The most-hyped indie film of 1999, The Blair Witch Project was inarguably an ambitious, love-it-or-hate-it experience. Me, I didn't care for it. However, what I did care about was the amount of publicity it received – much of it false. I'd be doing a disservice to my profession if I didn't blow the whistle and enlighten the public on the truth. Here then are the myths – and the reality.
- It cost less than $60,000 to make. The most misreported myth of all. Co-director Daniel Myrick, in an interview, quoted the film's distributor Artisan's "official budget" of $350,000, which he said was "closer to the mark". That means, of course, that it was much more than that. Several industry insiders put the final price tag of the finished film at about $525,000 – higher than the entire budget for my film Foreign Correspondents.
- It's ultra-realistic. Sound-wise, it's not. You may wonder just what that $525,000 was spent on. Myrick does insist that the film cost around $60,000 to shoot (some of which was spent on faux In Search Of-style footage that was later cut from the film and re-edited into Curse of the Blair Witch). The rest of the budget? Post-production sound. The entire movie is dubbed. Yep, all fake: every scream, every clattering rock, every footstep, every endless argument – all of it was re-recorded with actors and technicians on cozy, expensive sound stages.
- It was the first movie of its kind. Not quite. A 1979 Italian shock-horror movie called Cannibal Holocaust was framed as documentary footage "discovered" after several filmmakers had gone missing in the Amazon while making a film about cannibals. And the year before Blair Witch, a truly low-budget ($900!) film called The Last Broadcast, about 3 filmmakers missing and presumed dead after searching for the Jersey Devil, was completed.
- Changing the In Search Of style to a raw documentary look was an artistic choice. Rumors persist that Myrick and co-director Eduardo Sanchez actually saw The Last Broadcast while making Blair Witch, and the earlier film's use of talking head-style footage (akin to the old In Search Of TV series from the '70s, which Myrick and Sanchez claimed was the original inspiration for their film) caused the two to rethink and re-edit their film. They felt they'd be seen as copycats if their film was the same as the (reputedly better) Last Broadcast. They don't mention this in interviews.
- It was made by two regular guys who came out of nowhere. Granted, Myrick and Sanchez were neither rich nor famous when they made Blair Witch. But they weren't rubes: Sanchez had already helmed a feature; Myrick was a well-established commercial director. They weren't alone, either: indie film God John Pierson (who also "discovered" Spike Lee, Kevin Smith, and Richard Linklater) helped fund and promote Blair Witch, and that's as good an entrance to the indie film establishment as you can get. Oh, and coproducer Michael Monello was head of the Florida Film Festival.
- It was the first film to use the Internet as its primary promotional tool. Any longtime visitor of forcor.com will note that my website was online a full 8 months before the Blair Witch guys launched theirs.
- Well, at least their website was hugely successful at the beginning. Evidence suggests that, outside of John Pierson giving the initial footage from the film exposure on his TV show Split Image (remember, he was a Blair Witch investor), the first site put up by the filmmakers remained little-seen until Artisan bought the rights to the movie. Then, spearheaded by Artisan's marketing director John Hegeman, the company completely revamped the site and promoted it everywhere, whereupon it became hugely popular.
- John Hegeman made the first movie website. During the Blair Witch publicity blitz, Hegeman was fond of boasting how he had "made" the first official movie website, for Stargate, while he was at MGM. He may have overseen the site, and certainly championed the cause, but give credit where it's due: the site was created by a company called Digital Planet (my first Web employers) who were contracted by MGM to do the job. Moreover, PDE (my current Web employers) insist that they made the first movie website, for Star Trek Generations, as it reportedly launched a few days before the Stargate site. All of this back in October 1994.
- What you saw was the directors' cut. Aside from the filmmakers scrapping their In Search Of footage halfway through production, once the film was sold at Sundance, Artisan ordered several "boring" minutes cut, and also recommended that the entire ending be reshot because it was too dark for a home video transfer. So much for indie film being all about "personal vision".