Friday, January 20, 2012

Animal Planet's 'Finding Bigfoot' believer and skeptic sound off

Moneymaker & Holland,
Courtesy Animal Planet
One is a believer, one is a skeptic, but both are in pursuit of answers about a missing link myth. On Animal Planet's Finding Bigfoot (Sundays at 10 p.m.), research biologist Ranae Holland is the voice scientific doubt regarding the Sasquatch while Matt Moneymaker, founder of the Bigfoot Field Research Organization (BFRO), needs no convincing but does want more proof. Along with James "Bobo" Fay and Cliff Barackman, each week the show finds Holland and Moneymaker recreating supposed evidence, talking to witnesses, testing theories and investigating "Squatch" hotspots.

On the surface, Holland and Moneymaker's relationship seems like it should be confrontational; the church of the proven fact versus the unproven faith normally don't mix so well. However, the pair says they've mutual respect for each other's mission despite disagreements and debate between them - and they finish each other's sentences about as much as they cut one another off.

Paranormal Pop Culture recently brought the believer and skeptic together over coffee in Bigfoot-neutral New York City for a conversation about their relationship on and off camera, the dangers of reality-TV and how Bigfoot fits into the scientific and paranormal communities.

Q: So the believer and the skeptic - how did you two get together?

RANAE HOLLAND: I was raised in South Dakota. My special time with my dad, quality time out alone, would either be testing stunt gear - because he was this crazy daredevil, jack of all trades - or watching Bigfoot movies or In Search Of. He was a really into the paranormal, especially Bigfoot. And that was our special time. So, I move out to Seattle, and I'm becoming a research biologist. Thirty some-odd years later, I'm working and contracting for NOAA [National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration]. In 2003, my dad passed away, and I was going through his things and I run across some Bigfoot stuff - and I have vivid, vivid memories of wanting to find those Bigfoot stories where I'm doing my field work.

So I jump on the Internet, I find Matt and the BFRO in 2003, 2004. I tell him, "With all due respect, I personally don't believe in Bigfoot, but I love Bigfoot stories." So we developed a relationship where I could contact him, get access to the database. Meanwhile I'm on the Olympic Peninsula and in the location that's one of the hotbed of sightings reports, so I can run out there for him. I was actually out there three times a week anyway. He wanted to know about elk, Coho [salmon] and the conditions out there. So we had that relationship for about seven years, and I continue working at NOAA. My contract was ending and there was this window where I'm waiting to head off on a different project and get more schooling, pick up on my funding - and at that point, the universe working its magic, Matt calls me and tells me [the show] was looking nine months for this final person, and that was me. And there you have it.

MATT MONEYMAKER: That was in 2004 and so if I was already doing [paid Bigfoot expeditions] then, I met you and then you finally called back and said you think something's going on over in "The Twins" [Twin Harbors Washington State Park].

RH: I remember our initial conversation like it was yesterday. Matt's this passionate person, and this is a controversy that's been going on as long as Bigfoot has been around. In all due respect, I don't believe it and Matt does and Matt's seen one. Have you heard anything, have you smelled anything, have you seen anything - I just with fondness remember this conversation of theory or belief. Matt said something like, "women have a better advantage of being out there ... men are more intimidating and you're a woman, you're out there driving the same vehicle ...

MM: We had gone out there, gotten engrossed in these things so many times that we knew, just from having a mixed group with us, that these things come closer to females. They just do!

RH: So, I think Matt's thinking it's a great opportunity-

MM: I think they're less afraid of females.

RH: And Matt's got this opportunity. He's like, here's this female biologist on the Olympic Peninsula, this hotbed of activity. She goes out there and stays out there, so he's on fire for that reason. We have this great relationship and I think we met one time because he happened to be coming in as I was going out, so one time we actually met. But I did see a flash of fur. Which, to me, I don't know what that is. You know, I didn't see Bigfoot... I see an opening of canopy, I see a flash of fur, but at that point, a combination of bat, or-

MM: Wait wait, it looked like it might. Have. Been. Legs! Not just a flash of fur - it's something that made you think it could have been possibly a Squatch. Right?

