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Blair Witch....5 years later

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Blair Witch....5 years later

Old 01-20-04, 09:10 AM
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Blair Witch....5 years later

Movies: Curse of the Blair Witch
In January 1999, 'The Blair Witch Project' debuted at Sundance. The movie went on to become a cultural phenomenon and make $250 million worldwide. And the directors and stars were never seen again. Exactly five years later, NEWSWEEK reopens the case.

Jan. 26 issue - Steven Spielberg began to worry long before we did. It was a couple of years ago, and Daniel Myrick, codirector of "The Blair Witch Project," was visiting the set of "Minority Report." Myrick was thrilled to see the master at work. Meeting Spielberg? "That was huge!" Myrick says. "He asked me how we shot 'Blair,' and said he was really inspired by it. My jaw was dropping." Spielberg even singled out a member of the cast, Michael C. Williams, who'd played one of the three film students who disappeared in the Maryland woods. "I really liked that Michael guy," he said. "Whatever happened to him?"
He's, well... "I'm moving furniture," Williams says from his home in upstate New York. "The same job I quit on national television, on 'Conan O'Brien.' My wife and I had a baby, and I needed to support my family and not worry about whether I was going to get the next role on 'CSI'." He sighs. "We're all having a hard time. I think that's a big part of the story."

Five years ago this week, "The Blair Witch Project" debuted at the Sundance Film Festival. The sold-out midnight screening had kids lined up in the alley, with tickets being scalped for $50. Before dawn, the scrappy $35,000 mock documentary—made by five unknown guys from Orlando, Fla., and starring three unknown actors—sold to Artisan for $1 million. By the end of the year, it surpassed every record for an indie film, grossing $248.3 million worldwide. It became a cultural tsunami, creating an urban legend that spawned T shirts, books, caps and countless Web sites, and launched its cast and directors onto the covers of NEWSWEEK and Time.

The film's innovative Internet-driven marketing campaign had Hollywood scrambling to catch up, and the filmmakers—pals from the University of Central Florida who had created a cinematic co-op called Haxan—were hailed as the Gen-X harbingers of a new era. "It just became this bizarro world," says co- director Eduardo Sanchez. "You're living an absolute dream, but at the same time it was really scary because, man, it was, like, 'What will they expect from us next? We'll never be able to do this again'."

Sure enough, they have yet to make another film. Today, the Haxan team (Myrick, Sanchez and producers Gregg Hale, Robin Cowie and Michael Monello) is spread out across the country. Cowie has left Haxan altogether and heads up two e-commerce companies. Williams has put his acting career on hold, and his fellow cast members, Joshua Leonard and Heather Donahue, have been working mostly under the radar. The "Blair Witch" sequel (which Haxan did not control, and hated) tanked at the box office. The predicted Internet-marketing revolution never quite took, and the company that distributed the film, Artisan, no longer exists. It was bought late last year by its competitor, Lions Gate. "Blair Witch" doesn't even hold the record as the most profitable indie movie anymore. "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" does. In short, the aftermath of "The Blair Witch Project" is as shocking as its success was. "I'm still not exactly sure what happened," Donahue says, laughing. "I can't wait to read this article, because I'd really love an update."

The biggest problem, oddly, was that no one who made the film got the credit for its triumph. Because it was shot by the actors on handheld video, and the dialogue was improvised from a plot-only screenplay, studio execs doubted that Myrick and Sanchez could direct a normal film. "A lot of people were saying, 'Do you guys even know how to write a script? Do you know how to shoot film?' " Sanchez says. Meanwhile, the actors found that much of Hollywood thought they had played themselves, reacting to the scary scenarios the directors threw in their path. "To this day I doubt they know we were acting," Williams says. "The story became all about the brilliant marketing, and we were overlooked. But if we had been three crappy actors, we wouldn't even be talking right now." It also didn't help that until the middle of the film's run, Artisan kept the actors in hiding to perpetuate the myth that the movie was real. "At one point you could log on to [the movie database] IMDB, and it listed Heather as 'deceased'," says the film's first publicist, Jeremy Walker. "That doesn't exactly give your career a boost.

The other issue was money. Too much of it. After a battle with Artisan over their percentage of the video profits, the Haxan five, most of whom were on the verge of bankruptcy, walked away with about $50 million. After the film's investors were paid out, after taxes and lawyers and agents, it's estimated that each partner netted about $5 million. Not a lot, by industry standards, but massive to anybody else. "It was both a blessing and a curse," Sanchez says. "If the movie had made only three or four million, we would have had to move on to a next film immediately. 'Blair Witch' made us so independent, we didn't need to make another movie pretty much forever. We didn't need to say yes to anybody."

