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'Witch' Doctors

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The Truth Is Out There: 'We wanted people, from the beginning to the end of the film, not to have any clue while watching the film that it was a piece of fiction.'

The directors of 'The Blair Witch Project' blur the line between truth and fiction

By Tracie Broom

The internet is abuzz. At www.blairwitch.com you can read of the legendary Blair witch and her most recent victims: three documentary filmmaking students who went M.I.A. a year ago after hiking into the Maryland hills to examine a local legend. Though they remain missing, their raw 16mm film stock and Hi-8 videotapes have been found beneath the floorboards of an old cabin. These rescued images assembled by Haxan Films are in release by Artisan Entertainment as The Blair Witch Project. That's the story, anyway.

Shot in real time over eight days by three actors with only a minimal amount of direction, Blair Witch first garnered attention when it shocked and scared audiences at the Sundance Film Festival. Its realist depiction of three students being stalked by an unseen monster takes fear of the woods and fear of the dark to a new level.

Florida auteurs Eduardo Sanchez and Dan Myrick stopped by, before heading out for their first trip over the Golden Gate Bridge, to talk about their documentary-style horror film.

How much can you, as directors, disguise the validity of the Blair witch myth from the moviegoer?

Sanchez: There's only so much fooling you can do; you can't really lie to people. We've got a lot of people that have actually gotten angry at us because they think we're trying to fool them. If you can keep an open mind and accept it for what it is--basically a home movie--I think you can get into it, regardless of whether or not it's "real."

Myrick: Ed and I came up with the idea in 1993 based on those old documentary shows like In Search Of ... and Chariot of the Gods. What freaked us out about those shows is that they looked real. They had the pretense of being reality, were shot a certain way, presented a certain way, and gave direct evidence like "Here's photos of Bigfoot, and here's footage of the Loch Ness Monster," and that really freaked us out. We thought it'd be cool to make a movie that kind of was factual in that sense and used that format.

Sanchez: We wanted people, from the beginning to the end of the film, not to have any clue while watching the film that it was a piece of fiction. We wanted to get all of our facts right, and originally we were going to do more of a documentary-style film, more of an In Search Of ... meets Nova. And the technology had to be real. That's what bugs us about other mockumentaries--they use this technology that we know doesn't exist. A lot of films do that, like when they take a frame and blow it up, and they break detail out of it and blow it up again: it's not real, it pulls you away. That's part of the reason why we shot [Blair Witch ] the way we did.

Myrick: It was all an aesthetic, versus trying to create reality, because it had to look real. We didn't want any moments where you went, "Ah! That looked like a performance."

Sanchez: Or "That's three-point lighting, that's a dolly move." There's no way you're gonna have a dolly move in the woods.

You've got this movie with realistic footage, and then you have backstory in a completely different medium--the Internet. Is this a pioneer move?

Myrick: All we're doing with the Internet is doing what Star Trek was doing with books and comic books. I loved the original Star Trek because you could go into a bookstore and get the blueprints of the Enterprise. They created this complementary universe to the series. The Internet now allows you to take it one step further. You can create an alternate world for the premise, like what we did with Blair and the mythology, and make it interactive. Put it on a website, and have people conduct their own investigation into what's going on. Our premise lends itself to that.

What better way can you think of to have some kind of interactive publicity and presentation, something to convey the spirit of your film for relatively little money? You can't buy an ad in Variety to tell people about your film, but you can get onto Earthlink and get some six megs of free web space and you can post stuff about your film on it. It's the great equalizer. You don't have to be Paramount Studios, you don't have to be Universal. You can be Haxan Films and be one click away from those guys.

Not everyone who goes to the movies sees the Internet. Do you fear people without access to the information on the website be missing out on something?

Sanchez: Watching the film is an experience on its own. I don't think they're going to be missing stuff by not having web access, but I think that the fact that there is this huge thing about the website--about it being complementary to the film--is going to make people who do have Internet access go up to the website right after they see the film, which will be cool. That's the way the word of mouth for Blair has spread, mostly because of the website.

Myrick: Plus we're doing a sci-fi special that's coming out on the Sci-Fi Channel in July, and a book is coming out, and a comic book is coming out, so those who don't have computers are gonna be turned on by the word of mouth, hopefully, and go, "OK, let's go check out the book," or "I'll tune in on the Sci-Fi Channel on the 12th at 10 o'clock" and watch to get the backstory. It's kind of like what videotapes were 15 years ago. As more people get computers and the Internet becomes more friendly--more accessible--this kind of thing is going to play a bigger role.

Why is there no actual "witch" in the movie?

Sanchez: We realized that there was nothing we could have shown people that would be scary. People would have been disappointed. This film taps into what early filmmakers were doing: they didn't have the technology, they didn't have the effects that the filmmakers have now. They had to creep people out in other ways, and the way we creep people out in Blair is that we don't show you anything really--we let you make everything up in your mind; there's nothing creepier than what you can invent in your mind. It's the whole thing about when you read a Stephen King book or a horror book--Stephen King books are so much better than the films most of the time because he's describing these things to you, but you're making it up.

Myrick: It's a level of sophistication, too--movies go in cycles. Back when Frankenstein and Dracula were really big and cool and scary and people dug those, I don't think they were that much different than Scream is today. I just think people need a change. Like in the '70s, with the really big, heavy, unseen horror, undefinable horror. That's what creeped us out more than anything--letting the imagination create the monster .

The Blair Witch Project opens July 16 at selected theaters.

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From the July 19, 1999 issue of the Metropolitan.

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