- Summoning the Spirit is a film about a troubled couple who move to a house in the forest, only to discover they are living alongside a cult that worships a monstrous creature.
- Director Jon Garcia was inspired by Bigfoot sightings in the Portland area when developing the film, and also drew inspiration from cult movies and documentaries.
- The film was shot on location in Happy Valley, Oregon, at a venue called Pendarvis Farm, and the production team even went Bigfooting with professionals to enhance their understanding of the creature.
Currently available on Digital and DVD, Summoning the Spirit centers around a troubled couple who moves from the city to a house in the forest. The two hope their new environment will help them overcome their marital issues, but they soon realize the land isn’t as peaceful as they imagined. Living alongside a cult that worships a monstrous creature, Carla and Dean find themselves fighting for survival in their own backyard.
In addition to writing the film alongside Zach Carter, Jon Garcia also serves as a producer and director. Garcia has worked on several projects with No Place for Nonbelievers, Priest, and Shady Cove being among his most recent. The main cast of Summoning the Spirit includes Krystal Millie Valdes, Ernesto Reyes, Jesse Tayeh, Isabelle Muthiah, Sean Sisson, and Robin Magdhalen.
Jon Garcia chats exclusively with Screen Rant about going Bigfooting in preparation for the film, creating a palatable arc for each character, and consulting Blair Witch’s Gregg Hale. Note: This piece was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes, and the movie covered here would not exist without the labor of the writers and actors in both unions.
Jon Garcia Talks Summoning The Spirit
Screen Rant: I loved this film, so it’s great to talk to the mind behind it.
Jon Garcia: There are so many minds behind this one. Like one hundred people put themselves into this. It was co-written by a friend of mine, Zach Carter, who I’ve worked with for years on this and that. And so we started writing it during the pandemic, and it came to fruition.
Expanding on that a little, how did the idea for this originate?
Jon Garcia: I’m here in Portland, and I’ve heard about Bigfoot sightings in the area for a long time. I learned a lot about Bigfoot over the course of this film. I had people around me who were in the Bigfoot community. I wasn’t necessarily a Bigfoot aficionado. I’ve seen a slew of Bigfoot movies, but when I started hearing about sightings in the area it was really inspiring. I watched a few movies about cults, and I watched the Duplass-produced documentary. Those are things that Zach and I are both pretty interested in and pretty fascinated by. Over the course of the pandemic, we just started trading the story back and forth.
How can we blend these two mythologies and make it work? We didn’t want to take it too seriously, but we wanted to make it a palatable story that gave the characters arcs. The script itself was very long. Because of our budget constraints, we had to cut a lot of things out. So that became a question of, when it’s actually translated to screen, is it all going to work? Are people actually going to understand this mythology that we created? It was just a trial and error. Writing with Zach was pretty cool. He’s got no ego as a writer, and I have a little bit. So it was just going back and forth. It was good working with him. That’s how it all came to be.
This took place out in the woods, so where did you actually film this?
Jon Garcia: This was filmed in the Portland area in Happy Valley at this place called Pendarvis Farm. It’s where they host this singer-songwriter camping festival that happens once a year. It started out small back in the day. Scott and Sherry Pendarvis had singer-songwriters show up and play until the wee hours. It got bigger and bigger until it became an actual festival. Artists came out there to their property at some point and started to erect these Blair Witch-type structures that look just amazing.
The first time I went out there and saw it I was like, “Oh my God, this is perfect. This looks like a cult lives here.” So all the stuff with the Mountain People is filmed in this concert venue. There’s a fight scene that happens in a wooden cage at some point. There were just all these opportunities to use this space that was created for something else as a venue. It’s mostly exteriors, which made this a really hard movie to film. With the generators—we had to get the audio out in post.
They were constructing right near that area, so if you were to listen to all the raw sound, you’ll hear construction sounds over the whole thing. At some point, we were like, “We might have to ADR some of this stuff. Let’s keep shooting. Let’s not wait for the construction to stop.” The other location where Dean and Carla live is about 30 minutes away, and that’s a location in Oregon where they’ve actually had some Bigfoot sightings out there, which is pretty cool. We went Bigfooting with some professional Bigfooters before the film.
I would love to hear more about that!
Jon Garcia: We saw some things that were convincing. These guys were professionals and very good at what they do. I wanted to tread carefully because I know there’s a Bigfoot community. I’m not necessarily part of it, but having made this movie, I want to consider myself more a part of it. I’m definitely not an aficionado. I definitely don’t know as much about Bigfoot as a lot of people do. But we get out there, and we’re asked to stay quiet, so we don’t scare Sasquatch away.
I didn’t realize we were going to be out there in the dark, which was kind of scary. I felt like I was on a ride at Disneyland or something. The whole thing was fun. They were doing Bigfoot calls that were pretty cool. They had a mallet that was basically a baseball bat with a leather strap at the bottom of it, and they would find a hollow point on the tree and just knock and wait for a knock back. I guess that’s how you signal or call Bigfoot.
We didn’t get a call back, but the other group did. We met up with them afterward, and they were talking about how they had a knock at eye level in one of the trees. We did a knock together, and we didn’t hear it. These two guys said that they thought that the Sasquatches had moved on for the night. That was all pretty exhilarating. We saw like 10 prints. It could have been just a very tall person with big feet, but some of them were convincing. I walked out of that experience with an openness to Sasquatch that I had never had before.
