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An Interview with Tyler Meyer, Director of The Legend of Grassman

by Mike Haberfelner

October 2011

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Your upcoming film The Legend of Grassman - in a few words, what is it about?

 

Itís about this kid whoís become disconnected from life since the sudden, tragic death of his parents and blah blah blah blah a bunch of people go out in the woods and Bigfoot kills the hell out of them.

 

What can you tell us about the actual legend of the Ohio Grassman, and how true did you remain to the "facts" in your film?

 

To be honest, I never heard of the Ohio Grassman until the History Channel did a Monster Quest episode on the subject. Partially because we want to capitalize on the uniqueness of our Ohio location, and partially because we are attention-seeking whores, we decided to use the Grassman name in our title.

 

There are some slight differences between the Ohio Grassman and Bigfoot around the rest of the country Ė heís smaller, he has a tendency to kill dogs Ė and we tried to incorporate some of those differences into the movie. But, for the most part, we researched general Bigfoot lore and built our creature around that. As a kid, I had a lot of interest in the subject, and I wanted to make sure the Bigfoot in our film was like the one I used to read about and see on shows like Unsolved Mysteries and In Search ofÖ rather than just a generic monster.

 

With The Legend of Grassman being about a group of Bigfoot hunters - what's your personal take on Bigfoot hunting?

 

Iíve been in contact with a lot of bigfoot researchers during the production of this film, and Iíve met some great people. I would describe myself as a huge bigfoot nerd, if not a bigfoot believer. Iím pretty skeptical about such things, and I think itís important for people to be skeptical. Nevertheless, while I would think it unlikely that a species of giant ape roams the wilderness of North America, I am aware that people often experience unexplainable weird things. So, while I donít believe in Bigfoot, I do respect the phenomenon. Having said that, should some researcher somewhere find conclusive proof of such an animal, itíd be pretty sweet.

 

Hunting Bigfoot and relatives has quite a tradition in genre cinema. To what extent have past takes on the subject influenced your film?

 

Well the title The Legend of Grassman is a play on the titles of classic Bigfoot films like The Legend of Boggy Creek and Sasquatch, The Legend of Bigfoot. Thatís our way of tipping off the audience to what type of film weíre trying to make. Those films - in particular, the Sasquatch films of the 1970ís - were a huge influence on us. As a teenager getting into filmmaking, I remember always wanting to make a movie that was reminiscent of those films. We actually have a scene where a Mysterious Monsters-type 1970ís documentary is playing and we were able to get George Lauris who narrated Sasquatch, The Legend of Bigfoot to lay down a narration track for it.

 

Dennis Meyer

How did the idea of The Legend of Grassman come into being, and did you have any creative input on the script, which was written, as I understand, by your brother Dennis?

 

My brother Dennis had written a horror script, Consumed, that we were hoping to make as our first feature. But we decided we didnít have enough experience to raise the necessary budget for it and that we should try something a little less ambitious first. So I pitched him the idea of doing an ultra low budget bigfoot feature in a week just to see if we could do it. I picked Bigfoot because, as I said, Iím a huge Bigfoot nerd and it seemed like shooting a dude in a monkey suit running around the woods would make for a cheap production.

 

We had just finished a dark, depressing short, and I wanted to work on something a bit lighter. So Dennis came up with a concept that - taking its cues from Jaws - followed Joseph Campbellís Heroís Journey. From there we worked on the outline until we were both happy with it, and then he went into his Writerís Cave to pound it out. After a few months, he had finished the first draft. We picked it apart until we were both happy and then he returned to the Writerís Cave. We repeated the process until the fourth draft, when we were happy enough to shoot. I like to think that the movie reveals itself to me as we create it, so the story continued to change and got reworked even throughout production.

 

How would you describe your directorial approach to The Legend of Grassman?

 

Weíre dealing with a lot of nonprofessional actors, so I do my best to create an environment and situations that they can relate to, react to, and be in the moment with. I think thatís so much more important to me than saying the lines that are written in the script, much to the chagrin of my brother. Also, since we have no money, we are working around peopleís schedules. Itís very hard to get five unpaid people to your set over and over again as many times as you need. So I shoot a lot of the scenes in close-ups. Partially, cause I love me some close-ups and partially cause close-ups hide multitudes of stupid shit and, very often, the actor an actor is supposed to be interacting with is not actually on set. Sometimes the set is not on set.

 

Lynn Lowry

The most prominent names in your cast are probably up-and-coming scream queen Jessica Cameron [Jessica Cameron interview - click here] and horror veteran Lynn Lowry. What can you tell us about your collaboration with these two ladies, and how did you get them in the first place?

