|John L. Johnsen interview|
By TCC Team Member Dorraine Fisher
Professional Writer, a nature and wildlife enthusiast who has written for many magazines. Get Dorraine's book The Book Of Blackthorne!
[DF's Review of Hoax of the Century can be found HERE]
Bigfoot: A Skeptic’s Point of View
Interview With Videographer John L. Johnsen
Bigfoot videographer, John L. Johnsen no longer believes in Bigfoot. I spoke with him recently in length. He’s the co-creator of the documentary, The Hoax Of The Century – The Movie, that attempts to expose the Patterson-Gimlin film as a hoax. I was getting ready to review the DVD recently when it all took an interesting turn. It seems the more I learned about John Johnsen, the more intriguing his story became. John has had an interesting history with the subject of bigfoot, including associations with Dr. Jeff Meldrum and reputed hoaxer Tom Biscardi. In fact, he partnered with Biscardi in the making of this documentary. And this has caused controversy surrounding it ever since.
So John wanted to set the record straight about this film and his association with Biscardi, and give his views on the subject of Bigfoot and maybe a little glimpse into the reasons why he believes as he does now.
Dorraine: John, tell us about your work.
John: I am a retired freelance photographer and videographer with experience in chemical and digital photography and analog and digital video acquisition and editing. I lean towards nature topics and/or historical events, but have been involved in main stream filmmaking as well.
Dorraine: What started your interest in Bigfoot?
John: Bigfoot was an accidental topic for me. I was looking for a subject to "pay my dues" in as I switched gears in my retirement, going from event, corporate and product photography and videography to a more entertainment based format. So, I needed a subject that would be fun and interesting. At the time I retired the now defunct Outdoor Life Channel, a cable network, was featuring a show entitled "Mysterious Encounters" where a group of people traveled around the country following up on reports of strange events and creatures. So, using that show as a model, I decided to do a similar project with the idea that I would limit it to a single film before seeking a more serious venture. Obviously it didn’t quite work out that way as I found the topic exciting and intriguing.
Dorraine: What are your views on the subject of the existence of Bigfoot?
John: When I started my first film I was open minded to a fault, but a general skeptic. Yet there seemed to be so much corroborating, anecdotal evidence that I was intrigued by the possibility that there was something to it all. I gradually became a believer, more or less, and that peaked when, in 2010, I had an ‘encounter" in the Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area in western Kentucky. However, close scrutiny and the aid of Dr. Jeff Meldrum made short work of that and my belief was dashed by the elaborate hoax that had been perpetrated on me. I have to say that I now am a dyed in the wool skeptic and believe that, after six years in the field with all sorts of well-meaning people, and some who were not so well-meaning; the only place Bigfoot lives is in the minds of the believers.
Dorraine: Can you elaborate more on your association with Dr. Meldrum and the incident that seemed to clinch your skepticism?
John: I sent the alleged casting obtained from the LBL to Dr. Meldrum in 2011. His examination confirmed what I already suspected; that the casting was a fabrication made with the palm and heal of a human hand and with human fingers substituted for the toe impressions. In other words: a fake.
Dorraine: How did you get involved with Tom Biscardi?
John: Tom Biscardi has an internet radio show. I was listening one night because I was tipped off that he would be mentioning me in a disparaging manor, criticizing me for being an "unknown" in the genre and knowing nothing about the topic. When I heard him start in about me on the show I called him on his personal cell number and left a message. He wasn’t expecting that. He called me back afterwards and we went at it. He apologized for making the comments and said he would like to meet me in person. He was coming to Carrabelle, Florida, to look at sightings there of an alleged black panther and wanted to know if I would be interested in joining him. I accepted as the very worst that could happen was that I simply made the two hour drive for nothing. When he met me he again apologized and paid for my lodging and some of my food as well. I went along with the crew to the areas where the cat had been seen and, after finding no evidence, we returned to the base hotel where we talked some. Biscardi said he wanted to do another film, Bigfoot Lives III, from a library of footage not used in his other two films. He also needed trailers made for a couple of older projects. He offered to pay me a percentage from the sales of these films and I accepted the job. But in the long run, the relationship soured over the Hoax project and I ended up having to get my media attorney involved to get satisfaction. The details of that are private, but suffice it to say that despite winning a small victory, it cost me more money than I received from Biscardi to get that satisfaction.
Dorraine: Did you know in advance that involvement with Biscardi could be risky? And if so,
what made it worth the risk?
