Posted June 3, 2013 by Jeff in Flicks

Axe Giant: The wrath of Paul Bunyan made bigger through miniatures

Director Gary Jones started making low-budget horror movies in 1995 when he released Mosquito, a movie about a deadly giant bug. Since then, he’s made close to 20 flicks. His latest, Axe Giant: The Wrath of Paul Bunyan depicts a “big guy with an axe,” as Jones puts it, set on dismembering the residents of a small Minnesota town. Essentially an old school slasher flick, the film benefits from its primitive use of lo-fi special effects. Jones has been showing the movie at small art house theaters across the country and he phoned in from his Crestline, Ohio home to talk about the movie.

Talk about your background. Where did you grow up and how did you get into filmmaking?
I started way, way back in the ’70s. I always had an interest in monster movies and I grew up in front of the television watching King Kong and Frankenstein. I had an artistic background and used to draw and paint and did comic books as a kid. I ventured into sculpting and painting and started creating special effects. I really started to see more and more about the behind-the-scenes of movies. That was the revelation; at about 11 or 12 years old, I remember watching a movie about the making of Gone with the Wind. It opened my eyes that there was this team of people behind the camera. I thought I’d be an animator at Disney but it was a natural segue to direct movies. That’s how I got started and developed those skills and got the Super 8 camera and shot a bunch of shorts. I always did a lot of stuff with special effects. That was my way in. I figured I could get on the set if provided a miniature or spaceship. I did special effects and props throughout the ‘80s and that was my entrance into the business.

Did you grow up in Ohio?
I grew up in Mt. Clemens, Michigan. Oddly enough, I was a few cities away from [director] Sam Raimi and [actor] Bruce Campbell and those guys. They were a few towns away doing the same thing. Back then, there was no way to connect with anybody. Now with social networking, you can find someone on the other side of the planet doing the same thing. Then it was like another universe. You see things about these guys going down to Tennessee to make Evil Dead. I just missed meeting them. A year or so later, I connected with them when it was done. It’s a real eye-opener when you see someone your age who just went out and did it and it’s on the big screen. It makes you think you can do it. When Spielberg made Jaws at such a young age and when a group of what were essentially teenagers made Texas Chainsaw Massacre, those were real eye openers.

When Spielberg made Jaws at such a young age and when a group of what were essentially teenagers made Texas Chainsaw Massacre, those were real eye openers.

How’d you come up with the concept for this film?
My first movie was called Mosquito. I was working on the assembly line in Detroit and I came up with that idea. I always liked the giant bug movies. I pulled that together and did that in Michigan. Gunnar Hansen was in it and he was the original Leatherface in Texas Chainsaw Massacre. After Mosquito, this guy in North Carolina was making the same type of movie and Gunnar introduced us. That was in 1998 or 1999 and I had a film project he was going to do but we started pitching ideas. He came up with an idea about Jolly Roger, which was our low budget answer to Pirates of the Caribbean. We had a company and were throwing ideas back and forth. We were sitting at a coffeehouse and thought about what we could do that was original He came up with the idea of Paul Bunyan, a big guy with an axe. This was 2006 or 2007. I did want to do a slasher film and this is a throwback to the horror movies of the ‘80s. People expect him to be 50 feet tall. Everything today is all CG. It’s lost a lot of charm. To me, you always felt like there was something there with miniatures. I felt like that was lacking today. We shot Bunyan as a big guy in a big suit and used special effects to put him into scenes with miniatures. The idea was to try to do with it without spending a million dollars.

Everything today is all CG. It’s lost a lot of charm. To me, you always felt like there was something there with miniatures.

The film is set in Minnesota. Did you shoot it there?
No. We shot in California. Everything in and around the cabin was L.A.  We shot a ton of stuff in Ohio. There’s a point when they leave the cabin and that’s Ohio. We shot a few things up in Michigan.

The film’s finale is quite spectacular. What was it like to film it?
It was great. One of the things that I’ve learned is that you get to a point where you know where the film is going to go. I have these movie budgets that aren’t big. I want to give them a rollercoaster ride and then keep upping the ante. The audience kind of knows where it’s going. I feel that if we build it up strong enough to get to that point, they think it’s over at the cabin. We have to end it like King Kong. I was going to shoot it up at Pictured Rocks [in Michigan] and have the big cliff hanger at the end. That was the original ending. I drove to Mohican State Forest and then thought the woods were way better than L.A. Everything in Mohican was better than L.A. I drove past Pleasant Hill dam. I caught it out of the corner of my eye. I realized that this was where it needed to end. We can do the ambush here. That’s how it came to be. With low budget and independent movies, you have to find locations that help you with the story. I always have great ideas, but there are always struggles with the financing and competing in today’s market.  It’s not The Avengers but I’m excited. I hope a lot of people come to the screenings because it always plays better with a full house. We had a few screenings at places where you could grab a beer and it’s always better if you can grab a beer.


Jeff started writing about rock ’n’ roll some 20 years ago when he stood in the pouring rain to hitch hike his way to see R.E.M. on their Life’s Rich Pageant tour. Since that time, he's written for various daily newspapers, alt-weeklies, magazines and websites. Feel free to comment on his posts or suggest music, film and art to him at jeff@whopperjaw.net.