RH: Hold on, let me finish, if I may? So, from there, Matt was wanting to find a ridge, find a ravine, and I think from there - really close to my field sites - is where the expeditions started. Now what I've been doing is I've looked over my shoulder, and truly, this is the first time. What was really great is we were going to locations nobody has a reason to go to. We have to sample. And I've looked over my shoulder, one of my crew members had cracked his knee. So as I look over my shoulder, about 60 or 70 yards, there's an opening in the canopy. But it was up high! It wasn't like down low on the ground, and it's an opening that's more oblong this way, and I just see black movement. So the question becomes, the canopy opening was a certain shape. But it was jet black, it was moving quietly, I don't know what it is. I mean, you're...

MM: Something gave you a reason that it might not be a bear. What was that?

RH: No, well I'm just saying, for you, the opening was at your assumption as we reviewed it was that it could be an arm. Your belief because it was moving that way. Because it wasn't an elk, because elk I would have seen the rest of the body, I would have seen the top, or the tan part.

MM: I mean, usually, you can ID something. Why couldn't you just go, "oh, that was a..." whatever it was?

RH: Because it's at 70 yards and it's just an opening in the canopy. You're only seeing part of something. So I saw something move quick and quietly. To me, I saw a black animal and it's right in the area where there's a hotbed of sightings, and it really spurred Matt to go on, too. That's a great place for locations and, you know, your expeditions on "The Twins", they had a lot of success.

Q: As a skeptic and believer, what drives you nuts about one another?

RH: Well, all four of us are very passionate and very different.

MM: We're put in a very, very tough situation - very frustrating. We're kind of ideological; we have to be pitted against each other because I'm like the leader of the group. I have had a very close encounter with one of these things. I speak in terms of them, like "I know they're real." Obviously her position, which we want, is somebody who's going to be able to look from the scientific perspective and know that protocol, and see what everyone is doing that can fit better in there. She think in terms of finding objective evidence to turn around and persuade all the other scientists.

That's great, and somebody should be focused on that, but if you only focus that way, you're not even gonna follow the leads. The leads are anecdotal if they're not even scientific - they're witnesses talking about seeing them there, and kind of piecing together things in a very hypothetical way. You have to have that if you're gonna be lead to some kind of physical evidence. You know what I mean? It's not that we need the scientific community to confirm for us that these things are there. We do wanna get stuff so that they know and so that we can have our big "ha ha, so you were wrong, we were right" moment. We love that!

She kind of comes at it looking at it from that eye. And more importantly, she's been doing field stuff for a long time. I've been with a serious club, and with [the show] Mysterious Encounters. We had a lead female, Autumn Williams, and it was too brutal for her going out and doing this. You're out in the cold through most of the night, everyday and just out exposed to the elements a lot. I knew Ranae could handle that.

Q: How does editing come into play with showing off the skeptic/believer opinions?

MM: She understands exactly where I come from and I understand where she comes from. We're put in a difficult position where we're given a narrow window to give our responses to a situation. It's really hard to deliver what you have to say about something - especially when you have a few of the people who want to deliver what they have to say about something - and she'll say something I'd want to counter to make sure we have the validity. But we know that it ain't gonna fit in the 20 seconds that they're gonna give us on the show.

RH: And it's more than that. Here's what it is - you take anybody who is passionate about something, and you've got to be a strong person to do this type of work. You've got to believe in the work. And you've put them on the road for four months with those grueling type hours, and anybody's gonna fight. But one thing to look at the show is, I'm not in the BFRO.

MM: She's the infidel! (laughs)

RH: (laughs) I come from a different approach, and it's good that I understand the anecdotal stories and problem solving and being objective. I bring something that Matt doesn't bring. And Matt brings something I don't bring, and Bobo [James Fay] brings something, Cliff [Barackman] brings something - we all bring that. We don't have a leader as a group. We're four pieces to this group and I think that we really need all of us.

