Michael & Marc Leighton Interview
Director Michael Shane Leighton and writer Marc Leighton are the brothers responsible for the terrifying found footage horror film Pursuit of a Legend – review here
Gorepress’s Scullion was hugely impressed by their feature debut and wanted to discuss where their ideas came from and how they created such a believable “found footage” film.
Although not yet released in the UK, check out the official website here for a taster of Pursuit of a Legend.
Michael and Marc both come across as passionate, funny and genuine gents, with a love for film and a great pride for what they’ve accomplished. Below they talk about Bigfoot, surprise snow, an eviscerated deer, one severely inexperienced boat captain and a very disturbing dream…
GOREPRESS: Why Bigfoot?
Michael Shane Leighton: I have a couple of reasons for Bigfoot; one being that he is a household name. The other is of all the investigations for Bigfoot that have been documented he seems to always elude the camera. And that was perfect for a film that I never wanted to show the actual creature.
Marc Leighton: Can you think of anything more bad-ass to put up against these city boys trying to make it out in the woods with a camera?
GP: What made you think – “Let’s make a film!” – And why this particular story?
Michael: It all kind of happened fast. I had wrapped up a film in Grand Rapids and was eagerly looking forward to another project. Marc and I were sitting at my kitchen table discussing a reality based television series Pursuit of a Legend, which would actually follow a team of investigators around the United States looking for proof of Bigfoot once and for all. Then we thought – what if these investigators actually found him, what would happen. And well now you know.
Marc: Michael had been pitching me his reality show about searching for Bigfoot so my mind was focused there and I thought; why not make it a horror film. From there we started shooting ideas back and forth and within a few hours we had our cast, two brothers trying to make a show, how much more obvious could it have been.
GP: Why did you choose the “found footage” route to tell your story?
Marc: The story really lent itself to that concept. Two brothers go out to make a show, get some footage but before they get back bad things happen.
Michael: We thought to really tell the story of what happened to the brothers, let’s just piece together what footage they got and show the world that way.
GP: Personally, do you believe that Sasquatches exist?
Michael: You know with all the sightings all over the globe you gotta think there is something out there. Have I found one piece of hard evidence that makes me believe… no, but all of it put together, yeah. He’s out there, but he’s just a little bit smarter than those searching for him.
Marc: Didn’t you see the movie? Of course he does. But really, I would say I do believe he exists, but it gets harder and harder to hang on to that belief. I mean let’s face it, with today’s technology it would be hard for something to hide for very long. I just keep waiting for him to pop up on a Google map.
GP: Apart from Pursuit, what’s your favorite “found footage” film?
Marc: I would have to say Paranormal Activity. It had so much hype about it before its release I had myself set up for disappointment. But I thought they did it really well. There was nothing over the top. They focused on suspense and I think that placed them a cut above the rest.
Michael: Boy…I am going to go with Blair Witch. For one thing, it was a breakthrough concept and look at the following it generated; genius. Also, looking from a filmmaker’s standpoint, they did such a good job cutting it together. There were so many well blended transitions you never noticed until you sat down and watched it real close.
GP: Have you both always been fans of the horror genre?
Michael: Ha Ha… I suppose we could thank our father Michael W. Leighton for that one. I think we were what… 6 and 7 when he took us to see Friday the 13th in the theater. But for me, I would call myself a movie fan in general. If it has a good story and shot well then I would enjoy it.
Marc: My love of horror was kicked started when I saw Friday the 13th, and I also loved books by John Bellairs. They weren’t necessarily horror, but for a kid they were scary. I quickly moved on to Stephen King and Dean Koontz. From there, yes, I was definitely a horror fan.
GP: What scares you the most? Personally I’m terrified of the sea…
Marc: One word answer there: Dolls. I mean really, does it get any creepier?
Michael: Actually, the answer to that question is a topic of much debate at CK Pictures. I’ve had this terrifying dream that has haunted me since high school where I am skateboarding and an old black car pulls up alongside. The windows roll down and there’s this scary old woman in a long white veil staring at me. Scared the hell out of me then, and still does. Marc wrote a script about an old hag that haunts a family. I feel I deserve some story credit on it, but he’s fighting me.
GP: Marc, what films / TV series influenced you when writing Pursuit of a Legend?
Marc: I would say Halloween had some influence. It was one of those films where it was dark and you saw these images of the antagonist in the background. Also, The Strangers did such an excellent job on suspense. Through so much of the movie, the audience was on the edge of their seat, waiting for something to happen.
GP: Were you inspired by T.A. Wilson’s book “In Pursuit of a Legend: 72 Days in California Bigfoot Country”? It’s seems of a similar theme.
Marc: To be honest, neither of us had heard of the book ‘til we were looking up Pursuit of a Legend to make sure it wasn’t already a title for a movie.
GP: How difficult was it to write dialogue which had to be extremely naturalistic?
Marc: Actually, the dialog came quite easy. I just imagined me and Michael out in the woods and how we would talk to one another. Our conversations are almost always loaded down with sarcasm and the insults are sure to fly. But, it’s all in good fun.
GP: And Michael? What influenced you in the filming of Pursuit of a Legend?
Michael: I thought we could tell a fun story like you would do sitting around a campfire. Also, filming Pursuit of a Legend was not only a chance to have my directorial debut but also a way to finally get a chance to create a project with my younger brother Marc.
