I’ve spent the past week at Hot Docs documentary film festival in Toronto, and up until this morning, my favorite film by far was Morgan Matthews’ film about eccentric Bigfoot hunters called “SHOOTING BIGFOOT.” See the trailer below:
This film follows four Bigfoot hunters, and rather than being a dumb film giving credence to these hoaxers, it is more about finding out what makes them tick. Why do these guys do what they do?
The other day, I went to the midnight screening and posted this glowing review on Facebook along with photo:
Morgan Matthews talks about “Shooting Bigfoot,” his hilarious and brilliant doc about eccentric Bigfoot hunters/hoaxers where you never know who is telling the truth and who is pulling an elaborate ruse. Best film of @HotDocs! Must see! #bigfoot #hotdocs #getmeasnapple
And also posted this mini-review on Facebook:
I think the reason “SHOOTING BIGFOOT” worked so well is that Morgan Matthews approached this film as a character piece about why these characters do what they do (two of the Bigfoot hunters, Dallas and Wayne, are well-meaning but delusional who believe in Bigfoot almost religiously; the other two, Tom Biscardi and Rick Dyers, seem to be charlatans trying to make a money/fame off the hoax – though they would never admit it).
I love how Matthews completely skeptical from the get go. The film starts off establishing these characters as non-credible sources & known hoaxers. What the filmmaker does so well is he challenges these guys to prove him wrong and actually find Bigfoot…which they of course can’t. He follows their hilarious, futile bigfoot hunt attempts…and laughs at their farfetched excuses on why the can’t find Bigfoot. And he calls them out when they present pathetic “evidence”.
It’s very refreshing compared to how Bigfoot is normally covered, and a hilarious, wonderful film.
Then, this morning, a bomb dropped. One of the characters in the film, the homeless kid living in the woods in San Antonio next to where Morgan Matthews followed Rick Dyers on his bigfoot stakeout, which ultimately made up the end of the movie.
SPOILER ALERT! SPOILER ALERT!
Suffice to say, I’m extremely disappointed.
This film would have been truly great, had the ending not been faked.
I commend Morgan Matthews for making a skeptical film exposing Bigfoot hoaxers…Great characters. Lot of real, genuine moments. 95% of it is absolutely wonderful, and this was my favorite doc at Hot Docs until I saw this video.
I think in the interest of making the best movie possible, Morgan Matthews ended up crossing an ethical line and going in on a hoax himself to give his doc a strong ending. This ruins a truly great documentary for me.
Here is how I think it went down (note that this is all pure speculation):
Morgan Matthews spends months filming a skeptical documentary about Bigfoot hunters, with the aim of making them look ridiculous and exposing their hoaxes.
He has almost enough footage for a feature, but doesn’t have an ending for his film. There’s no payoff – which is one of two things, either find a Bigfoot (impossible, because Bigfoot doesn’t exist) or expose a hoax in dramatic fashion.
Morgan Matthews is following Bigfoot searcher Rick Dyers, who is a known hoaxer and is desperately trying to fix his image. Rick and Morgan have been camping together in the woods for a week, filming this “bigfunt hunt” and aren’t getting anywhere. Rick is frustrated because Morgan isn’t buying into his lame attempts at “evidence” (“See, Bigfoot ate the pork ribs I hung on the tree last night!!”) Rick is getting mad at Morgan and he’s starting to think that this film is going to make him look stupid. (Rick, however, doesn’t realize that *the entire point* of the film is to poke fun at him…Morgan isn’t going to tell him that, of course.)
Morgan is being patient with Rick, but his patience is wearing very thin. This “bigfoot stakeout” has been going on for days…and he can’t leave until Rick does something that will allow him to expose him as a hoaxer.
It’s a standoff. In the woods.
Here’s where things get weird and I think where Matthews messed up bigtime and crossed an ethical line as a filmmaker.
A week or so into this bigfoot stakeout, Morgan Matthews and Rick Dyers have a candid conversation. Morgan says “Rick, I know you’re a hoaxer, and I’m going to keep on following you until you admit it or actually prove me wrong and find me a Bigfoot.”
Rick knows Morgan is on to him, but he still won’t give in. He’s doing this for the publicity and to mend his image. But Rick’s also getting really sick of staying out in the woods with this annoying British filmmaker. Rick finally bends. He says something like “you know the chances of us finding a Bigfoot are slim to nil…and you and I are both tired of standing out here in the woods. Let’s just fake it so we can both get out of here. You see, I’ve got this bigfoot suit…”
This is just what Morgan wants to hear… This is THE SCENE he needs. Morgan is so close to finishing his movie, he can taste it… this is his dramatic ending where he can finally expose the hoax…and what better way to do it than with an actual Bigfoot chase in the woods at night? Way more exciting of a payoff than a hidden camera confession of Rick saying “let’s fake it” (which would be the true-to-life but booooring way of telling this story).
