17 Found Facts About The Blair Witch Project

Artisan Entertainment
Artisan Entertainment

Working with a miniscule budget of less than $25,000, Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez wrote, directed, and edited one of the most successful independent movies ever made. The Blair Witch Project confused and frightened enough people when it was released in the summer of 1999 to earn more than $248 million in theaters worldwide. Nearly 20 years later, it’s time to find out the truth about the Burkittsville, Maryland legend.

1. THE "SCRIPT" WAS A 35-PAGE OUTLINE.

Myrick and Sánchez wrote their first draft of The Blair Witch Project in 1993, when they were both film students in Orlando, Florida. They wrote the script more as an outline because they had always planned for the dialogue to be improvised by their actors in order to make the story seem real.

2. THE AUDITION PROCESS WAS AN UNUSUAL ONE.

Actress Heather Donahue remembers reading an ad in Backstage that said: “An improvised feature film, shot in wooded location: it is going to be hell and most of you reading this probably shouldn't come." In order to test the improvisational skills of the candidates, as soon as each potential actor entered the room to audition, he or she was immediately told by one of the directors: "You've been in jail for the last nine years. We're the parole board. Why should we let you go?" If the actor hesitated for even a moment, the directors concluded the audition.

3. THE THREE MAIN ACTORS WERE PAID $1000 A DAY.

It was an eight-day shoot. Donahue, Michael C. Williams, and Joshua Leonard made a lot more in the years after The Blair Witch Project was released. Williams claimed he ended up with about $300,000.

4. HEATHER AND JOSH WERE SUPPOSED TO BE FORMER LOVERS.

The idea was scrapped before shooting, though ironically enough, a lot of tension did develop between the two actors/characters. When Heather called Josh “Mr. Punctuality,” it was an acidic in-joke (Leonard was very late that day). It was so “annoying” to the directors that they decided to kill off Josh first instead of Mike. Leonard was rewarded with a meal at Denny’s—the actors were only given rations of Power Bars and bananas while in the woods—and later a Jane’s Addiction concert while the other two remained at Seneca Creek State Park.

5. THE TEETH IN THE TWIGS WERE ACTUAL HUMAN TEETH.

They were supplied by Eduardo Sánchez’s dentist. The hair was Josh’s real hair.

6. THE ACTORS USED GPS TRACKERS TO FIND THEIR INSTRUCTIONS FOR THE DAY.

Production programmed wait points in the GPS unit for the actors to locate milk crates with three little plastic canisters in them. Each plastic canister contained notes on where the story was going for each actor, who would not show the other two their paper. From that point they were free to improvise the dialogue, provided they followed the general instructions given to them.

7. THE SOUNDS OF THE CHILDREN ACTUALLY TERRIFIED MIKE.

Williams said the most terrifying moment was hearing the sounds of the kids that lived across the street from Eduardo Sánchez’s mother on three boomboxes being blared outside of his tent.

8. THE ACTORS HAD A CODE WORD FOR WHEN THEY WANTED TO SPEAK OUT OF CHARACTER.

If one of the actors wanted to break character, he or she would say “taco.”

9. IT WAS TOO EXPENSIVE TO GET THE RIGHTS TO SOME THINGS.

In what would have been some fun foreshadowing, the directors wanted to have The Animals’ “We’ve Gotta Get Out Of This Place” playing on the car radio in the beginning of the film, but that was too pricey for the producers to keep. They did manage to get the rights for Heather to quote the theme to Gilligan’s Island, as well as approval to show their Power Bars.

10. SHOOTING FINISHED ON HALLOWEEN NIGHT.

The local Denny’s also saw some extra business on October 31, 1997, as Heather Donahue and Michael C. Williams were also taken there for their first hearty meal in over a week. Williams described emerging from the woods and seeing people in costumes as “very surreal.”

11. NINETEEN HOURS OF FOOTAGE WAS EDITED DOWN TO 90 MINUTES.

It took Sánchez and Myrick eight months to cut the movie for its Sundance premiere. Their initial cut was two and a half hours, and the scenes taken out of the theatrical version were used for the website and for the faux documentary that ran on Syfy.

12. SÁNCHEZ CREATED THE MOVIE’S WEBSITE HIMSELF.

The co-director was the logical choice to build the website that helped spread the myth of the Blair Witch to anybody wanting the information, as he was the only one involved with the movie who had web-building experience. According to Sánchez, he also had the free time available to work on the site as he didn’t have a girlfriend at the time.

13. A LOT OF PEOPLE REALLY THOUGHT THE THREE ACTORS WERE DEAD.

Artisan, the now-defunct studio that bought the rights to the film, went to great lengths to keep Donahue, Leonard, and Williams away from the press for a time, and didn’t correct websites like IMDb that claimed the actors were deceased. Donahue’s mother even received sympathy cards.

14. SOME MOVIEGOERS GOT PHYSICALLY ILL BECAUSE OF THE SHAKY CAMERAWORK.

The regional director of Loews Cineplex Entertainment estimated that, on average, one person per screening got sick and asked for a refund.

