The Making of The Blair Witch Project: Part 3 - Doom Woods Preppers - Dread Central
Connect with us

News

The Making of The Blair Witch Project: Part 3 – Doom Woods Preppers

Published

on

October 5, 1997 – Pre-production on “Phase 1” of The Blair Witch Project began, unlike pre-production for anything I’d worked on up to that point… or since for that matter.

Usually with pre-production you go through script pages, pull out elements that apply to your department, make lists, audition ideas for the director or directors. With the footage we were about to create, so much of what the it of it was going to be was fluid because one element at the beginning would pull on other elements at the end. We weren’t creating a movie which was figured out before we started; we were creating a massive funhouse to be discovered and documented by people who didn’t know what they were supposed to find – a different mindset entirely.

It’s a weird line to walk – not too overt or it goes cheesy, too subtle and it goes unnoticed by the people with the cameras.

Related Stories: The Making of The Blair Witch Project: Part 1 – Witch Pitch and The Making of The Blair Witch Project: Part 2 – Getting to the Woods

Blair Witch Making Of

Dan Myrick arrived from Orlando and then Neal Fredericks from LA. Neal’s family lived in Maryland so he crashed there, but at Stefanie’s place in Germantown, Maryland, it was part flophouse/part office, and she was mysteriously okay with all this. Dan on the pull-out queen-size sofa downstairs by the front door, me in the office upstairs on a twin bed next to the only computer in the building, and Gregg in the next room (as I recall) on a pad on the floor. If you would have called Stefanie’s home number any time in the month of October of 1997, one of us would have answered: “Haxan Films!” 

The actors wouldn’t arrive for a few weeks, and we had an insurmountable stack of work before then. Gregg outfitted Ed and Dan with newfangled technology none of us had heard of called a “GPS” – a yellow box the size of a paperback book with a black-and-grey LCD display –  to map out the actual path the actors would take through Seneca Creek State Park, the woods where everything but the climax of the film would take place – the “maze” part of the funhouse if you will. As the first order of business, the two directors spent a few days traipsing through the woods with the outline of the film they’d written, trying to lay out the eventual path that worked best for the plan. That meant creating “waypoint” coordinates on the GPS to eventually give the actors so they knew where to put their tent each night, they knew where certain things like “Coffin Rock” were, and they knew to walk through a part of the woods filled with stickmen even if they didn’t know that it would be filled with stickmen.

They also had to audition the remaining roles, like the fishermen and other townspeople, as well as a character named Mary Brown, the local crank who believed in the Blair Witch.

While they did that, we did all the work we could do without going into those actual woods.

Gregg ran the show and handled all logistics, setting everything up and putting out fires like any good producer and figuring out how to best spend the economy-car budget we had to work with and coordinating with our other producer, Robin Cowie, based in Orlando. Neal would shoot camera tests at day and night on his CP-16 16mm camera and then work with Colorlab to develop a strategy to process dailies, how many stops to push the stock, etc. Aside from running whatever errands Gregg needed me to, my main task at that time was to go to the house in Patapsco State Park and make it look less like an abandoned crack den and more like the place where an occult-obsessed psychopath would want to murder seven children in the 1940’s.

Like you do.

Additionally there were details in the house, like the fireplace, where we intended to take “period” still images (in this case, an actor playing Rustin Parr with a shotgun in front of the mantle which nobody has ever seen because the idea was abandoned) and line them up with Heather’s shot when she entered the house in “Phase 2,” the analysis of this footage to be shot in Orlando. I also had to make sure that the actors would enter the proper doors – which meant blockading any exterior door except the one we wanted them to enter. Additionally, we drew occult symbols around every door and window (more on that below), and Dan had the idea for the kids’ handprints from one time he’d gone to someone’s filthy house and their dogs had made a giant black smear at dog-height throughout the house.

He asked, “What kind of residual marks would eight children leave?” 

A damn fine question.

