A retrospective look back at ‘The Blair Witch Project’.

Let’s talk about ‘The Blair Witch Project’. Come on lets all find a seat along this rather large log I’ve dragged in front of this quaint little campfire, I’ve gone to the trouble to boost the atmosphere so sit down and join me as I take the time to discuss this landmark indie horror film.

So, I hear some of you asking “why are you talking about this?” Well first of all I really like this film, in fact it’s one of my favourites because its got witches in it (well not exactly but you know what I mean) and witches are super cool and I was watching it again as a form of research for a separate project I'm working on. Secondly this film was a massive achievement and caused ripples throughout the film making industry for years to come especially within the horror genre.

Quick fire round explaining the plot! It follows three student filmmakers, the names of whom are - Heather Donahue, Michael C. Williams and Joshua Leonard. As they set about crafting a documentary about the folk-lore figure of The Blair Witch, this expedition takes them deep into the woods of Maryland where the subsequently get lost and then some very witchy and unpleasant things begin to take place. Spooky things occur and tensions build, all parties involved do not have a good time in the least, except the witch she was probably having a whale of a time.

Now as the marshmallows get passed around the campfire let me get into what makes this film so notable and special in my eyes. It’s solely responsible for the resurgence of the ‘found footage’ gimmick, I see a number of you roll your eyes at the mention of found footage… now hold on one second! This film was made back in 1999 (a good year, my year) and back then the ‘found footage’ method wasn't overly saturated with ‘paranormal activity’ shlock and the like.

This type of film was never really seen before, the audience thought they were witnessing something real. The two directors Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez done what they could to emulate as realistic an experience as possible, they melted together the documentary filming style with grounded paranormal elements which they believed would be a lot scarier than the traditional fantastical horror style that was too be found at the time or up to that point, with the likes of the campy slasher flicks and so on and so forth.

The two film makers went several steps further to create a realist horror experience, initially the screenplay they had penned for the projects was around 35 pages long, they intended for most of the dialogue to be improvised by the trio of actors to really grasp an authentic chemistry and tone, filming took to place over the span of a week or so with an astounding twenty hours of footage filmed! (Crazy I know). All this was edited down to a cozy eighty two mins, breezy, light and to the point. The pacing was consistent the film doesn't slump at any point, to the editors credit.

Are you still with me? I surely hope so I’ve a bit more to say upon the subject, just look to the campfire and ignore the sounds and shapes surrounding the dark... Anyway, not only did it take some innovated narrative choices its also noted as one of if not the most commercially successful indie films ever produced.

The initial budget of the film was a humble 60 thousand dollars, its been said that the budget later expanded to upwards of 200 thousand dollars after post production edits took place, either way the budget of this film was pretty low ( I bet the fat cats in Hollywierd bloody wish they could strike gold like this nowadays!). The Blair Witch went on to make around 250 million at the box office, that’s right million! Nearly one thousand times the initial budget!

Before the fire stills and the flame dies and the dark swallows us all… I want to talk about the marketing of this film which was a massive factor in the success of this indie picture. It’s largely credited as the first film to take advantage of the internet, which was still in its early days at the time. The official website was filled with seemingly real police reports and documentary snippets, strengthening the realistic aesthetic of it all. The primary and most powerful marketing tool which boosted the films image was the missing posters that were in circulation, showcasing the actors of the film who were said to be presumed missing and/or dead. Their IMDB pages also listed them as such. All of this blurred the lined between what was real and what wasn’t to the audience leading to the colossal commercial and critical success.

So here we all sit upon a big log around a dead fire as the dark weighs heavy on our shoulders with noises to our back... It's been 21 years since 'The Blair Witch Project' was released and it's still a powerhouse within the horror genre and deserves all the merit it gets, subverting the norms of the genre and leaping into largely untapped filmmaking methods makes this tidy little indie flick a note worthy success story in the film industry.