The big problem, though, is that as “the skeptical filmmaker” and documentarian, Morgan can’t be in on the hoax. Morgan’s intention is to expose Rick as a bumbling hoaxer, so he can’t be a hoaxer himself!
Morgan mulls it over… he needs this scene… what if he just pretends like he isn’t in on the hoax for the audience? It’s very plausible that Rick is the one who is trying to hoax him, and Morgan and his camera are just along for the ride. The audience will be none the wiser.
Morgan accepts Rick’s proposition. Score for Rick! Rick thinks that he finally convinced the filmmaker to give him his big break, give him credibility (and the potential for a big payday)!
So they shoot the final scene…fake it. Multiple takes, firing blanks from the gun, guy in a suit, Morgan being “attacked”… Rick plays it as if he is shooting the Bigfoot and finally killing it! He’s the hero! This is the moment of glory that Rick Dyers has been waiting for. It’s also the scene that Morgan needs to finish the movie…he actually got Rick to put a buddy in a Bigfoot suit, and on top of that, the guy actually attacked him. (Does this guy, Rick Dyers, have no qualms???)
Just one small problem. There’s the homeless kid in the camp next door while they’re filming (the “Kramer” that just pops in throughout the movie). He can hear everything that’s happening, during filming, including the gunshots. They have to let him in on the hoax, otherwise he is going to either call the police because of the gunshots, walk into the scene as they’re filming it (to investigate for himself), or go and observe and find out it’s fake and they’re doing multiple takes. At the very least, they have to at least let them know there will be gunshots and not to be alarmed. So that’s what they do. They figure he’s just a homeless kid in the woods, no big deal. He’ll never see the film and doesn’t have a computer, so no harm if he knows.
Rick is excited because he thinks the film will make him out as a hero who actually killed a Bigfoot. As they part, he and Morgan get in an argument (which Morgan rolls on) about giving him a copy of the tape, which Rick thinks he deserves since they collaborated on the hoax.
Morgan of course he doesn’t give Rick the footage or tell Rick his intention of making him look like an idiot hoaxer in the edit. He hops on the first plane back to the UK and goes into the edit bay. He finally has an ending for his film.
It’s a wrap. Filming is over.
(Note that between the end of the bigfoot chase final scene, there might have been more filming where Rick actually “shoots” the Bigfoot and “finds the body.” The hoax continues. Morgan films all of this, knowing that he is never going to use this footage, and it’s just to placate Rick.)
What Rick doesn’t know is that Morgan is going to flat out say in the film that this is “probably” a guy in a suit and pretend like it’s Rick’s hail mary attempt to dupe him once and for all…and on top of that, Morgan gets beaten up by Rick’s grunt in a suit, so he’s also the victim of this mad man. In editing, Morgan decides to leave the whole scene vague and mysterious enough so that the viewer can also draw their own conclusions.
So as Morgan is editing, Rick gets antsy. He jumps the gun and announces that he killed a Bigfoot and it will be revealed on film soon in “Shooting Bigfoot”!
Rick claims that he has a body and that the filmmaker saw it happened and even helped him load the deaf Bigfoot into his truck. Morgan does not respond.
Finally, the film premieres at Hot Docs. It’s all about exposing Rick Dyers as a hoaxer.
At the Q&A at Hot Docs premiere, Morgan says that none of the subjects have seen the film yet. Rick included. Remember, Rick Dyers thought that the end of the film was him actually finding a Bigfoot!
Now Morgan Matthews is doing interviews to promote the film, and he has to respond to Rick’s claims that he killed a bigfoot during the filming and has the body. Of course, Morgan has no choice but to deny this and discredit Rick. (See the CBC interview with Morgan from the other day.). Morgan figures he can easily blow this off, because Rick is a habitual liar. Morgan figures he’s in the clear, because Rick won’t admit that they faked the final scene…it would completely destroy his credibility.
So here we are, after 3 public screenings of the film.
The one thing nobody was expecting happens. The Homeless Kid, the one outsider who they let in on the secret, does an interview and spills the beans.
So far, Morgan Matthews has not responded.
I’m looking forward to hearing Morgan’s response to this.
I think he’s sweating it right now.