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David and Nathan Zellner on their absurdist film 'Sasquatch Sunset'


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) Oh.



That is why you won't find me out in the woods in the Pacific Northwest in some sleeping bag, no matter how pretty the stars are. What you hear there is from a sasquatch. And I should know because I did a school project on them when I was a kid. One thing all my fourth grade research didn't cover was what a sasquatch's family life is like. So I'm so happy now to have those gaps filled in by the new movie "Sasquatch Sunset."


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character, imitating sasquatch).

RASCOE: It stars Riley Keough and Jesse Eisenberg. Brothers David and Nathan Zellner directed "Sasquatch Sunset," and they join us now. Welcome to the program.

DAVID ZELLNER: Hi. Thanks for having us.

NATHAN ZELLNER: Pleasure to be here.

RASCOE: As I said, I really did do a school project on sasquatch. I can say, though, it was not as explicit and sweet as this movie is. David, can you start by dropping us in where the movie starts? Like, where are we, and what are we watching?

D ZELLNER: It follows a family of sasquatches during a year of their life, traversing the Pacific Northwest in search of others of their kind. And it just covers the whole spectrum of their existence, from joy to sorrow and tragedy and complete absurdity, as well.

RASCOE: I mean, it really does. And I was interested in the family structure. Did you want to leave that a bit ambiguous?

D ZELLNER: Well, we kind of modeled it after, you know, the type of films where it follows, you know, a pack of wolves or a herd of elephants or that sort of thing, where, you know, you have a general idea of the dynamic. But we didn't want to anthropomorphize too much. And what's interesting to us about Bigfoot is kind of the way it represents the gray area between human and animal behavior. And so we liked the idea of using that as an entry point to the human condition but then leaving some ambiguity to it as well because they are animals.

RASCOE: When do you both remember becoming really interested in sasquatch? Was it around fourth and fifth grade like me?

D ZELLNER: Yes. We first saw this show that was on TV in the '70s called "In Search Of..." that was hosted by Leonard Nimoy.


LEONARD NIMOY: A giant, hairy creature, part ape, part man. Indians call him Sasquatch.

D ZELLNER: They had one about Bigfoot that we were obsessed with, and so I think that kind of kicked it off for us.

RASCOE: Nathan, this movie is a tight 90 minutes, which - I do like a 90-minute movie. But there's no dialogue in it, no human dialogue. Did you know that you wanted to make this movie without words from the beginning? And was it hard to convince a studio to go along with this and say, you're going to have a big-name actor, but they're going to be completely unrecognizable, pretty much, and then there's going to be no talking?

N ZELLNER: Yeah, it - we always wanted it to be from the perspective of the sasquatch and kind of like you're immersed in their world and within their family. And so, like, you really feel for them through their struggles. And you laugh with them. You laugh at them. But it's always with respect for these creatures and these animals.

And I think a big part of that is making sure that the audience is on their side and kind of, like, takes them as real, you know, so, like, immersing the audience in this environment with just the dialogue that they communicate to each other, which is a series of grunts and loops. But it's really clear what they're saying to each other, even though there's no English language. There's no subtitles.

It took a very long time to just convince everybody what we were doing. The tone of the film is very specific, and that's kind of what we led with.

RASCOE: What was the pitch? Like, this is a unique opportunity to tell this story in a way that's never been told?

N ZELLNER: Yeah, it's a very unconventional script. It doesn't have the dialogue written out, but it's very specific on the actions and the beats and all the emotion that these characters are feeling. And it was really obvious right away what a unique opportunity this was and what a challenge this film would be and how much fun it would be 'cause it's not something that as actors, you get - a movie that - where you get to disappear under full makeup and really use some different acting skills other than just your voice. And I think that was what was exciting to all the people involved.

RASCOE: Well, David, let's get down to some of the science here because - how did you come up with the mannerisms, the rituals? You know, as far as we know or - what science claims is that these animals don't exist. We don't really know that. We're - we still got to keep looking. But how did you come up with these mannerisms and rituals and what have you?

D ZELLNER: You know, I think we, in writing it, used kind of the foundation of Bigfoot lore as an entry point, you know, the things that everyone's familiar with. And - from the broader strokes to the more specific details about sasquatches building nests and the way they communicate with knocking on trees and some of their ritualistic behavior. You know, and then from there, we kind of needed to fill in the gaps with other things and fleshing out their characteristics. And so that involved studying a lot of, you know, like, primate documentaries and things like that.

RASCOE: We don't see any humans at all. Our presence is clear, but we're not seen. Why is that? And is there an environmental message?

D ZELLNER: I don't know how we could make it without an ecological message about it just because this is from the perspective of these creatures. And while we don't show humans in it, as the movie goes on, they're exposed to the impact of humankind.

N ZELLNER: And usually, in these creature movies or Bigfoot movies where it's from the human's point of view, the creature is kind of mysterious and in the distance. And we liked the idea of switching that and - so that the humans are never seen. They're kind of like the bogeyman or the mysterious thing that is kind of encroaching and making things ominous for the main characters.

RASCOE: I've got one question left for both of you, and I think it's probably the most important question. And it's do you believe sasquatch exist?

D ZELLNER: I believe in its cultural relevance in terms of what it represents as our connection to the natural world. And as civilization developed, it feels like we've become more and more disconnected from that, and so that might be part of what the origins of the stories come from. But I think regardless, it's relevant for that reason.

N ZELLNER: Yeah, I'm hopeful that it exists. I think that what brings a lot of people to this story, including David and myself, is the mystery of what's out there that isn't known yet and the desire to have that sort of wonder and not have everything spelled out but still be curious, especially of the natural world.

RASCOE: I totally agree, and I feel like this is what I tell my children about Santa Claus. He is as real as you believe him to be, and so I think we can...


RASCOE: ...We can leave it at that.

D ZELLNER: I love that.

RASCOE: That's David and Nathan Zellner. Their new movie, "Sasquatch Sunset," is in theaters now. Thank you for speaking with us.

D ZELLNER: Thanks for having us.

N ZELLNER: This was great. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.

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