GP: How long was the shoot?
Michael: The shoot itself lasted only 6 days. We actually filmed it in sequence. I wanted Chris (Justin) and Steffen (Carter) to look and feel as though they had been out in the woods camping. So it goes right along with the script. Day 1 of the film is day 1 of shooting. Of course we had to make a few adjustments, such as the six inches of snow that was dumped on our set on day 1… That was not in the script. So we did have to push our shooting back a day. That also cancelled out our plan of having our brothers really spend the night out in the woods in their tents. We ended up bringing them in each night to our small lodge… a one room shack with twelve metal frame bunks… I had the crew wake them up every few hours to give them that didn’t-sleep-worth-a-damn look every morning.
GP: Any problems on set? Anything spooky happen?
Michael: The snow! Marc and I did a walkthrough of our set the week before shooting and it was perfect! Barren trees, dry branches littering the ground, a few spots of mud here and there to put a nice foot print in. Then, on day one, the snow fell; But nothing spooky that I heard of. Couple of mishaps in the port-a-potty.
Marc: Don’t forget about our weathered boat captain.
Michael: (Laughs) Of course there’s that. The script originally called for our two brothers to get a boat ride down river to the Widjigo woods. Well… first it took forever to get our small boat in the water and that was way down river from our location so it took forever to get the boat down to our location. Then we realized our captain (Winston Whitten) had never driven a boat. You saw the film, tell me Winston didn’t look like he’d spent time on the open seas. So we taught him how to operate it, he got himself in the boat, we went up to the location, about fifty yards up the semi frozen river, and the shoot started. It wasn’t ten seconds later we heard the terrible cry of “he’s in the river!” Our set Medic (Tim Morrow) was standing by in a mustang suit and we all started a mad dash for Winston. We finally got there and Winston had made it to shore, but he was on the other side of the river. All in all, Winston was a great sport and we ended up doing a quick rewrite and ended up with the scene we have now. And a great scene at that.
GP: Whose idea was the decimated deer?! And what did you use to create it? (Please tell me it wasn’t one of you with a chainsaw in a deer park!)
Marc: As much as I hate to do it, I have to give Michael credit with that one. Originally I had another rock shower in the script but Michael wanted something more… something that showed our Legend was stepping things up. He suggested a deer, or at least pieces of a deer. I looked at him like he was crazy and may have indeed told him he was. He told me he’s the boss. Clearly it was the right call and I think it turned into one of the more disturbing scenes in the film. It also gave way to some good dialog later one when Carter gives his opinion of what is happening. And by the way… PETA, it was a hunter’s kill that we got bits and pieces of.
Michael: Damn it! Why don’t we have Deer Parks??
GP: What was your greatest challenge when making Pursuit of a Legend?
Marc: Have we mentioned the snow yet? And boy was it cold.
Michael: Other than that, there was the final night of shooting. It was the film’s climax and everything needed to be done just right. It was the only time we really had to choreograph the scenes and as the film’s director I stepped in and did much of the camera work myself. Nothing against either actor, but it had to be done just right. Other than that, location, weather and keeping Bigfoot happy.
Marc: He even did about a dozen falls to the ground at the end and ended up at the chiropractor’s office the next day.
GP: The film really rests on the shoulders of your two leads. Where did you find them, and how were they to work with?
Michael: We found them both through our great casting director Fran Bascom. I asked that we find two actors that have no credits to speak of and within a week, Fran had several dozen to choose from. The two were great to work with and made it easy for a first time director. From day one, they took on the roles of Carter and Justin and remained in character the entire time.
Marc: Yeah, I don’t think I even knew their names ‘til we were done with the shoot. I had of course seen their names on paper, but when I met them during preproduction they introduced themselves as Carter and Justin, and I guess I was simple enough that it just stuck with me as their names.
GP: Were you both happy with the final result?
Michael: I am definitely pleased with the film. We had a vision, good or bad, and the film is more than what we had believed it could be.
Marc: It turned out great. It has more than just your typical found footage film. It has two characters you can really like and a story.
GP: If you could go back in time, what one piece of advice would you give yourselves before starting production?
Michael: I would tell myself to wait until fall, only because the snow storm threw a bit of a wrench in things, but really, the snow cover gave us some great scenery. Then I would say to butcher the writer and throw his parts at the tent.
Marc: Of course, there are always things I think could have been better in the script, unfortunately you gotta stop rewriting sometimes and start filming. Even now I’ll think of something and say, “Damn, I should have put that in the script”.
GP: When can we expect a UK / European release date?
Michael: Right now, we are in the process of finding a domestic distributor but we are very eager to get it out internationally. Know anyone in acquisitions there in the UK?
GP: So, what’s next for you both?
Michael: We are currently finishing a great Western script that we both wrote and hope to see it in production in the very near future. We also have fantastic horror film Marc wrote, “Elmira” based on one of my biggest fears, and hope to begin filming that one the end of summer this year.
GP: And finally, what’s your favourite horror film of all time?
Michael: I am going to go with The Blair Witch Project. The fact it was the first film of this kind to really break out tells a lot about the filmmakers. From concept to marketing, they were nearly flawless. Genius really and for that, I tip my hat to them.
Marc: I think I can speak for both of us when I say The Exorcist. It has to be the most disturbing and brilliantly scripted horror film out there.