 

We shot with Lynn first. Most of the actors in the film are family and friends. Iíve begun to think of this film as my own, private film school, and one of the lessons I wanted to teach myself was how to get a name actor. Dov Simens covers that in his book as well as his 2 Day Film School, but you never really know how to do something until you do it yourself. And, actually, itís not too hard to get a name actor as long as you have enough money and an actual project (as opposed to an idea for a project). Itís kind of the same as hiring a plumber, electrician, or any other craftsman to perform a service. Anyone can do it. But still, I was scared shitless on that first phone call and it was a great moment for me to realize that I could do it, too.

 

And I couldnít have asked for someone better to break us into using professional actors. Lynn very nice and a lot of fun to be around. She has a way of making an inexperienced director like myself relax so I can focus on the job. In addition, Iím pretty sure sheís some kind of genius. She blew me away with her performance and it makes me wonder what she could do if she were in more capable hands than mine. Iíve never had raw footage that was so entertaining to watch and it was all due to her. It was like watching Karloff. Usually, one would not compare a beautiful woman to Boris Karloff, but thereís something so sinister about her performance, and it all takes place on her face. She only appears in a few short scenes, but to me they are the highlight of the film.

 

Jessica Cameron

So, thinking of this as film school, I wanted more experience with professionally-trained actors and that brought us to Jessica. I had been aware of Jessica for sometime mostly due to Facebook. She was so much fun to work with. First of all, sheís funny as hell and, secondly, she is a very hard worker. She was knowledgeable about the process and had great suggestions, some of which werenít even acting-related. Her role is an emotional one and, if you watch any of my work, emotions are kind of uncharted territory for me. But she did all the heavy lifting, and turned out a very poignant, heartfelt performance. She was awesome and really brings a lot to the film. Also, her horror movie scream is superb.

 

Your film also features real-life Bigfoot hunters Dallas Gilbert and Wayne Burton. A few words about them and your collaboration with them?

 


Iíve had a huge man-crush on both of these guys since I saw their film, Not Your Typical Bigfoot Movie, which I think is arguably the greatest Bigfoot film ever made. We had been searching for a real-life Bigfoot personality to play the financier of our filmís expedition and after looking into a number of possible candidates, I realized that not only would they be perfect, but they only live 2 and half hours from us. The difference between these guys onscreen and in real life is that they arenít edited in real life. Dallas is singularly focused on all things Bigfoot and is very serious about his research. The best way to describe Wayne is that upon meeting him, he instantly inspires one to want to drink a beer with him. This was their first time acting in a feature film, but they both jumped in head first and gave it hell. We didnít use a script Ė Dallas told me he didnít like scripts. My brother Stephan, who plays Kyle in the movie, played opposite them and they would just respond to what he would say to them. Sometimes I would give them a topic to talk about and sometimes I would actually feed them lines. The end result is very natural and very funny. They really did a great job. I hope to feature them in a bigger role in Legend of Grassman II: Electric Boogaloo.

 

A few words about the rest of your cast and crew?

 

Iím related to most of them. Family members are awesome because the majority of our cast and crew are unpaid volunteers, and it takes longer for family members to get sick of your bullshit and quit the production. With a no-budget production, showing up is more important than skill or experience. Having said that, weíve all been making movies together for years, and our family gots hella good film skillz. Dennisí wife, Rachel Meyer, is definitely MVP. She built our awesome Bigfoot costume, does all of our special effects make-up, and is absolutely essential on any shoot we do. And, in addition to our Army of Meyers, weíve got some great friends who are very talented helping us out. Rich Shevchik, who plays the lead investigator in the film, has allowed us to shoot on his land, which includes a creepy old farmhouse that heís let us do whatever we want with. Without him, it would have been impossible for us to make the film weíre making. I cannot express in words how grateful Dennis and I are for all of our cast and crew and all the hard work theyíve put in, but itís a whole lot.

 

The $64 question of course: When and where will The Legend of Grassman be released?

 

Some of the trailers online say 2010 at the end. I clearly pulled that out of my ass. It sounded better than ďCOMING SOONĒ or ďCOMING SOMETIME EVENTUALLY WHEN WEíRE DONE WITH IT.Ē Weíre hoping to be done with the film at the end of this year so we can start hitting the festival circuit next Spring. After it finishes its festival run, weíll get it out to DVD and cable.

 

Let's leave the present behind for the moment and move forward into your past: How did you get into filmmaking in the first place, and did you receive any formal education on the subject?

 

Iíve wanted to make films since I was a kid. E.T. and the Star Wars- and Indiana Jones-films were hugely influential. I started my ďcareerĒ making slide shows on paper synced to an audio cassette, and awful computer generated cartoon shorts. My first live-action narrative was a Super 8 Jaws parody called Teeth (a title which seemed funny as hell at the time). That was 1987 and, oddly, it involved much of the same cast as Grassman. I went to a two-year technical college and went on to work in television and video and it wasnít until 1999, upon taking Dov Simens' 2 Day Film School, when I realized I could actually make a my own feature if I wanted. It took another 10 years to get moving on that, but the learning experiences I had during that time, making shorts and working in television, were invaluable.

