‘The Blair Witch Project’ Actors Were Just As Surprised As the Audience — Filmmakers Kept Scary Details Secret While Filming

The Blair Witch Project is a hauntingly realistic found footage-style horror film. As it turns out, the directors were able to create such an authentically eerie tale by keeping the stars in the dark about what to expect during filming.

[Spoiler warning: The following article contains plot details about ‘The Blair Witch Project.’]

Joshua Leonard in 'The Blair Witch Project'
Joshua Leonard in ‘The Blair Witch Project’ | Artisan Entertainment

‘The Blair Witch Project’ was marketed as a true story

The creative minds behind the 1999 blockbuster, The Blair Witch Project, marketed the movie as a true story. The narrative revolves around three film students — Heather, Josh, and Mike — who venture into the woods to investigate the Blair Witch urban legend.

While camping and hiking in the remote wilderness, the trio of aspiring filmmakers document their experience. Before long, strange things begin to happen. The students are lost in the woods, terrorized by an unseen antagonist, and picked off one-by-one.

Their bodies are never found, but upon discovering the recordings, film producers compile them to create The Blair Witch Project. At least, that’s the tall tale the production company spun to sell tickets.

The movie felt real to the audience

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In Eli Roth’s History of Horror Season 2 Episode 4, “Witches,” horror enthusiasts and experts explored the phenomenon of The Blair Witch Project. When recalling her reaction to the movie, entertainment icon Alexandra Billings remarked, “I thought that film was real. I walked out of there saying, ‘We have to find these people. Where are they?’”

Film scholar Tananarive Due agreed, adding, “It feels like you’re there. It feels like something that would happen. Blair Witch nailed it.”

Millions of fans shared the sentiments expressed by Billings and Due, and the filmmakers’ production and marketing prowess paid off tremendously. The Blair Witch Project grossed nearly $250 million on a measly $60,000 budget, as noted by Eli Roth’s History of Horror.

The stars of the film did not know what scares the directors had planned

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Joshua Leonard appeared on the “Witches” episode of Eli Roth’s History of Horror to discuss his starring role in The Blair Witch Project. He explained, “All I knew when I was gunning for the job and when I first got hired was it was a movie about three student filmmakers who went out into the woods to investigate the legend of the Blair Witch, and they went missing.”

Directors Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez partnered to make the movie and tasked Leonard and his co-stars, Heather Donahue and Michael C. Williams, with capturing the footage. According to Leonard, Myrick and Sánchez had a hands-off approach.

“They wanted to keep it as naturalistic as possible,” recalled Leonard. “It is the three of us filming each other and recording sound of each other. And we would have no direct interactions with the directors of the film while we were making it.”

Leonard described the unique production process he and his castmates employed to film the action. Technology helped the actors locate each one of the terrifying tableaus staged by Myrick and Sánchez.

“They gave us a GPS,” divulged Leonard. “And they had programmed in waypoints, which were hash marks on the map, and we were to find our way to these different waypoints. So we knew we were going to encounter things. We just didn’t know what those things were going to be.”

Upon finding each creepy scene, the actors responded with what appeared to be genuine fear. And just like that, Myrick and Sánchez had created a hit. The element of surprise, stylized filmmaking techniques, and superb performances make The Blair Witch Project a true horror classic.

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