News Column

'Clever gimmick' launched a genre

July 13, 2014

By Scott Bowles, USA TODAY



Eduardo Sanchez remembers walking at 3 a.m. through desolate Maryland woods in 1998 with The Blair Witch Projectco-director Daniel Myrick when the first-time filmmaker had an epiphany.

"I told Dan, 'This is either going to be a great movie, or we're going to be the joke of the year.'"

The joke was on skeptics of the first "found-footage" movie, which 15 years ago launched a lucrative subgenre in Hollywood horror.

Sanchez, 44, who is directing episodes of the upcoming BBC America paranormal series Intruders, says he and Myrick knew they were on to an idea but had no notion it would make $141 million.

They simply wanted to emulate Leonard Nimoy, host of In Search of , the documentary TV show dedicated to mysterious phenomena, from 1977 to 1982. "Those grainy pictures of UFOs and Bigfoot? Those were scarier than movies."

He and Myrick began cobbling together a screenplay in 1994; the movie would be largely ad-libbed, and filmmakers would ambush actors with cameras rolling to film their frights.

The 62-page script, which called for chunks of improvised dialogue, changed dramatically over the shoot; the movie initially was to be a faux-documentary about the faux-footage. "But when we looked over the footage," Sanchez says, "we decided a documentary about a documentary would take people out of the movie."

Tom Schatz, chairman of the film department at the University of Texas-Austin, says Blair Witch"was a phenomenon of both the emerging Internet age and the emerging reality (TV) age."

Not that Sanchez and Myrick (who stopped directing films in 2008 and could not be reached for comment), realized their fortuitous timing. "We were just broke Florida college students trying to catch a break," Sanchez says.

"We just wanted to scare the crap out of people, and it looked like it was happening. But I never expected it would be my calling card."

It also became the template for an entire franchise in Paranormal Activity, which has produced five films (a sixth arrives Oct. 24) grossing more than $800 million worldwide.

"We thought it was going to be seen as a clever gimmick, but just a gimmick," Sanchez says. "A passing fad."

But the legend of Blair Witch is as resilient as the legend of the Blair Witch.

"There's not a day goes by that I don't think about it," says Sanchez, who is helping piece together an actual documentary on the film to celebrate the anniversary. "I was just learning about horror, and how the trick is to make people feel trapped and alone. I guess, in those woods, people did."




Frederick M. Brown, Getty Images


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Source: USA Today


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