"The Blair Witch Project" became a source of inspiration for independent filmmakers, proving that, with a unique idea, anyone could make a hit movie for little cash. Of course, it also provided one of the most copied movie ideas, as numerous films mimicked its "found footage" gimmick to make low-budget horror movies in the same manner. However, this movie remains one of the most successful of its kind.
Creating a New Genre
Horror movies seemed at a crossroads in 1999 as the slasher genre faded and the torture porn genre was still a few years away. However, "The Blair Witch Project" brought something new and fresh and helped slightly revitalize horror movies for the mainstream public. The movie takes the form of a documentary about three film students who head into the woods to investigate a local legend. The students never return and their footage is found and put together in a movie to show what happened to them.
Casting the Movie
The producers wanted moviegoers to believe the events really happened and that the film really is lost footage playing out for the audience. Therefore, the filmmakers filled the cast with unknown actors Heather Donahue, Joshua Leonard and Michael Williams. All three actors used their real names in the movie and the actors shot all the footage themselves, manning the cameras as they talked about what they were seeing and occasionally fighting about their decisions.
"The Blair Witch Project" takes place in Maryland in the township of Blair. The legend the filmmaker characters investigate involves a witch named Elly whom the community exiled during a horrible winter and presumed to have died. Numerous people and children responsible for her banishment disappeared during the winter, and the legend grew from there. When the three young filmmakers don't return from their investigation and a search party finds no evidence of them, the police lay the case to rest. One day, someone discovers the film footage, but local law enforcement officials restrict access to it until 1997. Finally, the families of the filmmakers receive the footage and releases it to the public.
Two filmmakers, Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez, made "The Blair Witch Project" and wanted it to look like a student documentary with no evidence of actual filmmaking outside of the three actors. The filmmakers wanted to create a feeling of fear and isolation for the movie, so they normally left the actors alone and allowed them to improvise their dialogue. All camerawork was handheld by the actors and the directors simply gave them instructions on where they needed to go for that day's shooting. This allows the film to show the fear, first-hand, of the actors instead of staged horror conventions.
The Final Result
"The Blair Witch Project" struck a nerve with moviegoers. With an initial budget of $30,000, the movie grossed $48 million in the first week of its wide release. Fans questioned whether or not it was actually real footage or something concocted by a filmmaker. The filmmakers implemented viral marketing, not widely used at the time, to get the word out about their movie and help build the legend. By the end of the run, a simple cheap horror idea became an icon that other films still copy years later.
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