The faux documentary that pioneered viral marketing and spawned the modern found-footage horror genre earned $248.6 million worldwide — but cost only $60,000 to make. Co-director Eduardo Sánchez and star Michael Williams spill new secrets on how they made a classic with roughly, as Sánchez puts it, “no money.”
Forget child actors: Sánchez’s mom, a babysitter, helped capture the sounds of children, which Sánchez and co-director Daniel Myrick used to unsettle the cast, playing the sounds on cassette in the woods. “[Sound designer Antonio Cora] recorded the kids playing games, mixed the best parts, and put it all on a cassette tape,” Sánchez says. Williams says he wasn’t scared, though: “You would hear the [boom box] click and then ‘Tee-hee!’ It was obvious.”
A Load of Bull
With so much of the movie dependent on its sound design, Sánchez and Myrick were careful not to waste effort on incorporating anything that sounded unnatural. “I think one of the [sound design] guys added what sounded like a bull running through the woods, and Dan and I were like, ‘No, that’s a little too big,'” Sánchez remembers. “Dan and I were on the very minimalist side, keeping everything very subliminal and very low.” After all, they never wanted the audience to find out exactly who or what the Blair Witch was. “We never wanted to portray any kind of monster,” he explains, “so everything had to be rooted in what you would hear in the woods.”
Art director Ricardo Moreno pulled a similar trick, recruiting his adolescent nephews to spookify the set for the final scene. The young pair gleefully covered the walls of the house with their handprints, unknowingly making the movie’s iconic ending even creepier to watch. “It was funny,” Sánchez recalls, “We knew we needed some kids’ handprints, so Rick just got black paint and had them put their hands all over the walls.” Little did they know their day of fun yielded a seriously creepy scene.
A Stick-y Situation
Shooting over a week in the woods was “grueling” on the three actors, who were told not to interact with the crew. Instead, they were left notes inside film canisters that led them to “waypoints” where new scenarios would play out. Williams says that as the days went on, it got tougher to act scared; in fact, the cast often started breaking. “When we came across the stick men in the trees, that wasn’t scary,” he explains. “It looked like a bunch of kids had tied stick men up, and you’re like, ‘Alright, we have to react to this!’ That was the fun challenge of it… We would start to laugh and have a good time, and Ed and Dan would be like, ‘You guys gotta stop. Get away from the crew, and crew, get away from the actors. This is serious stuff!’ He laughs. “There was never a time when we were like, ‘Oh my God, what’s happening? Are we going to die?’ Like, no. It was a camping trip with boom boxes.”
No clothing budget, no problem! The cast wore their own duds — and solved their own wardrobe malfunctions during the eight-day shoot. “You’re running around every day, and it’s one pair of jeans, so every single day in the same spot, my pants would rip,” Williams says. “I would call [co-star Heather Donahue] and go, ‘Heather, could you do me a favor? Could you sew my pants?’ Thank God she brought her sewing kit out there.” If only she’d brought a GPS.