John: I definitely knew Biscardi’s reputation before going in. I knew about the frozen Bigfoot fiasco in Georgia and the captive Bigfoot in California from years ago. I also had heard dozens of stories from the web (they can’t put anything on the internet that isn’t true…I heard that on the internet…), internet radio shows and forums about his escapades but I am the kind of person who will not make an assumption about someone based solely on the opinions of others. So, I went into the agreement with both eyes wide open and looking for problems. The main thing I wanted to prove or disprove were the claims by others that he was a hoaxer. Some people involved with the frozen Bigfoot fiasco claimed that, once he, Biscardi, discovered that the Georgia Boys were a fake, he became the driving force behind the whole thing. Others close to that incident weren’t talking but there was an unspoken air of agreement. As to what it was that made it worth it; I really didn’t see any benefit other than a few bucks coming in and an opportunity to see what was on his archived footage.
Dorraine: Are you still involved with him? Has this caused problems for you as far as marketing
John: I am no longer associated with Biscardi. I found no proof that he was involved with any hoaxes, but I did find proof, through personal experience, that he was a liar and a cheat. I terminated the relationship during the marketing phase of the project and sought the aid of my media lawyer to obtain satisfaction. I will not go into those proceedings except to say that I was, possibly, the only person to get blood from a stone.
Dorraine: What prompted the production of this documentary? Whose idea was it and how
did it all start?
John: As Biscardi and I were discussing our other projects, the topic of the PG Film came up. Biscardi told me that he had footage of Heironimus and Philip Morris discussing their roles in the film. I proposed the project and it began in earnest as Tom went to interview Greg Long near Yakima and I went to Kentucky to interview Leroy Blevins. There was also footage from an investor in the project who gave Roger Patterson money to make the film.
Dorraine: What's your association with Greg Long, if any?
John: I have never visited with or spoken to Greg Long except to clarify certain aspects of his bio.
Dorraine: You described yourself as more of an open-minded/ skeptical believer when you started delving into the subject of bigfoot. And now you're definitely a more serious skeptic. What would you say drove your beliefs about the subject back then when you were more open to the possibility? What reasoning was behind that thinking at the time? And what drives your more serious skepticism now? What's at the core of it? What key thing changed in your mind?
John: The main thing that drove my on-the-fence belief was ignorance. I was ignorant of the way the so called Bigfoot Community functioned, or dysfunctioned. I had no idea where to begin so I began looking at forums. It took me months to find a forum with moderators and participants open minded enough to even talk to me. Then, the moderator at the time of the GCBRO, Bill Ribble, who is now deceased, set me up with a woman in Maydelle, Texas. She claimed to have a "clan" as she called it on her 160 acres of pine forest and creek bottoms. I arranged to visit her for the first field visit and off I went to Texas, a trip of some 1100 miles. My spirits were high all along the way. But when I arrived, a certain kind of reality set in, one that would repeat itself time after time in nearly every home visit scenario. The woman met me at a little general store in Maydelle. This place was in such poor repair that I had to literally walk around holes in the floor. We had some lunch and coffee and discussed the situation at her acreage, then I followed her to her home, a trailer set under some oak trees on a plot of land. It looked serene enough but as I approached, I saw that the trailer was dirty and in need of repair. There was yet another trailer, a single wide, which looked as if it had been dropped from the sky, its side torn open and groups of dogs and cats were moving in and out at will. There were two pit bulls chained up outside in the heat, and other dogs wandering the pasture amongst several sickly and starved looking horses. In a cage adjacent to the single wide trailer was a juvenile Turkey Vulture. In the yard was a pool of water which, as I approached, turned out to be raw sewage boiling up from an overflowing septic tank. Inside there were dirty cobwebs hanging off the ceiling every few inches, literally hundreds of them, and the furniture and carpeting looked as if someone had been mud wrestling on them.
We had a few hours before dark so I asked her to show me around and examine the property. She led me to her Nissan pickup, which had a large dent in one fender. The interior was absolutely packed with old papers and other trash, some of which I could see were "final notices" sent by credit card companies. We started down the embankments towards the creek bottoms as she pointed out various areas of activity including a nest of some sort that was very intriguing. But after an afternoon, an evening and yet another hot, non-productive day, I decided to pack it in a day early and head over to Conroe for a conference where I would meet MK Davis for the first time. I had slept in her daughter’s old bedroom and despite sleeping fully clothed with my jeans tucked into my boots I received hundreds of flea bites. The shower in that bedroom did not work, so I used the one in the master. There was so much trash along the tub, sink and in the shower that I almost declined. Water for coffee in the morning and brushing my teeth came from bottled water kept in the fridge.
When a friend of hers came over to discuss the film project with us I got a very rude awakening. I was told that I had to vacate the property due to the suspicion that I was a spy for the GCBRO and, because I copied my emails to Bill Ribble, I was "passing information" about the Texas folks’ plan to kill a bigfoot before the GCBRO did. Welcome to Texas, now GIT!