 

A few words about your production company Monkey Productions?

 

Itís named after the fake production company name I used as a kid. Our company logo is a hand-drawn monkey glued to cardboard. I figure if we ever start getting to big for our britches, looking at that cardboard logo should knock us down a couple of pegs.

 

As far as I know, The Legend of Grassman is your debut feature as a director, but you have directed quite a number of shorts. Why don't you talk about those for a bit?

 

Doing shorts is a great way to prepare yourself for the task of doing a feature. Everything is the same, but on a smaller scale, which makes it much easier to take chances. For instance, I did an entire film about how the Invisible Man spends his weekends. Turns out his life is pretty boring and he just sits around in front of the TV all night. And since heís invisible, weíre just staring at a TV, chair, and snack tray the whole time. To me thatís pretty funny, but if the audience hates it, Iíve only wasted 4 minutes of their lives. I would certainly be willing to try this concept as a feature-length film, but Iíd have a more difficult time dealing with the knowledge that I recklessly squandered 2 hours of my audienceís lives.

 

Any future projects you'd like to talk about?

 

We have a horror script that Dennis wrote called Consumed. Itís a 19th century American vampire tale and it deals with perception vs. reality and superstition & paranoia vs. common sense & rational thinking. Itís very smartly written and also freaky scary. We designed it to be made on a low budget, but itís still a little out of our price range. All the same, I would to love to get to work on that next.

 

Right now, Dennis is in the process of writing a new film which heíll be directing next Spring. Itís a nasty dirty grungy horror film tentatively titled Sable. Itís about a Spring break hiking trip that becomes a nightmare when four girls wander into a seemingly abandoned house, only to discover it's anything but. And, like I said: Nasty. Dirty. Grungy.

 

Iím working on a feature-length documentary called George Chakiris: Swimming with the Sharks about the life and career of the Oscar-winning actor from West Side Story. George has been on stage, screen, television, and had a recording career in the 1960ís and, to say the least, has had a pretty interesting life so far. Weíve already got 3 and Ĺ hours of interview footage shot with him and are looking to raise money to go back and get more.

 

How does making a feature film differ from making a short (if at all)?

 

A feature film requires more endurance. Woody Allen said that 80 percent of success is showing up. With a feature film, thereís a lot more showing up to do. Itís important to keep showing up and not get discouraged because itís taking too long, or you think you suck, or because of any other discouraging thought your brain might come up with.

 

Most of your films are of the horror variety. Is that a genre especially dear to you, and why?

 

I love fantasy films Ė not softcore for women, but films with fantastical elements. Horror tends to have those elements and fear resonates in a way unlike any of the other emotions films can evoke. I think thereís a more intimate connection between people and the films that scare the shit out of them. And, I think itís even more true of films that scare the shit out of you as a kid. I remember in great detail being horrified by the creepy kid coming up through the bedroom floor and the ball rolling down the stairs in The Changeling. One of my first movie theater memories is the anxiety I felt when my dad left me to go to the concession stand for candy, leaving me alone to face the Tusken Raiders in Star Wars Ė and being relieved when I was able to do it without freaking out. Having those memories kind of makes this genre sacred for me, and I look forward to scaring the shit out of kids with my films.

 

Directors who inspire you?

 

Spielberg, Hitchcock, Nolan, Tarantino, Kurosawa. I love Lucasí notion of directing the movie in the edit suite. Rodriguezís films, as well has his book, Rebel without a Crew, were a huge influence on the way weíve gone about shooting our film. Francis Coppolaís DVD commentaries are so informative, Iím pretty sure heís is my mentor. I sometimes talk back to him. Also, Dennis and I drink a bottle of Coppola wine every time we accomplish something good.

 

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While Dennis was writing the Grassman script, we caught a screening of Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation that Eric Zala and Chris Strompolos did when they were kids and it left me stunned. Among other things, they had a truck chase with stunts, and set their basement on fire. That was a huge inspiration for me on this film to push the limits of what we thought was possible. And it heavily influences at least one major scene in our movie.

 

Your favourite movies?

 

Star Wars- and Indiana Jones-films, Singin in the Rain, Casablanca, Lawrence of Arabia, the Universal Horror Films from the 1930ís, Unforgiven, Goodfellas, Sunset Boulevard and Plan 9 from Outer Space.

 

... and of course, films you really deplore?

 

Before Sunrise. Smokey and the Bandit II.

 

Your website, Facebook, whatever else?

 

www.monkeyltd.com

www.thelegendofgrassman.com

 

Anything else you are dying to mention and I have merely forgotten to ask?

 

Iím building a spaceship to Venus out of Styrofoam packing peanuts.

 

Thanks for the interview!

 

Youíre welcome. Thanks for asking me.

 

© by Mike Haberfelner


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