Parrhouse_reno

Myself and Carolyn fixing up the house. Pager by Pager Express! Photo by Stefanie Sanchez.

While I was fixing up the house, sometimes Gregg – who had far more art department experience and power tools than I did – was able to go with, sometimes it was just me. Often Stefanie, her sister Carolyn, and/or our art director Rick Moreno would come along as well – but these were also people working day jobs and living their daily lives so their time was precious, and we tried to bring in everyone on days when we needed all hands on deck. In the meantime, Ed had posted internship notices around his alma mater, Montgomery College, and a single person had responded. I was getting ready to take Dan’s Jeep Cherokee to Home Depot to pick up supplies when Gregg handed me an address.

“Who’s this?” I asked.

“Your intern, Patty,” Gregg said. At 26 I was more accustomed to being the intern than I was to having one. Still – I could use some college-age strong people to help me move a bunch of wood and paint cans…

“I think she might be a little older than us,” Gregg said. I didn’t know what that could mean, but I assumed it meant a lot older.

After my run to Home Depot, I drove over to Patty’s abode, a mobile home park which apparently doesn’t exist anymore. As I drove up, I saw her trailer and, in front of it, Patty – probably in her 60’s or 70’s, standing in front of her trailer with an American flag in the back window and a fence made out of actual sticks. Patty herself was wearing a jacket and colorful stretch pants, with a look people have when they’re waiting for someone to pick them up but they don’t know what that person looks like. Clearly the woman Gregg had sent me to fetch.

“If I just keep driving, she’ll never know it was me…” I actually thought.

blair1

My exact view of Patty’s house as I drove up the very first time. Patty herself would have been standing in front of the planter.

I pulled the Jeep over, introduced myself, and Patty got in. I figured even if she wasn’t much help lifting heavy things, I could get her to paint out graffiti and do detail work if she was any good at all. Patty turned out to be an amazing hard worker, great at helping me lift lumber and set dressing when needed, adept with paint, happy to be there. She also had a gift for telling bizarre, often disturbing stories which she claimed were true.

That night Ed and Dan were complaining that they hadn’t found the perfect Mary Brown and I pitched them a wild idea – that they needed to meet Patty – the fence made of sticks in the trailer park, the  obvious quirkiness of her personality, her willingness to work on this film. I didn’t know if she could act, but really all she’d have to do is be interviewed and know a few things about the mythology we’d created. They called her the next day, went over, and met with her; and she was game.

And she was willing to work as the art department intern until the shoot. I still had my intern.

The Birth of Stickmen

If there’s one thing I’m known for contributing on The Blair Witch Project, it’s the stickman. Like pretty much every decision on the film, for me the design began in a lack of resources.

Before our shoot, Dan Myrick had created a design for the Stickman. It was, as I recall, voodoo-totem-inspired. Bundles of sticks and twigs and needles with wraps of twine around them in specific places. It was a great idea, but the only issue for me was that we needed to make hundreds of these things, basically in the woods where they were going to be hung, and we didn’t have any power tools or glue guns or really a crew to make them. And we were basically going to have to do it all in a single day. It would have taken a production line weeks to make what we’d need to make, so I had to get resourceful.

Meanwhile I’d purchased a book to use as research for the symbols which Rustin Parr would have drawn around the doors and windows in the house. There was a creepy language I’d heard of, an alphabet used by medieval occultist Cornelius Agrippa called Transits Fluvii (which is what we used – NOT runes) and somehow I’d found a book at our local Borders which explained it. The book, by Nigel Pennick, was called Magical Alphabets.

You can buy your own copy!

Yes, I still have the same copy of this book in my office right now.

Yes, I still have the same copy of this book in my office right now.

