film was intended from the beginning? The special effects are certainly exaggerated, but aside from one line – the mother telling Timmy “Monsters are not real, like the boogey man or your father. They’re not really there.” – the dialogue never really gives it away. Were you always hoping for something that was seen as comedic?

DW: I rarely see horror films without finding huge amounts of humor in them. I can be looking at the scariest movie and in one moment frightened and the next laughing out loud. Dave Weldon (one of the actors) and i had spent so many years watching B horror films and laughing and enjoying all the gross and horrific things, and that translated over to my writing. I can’t see not writing comedy, so when i make the film its always with the idea that so much of it is humorous. There are scenes I shot that were intended to be serious, for sure, but its all within the context of knowing its a B movie. Since the goal for the film was to get at least more than my usual group of 20 friends to see the film, I wasn’t overly concerned with ensuring I had snappy, provocative dialog on par with Quentin Tarantino.

SB:  Speaking of exaggerated effects, there’s a surprising amount of CG here that works with varying degrees of success. Still, it’s incredibly rare to see so many effects in a low-budget production. How did you go about achieving these?

DW: A good amount of the CG in this film was done as patchwork – like in post-production, realizing I needed certain shots to be done or effects, and the only way to do that was through my rudimentary CG work. For example, when the two ladies are driving through the new development, there is a sideward glance to Bigfoot running alongside. I realized in post-production that that would be a good shot to have, and with winter upon us and too much complexity to try to add that shot, I figured lets see what happens if i do it via CG. If people didnt like it, then i could learn from the feedback for the next film. I dont like relying on CG, since i’m not a CG artist and my work is really just very very basic. The whole “throwing the cop car” shot was done knowing it wasnt going to look great – I figured if 50% of the audience didnt complain then it couldn’t be all that bad.

SB: What was the casting process like? Did the leads have much previous acting experience?

DW: Bill Ushler (Rick) and Juan Fernandez (Steve) came with some level of experience with speaking roles. Sue Lynn Sanchez (Talla) and Dave Sitbon (Jackson) were fairly new. No one didnt make their best effort. I had so little directing experience that I was very limited in being able to help the talent – but wow everyone sure worked hard. But mostly everyone else were friends and family with little experience or even aspiration to be an actor. Casting was relatively easy, given that as more and more people heard of the project they were committing and interested in the film.

SB: What is your favorite moment in SUBURBAN SASQUATCH? One where it really captured what you were trying to do.

DW: Thats a very good, but tough, question. So many moments ended up being that way, and several times it occurred by straying from the script and doing what just “worked”. I would say the scene where the two cops were talking to the hunters as Sasquatch was ripping through them felt great. There were so many shots, done at varying times, that seemed to flow together with enough cutting back and forth that it had a very real “film” feel to it, but also met what I was thinking at the time.

SB:  Once completed, how did you first go about marketing the film? Was it a hard sell, or did people seem to take to it right away?

DW: I literally had just gotten FUNGICIDE signed to a deal when SUBURBAN SASQUATCH was done – in fact when I premiered it to an audience that was my start off line, so that really helped a great deal. That distribution company was eager for SUBURBAN SASQUATCH, but I waited for a year before accepting. I was not sure i wanted it distributed; there is a lot of control you lose with distribution. But I knew that, as a work of art, your purpose is to have it seen and enjoyed. Marketing, and having it as part of a deal, really takes more of the right perspective on what the films all about. Its clear that this is a camp horror film with elements of comedy; a distributor representing it as a serious movie just makes it all the more fun for me.

SB: While I would expect that a movie called SUBURBAN SASQUATCH would be approached with the right level of good-humor, it seemed like some reviews and features on the film take the opportunity to attack you and your production skill personally. Does that sort of thing bother you, and do you feel like some critics have missed the point?

DW: Not bothered in the least. I’m still amazed that its seen as a film or movie as opposed to a million small sequences edited together! Lets face it, I didnt use lights or boom microphones or anything fancier than my cheap digital8 camera, so I would expect (and hope) that reviewers looking for this level of production should find this out. I’m just looking to make the cheapest enjoyable films I can, and be able to look back when its done and laugh about the film and the entire process. If a critic is offended, then that says less about me and more about what they expect from a movie. Claude Debussy had said that some take art as a personal attack. But you know, some multi million dollar films get similar ratings from critics as well, and they are done with more than the crew I had (which, basically, was just me for the most part)!

SB: Having worked on a number of films since the release of SUBURBAN SASQUATCH – TARTARUS, ZOMBIES BY DESIGN, MALEVOLENT ASCENT – what are your final thoughts on it? Has the attention it has received been a good thing for your career as a filmmaker?

DW: Oh its definitely been good; it opened many doors, and to this day I still get emails from people around the world enjoying it. I mean how great is that? That’s far exceeded the goals I wanted to achieve with it, and it has allowed me to make lasting friendships with the actors and meet new people in the process. It also means that for films after that, I unfortunately have to turn actors away because I have more people than I need to cast in projects. I am extremely proud and happy with how SUBURBAN SASQUATCH turned out. Would i change any of it? I’m not a fan of altering art when it is done, so I wouldnt go back to make something better. Now, how that impacts SUBURBAN SASQUATCH 2 if it ever gets made…

SB: What is Troubled Moon currently working on? What are your hopes for the production company in the future?

DW: Theres more films that i have written and have ideas for than I’ll ever shoot, but the next few years will see me complete editing on ADVENTURES OF THE HAUNTED HUNTED, a comedic spoof on ghost-detecting shows. I’m also taking the original FUNGICIDE and converting it to 3-d. As typical of that film, the 3-d isnt of great quality, and i may add a few new scenes in there to ramp up the flavor a bit. Other than that, I can’t give away too much for our 2012 film shoots and films. I have to maintain some flimsy concept of mystique!

SB: Anything else to plug?

DW: I am the worlds *worst* promoter of films. I really don’t utilize the tools like social networking and Amazon and things of that nature that I can. I enjoy writing and making the movie more than anything. But of course, i’m always thrilled when someone buys a copy of the films online. And with MALEVOLENT ASCENT being out on DVD we’re doing pretty well.

SB: Thanks for the chat, Dave.




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