Interview : Director Seth Breedlove leads us On the Trail of Bigfoot

The intrepid documentarian talks to Kyle Milner about the latest instalment in the cryptid documentary series.

Credit: Small Town Monsters

My love for monsters goes right back to my earliest days, when being able to walk by myself was a novelty and the Sesame Street book ‘The Monster at the End of This Book’ was the greatest thing ever written.

So when the opportunity to interview Seth Breedlove came about, I couldn’t help but be excited to chat with somebody who not only loves on-screen and real-world monsters, but has made it his career to bring us tales of the weird and wonderful.

Through his production company Small Town Monsters, Seth has produced countless documentaries and podcasts following cryptids, the paranormal, myths and legends and every thing else strange and incredible. His latest film is a new instalment in the ongoing On the Trail of Bigfoot series, which focuses as much on the people tracking down the creature as it does on the creature itself.

I had the pleasure of speaking at length with Seth about On the Trail of Bigfoot: The Journey, his approach to the weird and wonderful world of Bigfoot enthusiasts, and what about the legend makes is so compelling after hundreds of years.

As someone who’s loved the world of cryptids and everything around the edges of that my whole life but never gets the opportunity to talk about it, this is a real privilege.

Seth: Yeah, for sure. What got you into it?

I think it was mostly a love for horror in general as a kid that drew me to what might exist in the real world. Horror films for sure, and then non-fiction books about cryptids. But you’ve obviously gone a lot further with it than just a broad interest. Where did it all start for you, not just in your career but on a personal level?

Seth: I worked numerous very boring jobs, and those jobs allowed me to spend a lot of time listening to podcasts and reading. At some point in there, I became interested in the paranormal and Bigfoot and stuff like that. I’m almost 40 now, but it probably wasn’t until I was 26 or 27 until I really started getting into this stuff.

At the time, I was writing for local newspapers, and while I was doing that, I became interested in Bigfoot especially. I started utilizing some of the stuff I’ve learned writing for the newspaper into actually looking into local Bigfoot cases and stuff like that. I grew up really interested or in love with films, like Ray Harryhausen and old Hammer horror and stuff like that. So, I think it was a little bit of that as well as my interest in horror movie monsters melded with real-world monsters.

I figure that’s pretty common with people who are interested in cryptids like the Jersey Devil – the idea that these creatures could exist among us becomes a life-long fascination or even obsession. 

As you mentioned, you got your start writing these stories in the local newspaper; was it covering people’s investigations and sightings and that kind of thing?

Seth: Actually, when I first got into it, it was more about the historical stuff, like the really old 1800s historical reports. I would spend hours scouring newspaper databases and even going down to our local library and going through their microfiche archives. That was the stuff that captured my attention in the very early days, because it’s not just that these reports happen today, but they’ve been happening for hundreds of years and the reports have stayed somewhat the same across those couple of hundred years. So that was what really grabbed my attention in the first place.

And that was sort of where I started to formulate the ideas for Small Town Monsters as well, because STM was originally a book proposal. It took on a life of its own as a movie a couple of years down the road, after I had already submitted the book proposal and been unanimously rejected by most book publishers. I started noticing that those reported from the 1800s and 1900s tended to be entered around rural communities, and they followed a pattern where there would be one or two sightings that kick up a flurry of activity around the town. The town would form a posse and typically go out hunting the monster, come back empty-handed and sort of disappear into obscurity after that.

That interested me, because I knew that there had to be some impact that was having on the culture of the area. That was the original idea behind STM, but it all started with that archival research that I was doing in the early days.

I find it so interesting that, looking back at any given cryptid from Bigfoot to Mothman, there’s a cyclical nature to these stories. In your research, what have you come to feel is the main reason why Bigfoot is such an icon and so consistently compelling to people more so than any other cryptid?

Seth: With Bigfoot, I think it’s the idea that you can go out into the woods behind your own house and have as good a chance there of having an encounter as anywhere else in the world. It might be the fact, too, that there’s this idea that they exist everywhere in the world. Most monsters outside of Bigfoot are regional, you know, Mothman is Appalachian – it’s around West Virginia. Obviously, there’s reports now coming out of Chicago, but typically these monsters are relegated to a regional area.

Bigfoot gets around; it’s everywhere. There’s something very attractive to all of us, I think, about going out and the potential to have an encounter with a myth. At the end of the day, I think that’s what this movie is kind of about, too – the allure of Bigfoot, how it brings us out into nature, and how Bigfoot and nature really are inseparable. You can’t have one without the other. I think there’s a lot there that I’m just starting to try to piece together.