And they didn't. They turned down the chance to direct any number of studio horror movies, including "The Exorcist 4" and "Freddy Vs. Jason," opting to make an off-beat comedy of their own, "Heart of Love." The financing later fell apart and the project was junked. Disappointing, but by then their focus had shifted toward home rather than Hollywood. "We had been struggling for so long," says Sanchez, recalling life before the "Witch" windfall. "You don't have a nice home, you don't have a nice car. Your relationships suffer because you can't really make a commitment until you've become what you want to become. So for the first time ever, we made life the highest priority." With the exception of Cowie, who already had a wife, every one of the Haxan team has married in the last five years. And, in what must be a first in the history of overnight successes, all wedded the longtime girlfriends who had loved them when they were broke. "That speaks volumes about how outside Hollywood they all were," says Donahue, who also has the same pre-"Witch" boyfriend. "That's pretty impressive."

Despite the domestic bliss, though, the actors didn't score nearly the financial payout the directors did. It's estimated that after taxes and fees, they netted only, at most, $1 million each. In L.A., that'll just cover the cost of a three-bedroom home. But the biggest shock was that the film didn't make them instant stars. "We came in with naive expectations," says Leonard, who has been acting in a few small films a year.

"We thought people were going to drive us around in Town Cars all the time. We didn't approach success with the same cynicism and resentment that someone who'd been in the business for 20 years might have." Pause. "Or like I will if I ever get it again."

Link http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/3988556/

Sad...

Last edited by Vegas9203; 01-20-04 at 09:13 AM.
Old 01-20-04, 09:23 AM
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I thought Donohue was doing alright... she was in Taken as well as a series of Steak + Shake ads.
Old 01-20-04, 09:28 AM
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I just think it's sad because they were such a HUGE deal when this came out and then they pretty much just got shit on and got no credit for the success of the movie...gotta agree that Blair Witch 2 was completely awful.
Old 01-20-04, 09:43 AM
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They seem to have made some bad decisions lately. I mean if you are a newbie and an outsider and are offered work in Hollywood, take it, build up your resume so that you can become the next Scorse, etc. You have to pay your dues, even if you had a record breaking indie film, nothing since is not a good thing.
Old 01-20-04, 09:43 AM
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Heather Donahue went to my high school, she was a grade lower than me so I didn't really know her or anything. But, I remember about 6 months before the movie came out, a friend of mine was telling me she was kidnapped then killed when she went camping in maryland
Old 01-20-04, 09:50 AM
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Originally posted by necros
Heather Donahue went to my high school, she was a grade lower than me so I didn't really know her or anything. But, I remember about 6 months before the movie came out, a friend of mine was telling me she was kidnapped then killed when she went camping in maryland
I distinctly remember when one of my friends was telling me about how some campers had just found some footage of these kids that were out in the woods in Maryland and it showed them being hunted or something and he was totally freaking when he was telling us about it. They did an amazing job of having that story catch on....Of course my reaction was,"Sounds like bullshit to me!"
Old 01-20-04, 10:11 AM
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I never understood the backlash against this movie or its DVD. Nowadays people seem to treat it like Showgirls or something. It's a perfectly fine movie and a really good DVD, especially for $5.
Old 01-20-04, 10:19 AM
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I saw the Sci-Fi (back when it was a good channel) special before the movie, and it added to the movie experience, IMO. I would recommend anyone that has not seen the movie yet to watch the Sci-Fi special, which is on the DVD, before the movie.
Old 01-20-04, 10:22 AM
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Interesting article...good read. This happens to a lot of indie directors...they make a big splash, and then disappear back into obscurity.

I agree with Cusm that the Sci-Fi channel special "The Curse of the Blair Witch" is well worth seeing (it's included on the DVD). In fact, I would go so far as to say that it's actually superior to the actual film.
Old 01-20-04, 10:34 AM
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all the hype made this movie the biggest letdown for me since battlefield earth
Old 01-20-04, 10:47 AM
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I still think BWP is a great movie. I always play it during my Halloween movie marathons.
Old 01-20-04, 10:53 AM
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we went up to that area about 2 years after the movie came out. its a ghost town, and there were big road blocks so tourists couldn't come. we drove past those, and the locals looked really pissed at us coming there.
Old 01-20-04, 10:55 AM
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The best one was "The Scooby Doo Project"

