Bigfoot in Your Backyard: A Conversation with ATLFF Filmmakers Zach Lamplugh and Brian Emond
If you’re like me, then you’ve been enjoying the Atlanta Film Festival from the comfort of your couch thanks to ATLFF 2020’s virtual catalog. One of the festival’s quirkiest and funniest virtual offerings is the satirical documentary 15 Things You Didn’t Know About Bigfoot: Number One Will Blow Your Mind! Directed by Zach Lamplugh and written by Lamplugh and Brian Emond, not only does this film offers up the longest movie title I’ve ever seen, but a tongue-in-cheek glimpse into the lives of those who hunt the elusive sasquatch. Told through the lens of a frustrated video journalist who doesn’t buy into the story he’s reporting, 15 Things is a clever commentary on digital media made by two Georgia filmmakers right here in our own backyard.
I had the opportunity to chat with Zach and Brian about their film, their experience with the Atlanta Film Festival, and their actual opinions about Bigfoot. Here is what the pair of filmmakers had to say about their first feature film.
“There’s this idea that you can achieve your dreams,” said Emond, “but when you get there, it’s absolutely nothing like what you thought it would be.” In the film, Emond plays the hapless reporter who is less than thrilled to be stuck producing a clickbait video about Bigfoot. “There are a lot of very cool media and tech companies that, when you get there, you see it’s sort of like a regular office and maybe you’re not as close to your dreams as you thought.”
“You get to be around your dreams, next door to something really cool,” Zach Lamplugh added. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with creating digital content, but I’m sure a lot of us can certainly relate to this feeling. Plus, we’ve all wasted countless minutes scrolling or scrubbing through clickbait drivel, and even the title, 15 Things You Didn’t Know About Bigfoot, is a play on cliché, sensational clickbait headlines.
15 Things You Didn’t Know About Bigfoot is an example of low budget indie filmmaking at its finest. As I mentioned, in addition to sharing writing credit, Brian Emond also portrays the central reporter character in the film. He helped produce the project as well. Likewise, in addition to directing, Zach Lamplugh also edited the film and was often behind the camera, as the film is shot in a pseudo-documentary style. With quite a small team working on the film, much of the crew had to wear many different hats. Here’s what the pair had to say when asked about the limitations of independent filmmaking.
“The budget was a million dollars,” Lamplugh laughed. “Just joking. The team was very basic. A lot of the time was spent with probably four or five people on set. There were other scenes where it was twenty people.” There were some larger set pieces where they could afford to have what people might consider a “real crew,” and other times when they had to get by with fewer people. “And that’s indie filmmaking for you,” Lamplugh said.
The greatest challenge of indie filmmaking, Lamplugh said, is that “It’s all going to fall on you. Catering is going to fall on you. If people need a ride to set, it’s going to fall on you. If you need props, that’s going to be your job too, unless you can afford a prop master.”
This rang close to home for me as an independent filmmaker myself—I could certainly relate and attest that everything Zach said was 100% true. However, it’s not all a constant struggle. Low budget filmmaking has its silver linings as well.
“I like that we’re just able to pivot with our ideas,” Lamplugh said on a positive note. “On a bigger set if someone says, ‘I have a funny idea. What if we did this?’ just turning the camera is hell. Trying to get a different angle on the scene is going to be 45 minutes of moving tripods, lights, cameras, and people out of the way.”
Having that freedom is a benefit I’ve personally enjoyed as an indie filmmaker. It can definitely feel liberating not to be limited by the restrictions of working on a bustling set with a hundred people.
“If you have an idea to try something different,” Lamplugh continued, “you don’t have people from props or script supervisors or producers saying, ‘What are you doing?!’ If you want to do something funny, we’ll just take ten minutes and do it. There are fewer people to answer to.”
For Brian, it made him appreciate all of the people who work on larger sets and the many jobs they do. Fortunately, they had a producer who was able to elevate their production value. “That turned a couple of our smaller ideas into much cooler moments,” said Emond. There were times when they thought that just shaking a tree or having Bigfoot pop out of the bushes would be good enough, but they were able to work with a full crew and stunt team for some of the bigger set pieces. “That really took the film to the next level,” said Emond. It hit home when someone saw those stunts and said to Emond, You made a real movie. “Yes, yes we did,” said Emond proudly.
And what Georgia locations did they film at, you might ask? The answer is wherever they could! The scenes in the woods were filmed in Madison, Georgia, on land owned by a friend of Lamplugh. He also had a friend who happened to own a warehouse downtown. Everything else, he said, was cobbled together from around town. In the words of Lamplugh, “That’s indie filmmaking for you.”
Lamplugh and Emond have been working together since 2015 when they started a sketch comedy show called Ladies Night, which invited filmmakers to submit their comedy shorts each month to screen in front of a crowd. They also participated in a similar group called ATL Thunderdome, which does the same thing every week with one-minute shorts. As it happens, I’m a part of this group as well, and I thought it was super cool to learn that Zach and Brian went from such humble beginnings to having their film selected for the Atlanta Film Festival. These communities can be extremely valuable for helping beginning filmmakers to learn and grow.
When asked if he had any advice for aspiring Georgia filmmakers, Zach said, “My advice would just be to make a ton of stuff, show it to people, and see what they think. And if they connect with it, then you’re starting to find your voice.”
Zach and Brian both said that it feels great to have their film selected for ATLFF, though the transition to a largely virtual festival makes for a very different type of experience. But the festival has gone smoothly despite the shift in dynamic. “Having a badge is more valuable than ever this year because of the current world situation,” said Emond. “I understand ATLFF is old, but this entire mode of operations is new. But it feels like they’ve been doing it for a while based on how it’s been going.”
The last big question I’m sure everyone wants to know is whether Zach and Brian actually believe in Bigfoot. “I don’t not believe in Bigfoot, you know what I mean?” said Zach. The pair did extensive research for their satirical documentary, even talking to real Bigfoot “experts,” an experience which Brian said turned him from a skeptic to being more open-minded about the sasquatch’s existence. So, you never know. The truth is out there.
Congratulations again to Zach Lamplugh, Brian Emond, and the cast and crew of 15 Things You Didn’t Know About Bigfoot: Number One Will Blow Your Mind! for their selection in the Atlanta Film Festival. Let their success be an inspiration to all of Georgia’s other indie filmmakers out there.