But the allure of Bigfoot is really that you might be able to go find it for yourself, and most other monsters, you just can’t do that. And then there’s the realism aspect of Bigfoot. Obviously, it’s fantastical, because the idea that we would be able to find an eight-foot tall, hairy ape in the woods behind our house seems crazy.

But at the same time, there’s this consistency of the reports across the decades, and there’s the fact that so many people claim to have seen it – so many believable witnesses. Even in this movie, we referenced the Beast of Whitehall case from the 70s. In that case, you had 11 people, most of them members of law enforcement, and they had a sighting of one of these things together. So, either they’re all crazy, they misidentified a bear or they saw a Bigfoot.

So yeah, I think it’s all those things, and when you put them all together you get the most popular cryptid there’s ever been.

Something that I think turns a lot of people off from this kind of subject, including myself, is the approach of “I’ve been researching this my whole life, and this documentary will show the single piece of evidence that proves everything!”. It’s compelling, but I find that’s the least interesting approach to these stories.

Seth: Yeah, I think especially if you’re a filmmaker, you’re trying to tell your story to the largest audience possible. The worst way to go about introducing Bigfoot to an audience is demanding or attempting to demand that they accept that this is real. I think some of our approach comes down to the fact that so many of us on the crew are fairly sceptical.

I wouldn’t say I’m a skeptic, but I definitely tend to run more sceptical in my thinking. Having said that, I’m like, 90% sure that these things are out there. [laughs] At the same time, I’m not trying to cram that idea down anyone else’s throat, because it took me years of doing this and multiple unusual experiences to get me to where I am today.

So, all I want to do is tell a really interesting story and hopefully introduce people to the idea that these stories – Bigfoot especially – are worthy of looking into. It’s worth spending some time with, because I don’t know that there’s a more fascinating, unexplained topic out there than Bigfoot. I just find Bigfoot to be the most exciting. It’s crazy that it might be real; that I think it is real. And the questions it raises go far beyond paranormal topics, and go into the psychology of people and why we do what we do, why we’re out in the woods, what drives us to be out there. It gets at bigger questions about community and how people fit in with other people.

I mean, there’s endless angles just on the Bigfoot topic alone. I could spend the rest of my career making movies about Bigfoot, and I’m sure I’d be happy doing it. There’s so much to explore and uncover, and I think our approach is driven by a desire to introduce Bigfoot to as large an audience as possible.

That’s what I love about this field – you don’t necessarily have to believe it to find it fascinating and exciting. I grew up listening to Coast to Coast AM and watching Harry and the Hendersons, and it’s still compelling after all these years because – as you said – there’s not just the entity of Bigfoot itself, but the community side of it, the storytelling and all these different people from very different walks of life.

Seth: Yeah, and I think there couldn’t have been a better time for people to find this topic, in the midst of COVID when you’re being told to avoid other people. What better time to go out into the woods away from everyone and spend some time looking for a hairy hominid? [laughs]

Of course, this is by no means your first foray with the subject of Bigfoot, and I suppose this can be considered the next chapter in an ongoing story you’re telling. What would you say is the primary focus in this film compared to your previous documentaries about Bigfoot?

Seth: I think Small Town Monsters movies tend to avoid having the actual crew involved on-camera in any way, especially the Legend movies like The Mothman of Pleasant Point. On the Trail gives us the opportunity to be the storytellers and be the ones propelling the narrative forward. But for this one, we took that to another level. Even though I’ve done this sort of thing, even though I narrated the first series of On the Trail of Bigfoot, I’ve never really gone into my own head as much as we did making this movie. It really puts the audience in our point of view, and allows me to tell things from my perspective. That alone really set it apart from anything else we had done.

That was kind of weird at times, because the movie shows my son; it goes into my thinking on these topics and where I was coming out of all the COVID stuff, and why I had such a desire to travel. That’s kind of an uncomfortable position to be in. But at the same time, I thought the best way to tell this particular story was to really make it personal.

From a cryptid perspective, we wanted it to be as much about behavior – or at least, reported behavior – as it was about whether or not Bigfoot was real. So, it isn’t just that people are reporting having seen Bigfoot, it’s that they’re reporting it in a very specific way. In this movie, I think we spent a lot of time on the idea of Bigfoot as a family group, and how there are sightings of multiple creatures, and how these sightings tend to correlate to season changes where they’re being seen at certain times of the year.

