"We really had no idea what we were doing," said "Blair Witch Project" co-director Daniel Myrick to MTV News in June 1999, little more than a month before his indie horror film swept into theaters, scared up $250 million at the worldwide box office and set a trend of online viral marketing that is still being followed today.
Myrick and his collaborators might not have had a clue what they were up to, but years later, on Tuesday's (July 14)10-year anniversary of the flick's theatrical release, "Blair Witch" has become an undeniable classic of the horror genre. Not that any of the key players, even to this day, know exactly how to deal with such recognition for past accomplishments.
Josh Leonard, who played one of the young filmmakers lost in the Maryland woods, admitted in a recent interview that until recently he hadn't been introduced as anything but "the 'Blair Witch' guy" at a dinner party in a decade. "I'm proud of that film, not necessarily for what it became in its cultural-icon status, but because it was a group of people working completely outside of the system, who took a totally punk-rock, DIY ethos to making something," he said. "And then it caught on."
"Psychically, it was a pretty damaging experience," he added.
Myrick, too, has struggled with the weight of lofty post-"Blair Witch" expectation, and now looks back wistfully at the late '90s. "It was a pure, innocent, unencumbered time in our filmmaking careers, which will probably never be repeated," he told us recently.
Presenting itself as a documentary compiled from found footage, "Blair Witch" followed Leonard and his two friends on a journey into the woods to document an urban legend about a witch who killed children. They end up getting sucked into a beyond-frightening supernatural freak-out that — 10-year-old spoiler alert! — leads to their disappearances. Shot on an ultra-tight budget in which the actors followed clues, via GPS devices, left by Myrick and his co-writer/co-director Eduardo Sanchez, the film became a Sundance hit and — partly due to a newfangled online viral-marketing campaign — a cultural phenomenon upon its mainstream release.
And it wasn't for lack of competition. Films like "Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace," "The Sixth Sense" and "The Matrix" opened that same year. Suddenly the "Blair Witch" upstarts found themselves at parties with Britney Spears and the folks from "American Pie." When Artisan threw a 1,000-person "Blair Witch" party in Cannes — complete with a faux forest constructed on the Parisian beachfront — Leonard said the entire cast kept asking one another, " 'How the f--- did we make that movie and get here?' We felt like intruders."
Myrick said he and Sanchez busted out cigars and laughed to each other, "This is it, man!"
Leonard went from working as a caterer to appearing on "The Tonight Show." Myrick and Sanchez were offered just about every horror film in development at the movie studios. One project they barely touched was a "Blair Witch" sequel, which landed with a thud at the box office in 2000. Both the filmmakers and the actors continue to be known, perhaps solely, as the "Blair Witch" guys.
Ten years on, it seems Myrick and Leonard each have a complicated, yet ultimately warm remembrance of their time working on their little horror flick that became an iconic piece of American cinema. The last time Myrick watched his film, three years ago, he was alone in a hotel room.
"It was playing on demand," he said. "I'd seen all the porno flicks, and I said, 'Ah, I'll watch "Blair Witch!" ' "
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