Independent filmmaker Ro Sahebi of Redondo Beach, on the set of 10 Million Dollar Bigfoot Bounty. Photo courtesy of Ro Sahebi
Several years ago, Ro Sahebi decided he was ready to take his filmmaking career a step further.
A musician with a couple of record deals and national tours under his belt, the Redondo Beach resident was at the time working as a film editor, laboring day in and day out over music videos. A good job, he said, but for him it grew “boring.”
His true desire – to work on film for television and the big screen – eluded him.
“I wanted to make a movie,” he said. “But I’m just a video editor from Redondo Beach – I thought, no one’s going to give me a million to do this.”
It took only one online encounter to change his perspective.
Two years ago, Sahebi found his niche as a filmmaker.
His journey in the months since has been extraordinary; today he finds himself a celebrity in certain circles, and a contestant a nationally broadcast reality show that promises its winner the biggest cash prize in television history.
“I couldn’t have predicted this, ever,” Sahebi said. “Being on a national reality television show? A couple years ago I would’ve said, ‘No way. [In 2014] I’ll be back in the recording studio working on another album and maybe some music videos.”
The ride began when Sahebi, now 44, wrote some blog posts about Bigfoot — the humanoid creature whose existence scientists vehemently debate. A lifetime fan of monster and horror films, he was captivated by the resurgence of Bigfoot in Hollywood. The more research he did, the more intrigued he became.
“I was like, ‘Wow, there is a pretty active community here on the West Coast of organizations looking for monsters, species of apes that are supposed to live in our forests that I don’t know about,’” he said. “It sounded really scary to me, so I started looking into it.”
His hunt yielded a hunter: Justin Smeja, who claims that in 2010 he shot Bigfoot in the forest. Upon meeting Smeja, Sahebi agreed to document the hunter’s strange story. The resulting footage he posted online.
That short film led ultimately to a larger project — Dead Bigfoot: A True Story, a feature film in which Sahebi interviews Smeja, films the hunter taking a polygraph test, analyzes available evidence, and re-creates the shooting in the forest.
The film made ripples in the Sasquatch community — a group of “bigfooters” who are committed to proving that the humanoid exists.
“That was a year and a half ago, and things started happening fast,” Sahebi said. “I became kind of the go-to Bigfoot film guy in Los Angeles a short period of time. It was a completely unexpected side effect of this journey I’ve been on for a couple years.”
He was invited to discuss his film on the History Channel, Discovery Channel, and Spike TV. And on Jan. 10, he will appear on national television in a bid for a $10 million cash prize underwritten by Lloyd’s of London.
As contestants on Spike TV’s “10 Million Dollar Bigfoot Bounty,” Sahebi and Smeja compete with 17 other teams to make the most convincing, evidence-based case that Bigfoot does, in fact, exist.
Hunter Justin Smeja, who claims he shot Bigfoot in 2010, in the Pacific Northwest forest with Redondo Beach resident and independent filmmaker Ro Sahebi. Photo courtesy of Ro Sahebi
The winner gets the cash. But in the event that no team can prove Bigfoot is real, the team that offers the most compelling argument wins a $100,000 grant to keep looking.
Shooting the show in the rainforests of Washington and Oregon – Bigfoot’s fabled hideout – proved “a hell of an experience,” Sahebi said. Teams travelled alongside the TV host, scientists, primatology experts, and a mobile DNA processing lab.
“We were put into a plane and taken to the Pacific Northwest, and we went into the field with some top scientists,” Sahebi said. “We learned proper protocol and field research and how to document it properly, because in order to qualify the winning team will have to have presented photographic evidence, supported by DNA evidence [that Bigfoot exists].”
The series has been filmed in its entirety, but Sahebi will not know which team, if any, wins the $10 million until the last episode.
“I can tell you that by the time the finale comes around, you are going to see a lot of truly compelling evidence to support these claims,” he said.
It’s evidence Sahebi finds particularly persuasive, even when he tries to dissociate from his job as a filmmaker.
“During the whole time I was making the movie it was important I was committed all the way to [the idea that] this is a real subject around a real phenomena and a real animal that exists in our forests.
“Now that I’ve stepped back a little bit, I can honestly say I do think there is some sort of real phenomena happening. Whether it’s an animal or psychological – at this point in time I can’t 100 percent say. I haven’t had any face-to-face encounters with this animal. I don’t think anybody can 100 percent say Bigfoot is a real animal until they’ve seen one face-to-face… But I saw something through a thermal imager that was not a human being walking upright, very scary, and it happened a couple of different occasions. Then we found a giant footprint. What it is I can’t 100 percent say.
“Besides, of the 1,000 stories I’ve heard and encounters I’ve heard about, for this thing to be real, only one of those has to ring true,” he said. “I have a hard time believing they’re all misidentifications and all hallucinations and all related to mental disorders. It just doesn’t make sense. There are thousands of witness reports.”
At home in Redondo Beach, Sahebi faces some measure of scorn and derision when he opens up about his work.
But he is unfazed. There is “nothing wrong,” he believes, with enjoying an adventure and believing in a possibility.
“People start to look at you weird,” he said. “Make no mistake, the South Bay is very conservative. And when people find out you’re the wacky Bigfoot guy, out in the woods chasing mythological creatures, their perception of you changes quite a bit.
“But I wouldn’t have changed this experience for the world. These last two years have been an amazing ride and I don’t regret it at all. I’m happy where I ended up.”
To rent Sahebi’s film, visit www.deadbigfoot.com. The Spike TV show premieres at 10 p.m. on Jan. 10.
The cast of 10 Million Dollar Bigfoot Bounty. Photo courtesy of Spike TV