So I’d been soaking in Transitus Fluvii for a few weeks, and one day I was driving back to our HQ, that book in the passenger seat, when it hit me. I pulled over, rifled through the book, and found Page 79, where I saw this:

2016-07-27 09.13.36

If you look closely, you’ll see specs of caramelized fake blood on that page…

It just called out to me – a moment of actual inspiration. I saw the Stickman as we could make it. We’d need four sticks, some twine or rope, and the only tools we’d need would be some scissors. And that it referenced a rune (the only one we’d use) made it all the more exciting to me. I quickly sketched it out on a yellow legal pad I had with me in the car.

Once there, I went to a nearby wooded area, found four sticks of about the same size, and made a prototype to show the guys. I knew this was our perfect solution. And then, this happened:

Mortified. I thought Ed (and probably Dan and Gregg too) hated it. But when it came time to fill the woods, I did something that no production designer should ever do. Without bringing them other options, I just stuck to my plan. It wasn’t until I saw the posters Haxan had made for the film’s Sundance premiere some two years later that I realized that they’d all actually liked the design, probably why they didn’t demand I go back to the woodshed and create five other options. In October of 1997, there was no time to go off and bang out a bunch of ideas; I just hoped everyone would come around.

The Blair Witch Project Sundance Poster

The poster we took to Sundance two years later. The handprints were especially creepy when they caught the light.

Sometime around then, the phone at the townhouse rang, and I picked up.

“Haxan Films,”  I said.

“Hello, this is Heather Donahue,” the voice on the other end said. I hadn’t met Heather yet or even seen her audition tape, but of course I know that she was our lead.

“Listen,” she said with a disarming and cautious laugh. “My parents are very concerned about this shoot, that you all might be taking me out there… to, you know, make a snuff movie.” She laughed again, uncomfortable, trying to sound dismissive, but not unreasonably so. “Do you guys have anything else you’ve made that we can show them to assuage their concerns?”

VHS tapes would need to be sent.

“Assuage?” I thought.

This whole thing was going to change once actors were added.

TO BE CONTINUED NEXT MONDAY.

The Blair Witch Project

Continue Reading
Comments

News

Blade Runner 2049 Blu-ray Release Date and Special Features Announced

Published

on

Hoo-ray! I have been waiting for this day for the past two months (or, you know, 36 years) as this is the day that we have the release date, cover art, and special features for director Denis Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049.

As we told you guys a few weeks back, the film was considered a disappointment at the box office (considering its budget) so hopefully once the film hits Blu-ray it will become a cult hit – just like the original.

You can check out all of the details below. Do you plan on buying Blade Runner 2049 on Blu-ray? Let us know below!

Blade Runner 2049 was directed by Denis Villeneuve from a script by Hampton Fancher (who wrote the original) and Michael Green. The script was based off a story by Hampton Fancher, which in was turn based on the original film’s source material, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Phillip K. Dick.

The film stars Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford, Ana de Armas, Dave Bautista, Jared Leto, Robin Wright, Mackenzie Davis, Edward James Olmos, David Dastmalchian, Lennie James, Barkhad Abdi, Sylvia Hoeks, Hiam Abbass, Carla Juri, David Benson, Ellie Wright, and Kingston Taylor.

Blade Runner 2049 hits Digital on December 26th and 4K Ultra HD, 3D Blu-ray, Blu-ray, and DVD on January 16th.

Special features:

  • Designing the World of Blade Runner 2049 featurette
  • To Be Human: Casting Blade Runner 2049 featurette
  • Blade Runner 101:
    • The Replicant Evolution
    • Blade Runners
    • The Rise of Wallace Corp
    • Welcome to 2049
    • Jois
    • Within the Skies: Spinners, Pilotfish and Barracudas
  • 2022: Black Out prologue
  • 2036: Nexus Dawn prologue
  • 2048: Nowhere to Run prologue

BUY IT HERE.

Synopsis:
Thirty years after the events of the first film, a new blade runner, LAPD Officer K (Ryan Gosling), unearths a long-buried secret that has the potential to plunge what’s left of society into chaos. K’s discovery leads him on a quest to find Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), a former LAPD blade runner who has been missing for 30 years.

