The Blair Witch Project came along in 1999. Moreover, it inspired innumerable “found footage” horror films because it was a game-changer. Filmmakers Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez spoke to Rolling Stone Magazine back in the summer of ‘99 and revealed a few frightening details about the filming of the horror movie.
Legends like Bigfoot inspired ‘The Blair Witch Project’ creators
The movie told the story of student filmmakers searching for the legendary Blair Witch, an entity from the colonial era that haunts the forests of Maryland. Set in 1994, its tagline “A year later their footage was found” invigorated new terror in horror fans disappointed by a glut of uninspired slasher flicks.
In a 1999 interview with Rolling Stone, filmmakers Myrick and Sanchez revealed legends like Bigfoot inspired them.
“We’re big Bigfoot fans,” Myrick told Rolling Stone. “I had a UFO club when I was a kid. We just liked those old reality-based shows and how they kind of creeped us out as kids. So we wanted to make a horror movie that kind of tapped into that. That fear.”
So, they began manufacturing evidence of the fictional Blair Witch. “We showed investors this video,” admitted Sanchez. “It was basically like a little eight-minute documentary about what we were going to do about the disappearance of these kids. We really played it off as real. We had fake newspaper articles, news footage, crazy stuff like that.”
Their guerilla marketing efforts worked. News of the malevolent Blair Witch and the found footage spread digitally like wildfire.
Additionally, the raw-looking footage duped many into believing that the legend was authentic. The directors masterfully evoked fear with a combination of the unseen and an admittedly reckless approach to selling the film.
‘The Blair Witch Project’ directors sent the actors into the woods alone
They revealed in the interview that the realistic feel of the film — the isolation, terror, and extreme discomfort — was deliberate.
During the seven-day shoot, actors Heather Donahue, Michael Williams, and Joshua Leonard went into the woods with the simple instructions to film footage on their own.
Moreover, Sanchez and Myrick were tracking them; they’d do something scary to give the actors something authentic to film at night. Something that would corroborate those fake newspaper articles.
Producer Gregg Hale’s military training techniques kept the actors “off-balance.”
“That kind of sparked the thought of well, why don’t we apply this kind of total-immersion scenario to the actors?” Hale said. “We did keep them isolated, we harassed them at night, we deprived them of sleep, we made them move a lot during the day. Then at the end, we slowly fed them less and less, and they never knew what was happening. They were always off-balance.”
It was a successful tactic for the time
To sum up, the efforts were successful. “We’ve had people say they’ve heard of the Blair Witch before,” said Myrick.
It was all bolstered by their legendary website, which appeared frighteningly real, and the relative anonymity of the internet during the late ’90s. They’d done their darndest to dupe fans into believing their story, and it worked on a grand scale.
The filmmakers reportedly earned one and a half million dollars for their film. The Blair Witch franchise now sports three movies, some video games, a handful of books and comics, and a soundtrack.
Not bad for an effort that started with faux news articles.