February 4, 2013 by Craig Sutherland
In October of 1994 three student filmmakers disappeared in the woods near Burkittsville, Maryland, while shooting a documentary…
A year later their footage was found.
”Everything you’ve heard is true.” – Tagline
The Blair Witch Project is a 1999 horror film written and directed by Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez. Though fictional, the film is shown as a ‘Found Footage‘ piece and made this type of horror genre popular. Blair Witch stars Heather Donahue, Joshua Leonard and Michael Williams as three student filmmakers who get lost in the woods whilst making a documentary about local legend ‘The Blair Witch’, the film we see is the footage that was ‘discovered’ by the police a year after they disappeared.
The Blair Witch Project’s production costs were $60,000 and the film went on to gross $248,639,099 worldwide, this made it one of the highest grossing independent movies of all time.
I caught up with Heather Donahue last week and this is what she had to say about The Blair Witch Project and what’s happened since…
C- How did you get involved with The Blair Witch Project?
H- I found an ad in a paper for actors called Backstage. It was an open call, anybody could have gone.
C- Was the shoot as arduous as was made out at the time? Where you guys food deprived?
H- One of the producers, Gregg Hale, had Army Survivalist Training, and he based the shooting techniques on that experience. I was prepared for much worse, really. I was packing a hunting knife and ready to skin some squirrels. At least I thought I was. I’m glad that wasn’t put to the test.
C- Did you think the film would be a success to the extent it was?
H- Definitely not. I didn’t think it would get into Sundance.
C- After shunning Hollywood you became a farmer? That’s a bit of a change of pace right?
H- I would say between Hollywood and I the shunning was mutual. It was a big change, but I needed a big change, so I welcomed it. It turned out to be the next part of everything I ever wanted.
C- You’ve recently become a published author as well. Congratulations, can you tell us a bit about the book?
H- The book is called Growgirl: The Blossoming of Unlikely Outlaw. It’s about growing pot, and growing up. It’s a memoir of what happened after I left LA and moved to Nuggettown to become a medical cannabis caregiver. I also had a new puppy, 27 chickens, and a ton of veggies. I really went for broke. It’s a habit of mine and I still can’t tell if it’s a good or a bad one.
C- Thank you Heather.
Smack my Witch up!
The production of The Blair Witch Project has passed into folklore, the script was ad-libbed, the trio were given clues as to where to go next through messages left in milk crates which were found using GPS. The actors were forced to cover long distances during the day, deprived of food and harassed during the night. Over 18 hours of footage was trimmed down to the film we see today, this took more than eighteen months.
The final film made it into Sundance 1999, the real story of the film’s success was the use of internet marketing. Blair Witch was made to look REAL, the actors didn’t make public appearances, alluding to them being dead. Artisan built a website that confirmed the ‘found footage’ story, they also spread the story/rumors through message boards. Check out the website here.
The critical response to The Blair Witch Project was very positive, the film is 87% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes. Peter Bradshaw from The Guardian said the film was ”Stunningly effective and brilliant in its sheer macabre clarity and simplicity… it has interesting, disquieting things to say about modern America and its ancient wilderness”, Roger Ebert said ”The Blair Witch Project is an extraordinarily effective horror film, knows this and uses it.”
I saw The Blair Witch Project on Halloween 1999, it was a midnight showing and it was an incredible experience. I had motion sickness from the handheld camerawork and i wasn’t really looking forward to walk home over the waste-ground behind the cinema. I’m not a huge Horror film fan. Sure, I’ve seen all the Halloween films, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Evil Dead and i enjoyed them but i just don’t connect with ‘Slasher’ or ‘Undead’ films. I think i found Blair Witch so compelling because the horror is off screen, our imaginations are always more horrible than anything a director can conjure. When Heather screams ”What the f*** is that!” when her and Mike are running to the house, in reality it was one of the crew on a hill dressed in white with a ski mask on, in our heads it’s a deranged witch, a blood-soaked maniac or any number of our own fears…
It’s probably for the best that Mike didn’t catch the Ski-Mask guy on camera.
In retrospect The Blair Witch project hasn’t aged badly, its low production values give it a timeless feel. It will always have an audience because people will put themselves in Heather, Mike or Josh’s shoes, they will consider what they would do if this happened while they were camping in the wilderness. Nothing about The Blair Witch Project says that ”It’s only a film” -apart from our knowledge that it’s only a film.
Thank you to Heather Donahue for the quotes, here’s a link to her book ‘Growgirl‘
- Some of the Best Movie Campaigns – From Blair Witch to Hunger Games (adweek.com)
- Independent Horror Films (costumesupercenter.com)
- Experiential Marketing – The Best Way to Promote Movies? (digitalsurgeons.com)
- The Movie Vault: “The Blair Witch Project” (1999) (campcrystallake.wordpress.com)
- The Shaky-Cam: Horror’s Secret Weapon (theidlerblog.wordpress.com)
- 4 Ways to Spot a Viral Video Hoax (shutterstock.com)
- John’s Horror Corner: Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 (2000) (moviesfilmsandflix.com)
- Horror You Might Have Missed: Lovely Molly (2012) (monsterzeronj.wordpress.com)
- Top 5 films that are a cure for insomnia (revisitblog.wordpress.com)
- Scarcity and the Unknown (kwetherhold.wordpress.com)