Dan Wayne, director and producer: Big Fur is a biographical portrait of an artist-hero immersed in his defining work. It’s an insider’s view into the whacky world of taxidermy with a side of Bigfoot and a call to preserve our remaining wilderness.
OKG: How did you hear about Ken Walker's quest to make a model of Bigfoot?
Dan Wayne: I set out to make a documentary about taxidermy as an under-appreciated art form. I was looking for a good taxidermist character — and there are lots of them — to guide the movie along, and I knew about Ken because he specializes in recreations. Lots of taxidermists specialize in birds or mammals or fish, but recreations are unique and rare and require a ton of research and creativity. Recreations are endangered or extinct animals made out of other animal hides. Ken made an Irish elk, saber-toothed tiger and giant panda that were big hits inside the taxidermy community. I knew he had an interest in Bigfoot, but I had no idea how much. I approached Ken about being part of a documentary, and when he told me he was going to make a Bigfoot, I knew I’d found my movie.
OKG: What made you want to make a film about it?
Dan Wayne: I started out looking for something old-school and creative to get me away from the computer and have always been fascinated by taxidermy. I love the marriage of art and science and the weirdness of turning an animal into a piece of art or decor. Once I started researching, I became more interested in the outcast artists who were leading the industry and my storytelling instincts took over. As for Bigfoot, I'd never thought twice about it before I met Ken. But the two subjects combined to be insightful and led me to deeply contemplate the value of wilderness.
OKG: There are many myths about Bigfoot-type creatures around the world. Which one is Ken Walker basing his model on?
Dan Wayne: Ken made this recreation just like he did any of his previous ones. But instead of skeletal remains, he based this one on the frames of the famous Patterson-Gimlin film. That’s the shaky, iconic movie shot in northern California in 1967. Once it was stabilized with modern technology, lots of folks like Ken declared it authentic. Even to this date, 53 years later, it’s considered the holy grail of Bigfoot evidence. As the best taxidermist in the world, Ken’s an expert in anatomy. He points to things like bone length, body proportions and movement as evidence that it’s not a man in a suit — nor a woman in a suit! The critter in that film is clearly female and commonly referred to as “Patty” by Bigfooters, so that’s what Ken named his recreation and star of Big Fur.
OKG: Was it difficult to find a balance between the absurdity of Bigfoot and Ken Walker's story?
Dan Wayne: Yes! That was something on my mind a lot while editing. Ken’s got a great sense of humor and doesn’t take himself too seriously, but I didn’t want to make fun of him. He’s well aware of the inherent absurdity of things like Sasquatch poop. It is a very fine line, and sometimes just an extra few frames can make a big difference. In the end, I think I found that balance, but it wasn’t easy.
OKG: How did you decide who to talk to for the film?
Dan Wayne: There were the obvious people, like members of his family, students, peers and Bigfoot witnesses who were taxidermists, but I had a ton of great characters who got cut. Some of the characters were just fascinating and fun to hang out with, like Antonio Alfaro, the "Eyeball Kid.” Who doesn’t want to see glass eyes being made? When characters overlap a little, it makes the film much tighter, so that helped me whittle it down. But when you’re shooting, it’s hard to guess what will happen, so I tend to cast a wide net. If I make another doc, I hope I’m more efficient at identifying the gems!
OKG: What is the most important message in Big Fur? What's the thing that you want audiences to take away from the film?
Dan Wayne: I’d like viewers to appreciate the complexities and art of taxidermy, but I'd really like audiences to think about the value of wilderness and that, despite our differences, most of us have the same goals of preserving the few wild places that remain. If our landscape becomes so tamed that we can’t even imagine a wild, hairy ape might exist in the forest, then we will have lost something more profound than Bigfoot.
Big Fur Official Trailer from Dan Wayne on Vimeo.