it was a hilarious spoof with scooby and the gang
Old 01-20-04, 11:10 AM
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Originally posted by Save Ferris
all the hype made this movie the biggest letdown for me since battlefield earth
I agree this was the single biggest letdown for me period. I'm sorry, twigs and giggles don't scare me. I think I was most scared that I was going to barf from the shaky videocam movement.
Old 01-20-04, 11:17 AM
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Best $5 I ever spent at DDD.
Old 01-20-04, 11:22 AM
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At least to me, Blair Witch is the scariest movie I've seen. The whole being lost in the woods with that stuff going on creeps me out.
Old 01-20-04, 11:27 AM
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One million dollars is pretty good for appearing in a indie film. I mean, how much money do most people make here. Much less than that And five million for the directors/producers is pretty damn good too. I don't feel sad for them at all.
Old 01-20-04, 12:23 PM
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No, but comparatively speaking, when your movie makes $250 million and you only walk away with 5 of that, there is something wrong.

I will never get the backlash this film gets. When it was out everyone was caught up in it, now it is treated like a red headed step child. I still think it is genius. They had the whole country in the palm of their hands. Not bad for a couple of nobodys.
Old 01-20-04, 12:25 PM
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Originally posted by Jericho
One million dollars is pretty good for appearing in a indie film. I mean, how much money do most people make here. Much less than that And five million for the directors/producers is pretty damn good too. I don't feel sad for them at all.
I don't think anyone will argue that 1 million dollars is not good money. But in relation to the amount that the movie made - was it $240 mil that someone mentioned? - they got jobbed. The studio collected all the money for themselves for not doing a whole lot. They didn't even really have to advertise because the internet and word-of-mouth spread the word. But I guess that's due to people not knowing what they're signing when they get into the "business".

I like this movie very much. I've always been surprised at the backlash it received too. I guess anything that gets so big and becomes a household name gets that treatment. For what they set out to do, I think the movie was a huge success and very entertaining. Sure, it had plotholes, but what horror movie doesn't?
Old 01-20-04, 12:29 PM
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Originally posted by Meatpants
I never understood the backlash against this movie or its DVD. Nowadays people seem to treat it like Showgirls or something.
Oh please! At least Showgirls is outrageous fun wallowing in badness, while BWP is simply badness. And it's nice to see that the filmmakers have "lived up" to every expectation I had for them after seeing BWP.
Old 01-20-04, 12:40 PM
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wow... i'm surprise with the news

BWP is a good horror movie.... not great, & not horrible either

too bad for those guys
Old 01-20-04, 12:43 PM
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Originally posted by Jray
I don't think anyone will argue that 1 million dollars is not good money. But in relation to the amount that the movie made - was it $240 mil that someone mentioned? - they got jobbed. The studio collected all the money for themselves for not doing a whole lot. They didn't even really have to advertise because the internet and word-of-mouth spread the word. But I guess that's due to people not knowing what they're signing when they get into the "business".

I like this movie very much. I've always been surprised at the backlash it received too. I guess anything that gets so big and becomes a household name gets that treatment. For what they set out to do, I think the movie was a huge success and very entertaining. Sure, it had plotholes, but what horror movie doesn't?
I don't think they got jobbed. They got WAY more than they would ever expect from doing such a film. I mean the film cost what, $30,000? They probably got a few thousand. But because of the success they had, they get way more. Like 2000% more. That's very good.

Besides, they took no risk. If the movie tanked, they would not have to pay Artisan millions of dollars. No risk, no reward.

Also, one can easily argue how much success the individuals had. I mean you can easily argue that anyone could be in the movie and it would have made money. As for the directors, they could have tried for a better deal. They could have believed their movie was the greatest thing ever and held out for more money. They could have negotiated more profits. It's all based on decisions one made by them.
Old 01-20-04, 12:45 PM
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Originally posted by Michael Corvin
I will never get the backlash this film gets. When it was out everyone was caught up in it, now it is treated like a red headed step child. I still think it is genius. They had the whole country in the palm of their hands. Not bad for a couple of nobodys.
Yea, the 'Pet Rock' was really popular too.

Society in general is known for temporary lapses in judgement. When the smoke cleared, the people most caught up in the film were the ones that were part of it. 1000s of unpaid promoters all over the place who were 'in on the joke' (that its not a real documentary) spreading rumors and stories like slumber party kids.

Thats ALL it was and all it will be evidently.
Old 01-20-04, 12:48 PM
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Let's look at what this film did do for its participants: it opened a lot of doors that normally would not be open. When this opportunity arises, whether you be a director, an actor, or whatever...it's up to you to take advantage before it slams shut.
Old 01-20-04, 12:55 PM
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it sucked 5 years ago, and it sucks today.

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