The Footage - George Romero's unmade Bigfoot movie

A design for a Bigfoot for the unmade film The Footage.

As mentioned in our post on Jacaranda Joe, George Romero had first tried to make a Bigfoot movie in the mid-1970s. The Footage was a project that Romero developed in between The Crazies and Martin that never came to fruition, but, at one point Pittsburgh Steelers legend Franco Harris was attached to star. (I have not been able to confirm this, but one of Romero's collaborators at the time suggest that Terry Bradshaw may have also been approached.) In the collection, we have three treatments/short scripts, with some substantial differences between them. 

The basic story, shared among all the versions, is about a TV show called Outdoorsman, USA (or some variation), described as "a weekly television program which is very popular among armchair sportsmen across the country. The documentary cameras follow a professionally mounted expedition into the wilderness each week on a fishing or hunting trip, and to make it all the more glamourous, a celebrity from Show Business or Sports 'stars' in each episode.... The film is purported to be actual, uncut documentation of the expedition, but as the program's popularity has grown, and agents and promoters have taken it as a place-to-lug or a place-to-build-an-image, much of the show's integrity has given way to showmanship and fakery." In the version labeled "Franco Version," the star is that week's celebrity participant, Johnny Wilson, a star quarterback trying to launch a career as an actor. In a 4-page treatment the star is Johnny Shaw, "a Star NFL Quarterback who is just beginning a career as a country and western recording artist."

In all versions, someone from the shoot stumbles onto an adorable baby Bigfoot while wandering through the woods: "a creature which is ape-like in appearance, but obviously intelligent. It is about the size of a ten year old human child, and its articulation of sounds is quite sophisticated for an animal." Whether out of concern (in one version, it is injured) or unthinking instinct to grab something unusual, somebody carries the baby Bigfoot back to camp. The adult Bigfeet give chase and the humans open fire.

In true Romero fashion, even though giant, seemingly intelligent creatures are trying to kill them, the humans fight amongst each other about what to do with both the baby and the film footage of it and the other Bigfeet. Either one would ensure the eventual destruction of these rare creatures and their apparently loving, almost utopian society, but the producer sees a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. The greedy humans do not succeed in retaining either the baby or the footage. One version ends with the Bigfeet celebrating the return of their child. Not understanding the nature of film, the Bigfeet throw the footage into the air like streamers. Coming long before The Blair Witch Project and long before something like Cannibal Holocaust (or Spinal Tap, for that matter), The Footage is about a documentary crew filming an extraordinary encounter, but we never see the footage that results. Indeed, it is destroyed before it can even be developed. 

In one version, the athlete (here named "Jerry"), wants to set the baby free but doesn't prevail until the adult Bigfeet have already taken out most of the crew. He has a moment of connection with the Bigfoot communty in which the creatures accept him and he recognizes the emotion they all feel for their child: 

They go to the old male... he seems as old as time itself... they help him to his feet... they bring him to Jerry... what eyes... they are filled with sadness... a single tear comes down his face... all at once he stands alone, proud... the others kneel... it's almost... a spiritual thing... almost like being in the presence of a living God... Jerry is overcome with emotion... what should he do? ... the old one bows his head toward Jerry... Jerry looks up into his eyes... the silence is awesome... Jerry kneels before him in the manner of the others and bows his head... he places his hand on Jerry's head... there is a beautiful sound in unison from the others, like a bass chord from an organ. Jerry faints and slumps to the floor.*

We can see here something important about Romero's interest in monsters and creatures. It's a truism across his filmography (including a number of unmade films) that the real villains are people. Zombies might be hungry for flesh, but people are hateful, greedy, cruel, selfish, and destructive. Romero's heroes are often the ones who recognize the humanity, or at least the inherent value, of a monster. (And, of course, in his work it's often the case that cruelty towards monsters is paired with cruelty towards humans, especially those who are somehow marginalized by mainstream society: people of color, women, queer people, the poor, people with disabilities, foreigners. The Bigfoot communty in The Footage live a loving, communal life free of greed or hatred. They support and protect each other. 

In addition to the short scripts and treatment, the collection contains a number of designs and studies for the creatures. I have tracked down one of the artists, Don Fortenberry, who had no memory of the project who confirmed that it was indeed his work. He dated it to 1976, when he was a student at the Maryland Institute of art, and speculates that Romero solicited his character designs from students. 


* The ellipses here are all faithfully reproduced from Romero's own text. He frequently used ellipses in place of other punctuation, in a way that makes it exceedingly easy to identify his writing when a text is unsigned or unattributed!




-Adam Charles Hart