After the endless media coverage of ”The Blair Witch Project” (which has grossed an outrageous $120 million so far), the entire world has heard the logistics behind making the low-budget spooker: The actors were improvising in response to the scares the filmmakers planted in the woods around them. Sure, it seems frighteningly simple, but codirector Dan Myrick tells EW Online that not everything went according to plan. (WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD. Stop reading if you haven’t seen the movie.)
In the finished film, it’s Josh [Leonard] the cameraman who vanishes midmovie, but when the production began, the directors had planned to yank Mike [Williams] the audio guy. However, during the first few days of filming, it became clear that if left alone, project leader Heather [Donahue] and Josh would kill each other before the witch got them. ”[Those two] were at each other’s throats through 90 percent of the beginning of the shoot,” says Myrick. ”We told ourselves, if we pull Mike out halfway through, it’s going to be a bitchfest for the rest of the movie, and there’s no way anybody’s gonna be able to stand that.” At the last minute the choice was made to abduct Josh instead, and ”that was the best decision we made.”
Since the actors were only told where to go, not what would happen to them when they got there, most of the film is comprised of first and only takes, since that’s when the actors were legitimately frightened by the filmmakers’ stunts. But occasionally the directors had to step in and call for another take when the full extent of their mental torture wasn’t realized. For example, when Heather discovered the small stick man placed in front of her tent after Josh’s disappearance, she initially freaked out and threw it away into the woods. The directors had to step in and tell her to bring it back to discover the gory surprise inside.
The nighttime finale proved most problematic. The actors had no idea they would find a house in the woods when they woke to the sounds of Josh screaming – their only directing note was ”follow the voice.” The whole denouement hinged on Heather and Mike splitting up once they got inside. Unfortunately, ”they weren’t separating,” says Myrick. ”They came downstairs together, and that screwed everything up.” So the actors, who were sleep-deprived, disoriented, and thoroughly disturbed by the anguished hollering of their missing friend, were suddenly yanked out of their confusion by the word ”Cut!”
Another take was necessary, but because of a dying camera battery, the cast had to put it off until the following night. This time they had their orders to split up, but still weren’t told what would happen. ”It was pretty amazing that they got almost to the same emotional level they were at the first night,” says Myrick. ”[Coproducer] Gregg Hale and I were downstairs in ninja outfits so they couldn’t see us. We grabbed Mike, set his camera down, and told him to stand in the corner. When Heather came down soon after, we grabbed her and set her camera down, and then it was ‘Cut! End of movie.”’ See? It takes hard work to earn $120 million.