That was my initiation into the wonderful world of Bigfoot, and things got worse from there. But if I lost my faith in peoples’ abilities to live in reasonable cleanliness, I still had my hopes high in finding out more about the mystery. But, in the end, I saw most of the people I went to interview, with rare exception, living in deplorable conditions and providing nothing of substance in the way of evidence. Then, in 2010, it came to a head in the Land Between the Lakes with a hoaxing and the following year in Alabama when an outside director I brought hijacked the project and ruined everyone’s experience. That was my final trip and association with bigfooters.
Dorraine: Why do you think people in the Bigfoot community don't want to hear this information?
John: If you were a true believer in a god, say, The Great Sam? You believed with your very soul in The Great Sam and accepted any and all things associated with The Great Sam, including personal accounts of people who claimed to have had a one on one encounter with The Great Sam. You are, by all standards, a follower of this god and would risk life and limb to defend his existence. Then, one day, you encounter a man who says that he invented The Great Sam as a hoax with the intent of cashing in on the myth. He tells you and shows you evidence of what he claims which would be very damning in a court of law. But, you refuse to believe him and call him a liar and a charlatan, even going so far as to defame him in public and in the media. This, I believe, is the trouble with believers in the PG Film. The basis for their belief in Bigfoot, in general, is rooted in their belief that the PG Film was real inasmuch as it showed a real, flesh and blood, Bigfoot creature. The PG Film has a religious quality to it and those who believe in it will not even consider the possibility that it was a fake. This amounts to a brand of fanaticism that has been demonstrated to be extremely dangerous, giving those who believe a sort of mission to squash the nay sayers. It gets VERY ugly at times around campfires and certainly in forums. Belief in something doesn’t make it real.
Dorraine: Many in the BF community reading this interview might say you were burned on a couple of bad experiences and you've allowed yourself to shut down completely to any possibility that the creature might exist. In a friendlier debate, like, say, one you'd have with me, what would you say to me if I posed that point?
John: I would say that even the friendliest, cleanest living, most honest, kind and caring of the people I met did not produce a shred of evidence I could take to the bank, bar none.
Dorraine: Looking back on this, what would you have done differently, if anything, in regard
to this project?
John: The only changes I would have made would be in the manner with which I approached my partnership, not in the content of the film.
Dorraine: I've looked on the internet, and can't find the documentary available anywhere significant except Tom Biscardi's website. What's the status on the DVD for you? Are you still marketing it? Is there anywhere else a person could obtain it?
John: I have made it my policy to make any of my films available no charge to what I consider people who are truly seeking the truth in this matter, who do not belong to organizations or clubs where the good of the organization comes before the truth, and who honestly want to see if anything I discovered can help them find the truth. So, if someone meeting those criteria comes to me and asks for a copy, I will see that they get one. However, if, in return, I hear that they have used the content of the film to make slanderous or libelous remarks about me or anyone in the films, I will put them on notice through my personal attorney and demand a very public retraction. In that respect I have been described as a Pit Bull on steroids, refusing to relinquish a hold on my quarry.
Dorraine: What do you want people to understand about you and this documentary right now?
John: People need to put aside preconceived notions of this film that are based solely on opinions of others, and see the evidence as it really is. Greg Long has no agenda. He comes off as angry in the film but that is with good reason. He has been called a liar. Long is not a liar, he is a very well qualified investigative reporter and technical writer who had the good sense to go to Yakima and snoop around. Nobody did this…ever! Heironimus did not lie about wearing the suit. He wore it. Morris did not lie about selling the suit to Patterson. He sold the suit and the extra raw materials which Patterson used to craft the final product. Hieronimus’s mother did not lie about what she saw in the trunk of the car. Vilma Radford did not lie about giving Patterson money to invest in his film. These people told the truth. But, through the magic of hear-say and deliberate manipulation, they have all been made out to be liars. The truth is plain and simple; it was a hoax.
As to me, I also have no agenda. But I have learned by experience over the course of more than six years of associating with the Bigfoot Community, that there is precious little truth to be found and the community shoots and eats it’s wounded. I set out on a single project that evolved into a quest for the truth and worked side by side with those in my films to find and share that truth. But, what I received instead was scorn and deception right from the very beginning. God only knows what I would have received if I had been against them from the start.
In closing I will reiterate what I have said before: if you truly believe that you have seen a Bigfoot, then you are in error, having mistaken some other animal or human for the creature. However, if you INSIST that it was Bigfoot, and no amount of common sense or reasoning can convince you otherwise, then you are, at best, delusional. Finally, if you are convinced that you have seen a Bigfoot and can speak telepathically with it then seek emergency psychiatric care.
Bigfoot got its start in Northern California around machinery owned by a man named Ray Wallace, and has crept into the very souls of our culture. It was a hoax, people…it was a hoax.
Dorraine: Thanks for talking to me about this, John. It’s been interesting and the film is definitely interesting, no matter what a person believes. ********DF
(John added later that he will be looking into possibly beginning sale of the DVD again on Amazon if the demand is there)
[DF's Review of Hoax of the Century can be found HERE]
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