Dan Wayne grew up in the suburbs, but he still found vestiges of wild in the concrete drainage creek behind the family house. Snakes, crawfish, snails, worms — he was fascinated by the critters.
When he was old enough, he joined Troop 61 and later transferred to Troop 122 of Overland Park, Kan., where he earned the Eagle Scout rank in 1984. Camping with his troop expanded his love for the outdoors and wildlife.
“That gave me an appreciation for wild places at an early age,” he says. “My love of animals led to my obsession with taxidermy — initially, because it’s just weird and an unusual opportunity to study animals up close. Later, I became fascinated by taxidermy as a marriage of art and science.”
He mounted squirrels, opossums, groundhogs, moles and raccoons, gaining a deeper appreciation for the animals. His first career, though, was in photography, and he worked on film projects off and on. Those two passions came together when he recently made Big Fur, a documentary profiling taxidermist Ken Walker and his project to create a realistic-looking Sasquatch.
You can watch Big Fur on the discovery+ streaming app; you can find other options of how to watch it here. We caught up with Wayne, who now lives in Kansas City, Mo., to ask him five quick questions.
What fascinates you about taxidermy, and what are some things about it most people don’t know or understand?
Well, it’s pretty strange. I love the combination of science and craft, and when done well, it is elevated to a work of art. That was one of my goals from the very beginning: to show what’s involved with taxidermy and how it really is a serious art form.
Why did you decide to make this film, and how did you settle on highlighting Ken Walker?
I knew the documentary would have to be character-driven, and I made a list of potential characters — all of whom I’d been following on an online taxidermy forum. Ken was at the top of the list for so many reasons. He is funny and witty, has a great attitude, does a mean Roy Orbison impersonation, is well-liked within the taxidermy community, and is truly one of the best. Not only has he won several World Champion titles, but he also worked briefly at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History.
Museum taxidermists are really the best of the best. He is known for his recreations. These are extinct or endangered animals made out of other animals’ hides. They require a lot of research and creativity. It was his recreations — his Irish elk, saber-toothed tiger and giant panda — that made him a star.
He was the first taxidermist I approached about my project. Ken loves the spotlight —and we got along very well — so he was very open to it. I knew from reading his posts on the forum that he had a thing about Bigfoot, but I had no idea how obsessed he was. When he told me he was going to make one, I knew I’d found my movie.
Were there times making the film when you saw your Scouting background come into play?
“Be Prepared” is the Scout motto, and it applies equally to a documentary filmmaker. Directing and producing and doing sound and camera and every other crew position all at the same time, on location, you’ve really got to Be Prepared! It can get pretty intense, especially when something important is happening.
I also spent quite a bit of time camping with my dog and shooting in a remote Canadian Bigfoot “habituation area,” an area that is known for a lot of Bigfoot activity. No doubt, the outdoor and survival skills I learned from Scouting were helpful in the bush. And that led me to realize that we certainly don’t know everything that happens in the woods, especially the vast wilderness areas of western Alberta.
What were some things you learned through the whole process, and what did you learn about Bigfoot?
This was my first feature film as a director, and I could write a book about all of the things I’ve learned. Maybe a few books! Shooting a documentary as a one-man crew requires intense focus, so I didn’t get to learn what he was doing until I could watch the footage at home. I still call him whenever I have a taxidermy question.
As far as Bigfoot is concerned, I’ve learned that there are three groups of people: one that is positive they exist because they’ve seen one; one who is positive they don’t exist because they know everything and have a closed mind; and one who just isn’t sure because there is so much we don’t know — and it sure would be cool if real, tangible proof was discovered. I find myself in that last camp.
What do you want viewers of your documentary to learn from it?
Most of all, I want my audience to contemplate the value of wildlife and wild places. Bigfoot represents wildlife, because he can only exist in a place that is truly wild.
As the brilliant lepidopterist, naturalist and writer Bob Pyle says in Big Fur: “If we protect Bigfoot habitat, whether or not Bigfoot lives, we will have done something grand and something important. On the other hand, if we were to allow the land to become so tamed outright that we can no longer even imagine the possibility of wild hairy apes out there, then we will have lost something deep, something profound and something irretrievable.”