Continue Reading

News

Exclusive: Director Jeremy Wechter and Exec Producer P.J. Starks Talk The Viral Demon

Published

on

I don’t know about you guys but I’ve never had an issue with found footage flicks. I know there are a ton of horror fans out there that all but detest the subgenre, but I’m always down for a first-person fright flick.

Speaking of which, today we wanted to bring you not only the trailer for writer-director Jeremy Wechter’s upcoming The Viral Demon (review), but we also had the chance to speak with producer PJ Starks and writer-director Jeremy Wechter about the film and you can check out their exclusive quotes below.

After looking through all of that, make sure to hit us up and let us know what do you think of writer-director Jeremy Wechter’s The Viral Demon thus far below!

“Jeremy contacted me back in September with questions regarding distribution following the release of VOB: Horror Stories,” Starks told us. “We got to chatting and I found out more about his film The Viral Demon, which I was then fortunate enough to see. I liked his approach and the narrative he devised is pretty inventive. I hadn’t yet dabbled in this area of the supernatural, meaning demons and witchcraft. I’m also a huge fan of found footage films but never had the opportunity to actually be part of one. Jeremy asked me to come on board the project and I gladly accepted. I’m excited to see what happens with the film. I think horror fans of this type of sub-genres will really like what he’s done.”

Writer-director Jeremy Wechter then talked a bit about some of the challenges he faced in the making of this film, saying “Each location in every window of the video-chat was shot totally separately. Therefore, we had to shoot the movie from beginning to end in every location, then move on to the next location and start all over again. This made post-production quite tricky since there are multiple windows onscreen at any given time. It’s kind of like editing five movies simultaneously while needing to keep them all matched up.”

That sounds like a lot of work and a ton of plates to keep spinning at all times. But I have faith the guys can pull it off and I cannot wait to find out first-hand once the film hits… Whenever that may be. We’ll keep you up to date!

The film is written and directed by Jeremy Wechter and executive produced by P.J. Starks, creator of the Volumes of Blood franchise and executive producer of 10/31, Butcher the Bakers, and Close Calls.

For more info, you can follow on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Or visit the official site HERE.

Synopsis:

Four college friends participate in an annual video chat that goes horribly wrong when an ancient evil, imprisoned by witchcraft, is inadvertently released. Witness the hellish first night of demonic possession as it unfolds in real-time. As the possessions multiply and the body count rises, their night of fun becomes a race to stop the evil before it can spread across the world through electronic means. Knowing who to trust is the key to survival.

Continue Reading

News

Check Out this Bright New Trailer from Netflix

Published

on

A new trailer for Netflix’s Bright has arrived under our Xmas tree; and being that we’ve been good boys and girls, we figured we ought to share it!

Directed by David Ayer, who reunites with his Suicide Squad cast of Will Smith and Joel Edgerton, the film imagines our world but with mystical beasts living side-by-side with humans. As a result, when crimes are committed by other species, it takes some delicacy to work out a solution.

Look for Bright, written by Max Landis, on December 22nd. Noomi Rapace, Lucy Fry, Edgar Ramirez, Ike Barinholtz, Enrique Murciano, Jay Hernandez, Andrea Navedo, Veronica Ngo, Alex Meraz, Margaret Cho, Brad William Henke, Dawn Oliveri, and Kenneth Choi co-star with Smith and Edgerton.

Synopsis:
Set in an alternate present day where humans, orcs, elves, and fairies have been co-existing since the beginning of time, Bright is a genre-bending action movie that follows two cops from very different backgrounds. Ward (Will Smith) and Jakoby (Joel Edgerton) embark on a routine patrol night and encounter a darkness that will ultimately alter the future and their world as they know it.

Continue Reading

Recent Comments

Advertisement

Go Ad Free!

Support Dread Central on Patreon!

Join the Box of Dread Mailing List

* indicates required

Trending