One might think appearing in a movie that grosses $248 million and becomes the talk of the nation for weeks, even months, would be a good thing. But that was not necessarily the case for Heather Donahue, Michael Williams, and Josh Leonard, the three young actors featured in 1999’s unforgettable The Blair Witch Project. With a new Blair Witch film just days away, attention has turned once again to the micro-budgeted original. That creepy indie classic, shot in the style of a handheld documentary, set the standard for many found-footage horror films to come but did not exactly elevate its leads to stardom. Over at Broadly, writer Emalie Marthe has assembled an intriguing if discouraging oral history of the movie called “‘They Wished I Was Dead’: How The Blair Witch Project Still Haunts Its Cast.” The article includes details on the making, marketing, and reception of this groundbreaking but divisive film. Interviewees include Donahue and Leonard as well as Blair Witch co-directors Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez.
“Being dead? How did [that] affect my career? Negatively.” That’s actress Donahue talking about Artisan Entertainment’s unique strategy for marketing The Blair Witch Project, which involved setting up a spooky promotional website and hinting that the events in the film were true. The coy technique brought in customers to movie theaters, but it made things awkward for Donahue and her co-stars afterward.
Some believed that the film really was a documentary and that the trio had died while making it. Moreover, when the public realized that The Blair Witch Project was not a conventional horror film, many viewers felt like they had been ripped off. Again, the actors felt targeted. The filmmakers had their qualms about the way Blair Witch was marketed, too, but Myrick is still positive about the film’s legacy:
As an artist, part of why you’re doing this is to leave a mark, to leave an impression, and to influence people, to move people, and Blair Witch did that. Forever I’ll be grateful to have been a part of that, to be part of an amazing thing, and to be remembered for at least one thing. Maybe not everything, but that one thing is something I’m appreciative of. Not many filmmakers get to say that.