When The Blair Witch Project came out in 1999, some people thought the film was true: They thought these three kids really went into the woods and disappeared forever, leaving only their video cameras full of spooky footage behind. And though it wasn’t true, the three stars did have to get through some tough times to film the movie.
A new Academy Originals video looks back at The Blair Witch Project and what it did for found-footage films—and how it came to be a found-footage film. In the video, producer Gregg Hale talks about how they grappled with how to film the movie until they settled on a method: “Why don’t we just give the cameras to the actors and run them through, like, a giant film obstacle course where the story kind of tells itself through the things that we put them through and let them record it?” Hale said.
Part of this “obstacle course” involved decreasing the actors’ food intake each day, a tactic actor Michael C. Williams said was used to make the stars look and feel out of their element. “So by the end, you’re not going to starve, but you’re going to be hungry,” Williams said the filmmakers told him. “We want to make this uncomfortable for you.”
It was uncomfortable for them, and for viewers—but that didn’t stop Blair Witch from being the first film sold at that year’s Sundance Festival. Artisan went on to release the movie in 1999, and Blair Witch ended up grossing $248 million worldwide.
Though director Daniel Myrick is careful to say he doesn’t believe they created the found footage genre, the movie had a definite influence on horror movies to come: Paranormal Activity, Cloverfield, and The Last Exorcism are just a few movies that found footage plays into.
“That was the great thing about this movie. Filmmaking has become accessible now to everybody,” Williams said. “And that’s important.”