It’s interesting with indie films, because I’ve talked to directors who shoot in nine days, and others who film over the course of a year. How long did this project take?
Jon Garcia: 23 days. Halfway through the movie, we had to cut out some pages, or we just weren’t going to make it. We didn’t want to ask the EPs for more money. We had very gracious EPs. Jim Kierstead, William Fernandez, Carla Berkowitz, and Michael Rubin are great. This was our first time working with them, and we wanted to show them that we could work without having to ask for more cash. We started to strip scenes away from the script—mostly from the Dean and Carla narrative. We were wondering if we took too much out, but we had to keep it at 23–25 days. There were compromises we just had to make.
I wanted to ask about Dean and Carla and what you were hoping to portray with their relationship. I was definitely intrigued by that dynamic.
Jon Garcia: Yeah, thanks for that. I imagined a couple who had issues that they were trying to leave behind. [There was] something that happened—a mistake for Dean. As a professor, he overstepped a boundary with a student. They left Miami, and they are now in the Pacific Northwest trying to bury those problems and start new, have a child, and just have a new life. Over time, they realize that they can’t necessarily run away from their problems. There’s this subtext about legacy and what we leave behind. Do we need legacy? There are many facets of it, whether it’s our artwork, an offspring, etc.
They’re having those two struggles. There’s definitely love there, but maybe they should or shouldn’t have been together. I feel at the end, they find a cohesiveness—a purpose. It wasn’t the purpose that they had in mind, probably, when they got together, but there was a purpose for them meeting one another and finding one another. There’s a sort of subtext about this theme of how there are no mistakes. Everything happens the way it’s supposed to happen. I put this in the script—the world is a single organism, and everything kind of works together in this way.
There’s a spiritual element of the film that we rely on. Hopefully, people connect the dots. Maybe this doesn’t make sense, maybe this doesn’t make sense over here, or maybe they’re not completely interconnected. But when you put them under the paradigm of a spirituality where anything is possible, then maybe people can connect the dots. That was the cool thing about going with a metaphysical Bigfoot, rather than just strictly a primate. This thing is telepathic. It has interdimensional powers, and it’s like the son or daughter of mother nature. That’s the mythology that we created for it.
We learn early on that Carla is really struggling with her grief. Is that why she’s the one drawn into this group out of the two of them?
Jon Garcia: Yeah, they’re both grieving. Dean is focused in on the thing he thinks he needs to do for his legacy and his art. He’s getting lost in it. Maybe that’s the way he grieves. She’s grieving by finding a community that she doesn’t have at home, and so she finds it elsewhere. She finds the family that she doesn’t have at home. She finds it in this community.
I don’t know what the budget was for this film, but if you had the option would you prefer CGI? Or do you like the authenticity of having a person wear a suit and play Bigfoot?
Jon Garcia: For us, it was a budgetary preference, too, but I liked having a human-being in that suit. That meant a lot. I hadn’t done a lot of creature work. I’m an actor, so I’ve done a lot of animal work as an actor. That’s a good form of teaching. The basis is to help actors see that we’re all primal beings when you strip away everything else, and I like that. So walking around with Sean in the suit and talking about, “What’s Bigfoot doing out here? What does Bigfoot do all day besides roam around?” We shot this National Geographic-type footage of Bigfoot. He was just sleeping, drinking water, finding roadkill, and dragging it into his den.
It was cool to find a pace for Bigfoot. We do have a little bit of visual effects. I consulted with Gregg Hale, who was one of the producers of Blair Witch, on this project. He lives here in Portland. He went to Portland State University and the Alumni Association connected us. He definitely gave us some wisdom about creature motivation. It was something I’d never heard of because I haven’t made a creature feature before. He went through the story with me, and we talked about everyone’s arcs and what this creature wants.
What is it actually doing in the woods? What is its job? All the things I hadn’t thought of before. And on top of that, he gave us access to the suit that he used for his film in 2014, Exists, which is also a Bigfoot movie. We went down to Los Angeles and picked it up. Once we found the suit, it was just a matter of finding somebody who would actually fit in it. It was made for a specific person, so we had to find somebody that it would actually fit. We found Sean, who happened to be an actor and just a gentle giant of a person.
Now that this is coming out, what’s next for you? Is there anything else you’re hoping to direct or produce?
Jon Garcia: There’s a film called State of Limerence, which is about how in the near future if you break somebody’s heart, you’re responsible for helping them get over you. It’s a government-mandated program, so you can be subpoenaed for breaking somebody’s heart. There’s this weekend retreat that’s like jury duty. You show up, and by the time you’re done, either that person that you’re in love with will be in love with you, or you’ll no longer be in love with them. A mermaid movie also came my way. I’m not sure whether I’ll be involved in that, but I hope to be. It’ll be a fun project.
About Summoning The Spirit
SUMMONING THE SPIRIT follows Carla (Krystal Millie Valdes) and Dean (Ernesto Reyes, “American Gods”) as they decide to escape the hustle of the big city, purchasing a home in the remote forest. They have big plans for their new quiet life, only to find something much more sinister. The couple quickly realize that they are on the land of a cult, and the leader claims a telepathic connection to a legendary flesh-eating beast deep in the woods surrounding them. Carla and Dean are forced to uncover the terrifying truth of the cult’s prophecy.
Summoning the Spirit is currently available on Digital and DVD.