BLAIR WITCH PROJECT
The directors of THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT come clean about the hype and myths of their runaway hit. words: Nigel Floyd
SO MUCH HAS ALREADY BEEN WRITTEN ABOUT The Blair Witch Project that, were it not such a nerve-shredding slice of psychological terror, it might easily have become the victim of its own hype.
Shot in just eight days, on shaky black and white film and grainy colour video, Eduardo Sanchez and Daniel Myrick‘s $35,000 horror movie tells the allegedly true story of three student filmmakers who disappeared in the woods near the small town of Burkittsville, Maryland, while making their own documentary film about the myth of the Blair Witch. In the space of nine months, it has become a cultural phenomenon, spawning
internet sites, a spin-off book, a soundtrack album, a cable TV documentary, a ‘Making Of' documentary and a line of merchandising featuring its distinctive ’stick man‘
One curious side effect of Blair Witch's success is that co-directors
Sanchez and Myrick find they are talking about their own film in inverted commas: it is no longer just a low-budget horror movie shot by a pair of Florida film school graduates.
‘At Sundance, in January,’ says Sanchez, ’it
was definitely about the film, the film as the
film. But now The Blair Witch is something more than the film. So there is a certain sense in which this is not the film we were shooting in the woods of Maryland in October 1997.’
With the advantage of hindsight, he and Myrick have realised that the subsequent media frenzy resulted — in part at least — from a number of built-in, press-friendly angles. ‘Most obviously, the rags-to-riches story about two film students whose movie grossed over $100 million at the box office,’ acknowledges Myrick, ‘but also the influence of the internet sites, and the unusual way that we shot the movie. Plus, of course, Hollywood's propensity for making high budget, CGI horror movies that just weren‘t scaring people. All the planets aligned. That’s really what it came to with Blair.‘
There was also, most intriguingly, the question of whether the film‘s ‘found‘ footage was ‘real‘. For Sanchez and Myrick this was ‘the prime directive', and it was this that inspired the film’s most striking aesthetic strategy. Having created a loose narrative framework and detailed mythology for the three actors — Heather Donahue, Joshua Leonard and Michael Williams — they set them
loose in the woods with cameras and recording equipment, to improvise their own performances while filming themselves. Meanwhile, the two directors loitered in the dark, making creepy scuffling noises and emitting blood-curdling screams — playing, in effect, the Blair Witch.
‘When we first started talking about the film back in 1992,’ explains Sanchez, ‘the original nugget of the idea was that it had to be "real". For instance, having self-referential stuff where the actors talked about other horror movies and stuff just wasn't going to be realistic, because that‘s what happens in movies. And we didn‘t want anything that happens in movies to happen in our film.‘
What scared Myrick and Sanchez recently was seeing a rough edit of the ‘Making Of‘ video, which captures with a similar raw immediacy several key moments in their creative journey. ‘It really does show the struggle that we went through as we entered this completely uncharted territory,‘ explains Sanchez reflectively. ‘You can see in our eyes that we had no idea what we were doing. We were just a bunch idiots who got lucky, really.‘
The Blair Witch Project opens exclusively at the Cameo Cinema, Edinburgh, on Thu 21 Oct, then goes nationwide on Fri 29 Oct. See review, page 29.