Directed and edited by Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez, The Blair Witch Project is a completely fictional film about three people who venture into the Maryland woods with cameras and sound equipment in search of supernatural beings. It is presented as a documentary about a young filmmaker. They were never seen again, except in the trio's “found footage” to “cobbled together” film. (Of course, that movie is The Blair Witch Project.)
Scooped by Artisan just hours after its Sundance premiere, the film was released in theaters in the summer of 1999. The production cost him less than $35,000, and the box office grossed him nearly $250 million.
A pop culture sensation, the film scared audiences with its macabre approach to storytelling, and still does. It also revolutionized film marketing. In fact, The Blair Witch Project went viral on the internet before the movie was even finished. (Since social media had not yet been created, it was mainly fan forums and horror sites.)
Here, Monero reflects on creating this landmark cooler with fellow producers Robin Cowie and Greg Hale (Campfire co-founder). They all studied film together at the University of Central Florida.
What did you all expect to come out of making “The Blair Witch Project''?
We were all 30 or turning 30 at the time. We felt like we had to get real jobs and stop chasing our filmmaking dreams, and this was like a last hurray for us. Our goal was to do something on a low budget, put an ad in the back of Fangoria magazine, sell enough copies, get our investors' money back, and then turn around. The idea was to make a slightly bigger movie. Basically, our idea was that if we could keep making low-budget movies, we could be golden.
You created a website to “explore” the Blair Witch mythology, creating interest in the film in an unconventional way for the time.
when we entered [Sundance], had already launched a website. We were starting to build a fan base online, and it just happened naturally, not intentionally.
And the fans started doing something. On Halloween Day 1998, before the film was finished, a fan called into LA's FM morning radio show, The Mark & Brian Show, was put on hold for 90 minutes, then went on the air, saying: Have you heard of this Blair Witch? Visit BlairWitch.com. This is a scary story. ”
They talked about our website so much on the Los Angeles broadcast that it took down the site. Of course, because we had the cheapest hosting service and so many people tried to access it.
All the other fans were on board with it and were like, “Oh my god, that's amazing!” And they all started calling radio stations and getting DJs to talk about Blair Witch.
And this is not what we did or asked for. This was done because fans had built a community on the web before the movie was even finished.
Some fans have even built their own websites.
There were a lot of fan websites where people would say, “I'm a researcher and I'm doing my own research on this myth.” We didn't want to hide it, we accepted it. Our fans would take our stuff and post it on their sites, and we would link to them to let other fans know.And CBS was sending cease and desist letters to Star Trek fans [telling them] Removing photos of Captain Kirk and Spock from fan websites. The industry had no idea how to respond to fans.
What can filmmakers and brands learn from what the internet did in the past?
We approached the internet as storytellers and as people who wanted fans to come see our films. We weren't approaching it like a marketer. Because it wasn't on the market yet, we weren't treating the film like a product we wanted people to buy. [when the website first went live]. Instead, we just started telling our stories.
There was no money to play the actual video footage on the web. In other words, the site was literally still images and copy. It was like a very sparse mythology with a timeline of events full of holes.
Fans understood that it was participatory. They understood that interaction on discussion boards was important and it made them feel valued. They started meeting friends on message boards. We knew that emotional involvement was the most valuable thing. This project had an open space where fans could see themselves in it and create within the world. It exposed what the fandom was trying to do to Hollywood.
After Artisan bought the film at Sundance, you produced a fake documentary for the Sci-Fi Channel called Curse of the Blair Witch. [now Syfy] To promote fake documentary films. What was the thinking behind that?
When you buy a ton of advertising on the SF Channel, as part of that deal, if you want to do a behind-the-scenes or behind-the-scenes special, you're given 30 minutes or an hour in some cases. Artisan came back to us and said, “Guys, they've given us this behind-the-scenes thing, but how do we get to know this movie before we get people to see it?'' I don’t know if I should talk to you. Is there anything I can do?” Anything else? “
We said we could make a one-hour documentary exploring this myth. So they gave us time, Artisan gave us some money, and we made a fake documentary for found footage film.
We were able to do this because during the making of The Blair Witch Project, we created all kinds of content around the movie to explore what the movie could be. is.We filmed his 1940s newsreel with Rustin Parr [a fictional character on death row for murdering children]. We were filming clips for his 1970s “In Search Of” type TV show. We filmed some interviews.
And since the mythology wasn't essential to enjoying the movie, it gave us this whole story that we could use outside of the movie without spoiling anything inside the movie.
It's worth noting that not all of the material was created to promote the film.
How did that success impact your career trajectory?
This movie changed my trajectory. I went to film school. My trajectory was in movies. Then “The Blair Witch Project” happened. I loved developing stories that were participatory and experiential, rather than just static media for people to watch. So Gregg Hale, Campfire's other producer, and I, along with Steve Wax and others, formed Campfire because we wanted to do this.
Campfire was originally intended to be just a shingle that would do this work occasionally. In my head, I was still going to keep making movies. But the jobs came one after another and I had a lot of fun. We understand fan culture and fan communities and have been extremely focused on how to develop and share stories that create strong and deep emotional connections.
I think this is the kind of storytelling I was born to do.
How does your experience making that horror classic influence your work at Campfire today?
My experience making The Blair Witch Project was reflected in everything I did at the campfire. It goes back to early projects, like the launch work for Season 1 of True Blood. There, we used digital and physical experiences, from secret online groups for vampires to wrapped trucks, to overlay a fictional story of vampires who emerge from the darkness and live among us. . It looked like they were delivering bottles of True Blood to convenience stores, physical mail, San Diego Comic-Con live experiences, comic books, and more. We've created a deeply connected story that gives fans an emotional connection even before the premiere.
Tactics have changed dramatically, but the core principles remain the same. Our brains are hardwired to process information as stories. So if you give it parts A and C of the story, your brain will be filled with B, creating immersion and discovery. Connecting a story to something “real” or physical makes it tangible and our brain does the rest. Fans interact in a variety of ways, but whether they collect Hallmark Christmas ornaments or are fans of Only Murders in the Building or The Walking Dead, their behavior is surprising across the fandom. It's fairly similar.