There’s a lot of that kind of stuff. You can watch it either as a really personal nature film that happens to involve people looking for Bigfoot, or you can watch it as a Bigfoot documentary. I think it’s capable of going either way. Someone told me it’s the Endless Summer of Bigfoot documentaries, and I kind of like that analogy. It’s very much about nature and experiencing nature, but it also happens to be about Bigfoot and whether they’re hiding out in the woods of the North East.

These patterns with sightings and investigations based on the weather, does that complicate your production process at all? Is there concerns about having to plan out when you’re going to be able to start shooting?

Seth: When it comes to Bigfoot, I’m good with whatever. Going forward, if I were to make another movie in the Adirondacks, I would be trying to put that migratory thing to the test. I mean, I wouldn’t be at Buck Mountain at the height of summer again. I’d probably be putting us up in the high peaks for the duration of the shoot, trying to put us in some of the areas where people don’t go.

But as far as a typical shoot, unless the story is about us going to a location at a specific time of year, I don’t typically plan things that way. There’s usually a story I’m trying to tell that doesn’t play into trying to necessarily find Bigfoot, as crazy as that sounds considering the title of the series is On the Trail of Bigfoot. There’s always going to be a bigger story we’re trying to tell.

With this particular project, that was all information that came to me as we were filming it. So, if I did On the Trail of Bigfoot: The Journey Part II, we would be going back and I would be trying to put that migratory thing to the test. And I would probably try to film that at two different times of the year; I’d probably try to go at the height of summer, and I’d try to go at the height of winter. I think in winter, you could go to some of those coniferous forests around Lake George and Whitehall and potentially find, if not Bigfoot, at least people who claim to have had an encounter in those areas.

The crazy thing about these migratory patterns is that they’re real. The sightings are only happening at specific times of the year in those places. If they aren’t happening, then it’s a random one-off, like every 50 years or something in that location at that time of year. Like, the Beast of Whitehall was seen in August of 1976, and it was basically a one-week series of events around that area, and then there were no more sightings around that area for a while.

We theorise as to what might have happened, and the theory is that this thing was following the river down out of the mountains, came down and found itself in a field in an area it didn’t realise was as overrun with people as it is, and happened to be spotted by 11 members of law enforcement.

Wow. It sounds like it’s a multifaceted approach you have to take with all the different factors to consider. I imagine you have to really take the time to consider the individual aspects of where you’re headed each time.

Seth: Oh, yeah. We just finished shooting the Olympic Peninsula out in Washington, and that was a totally different approach with making that series compared to what we brought to this one. With that one, we were there to document this group that’s out there who’ve found some really amazing things and had some amazing experiences.

We were there, following them around that entire range and spending nights in the woods down in this area where they believe they found Bigfoot nests, which is super interesting. The shoot is geared in a different way entirely from what we did with The Journey, because The Journey was kind of about what we wanted to do; like if we want to go into the mountains, let’s go into the mountains. If we want to friggin’ charter a helicopter, let’s do it! Whereas this other project’s totally different, you’re kind of at the mercy of the group that you’re with.

We wanted to document what they were doing, so you follow them and it’s all about what they do and how they do it. So, every project is different to the one before it, and I think if things weren’t that way, it’d get really boring when you’re making four or five movies in a year. I mean, in 2021 we’re putting out four more titles following The Journey. So, it’ll be a total of six titles that have come out since January of this year.

That’s really impressive.

Seth: Don’t say it ‘til you’ve seen it. [laughs]

Is there a particular cryptid you’ve had a burning desire to produce a film about but haven’t had a chance to for whatever reason?

Seth: The Jersey Devil, we’re making a movie about this year – that’ll be out next year. But beyond that, Small Town Monsters goes beyond just cryptids and the paranormal, and the one topic I’ve always wanted to get to is the Legend of Sleepy Hollow.

I come back to that story all the time, because Sleepy Hollow has some facets of truth to it. So that’s one story, and we’re going to make something about that at some point. The other one I’m super interested in is the Beast of Gévaudan and American werewolves and real werewolves, which they called “dog men”. But I hate that term. So stupid. [laughs] I just like ‘werewolf’. So, at some point I’d like to do something about werewolves that’s a bit bigger than just a regional werewolf story. We’re working on a Rougarou movie right now, and that’s all about Louisiana’s werewolf, but I want to do something that looks at the broader mythology behind it.

ON THE TRAIL OF BIGFOOT: THE JOURNEY is now available on Digital platforms including iTunes and Amazon Video.

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