John Portanova is making his feature directorial debut with ‘Hunting Grounds’ (previously titled Valley of the Sasquatch), a film about family, desperation, and deadly beasts. This afternoon Portanova took a few minutes to talk with me about the film.
Horror Fuel: “Can you tell us a little about your film Hunting Grounds?”
JP: “Yes, Hunting Grounds is the new film that I was involved with through the production company October People. It’s actually the first film I have directed. It’s a horror movie about a family that falls on hard times, they are forced to move into a cabin in the woods that happens to be smack-dab in the middle of Bigfoot territory. ”
Horror Fuel: “You wrote it as well, correct?
JP: “It was actually the first screenplay I ever wrote, at this point, it’s been about a decade ago. I wrote it right after I got out of film school. I decided that I needed to write a script so that I could have it with me in case an opportunity ever presented itself. I thought about what I was passionate about, what I have knowledge of, and the first thing that popped into my head was Bigfoot. I have spent most of my life reading about Sasquatch, watching shows like Unsolved Mysteries, and when ever there would be stories about Bigfoot it always interested me. I had lived my whole life in Washington state, a lot of the stories and sightings came from around there. I took the love of that subject, my love of horror movies and action movies and put it all together into this screenplay and it took quite a while from when it was written to get it made.
In that time I co-wrote and produced a couple of other horror films with my production company, The October People. The success of those made it where we were ready to make Valley of the Sasquatch. It’s now being released as Hunting Grounds.”
Horror Fuel: “Do you believe the Sasquatch really exists somewhere out there?”
JP: “I do. I think that is actually harder to believe that they don’t, that it is fake, with all the sightings. It’s either a lot of drunk people, a lot of stoned people, or a lot of liars that have unmasked this thing over the centuries. I think it is more likely that there is something out there. That has always fascinated me since I was a little kid. That’s when I really got into cryptozoology in general. There are monsters, for the lack of a better term, that could be real. We could live in a world where things like that still exist. That’s really fascinating and exciting to me.”
Horror Fuel: “Can you tell us a little about the cast?”
JP: “The cast was something that was really important, as this was a character driven film. When you are working with a low budget you can’t be just all Bigfoot action all the time, even though I feel like we definitely delivered that in the last half of the film. We knew we had to have actors who could pull this off, to give more dimension to the characters, that could make them believable. I think we really lucked out. We have some people that you have seen before, like Bill Oberst Jr. who has been in like a hundred horror movies. There is also David Saucedo who was in ‘Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones, Jason Vail who was in Abraham Lincoln vs. Zombies, people you’ve seen around. Then there are a couple of people that you haven’t seen in as many films, such as Miles Joris-Peyrafitte who played the lead. Since making the movie Miles has gone on to direct the film As You Are, which won some awards at Sundance. I’m definitely excited for him and his career. The other cast member of the main five is D’Angelo Midili, the only one from Washington state where we shot the film. He has worked on every other film that I have directed, the shorts, the webseries, he’s ones one of the stars of The Invoking, and the features that I have worked on as a producer.”
Horror Fuel: “What was your favorite part about making Hunting Grounds?”
JP: “My favorite part was actually being on set and having a guy in a Bigfoot suit walking around, having the special effects guys bringing out a bucket of blood and doing the action scenes. It’s one thing to write something down, with it being my first script, and seeing stuff I’ve always wanted to see. When it came time to actually do it, it is doubling exciting, especially since most of the movie is set at night. That meant for about two weeks of production we had night shoots and were sleeping during the day, during the very hot summer. We were up on a mountain, so the heat was rising. When you’re filming until one or two in the morning it really helps to have that pick-me-up where it’s like, ‘Here comes our guy, here comes the actor, Connor Conrad, in the Sasquatch suit, here’s the buckets of blood, let’s do this’. That perked everyone up better than coffee.”
Horror Fuel: “You previous film, The Invoking (aka Sader Ridge), while being about the ghosts of a woman’s past, is also set in a remote location. Is that a coincidence?”
JP: “I think a lot of horror movies take place in remote areas because in this modern world it is so hard to ever feel like you don’t have help at your fingertips. That’s something smarter filmmakers than I exploit. The fact that maybe you feel safe in the city where you have all access, but maybe you’re not really. I like the kind of old school story telling, going to a gothic mansion, an old cabin, you know you’re out of your comfort zone. That’s where the things you don’t expect kind of seep in.
The Invoking is more of a psychological horror story. The setting was a little more mundane even though it was out in the woods in the middle of nowhere, it was a house that someone has inherited. Especially that one, it was something that budget made it something we had to do. With Hunting Ground, it was based on some true Bigfoot stories that involved cabins on Mount St. Helen. I knew that’s where I wanted to set it. With The Invoking, we made that for nothing. We shot it in a week, charged the budget to credit cards, as DIY as you can get it. We knew we had to have total control over the location to be able to do what we needed to do. We didn’t have a big budget for actors, we only had them for seven days. We actually wrote that entire script around a piece of property that my producing partner Matt Medisch grew up on. We knew that we could ask his mom to leave for a week, she still lived there. We had this farmland around it and a creepy barn, these things we wrote into the script. That’s something I learned from reading Robert Rodriquez’s book about the making of El Mariachi. When you’re making your first movie and don’t have a lot of resources, everything you do have that would look good on film, do it. ”
Horror Fuel: “Are you working on anything now?”
JP: “Yes, since shooting Hunting Grounds and traveling to festival and it finally getting a release, there has been a little bit of an in-between period where it’s playing at festival but the release is a few months away, so I’ve been taking that opportunity to write some new scripts. One is a big budget monster movie. I think it has a lot in common with Hunting Grounds, it’s very character based. I want to make sure that the characters feel like real people. The difference is with this one, it is more in a comedic vane, so it’s a horror-comedy with monsters and it’s larger scale. Opposed to having five characters, it’s more like fifteen. That one, because of budget aspects, could take a while before it comes to the screen. It was fun to write and I’m really excited about it. The next script, you know because you are never going to have the opportunity for someone to say they want to make something if you don’t have anything to show them. The next one is something more low budget, it’s darker and it’s in another subgenre that I love, slasher movies.”
For more on ‘Hunting Grounds‘, set for release on February 7th, visit both the Twitter and Facebook pages. To learn more about John Portanova and his films visit the official website for his production company, The October People.