Indie Horror Month Tip of the Scalpel: The Blair Witch Project
As we wind down Indie Horror Month here at Dread Central, we've got one more Tip of the Scalpel especially saved for our indie friends. But before we get into that, there's one more group that deserves a nod.
What better time than Indie Horror Month to salute the do-it-yourself filmmakers out there who are getting things done. These are the guys who slog through a 40-hour work week, then when Saturday rolls around they bust out the production equipment and spend their free time filming and editing for the sheer love of the game.
These are the people who bring us such entertaining productions as the Bloody Cuts series, The Chainsaw Sally Show, Night Terrors, The Social Media Massacre and the numerous other shorts and web series you see featured here on a regular basis and we can't thank them enough for their efforts. Keep up your amazing work. You're greatly appreciated. Now, onto the Scalpel ...
"…Okay, here's your motivation. You're lost, you're angry in the woods and no one is here to help you. There's a witch and she keeps leaving shit outside your door. There's no one here to help you! She left little trinkets, you took one of them, she ran after us. There's no one here to help you! We walked for 15 hours today, we ended up in the same place! There's no one here to help you, THAT'S your motivation! THAT'S YOUR MOTIVATION!"
Taken by itself, The Blair Witch Project was a good indie film. But when you consider the impact the film had, and continues to have, on the horror genre, one must name The Blair Witch Project as one of the most influential indie films in the last 20 years.
The creators behind the film, Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez, knew one very important fact when it came to making a scary movie…the more the images on the screen seem to be genuinely real, the more disturbing it becomes for the audience. And a disturbed horror audience is generally a satisfied horror audience. The simple question they faced is the same that every horror filmmaker must tackle. How do we make it seem more real? The answer they came up with was brilliant.
Myrick and Sanchez decided to go with the basically new concept of the found footage movie. Yes, filmmakers had experimented with the recovered footage concept before The Blair Witch Project, most notably in 1980's Cannibal Holocaust, but it didn't become a mainstream technique until others saw just how powerful an approach to creating a movie it was. Some amazing films would later follow suit. Movies such as [REC], Paranormal Activity, Troll Hunter, Cloverfield, August Underground's Mordum and Diary of the Dead all owe a debt of gratitude to The Blair Witch Project for breathing life into the found footage sub-genre of horror.
But what would make found footage even scarier? If you could get at least some of the audience to believe it was real, and at least put a question of doubt into the minds of the others the film hits even harder. The way The Blair Witch Project did this was another stroke of genius. Spearheaded by Artisan Studios executive Steven Rothenberg, the marketing team went all out to make the footage presented in The Blair Witch Project seem absolutely real.
The first effort was the release of "The Curse of The Blair Witch" on what was then called the Sci-Fi Channel. This mockumentary lead viewers to believe the upcoming film was, in fact, real. And in case that wasn't enough to sway the opinion of the potential audience members, Rothenberg and crew attacked from an entirely new angle…the internet. The Blair Witch Project was the first film to use the power of the internet in such a creative and effective way. A viral marketing campaign was set up to add to the rumors that this film was indeed found police footage. It worked really well, as this film that was put together for pennies became the highest grossing indie film of all time, taking in nearly $250 million worldwide.
The Blair Witch Project was a true case of indie filmmaking scoring a huge win. From the wonderfully suspenseful film, to the unique way it was shot and the absolute master class in marketing, The Blair Witch Project was a perfect storm for success. The film paved the way for future indie filmmakers to have a chance to break the bank at the box office as audiences proved they would respond if given a quality product. It showed indie filmmakers that the right combination of creativity and smarts could cash in big time as the makers of films like Saw, Paranormal Activity and The Devil Inside quickly found out.
It's for the absolute lasting impact the film had on our beloved horror genre, the implementation of the first-person camera angle and found footage approach to filmmaking and the use of the internet to give the movie even more power…things that have been replicated continuously ever since…that we give this week's Tip of the Scalpel to The Blair Witch Project.
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