Debuting in 1999, The Blair Witch Project is credited with changing Hollywood. Not only did the movie usher in a new genre of horror film in the “found footage” fright fest, but it also shifted the economies of scale in Tinsel town. Made completely independently for a budget of just $60,000, and starring a cast of complete unknowns, the picture went on to gross just under $250 million worldwide at the box office. It has since made a lot more on video, television, and merchandise deals. Basically, The Blair Witch Project showed movie studio executives that a cool premise alone could carry a movie to box office success, and that big stars and big budgets were not a guarantee of box office returns. Now though, the Blair Witch itself has gone a bit Hollywood with the 2016 release of a sequel titled simply Blair Witch, that had a production budget of $5 million and has (to-date) grossed just over $10 million in North American theaters. With the Blair Witch back, we look at 10 secrets of the movies that most people are unaware of.
10. The First Movie Was Filmed in Eight Days
True to its independent street cred, The Blair Witch Project was filmed in just over one week – eight days to be precise. Given the lack of budget, films directors Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez opted to spend what little money they had editing the movie and in post- production. As a result, the movie was shot incredibly quickly over a few very long days. Of course, most of the filming occurred at night time and in real rain, leaving everyone involved wet and grumpy. It was true gorilla filmmaking and nobody knew for sure at the time if the approach would work. Plans were made to do some additional filming towards the end of post-production work on the movie, but, by that point, the money was completely gone. So plans for additional shots and a few reshoots had to be scrapped.
9. The Actors Were Deliberately Fooled Into Believing the Blair Witch Legend
Directors Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez felt their movie would work best if the actors involved believed the legend of the Blair Witch was real. To ensure this was the case, the two directors went to elaborate lengths. Not only did they lie to the actors, but when the cast of the movie went to interview locals about the Blair Witch legend, all the local people seemed to know what they were talking about and corroborated the stories. This is because all the locals in the town were actually actors planted there by the directors. Everyone in the movie accept the principal actors were in on the lie, or joke as it were, about the Blair Witch and its infamous legend in the local area. This fact, one could argue, took the idea of “method acting” to a whole new extreme.
8. Filming of the First Movie Finished on Halloween Night
Ironically, and reportedly not intentionally, filming on The Blair Witch Project concluded on Halloween night — October 31, 1997. And the cast and crew headed to a local Denny’s restaurant to celebrate and eat some real food, finally out of the rainy woods. Concluding filming on Halloween night might seem eerie and ominous. However, it really turned out to not be a big deal as most people involved in the movie didn’t realize it was Halloween until afterwards. They were so tired, wet, and hungry after working in the extreme conditions the movie’s shoot required that the last thing on their minds was trick or treating. Still, this is a cool little factoid for one of the scariest movies ever produced. If any other major horror movie had finished filming on Halloween, it would be the stuff of legend.
7. Many People Assumed the Actors in the First Movie Were Really Dead
The Blair Witch Project was such a realistic movie, and so unlike any movie before it when released in 1999, that many people assumed the three stars of the film were actually dead. Even the movie website IMDb originally reported, wrongly, that the actors in the movie were “deceased.” Artisan, the now-defunct movie studio that bought the rights to The Blair Witch Project, was more than happy to help perpetuate this myth at the time of the film’s release – going so far as to keep the three main actors in the movie – Heather Donahue, Joshua Leonard and Michael C. Williams — away from the press. The rumors that the principals in the movie really died got so bad that some of the actors parents even received sympathy cards from friends and family. Crazy!
6. The Blair Witch Universe is Quite Expansive
The latest Blair Witch movie is an attempt to resurrect the dormant franchise. However, there were many attempts to capitalize on the popularity of the original Blair Witch Project in the early 2000s – none of them terribly successful. Many of you may remember the critically panned movie Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2, which was released in 2000, a year after the original broke records. But how about the short TV movies Curse of the Blair Witch and The Burkittsville 7? Or how about the comedy satire movie The Blair Witch Rejects? Like we said, none of these movies was successful. But it shows that the Blair Witch universe is rather large. Certainly larger than most people realize. There have also been a number of Blair Witch books, and even comic books.
5. Blair Witch Took Seven Years to Develop
The third theatrical film in the Blair Witch franchise took seven years to develop and produce. It entered development in 2009 and was only released in 2016. That’s a lot longer than the first film, which was conceived in a dorm room and filmed in eight days. The actors from the first film were initially supposed to return for Blair Witch (2016), but most of them are no longer working as actors. Then a script couldn’t be agreed to. Some producers wanted to reference Book of Shadows. Other producers wanted to avoid it entirely. The studio that financed the new Blair Witch movie, Lionsgate, said the whole project ended up in development hell. So much so that few people actually knew it was being made, since it was given a code name (complete with fake trailer, which you can watch below) of The Woods. The real Blair Witch wasn’t announced until the 2016 San Diego Comic Con, which was only a couple of months before the movie opened.
4. The Actors in the First Film Made Only $8,000
The actors who starred in the original Blair Witch Project were each paid $1,000 a day for shooting the film. That worked out to $8,000 for eight days of filming. That’s a pitiful amount – especially considering the movie went on to gross nearly $250 million worldwide. Understandably, the actors were upset with their meager pay as they watched the movie break box office records in the summer of 1999. They complained and threatened to sue, and each of them were later paid $300,000 extra. Still, it wasn’t enough to prevent actor Michael C. Williams from going back to his day jobs as a furniture mover to support his family.
3. The Blair Witch Project was Nominated for Several Razzie Awards
Although critically acclaimed when released, and with a 85% approval rating on aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, The Blair Witch Project was lampooned and derided by many people when it was released. It was certainly parodied a lot. So much so, that the film was nominated for several infamous Razzie Awards, which mimic the Oscars and honor the worst movies made in a given year. The Blair Witch Project was nominated for the Worst Film Razzie Award and actress Heather Donahue actually won the Razzie for Worst Actress. Not many people would guess this, given what a cultural phenomenon The Blair Witch Project was when it came out in 1999.
2. The Blair Witch Movies Have Ruined Hunting Season in Rural Maryland
After the popularity of the Blair Witch movies, the woods around the real life town of Burkittsville, Maryland became flooded with young people looking to go camping in the area where the movies were made or to experience a good scare with their friends. This invasion of Blair Witch fans has literally ruined hunting season in the rural Maryland area around Burkittsville. Hunters have found that the Blair Witch fans have frightened away the game, and many of them are scared to go hunting for fear they’ll accidentally shoot a real person rather than a deer, moose, or bear. This became such a problem that local tourism officials had to take out public service announcements asking fans of the Blair Witch movies to stay out of the woods during the hunting season.
1. The Blair Witch Project Remains the Most Profitable Movie Ever Made
To date, The Blair Witch project remains the most profitable movie ever made. Produced for just $60,000 and earning $250 million at the box office, the film remains a financial success beyond compare. It ushered in an entire era of horror movies made on the cheap with unknown actors, hoping to make as much money as possible by investing as little as possible in a movie. In fact, The Blair Witch Project has a citation in the Guinness Book of World Records for “Top Budget: Box Office Ratio” Having cost $60,000 to make and earning back $248 million means that for every $1 spent, The Blair Witch Project earned back $10,931. Impressive!