Recently, I had the opportunity to speak with Daniel Myrick & Eduardo Sánchez, the writers and directors of the original 1999 classic, THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT.
HDN- How does it feel to know that you are the “fathers” of the found footage genre?
Ed- It feels really good. I don’t think Dan and I ever expected any of this. I think we get a kick out of being called the “fathers” of found footage and think it’s cool. Obviously a lot of people hate-stomp found footage films, but there are also a lot of people who love them.
Dan- It’s better to be called the “fathers” rather than the “grandfathers” of found footage.
HDN- How’s it feel to know that you both shaped the horror genre from about 1999 on?
Dan- I think it took us all by surprise by what kind of a phenomenon BLAIR WITCH became and after a certain point, we were just along for the ride. Ed and I originally wanted to make a sincere, genuinely scary movie and BLAIR WITCH…the style we took to making it was practical for us at the time. It was the cheapest thing that we could get financing to make and the fact that it became such cultural phenomenon after that took us by surprise. Even to this day, I’m kind of surprised. I was watching Monday Night Football with my mom and one of the announcers made a reference to the movie and I just shook my head. Its weird how its sort of injected into the cultural zeitgeist.
HDN- It’s definitely a cool thing and I remember seeing it in the theater and looking back now, its very cool to see its popularity.
Ed- Yeah, I mean I would say that the movie is 17 years old and people like you are still wanting to get interviews with us so that we can blabber on about it is pretty amazing. I don’t think dan or I ever expected that anyone would want to talk about our films, especially after 17 years so it’s all good.
HDN- Did you guys have any solid influences from when you were making the film?
Ed- I think both of us were really into the old TV show IN SEARCH OF and then those sort of pseudo documentary feature films that would pop up in the 70’s like THE LEGEND OF BOGGY CREEK and ANCIENT ASTRONAUTS. They were documentaries but of course, not real documentaries. Dan and I were always amazed at how those films scared us when we were doing research for BLAIR WITCH. They still creeped us out. So, the inspiration was the idea of making a horror movie that felt real enough to make the audience question whether what they were watching was real or not. That was what was pushing us during the editing and even the marketing process.
HDN- Being a fan, I know that there was a mythos that you were working on creating in the movies. You created this fictional version of the very real town named Burkittsville, MD and convinced moviegoers that this a place cursed by something supernatural. Was there more to the stories you had completed already but didn’t make it into the film?
Dan- There’s a whole expanding mythology that even to this day focuses on Burkittsville as well as the Black Hills and surrounding areas. It was one of the things that Ed and I wanted to do in the long term is dive a little bit deeper into some of that backstory that can be portrayed into a couple other movies. Whether its a prequel about Elly Kedward origin story or Rustin Parr. There’s a lot of details there that aren’t in the original film that are only touched on and it would be fun to dig a little bit deeper.
HDN- What was the time frame between the story’s inception and making the film?
Ed- We came up with the idea in film school at the University of Central Florida around 1991 or so. We called it “the woods” movie. We kept developing it and talking about it because it was something we wanted to do together but we were involved in other things like making other films and trying to graduate. We didn’t live near each other when I went back to Maryland. Around 1996, we got the ball rolling to make a feature film. We quickly realized that the Blair Witch idea was the best thing we had and most importantly, we could do it for $20k because neither one of us had any money. So we starting shooting and casting, fleshing out the story, and shot it in October 1997, editing in 1998, and got accepted into Sundance in 1999. That’s when Artisan bought the movie.
HDN- What was your favorite part of making this film? Are there any particular memories?
Dan- The production is always brutal. Making any movie is like going to war and part of you is just trying to get to the end plus part of you’re not sure if what you’re shooting is going to be worth a damn at the end of the day. Especially with what we were doing…it was very experimental. There was a lot of camaraderie especially when we got into Sundance. I don’t know how I would’ve dealt with Blair Witch both as a filmmaker during and in post if it was just me on my own. It was tough enough to handle on my own. I was always thankful for the group that kept each other in check and trying not to take ourselves too seriously. Overall, it was a really tough thing but a lot of good memories.
Ed- There was a lot of good stuff and like Dan said, it was a tough shoot. It was outside and it wasn’t pleasant. We felt like when we were shooting that we were definitely doing something special. We didn’t know what the hell was going to come out of the movie but we did realize that we were doing something, special at least with the production of the movie and how we were shooting it. There were a lot of moments of walking through the woods after we would drop off supplies or we would basically scare them every night. Like Dan said there was a lot of camaraderie. It was fun, crazy and very stressful.
HDN- Is it true that the actors were clueless about what was going to happen to them at night?
Dan- They had a general idea that almost every night something weird was going to happen and they were instructed to roll camera on everything. The didn’t know exactly what was going to go down, we wanted to keep them guessing as much as possible but at times we had to instruct them because some of the scenes were more complex than others. One example I always use is the one with the children’s voices out by their tent…We had to give them a heads up as to where to run so no one would get hurt. So they obviously know that some shit was going to go down that night but they didn’t know what. The same thing with the house at then end. We shot that over a couple of nights with various angles and different takes so it would seem like one, seamless take but there was a balance of keeping them guessing but at the same time needing to control the narratives with directing notes at certain points. Ed and I would have to step in every once in a while and then to adjust performance but keep true to form so we could preserve authenticity.
HDN- Was it difficult to find the actors or was that process pretty straightforward?
Ed- It was like everything else with Blair. We were creating something unique and we needed actors with different skill sets that was unique to the project. So we did a lot of improv with our auditioning. We did it in New York, Orlando, and LA and in the end, we narrowed it down to a dozen people and got our actors. We wanted actors that felt real so it didn’t feel like they were acting. Sometimes people think the did too good a job and didn’t think that they had any skill doing what they were doing but I think that they were really skilled in what they were doing. That was a process and it wasn’t the easiest thing in the world but we had a lot of fun and got to experiment with scenes during the callbacks that we ended up using in the film. So, it ended being a really great exercise and we ended up with real actors.
HDN- How involved were you with the new film?
Ed- We were approached early on by Lionsgate and they told us their plan. They own the franchise so its not like we could interfere but we were happy that they filled us in and involved us as much as they wanted to. We were executive producers and did some consultation in case anyone had any questions or whatever. We knew Adam and Simon and that their choice was great. Of any of the new filmmakers, we thought that they were well equipped to do a sequel the right way and we wanted to give them the freedom to do what they wanted to do. We know if we ever got the chance to remake something, you definitely want the original creators to consult but want to do your own thing. We pretty much stayed hands off but they sent us a script and we gave them some notes because we had some technical things like the mythology and other little things. Overall, the script was already there. They went, shot it, and screen it for us over the summer and we were really happy with the results. We didn’t feel like BOOK oF SHADOWS was a true sequel. We felt like it didn’t exist in the same world as BLAIR WITCH so it was very gratifying to see a true sequel to our movie.
I want to thank the guys so much for taking the time out to speak with me about the film and experiences. It really was a pleasure getting into some of the things I and many fans have wondered over the years.