15. ONLY JOSH IS STILL A FULL-TIME ACTOR.

Heather is currently a medical marijuana grower and the author of a memoir. Mike quit his furniture mover job on Late Night with Conan O’Brien soon after The Blair Witch Project was released, only to return to it to supplement his acting income to support his wife and kids.

16. BURKITTSVILLE, MARYLAND HAS DEALT WITH VANDALISM AND CREEPY FANS.

Burkittsville’s wooden welcome signs were stolen, as were their replacements. Artisan Entertainment bought the town four metal signs that have since rusted, or were also somehow stolen. Debby Burgoyne, the mayor of the town—population: 180—once woke up to find a fan of the movie standing in her living room. He had apparently assumed there was a tour. "It was crazy," Burgoyne told the Los Angeles Times. "People with cameras were everywhere. I made sure I had full makeup and a great nightie before I went out to get the morning paper."

17. THERE’S BEEN TALK OF A THIRD MOVIE.

The 2000 sequel, Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2, was considered a shameless cash grab that had little involvement from Sánchez and Myrick. But the original co-directors have talked about the possibility of a prequel, which would be set in the late 1700s.

The Elder Wand from Harry Potter Will Be Surprisingly Important in Fantastic Beasts 2

Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.
Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

For about a year now, Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald has been using an image of the Elder Wand in promotional teases, as pointed out by The Ringer. You surely remember the instrument—which is said to be the most powerful wand to have ever existed in JK Rowling's Wizarding World—from the original Harry Potter series. So just how important will it be to the Fantastic Beasts sequel? Extremely.

According to Pottermore, the Elder Wand (also known as the Deathstick or "The Wand of Destiny") is the most sought after of the three Deathly Hallows. According to "The Tale of the Three Brothers," a fairy tale often told to wizard children, the Elder Wand was given to Antioch Peverell by Death himself. Whoever was able to reunite the wand with the other two Deathly Hallows—the Resurrection Stone and the Cloak of Invisibility—would become the Master of Death.

As such, the Elder Wand is extremely dangerous—and can be made even more so, depending on the intentions of the wizard who possesses it. As Dumbledore once ​said in The Tales of Beedle the Bard, "Those who are knowledgeable about wandlore will agree that wands do indeed absorb the expertise of those who use them."

So how does all of this connect to Fantastic Beasts? While in disguise in the first Fantastic Beasts movie, Gellert Grindelwald didn't carry the Elder Wand—though we know from previous installments that he had acquired it by the time the first movie takes place. Grindelwald stole the wand from Mykew Gregorovitch, stunning the wizard to gain the allegiance of the Elder Wand, sometime before 1926. But while promotional stills indicate that Grindelwald will have physical possession of the wand in this second movie, which witch or wizard has the wand's allegiance is less clear—after all, Newt Scamander captured Grindelwald at the end of the first film, and Tina Goldstein disarmed him.

However, we know from the Harry Potter series that Dumbledore takes possession of the Elder Wand after a duel in 1945, which is the same year the Fantastic Beasts series will end (so it's pretty safe to assume that Dumbledore and Grindelwald will face off in the series' fifth and final film). And Dumbledore's own words about how he came to possess the wand in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows are also particularly telling. "I was fit to own the Elder Wand, and not to boast of it, and not to kill with it," he stated in the novel. "I was permitted to tame and to use it, because I took it, not for gain, but to save others from it."

We'll have to wait until this weekend to see how it all plays out in The Crimes of Grindelwald, but this is one story that will take several more installments to tell.

Simon Pegg Says New Star Wars Films Are Missing George Lucas's Imagination

John Phillips, Getty Images for Paramount Pictures
John Phillips, Getty Images for Paramount Pictures

While many Star Wars fans were unimpressed with the most recent film in the Luke Skywalker saga, The Last Jedi, even those viewers would likely agree that the most recent slate of entries into the Star Wars franchise are much better than the prequel series ... right? Well, it might not be so black and white.

Simon Pegg, who appeared in The Force Awakens as Unkar Plutt, had previously slammed the prequels, specifically ​calling The Phantom Menace a "jumped-up firework display of a toy advert." But now he seems to have come to a new conclusion: Star Wars needs George Lucas.

"I must admit, watching the last Star Wars film [The Last Jedi], the overriding feeling I got when I came out was, 'I miss George Lucas,'" Pegg confessed on The Adam Buxton Podcast. "For all the complaining that I'd done about him in the prequels, there was something amazing about his imagination."

Pegg also shared the story of how he once met Lucas at the premiere of Revenge of the Sith, and that the legendary filmmaker gave him some advice.

"He was talking to Ron Howard and I think he'd seen Shaun of the Dead  because he immediately went, 'Oh hey, Shaun of the Dead!,' and shook my hand," Pegg recalled. "And George Lucas immediately changed his demeanor."

"Don't be making the same film that you made 30 years ago 30 years from now," Lucas told Pegg, according to the actor.

Of all the complaints about The Last Jedi, from Rey's parentage reveal to Luke abandoning the Force, the lack of George Lucas is not quite a popular criticism. But we are glad to know his influence is missed—by at least one person.

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