‘The Blair Witch Project’: The Main Cast Was Only Paid $1,000 a Day

The Blair Witch Project might have been one of the most influential horror movies of the 1990s, but it was just a cheap, indie horror movie with no guarantees of success when it was still in production. The film, which eventually grossed a quarter-billion dollars worldwide, was filmed for a minuscule $60,000, according to The New York Times. This meant that the actors only got $1,000 for every day of work on the eight-day shoot. Thanks to the film’s success, however, that money quickly grew. 

One of the Blair Witch Project "artifacts", a missing poster, features the three actors who starred in the film, from left, Heather Donahue, Joshua Leonard and Michael Williams, on display
One of the Blair Witch Project “artifacts”, a missing poster, features the three actors who starred in the film, from left, Heather Donahue, Joshua Leonard, and Michael Williams, on display | William Thomas Cain/Getty Images

The Blair Witch Project 

The film was the brainchild of friends and filmmakers Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez. They wanted to make a horror movie that didn’t depend on large effects shots and non-stop gore but sheer suspense and the unknown’s terror, according to Entertainment Weekly. To do this, they settled on the found footage method for which the film is known. While not the first film to present itself as a documentary for terror, Blair Witch became the harbinger for the now popular horror subgenre. 

Following three young adults trying to film a documentary about some supernatural killings in a Maryland town, the film is a slow burn. Many of its characters are merely trying to find their way back to town while lost inside the wilderness. However, about two-thirds of the way through the movie, they begin to get attacked by a mysterious presence. 

The film was a massive success story, making millions over its tiny budget and becoming a cultural phenomenon, unlike anything that the horror world had seen since Halloween. While the film had a pair of ill-reviewed sequels in 2000 and 2016, respectively, the original remains one of the most influential horror movies ever made. 

At the time of its filming, however, nothing was sure about future success.

Working for peanuts

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However, rather than making up new characters, the film had unknown actors play characters who shared their names. Heather Donahue, Michael C. Williams, and Joshua Leonard eventually won their roles and set out for the eight-day shoot in 1997. While $1,000 is decent pay for an actor, it meant that they only made a few thousand dollars apiece with such a short shoot, according to Mental Floss.

For an arduous shoot that included them not only acting but shooting some of the footage and having to go through the entire horrific ordeal, this was no small task. On top of that, the actors did not get the typical fanfare that the stars of hit films get in the country. Staying true to the mysterious film’s origins, none of them did press. They also had very little food while filming, making their performances fairly authentic. For a movie that pretended to be real found footage, they needed the actors to remain unknown. 

The cast sued the film’s distributor, Artisan Entertainment, in 2002 to get more money, according to CNN. They claimed that the film took advantage of them, while the method for keeping the shroud of mystery made it hard for them to get more work afterward. Unfortunately, the films’ rights were sold away, and the cast and filmmakers didn’t get as much of a cut as they may have if a studio made the film. 

Still, they can take solace, knowing that they were a part of horror history. Since then, all the actors have gone on to their careers. 

Where is the cast now? 

The cast has seen varying degrees of success since the film’s release. While none of them appeared in any of the sequels, the impact that the movie held over their lives remains. Leonard is the busiest actor of the bunch, appearing in several different television series, including True Detective, and several hit films. Williams got several television gigs afterward and can now be seen as a regular at horror conventions worldwide. 

Donahue worked for several years afterward, appearing in the hit miniseries Taken and several other shows and movies. Then, she set her ambitions higher. She is now a marijuana-grower with hopes of parlaying her story into more Hollywood work, according to Digital Spy.

Blair Witch ended the Millennium with a new type of horror. While it is now part of the lexicon, however, the meager pay that the cast endured while going through the whole ordeal shows that there is always more to be seen when you look behind the scenes. While it changed their lives forever, their pocketbooks may regret that they did not get a better deal.