MM: We try not to act like somebody being the leader when we're all out there. I wouldn't like that.

Q: So you never want to shake each other and say, "No! Don't you see?!"

MM: I think she's got to do it the way she should. Listen, I've yelled and screamed at her enough about all sorts of different things, and she ...

RH: We honestly yell and scream at each other, but at the end of the day, there is not one thing he does that drives me nuts. And the funny thing is ...

MM: I understand what she's doing. It's like, if you go and you're in a law case, you got another lawyer there. You know what the other lawyer is doing. Do you hate him? No, because everything he does is just like, you understand his playbook. I know her playbook and she knows mine. I think she's done stuff in the past where I've gotten mad, and I've done stuff that's she's gotten mad at. And she says, "don't do this and this" and I'm like, "OK, whoa!"

RH: I'm blunt. I'm just going to say how it is. It's reality TV, so of course there's conflict from the two most opposite sides and that B.S., but that's not our relationship for the most part. There's mutual respect on this show. These guys believe in them. Am I going to sit here and call Matt crazy, or this or that? No. He had an experience that I didn't have - just like Matt respects me for being where I'm at. That and critical objective thinking are the two most important things to me to bring to the show.

Q: Do you view Bigfoot research as an arm of science or as part of the paranormal?

MM: It's definitely an arm of science. There's very prominent scientists in Canada and one in the United States. There's [Dr. Jeffrey] Meldrum, a respectable guy in the United States, [David] Daegling, and then there's Jane Goodall, and there's a few other top notch scientists who are really analyzing and evaluating and explaining in non-opinion and biological terms what this may be. I don't think you have the same thing with ghosts. I don't think you have a high level of professors in universities in Canada and the United States who are like, "listen, we have ample, a lot of residual evidence to explain that there is a spirit world." You know what I mean? I don't think you have that, and with UFOs, you may have scientists who say yes, it's possible, but they don't really have a grip on whatever it is people are seeing. The Bigfooters are much closer to science and we've got tons more witnesses, there's tons more sightings, there's interactions - everything falls under a little bit more control and it's really a predictable thing. But we've got a lot more scientists involved in Bigfoot stuff than I think anything other paranormal categories have.

Q: Ranae, as a biologist, do you think it fits within the paranormal community or the scientific community?

RH: Well, I think it's both but it starts in the physical sciences. Grover Krantz [physical anthropology professor at University of Washington] was the first physical anthropologist to step forward. You've got Daegling, you've got Meldrum, you've got all these scientists who were there, just as Matt said previously. It's something tactile. It's supposed to be something physical, right? It's supposed to be this animal, but as you further delve in, you start to see the reason why it overlaps. There are people whose belief system, whether folklore or not in Native American culture, say it's a shapeshifter or it's this, that - that's where it starts to be paranormal.

MM: But have you heard a model of the paranormal ... everything you heard come together, does it make sense as a biological entity or does it make more sense as a paranormal entity?

RH: My personal opinion, and the reason why I'm out here with these guys, is I'm within biological sciences, so where is the evidence? Gathering that physical evidence, that's how I interpret it. But generally speaking, I understand how it overlaps into the paranormal realm because there are a lot of people who have reports, beliefs, etc. where it goes into that gray area of the two. My personal belief - if I'm approaching it in a physical science aspect would be a biological animal - if it has behavior, the size of reproduction, the migration routes, caloric intake required, habitat required. Hair, body, blood, you know? All of that. That would be my approach.

Q: Ranae, keeping with the scientific question, how are you received in the scientific community now that you're doing this?

HH: The people that I work with in the core group - being fortunate enough to work with the professional mentors that I have - they all understand my relationship with Bigfoot is the connection to my father, first and foremost. But the more I learn and the more time I spend, I start gathering evidence that isn't easily explained away. I start meeting my academic peers above and below me who, ones who have known me for years, tell me a story that they can't explain away. And I've had that all throughout my career.

MM: They tell you sighting stories, don't they?

RH: No, they'll tell me people who have either heard things, or seen a glimpse of something, and maybe not people that I know in my academic inner circle, but I met some of the few on the periphery who tell me, straight up, that they've seen one at close range. So, do I get the ribbing? Yes, from people who really don't know me. I mean, if you are going to enter the Bigfoot realm, be prepared. I mean, you have to be thick-skinned. And yeah, I get the ribbing, but people who know me professionally and personally know what my connection is and how I remain - and everyone that I know within the academic community feels very much the same way.

Q: When this is all over, when the show ends or when you move onto the next thing, do you think there'll be any resistance when you try to re-enter that academic field?

RH: That was the first question I had when this whole thing came to Matt. I think I said "You know how I feel about this, Matt! Absolutely not." Then it was finally Todd Miller from Discovery who said, "What is your hesitation?" I went to every professional person who mentored at University of Washington, NOAA and everybody was like "Why not?" Now, had I not had a decade of field experience and already worked my niches - and maybe had those openings where I could go back - I probably would never have done it. It honestly was an alignment of many things to make this situation right for me, personally.

Q: How does you're role as a skeptic and scientist mesh with the challenges of reality TV where you have to be so brief?

RH: There are people there who see the few things I say on the show - which, of course, are edited - and think that I'm not skeptical at all! You can ask the guys. I am incredibly skeptical to the point where you talked about where we get annoyed, where Bobo just looks at me like, "How can you not believe?" People really need to take the confines of television into account.

Q: Matt, what's your take on the production process? Is there a moment where you wish you had been given more time, or that the editors had cut something a little bit differently to show off more of a situation?

MM: I should say I understand what they're trying to do when they edit - to keep it moving and exciting - and I guess they kind of need to do it. We, of course were hoping and thinking they'd edit in such a way that it would appeal to our own peer group. But of course, we're a small minority and we know too much. We're people who already know the subject. And so the things that are going to interest us aren't necessarily appropriate for the people who don't know anything about the subject.

The example I'll give is the Marble Mountains footage. There's this thing walking along the ridge line. We could have spent a lot more time talking about that footage, but they didn't even show the parts of that that are most compelling. We couldn't get back up there to the site to do a recreation, but there was footage from two different recreations showing how titanically tall that thing was by having people really just stand next to the same tree. When you show those comparisons, it just like, it just can make you shiver. They didn't show that. We could have spent a lot of time analyzing that, but that's not, that's too documentary-ish, from their perspective. That's what we'd want to do, that's what we want to see! But they want Scooby Doo, man, and so that's why they're having us run around. Again, I guess it makes sense we should try and be appealing not necessarily to our own peers who know everything about this stuff already, but to people who don't know anything.

Television is a different medium. It does require different things. These aren't stupid people who are making the decisions on how the show should go. I think they're right about this. And all the stuff that we can't say - we know if we can't say in this segment this thing about this incident - we've got a lot of episodes in the future where we can communicate that out that idea. So if we're just throwing out little bits here and there in the context of an action show? Then fine. You know, that's the way they want it, and it isn't necessarily the right way to go after a Squatch, but it's apparently the right way to do a show about going after a Squatch.

RH: Matt made a really good point. What we do want to do on these expeditions is within the confines of television. One thing that is interesting to know is if we're out there and we have something happen over the course of the evening - but we don't catch it on video - it didn't happen, as far as the wrap up of the show. What people fail to understand is how 100 hours of filming on average for a 43-minute show is a lot of waiting and a lot of work and a lot of cold and a lot of elements, and if you don't catch it and capture it on the video part? It didn't happen for the show.

Q: Are you concerned at all about the technology that allows people to create really lifelike creatures with their computers trickling into your work?

MM: I know people who do digital effects, and if someone came up with footage like that that was in clear daylight, looked really real - but still you're wondering, "I don't know, could that be digitally animated?" If we showed [effects experts] that footage, I guarantee you they would be able to look at it and tell you. There is something about the way those composites and images blend in with the background if you really look closely. They can see the telltale signs of the digital calculations done for the composite. They can tell the difference.

Q: So you're not too worried about a hoax culture?

RH: I am.

MM: Well, it hasn't happened yet! It hasn't happened where somebody has made a convincing piece of Bigfoot footage that turned out to be digitally-animated thing. There's always been a guy in costume, and I think there will always be because that's a hell of a lot cheaper!

RH: Technology is a double-edged sword. It has given us thermal imaging, night vision, longer battery life - just when you're out there with the equipment to be out in these areas where it's remote. Technology is on our side but at the same time, technology is against us to people who could potentially build the better costume.

MM: But digitally, that hasn't happened.

RH: But I'm talking- well I'm not saying it has or it hasn't. I'm just saying, in all aspects, just the broad scope of technology is against us. We are constantly fighting the battle. We are constantly taking into account and looking for hoaxes. We're constantly taking [hoaxes] into consideration when we do these expeditions. I'm going to tell you the lengths we go to ...

MM: And they don't show that on the show.

RH: Again, a double-edged sword! Whereas we gain popularity, we're going to get more feedback, people coming in and sharing their stories, sharing their video footage. But at the same time, as we gain popularity, were going to get more hoax-sters.

Q: Speaking of famous hoaxes, the 1967 Patterson-Gimlin film - which really launched the modern fascination with Bigfoot - do you buy it?

MM: Oh yeah, that's a real one.

Q: Ranae?

RH: I love me some Bob Gimlin. (Matt laughs)

Going there to that spot, meeting that man, watching his eyes - I'm still torn, but there is nothing I've encountered that I can just *snap* and say, "Oh, that's not it." Now, you see this video and unfortunately you're not seeing the original generation of its 1967 film when it's in the distance because the video will put it further away. I hear people talking about it saying, "I see the fingers moving and the muscles bulging" but I don't see that as easily. You look up at clouds and you get that confirmation bias. You see what you're looking for. But come on, I mean, I do have difficulty writing it off that that's a guy in a suit.

I mean, I am on the fence on that one. I can't wrap my head around that whatever is in this film remains undetected, but at the same time, I don't know how someone was able to fake that. I mean, there was a catastrophic flood the winter before, which was really interesting. I didn't know that. It looks like a lunar landing, and that explains that situation. As far as someone getting down there and walking in some type of suit, it would have been maybe a a lot easier - that's why it's so flat. The substrate is very simple, not complex. But putting all those pieces together ... nobody has been able to come forward, explain exactly how they got the suit, produce the suit. I'd love to see someone step forward and show the public how that was done, because I mean there's the Zapruder film, the Bigfoot, there's a lot of controversy that persists to this very day. Passionate people on both sides.

Q: And yet Patterson confessed it was faked right before he died in 1972, right?

MM: Isn't that funny he thinks that! I mean, we're talking about the Surgeon's Photograph. It was a photo of a Loch Ness, or the guy who got that photo and as he was dying - the surgeon on his deathbed - said, "yeah I faked it." And a lot of people already suspected it. That story about dispelling got translated into the Patterson footage. It started almost like an urban myth that Patterson had died and that he said on his death bed, but no, he never did. In fact, he said himself, no, there was a few people that Bob Gimlin knew were there. He actually confirmed yeah, it was the real thing. People were trying to encourage him to get better so he could go back down there and get more footage. So, it was the Loch Ness story that got translated to Patterson. So no, that never happened!

RH: If you could look at that film to this day, I mean that's where it all started for me. I'd sit with my dad going, "There is a monster in California!" Well if that's not real, then how did they do it? Here I am, 30-something years later, still wondering. You speak to all these special effects people you were talking about, I don't know. If it's not real, then how is it done? That's another part of this whole thing. Where are all those continued reports coming from? I mean, this phenomena is fascinating.